In 2004-05, several players caught the eye of fantasy owners with their dazzling numbers in the American League. Some of them panned out – others, not so much. With smaller players, i.e. those 5-foot-9 and shorter, it’s a game in and of itself trying to determine who will pan out and who won’t.
Eight years ago, the 5-foot-9 Mike Cammalleri finished second in AHL scoring with 109 points and he was tops in goals with 46. He followed that up by making the Kings full-time and posting 55 points. In 2006-07 he tallied 80 points, securing his spot as a top fantasy player.
But there were other players of smaller stature who caught my eye. One was Simon Gamache and the other was Kyle Wellwood. The latter was fourth in AHL scoring with 87 points, while the former was immediately below him at 86.
Wellwood went on to a successful rookie campaign with the Maple Leafs, picking up 45 points. He followed that up with 42 points in just 48 games before a sports hernia completely derailed his progress. Were it not for the injury, one could argue that Wellwood would have been a decent secondary fantasy player. A long-term injury that comes early in a player’s NHL career often has that impact. His role in the lineup is not always held for him and many times a player is unable to play his way off a checking line as a result.
Gamache had several opportunities with the Blues and Leafs (not so much the Predators or Thrashers), and he looked pretty good. But a lack of ice time and quality linemates ultimately held him back and we were never able to see what he could do. All in all, these three smaller players gave us mixed results – great, modest and “fail.”
This season, there are once again a handful of smaller AHLers who are all over the score sheets. I’m keeping an eye on a few in particular. Once again you’ll find success, failure and something in between. If we knew which was which, then fantasy hockey wouldn’t be any fun, would it?
Cam Atkinson, Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets)
The skinny: The 5-foot-8 former Boston College star has thrived at every level – including the NHL. His finish to last season with Columbus, when he tallied six points in two games, got everyone’s attention. And now he sits third in AHL scoring with 29 points in 25 games. He is already penciled in to the top six for the Jackets. I’m penciling him in on the first line. My confidence in him: Extremely high.
Tyler Johnson, Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The skinny: He’s listed at 5-foot-10, but since he was listed as 5-foot-9 just a couple months ago, I can’t help but still consider him smaller. But that extra inch means a lot, because the Lightning already have a Martin St-Louis and they also have another top prospects – Cory Conacher – who is small and skilled. You can only fit so many of this type of player in one lineup, so there are definitely obstacles to overcome. Johnson has 27 points in 26 games. My confidence in him: Some, but gaining quickly.
Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets)
The skinny: After a 95-point year in the Quebec League, JAM earned a tryout with the NY Rangers in 2011. It didn’t earn him a contract, but as an AHL rookie he tallied 64 points in 76 games. That got him signed by the Blue Jackets and now he has 27 points in 25 games, which ties him for fourth in the league. He’s only 21 (turns 22 on Dec. 27), so the team will wait a couple of years on him. Lots of time. My confidence in him: I’d wait another year before deciding for sure.
Cory Conacher, Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The skinny: Last year’s AHL MVP and Rookie of the Year, Conacher certainly knows how to make an impact. This time around he has slowed down a little. His 22 points in 26 games are shy of the 80 in 75 that he got a year ago – part of that is the arrival of Alex Killorn and some of that is the emergence of Johnson. Conacher will continue to try to outperform the other two – the winner could very well become a star in the NHL, while the other two fade into minor-league obscurity. My confidence in him: Similar to Johnson, but instead of gaining quickly he’s losing ground.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.