Poolies should start thinking about next year

If you’re just a spectator to the unfolding events and are tired of listening to your more fortunate friends, well, this simply sucks.

But don’t despair, poor poolie. This is also a good time to begin planning your strategy – or revenge – for next year. Some NHL teams are in the same position, out of the playoffs and looking to the future, putting young players in more prominent roles or auditioning call-ups from the minors.

Start taking notes now.

As an example, there’s Patrick O’Sullivan of the Kings, called up in February and with 10 points since March 11. He’ll help pool contenders now and be someone to watch next year. Teammate Dustin Brown is another young talent, with 10 power-play goals and 40 points on the year, 12 in March alone.

On the Bruins, we like Brandon Bochenski and believe Phil Kessel will eventually fulfil his promise as a first-round pick. Not all rookies jump out like a Sidney Crosby. Many are more like former Bruin Joe Thornton.

Remember, Big Joe had only seven points in his first year, and then 41 in his second. If you’re in a keeper league that allows it, put a claim on Kessel now – while you can.

Waiver Watch

Playoff-bound teams also bring up youngsters at season’s end, both rewarding them and relying on them for hard work, energy and skills. These are good short-term pick ups and can also go on a futures list as possible sleepers for 2007-2008.

Examples are Drew Stafford of the Sabres and Travis Zajac of the Devils. They were needed to fill injury holes but because of their great play will be expected to help their teams in the playoffs and to be prime contributors next year.

Other players rise from relative obscurity on contending teams to become prominent producers down the stretch. Jiri Hudler of the Red Wings is one, with 10 of his 22 points in March alone, while Mikko Koivu of the Wild is another. A six-week tear has Saku’s brother over 50 points now, with a sure potential for more next season. Remember on draft day that he finished the year on the Wild’s top line and power play.

Canucks rookie Kevin Bieksa deserves similar attention. He has quietly assumed the top defenceman’s role on the club and undoubtedly will still have it next year. Shea Weber is another young defenceman on the cusp of stardom, particularly evident now since the second-year Predator bumped Marek Zidlicky from the blue-line perch on the power play.

Obscured among the great forward talent in Nashville is Alexander Radulov, the Predators’ first-round pick in 2004. It would be no surprise to see this talented rookie break out next year.

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Other names to put on a keeper list: defenceman Niklas Kronwall (Red Wings); goaltenders Niklas Backstrom (Wild) and Fredrik Norrena (Blue Jackets); and, forwards Andrew Ladd (Hurricanes), Wojtek Wolski (Avalanche), Matt Stajan (Leafs) and Guillaume Latendresse (Canadiens).

Mark them down – and wait till next year.

Injury Update

It’s looking like the Devils might be willing to forfeit the Atlantic Division championship in order to have Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta and John Madden healthy for the playoffs. Makes sense for the team to rest the trio, all out with groin injuries. Of course, certain poolies will not be too happy with this.

They can join owners of Henrik Zetterberg (back) in the grumbler’s club. He might play a game or two before the playoffs, but that’s about it. And goaltender Cristobal Huet (hamstring) is also close to returning, but the Canadiens won’t give him a chance to play as long as Jaroslav Halak stays hot.

Poolies might start looking for replacements if they have Kings defencemen Rob Blake (neck) or Lubomir Visnovsky (undisclosed) in their lineup. Both went out on the weekend and, with the season winding down, could be spared until next season.

Greg Dennis can be reached at cp.pool(at)

Some suggestions on players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:

Who’s Hot

1. RW Jonathan Cheechoo, Sharks. Twelve points in six games have turned around an otherwise disappointing season for the sniper.

2. LW Ville Peltonen, Panthers. Plus-7 and six points in four games nudges him towards the watch list for next year.

3. RW Trevor Linden, Canucks. He’s not the player he used to be but the venerable veteran has points in five-straight games.

4. G Josh Harding, Wild. The backup to the backup gets a shutout and allows but two goals in three winning starts.

5. D Christoph Schubert, Senators. Four-game burst nets him one goal, four assists and an impressive plus-7 rating.

Who’s Not

1. LW Martin Havlat, Blackhawks. No goals and only five assists in 12 games has poolies shaking their heads.

2. RW Mike Knuble, Flyers. Pointless in five games since returning from facial injury and Shanahan collision.

3. G Martin Biron, Flyers. Oh, sure, the former Sabre is starting games now. But he’s won only one of his last five.

4. RW Jeff O’Neill, Leafs. A dirty dozen games without a point earns him a healthy scratch Saturday night.

5. RW Nils Ekman, Penguins. If he’s not injured, he’s scratched. And if he’s not scratched, he’s useless.