There will be a lot of intriguing training camp battles taking place: some will have a lot of fantasy significance (the battle to be Sidney Crosby’s winger, for one), while others…not so much (the battle to be the seventh defenseman in Toronto).
Many of these little game-within-a-game duels will not be solved in training camp (Antti Niemi vs. Antero Niittymaki in San Jose). But here are some worth watching in the Western Conference that could be solved in the next two weeks.
The Lupul Loophole
At stake: Joffrey Lupul’s top-six spot is available for at least the first 25 games – and probably longer – due to a blood infection in his back.
The Players: Jason Blake, Dan Sexton, Matt Beleskey.
The Lowdown: Blake has the big contract, while Sexton impressed early last season. However, both players have proven to be streaky. Beleskey brings the grit and power the team needs in their top six, but is a little raw.
The Fallout: As many as 55 points for the winner. Or, for the two youngsters, as few as zero points for the loser.
The Wings of the Hawks
At stake: A top-six spot – make that a quality top-six spot – that opened up with the exodus of a handful of skilled forwards during the summer.
The Players: Viktor Stalberg, Troy Brouwer, Jack Skille.
The Lowdown: Brouwer played extremely well down the stretch last season with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, so the spot is his to lose. If he sticks there all season we could see close to a surprising 60 points out of him. Stalberg has underrated talent and loved to drive to the net prior to his concussion a year ago, but lost that fearlessness after his injury. Skille is raw, but has that drive-to-the-net style that should win him the job – just not this year.
The Fallout: A possible 60 points to the winner, or a meagre 30 for the two non-winners.
At stake: The top six in Minnesota seems to be set with Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen and Guillaume Latendresse. But Koivu is just coming back from surgery, Bouchard from a concussion that cost him all of last season and Havlat…well, he’s Havlat. There is a high risk of 80 man-games lost from injury just from their top six forwards. So the player slotted seventh on the depth chart will be a bigger part of Minnesota’s offense than on most other squads.
The Players: Casey Wellman, Chuck Kobasew, Antti Miettinen.
The Lowdown: The late-blooming Wellman followed up a strong college career with a solid showing in 12 NHL games last campaign and has been the best player in rookie camp for the Wild. Kobasew has a lot to prove, but is just as fragile as any other member of the team. Miettinen has a habit of wearing out his welcome over time – the coach seems to lean on him with less frequency as the games roll by.
The Fallout: A 50-point season. This will either permanently launch Wellman into the top six next year, save Kobasew’s career or earn Miettinen another NHL contract.
Power Play Predators
At Stake: A spot on one of Nashville’s power play units.
The Players: J-P Dumont, Sergei Kostitsyn, Colin Wilson, Cal O’Reilly.
The Lowdown: Dumont fell out of favour for some reason down the stretch last season. Maybe he was hurt, or maybe coach Barry Trotz didn’t like his effort. At any rate, Dumont’s ice time plummeted and now there are some hungry kids looking to take it. Kostitsyn has a lot of unused talent and he’ll need to score early and often to seal top-six responsibility. Wilson is the golden boy of the organization and he will get every chance to succeed offensively. O’Reilly is the ugly stepchild; seemingly never considered a big part of the team’s future, yet he has made the American League his toy for three years now. His hockey sense and vision need to be taken seriously, but even if he isn’t given a chance he may create one for himself.
The Fallout: If Dumont fails to reach 50 points again, his value will be zero in fantasy circles – if it isn’t already. If Kostitsyn fails, he may spend 2011-12 in the Kontinental League. If O’Reilly fails, he’ll be destined to “Andrew Ebbett” his way around the league for several years before joining Alexandre Daigle in Switzerland. The only safe player here is Wilson, who will still hold value to both the team and fantasy hockey next year even if he stumbles.
At Stake: The second- and third-line center job with the Coyotes.
The Players: Martin Hanzal, Kyle Turris, Kyle Wellwood, Andrew Ebbett
The Lowdown: The Coyotes score by committee, so even the third-line center could reach 40 points. However, the second-line center could get as many as 55 and failure by Wellwood, Ebbett or Turris to win one of the two spots will see them out of the NHL this season. By all accounts, Turris has a roster spot to lose and, of course, Hanzal will be a fixture in one of those spots as well.
The Fallout: Hanzal is entering his fourth season, so if he can show he is a top-sixer instead of a checker he will need to top 50 points. Turris will eventually own the spot – potentially on the first-line – but he is too raw for it right now and may settle for the third line. If Wellwood – twith Phoenix on a tryout – or Ebbett – on a two-way contract – fail to prove they are the better option, their NHL days may be over.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Get the edge in your league – check out the latest scoop every Tuesday. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.
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