Taking long looks at the kids

It's been said a million times, but I'll say it again: this season went by quickly. The season kicks off, you blink, and now your team is battling for a playoff spot. Or the opposite. One thing you have to be wary of in head-to-head leagues is what’s happening with teams out of playoff contention. You'll get thrown many curveballs, such as Jhonas Enroth getting back-to-back starts or Roman Cervenka getting a second chance (and subsequently blowing it).

Coaches tend to give their younger guys a look in more situations, getting an early jump on training camp. It has huge ramifications on poolies, because the veterans see their ice time and power play time tweaked downward to make room for the kids. Four teams in particular I've noticed have already looked to next season. Let's take a look at the short- and long-term impact.

Buffalo Sabres

These days, the likes of Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are getting about 15 minutes of ice time each. With Jason Pominville dealt to Minnesota and Ville Leino sidelined, this opens up a pile of ice time for other players. You're seeing names like Brian Flynn and Kevin Porter all over the scoresheet.

Flynn, 24, was a free agent signed out of college a year ago after posting 156 points in 153 career games for Maine over four seasons. He had 32 points in 45 games for Rochester before getting the call. The mark he's making right now is similar to the impact Marcus Foligno had down the stretch last year. Flynn has five points in his past seven games and is plus-7 in that span. If the Sabres make no moves in the off-season, he’ll have an outside shot at a second-line spot. In the meantime, the numbers we're seeing right now are as good as they’ll get with him.

Porter is taking full advantage of this NHL stint. Now 27, he's a cat using its ninth life. Poolies had given up on him two years ago after he failed to live up to his tremendous promise as the 2008 Hobey Baker Award winner. He has seven points in his past seven games and he pushes to make a big enough impression to stick a year from now. Points are doubtful for 2013-14, but in the final two weeks of this season, I can see it continuing.

Goaltender Ryan Miller has one more season with the Sabres in his contract. Is the team trying to get a look at what they have in Enroth? They would have to run the table if they want to get into the playoffs. But if that were really their intent, would they be sending Enroth out there? It throws a wrench into the plans of Miller owners.

Nashville Predators

Filip Forsberg, the blue-chip prospect acquired from the Capitals at the deadline for Martin Erat, got into the Predators lineup Sunday. He played 18:37, which is very un-Barry Trotz-like. And he's not the only youngster to see a pile of minutes. Taylor Beck saw 20:22, Craig Smith 15:11 and even Austin Watson got into the lineup. If Nashville sat in sixth in the conference, would we see any of these names? Nope, not even Smith, who’s had a terrible sophomore campaign with nine points and a minus-16 rating in 39 games.

At this point, the likes of Beck, Forsberg and Watson are battling for an early training camp advantage. They know that between the three of them, there will likely be just one spot available in October, at best. Smith is playing to prove he belongs. He needs a top-six job in order to thrive and must put this sophomore campaign behind him. Smith is 11th in total ice time among Nashville forwards, yet he's second in shots on goal.

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Calgary Flames

Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester are gone and Alex Tanguay is done for the season (knee). It's time for the kids to step up.

TJ Brodie – The 22-year-old defenseman has seen at least 22 minutes of ice time in every game since Bouwmeester was traded. He has three points in his past two games with two of those coming on the power play. Provided the Flames don't sign a defenseman in the summer, he'll be alongside Dennis Wideman next year as the go-to guy.

Mikael Backlund – The talented, but oft-injured Swede is seeing his ice time hit 19 minutes. He has seven points in his past 12 games and if he can stay healthy, he'll be ready for a permanent top-six spot.
Akim Aliu – He got into the game Sunday and played 15 minutes. His forte is penalty minutes, but he has little upside offensively.

Sven Baertschi – He struggled early on in his rookie campaign, but he's not struggling anymore now that he's getting 17 minutes per game. He's shooting the puck more and making things happen, culminating in a two-point effort Sunday. He’s a lock to make the team next year, likely as a second-liner right off the bat.

Roman Horak – Still a tweener at this point. That is to say, he could be a third-line checker or possibly a top-six scorer. One would hope a player who earned the moniker “Roman Score-ak” earlier this season with Abbotsford could translate that into NHL numbers. This is his time to show what he can do. He's seen 16 minutes of ice time or more in four of the past five games after never reaching that mark in any of his prior seven contests.

Max Reinhart – The 21-year-old has two points in his past three games and his ice time has also been bumped. He's looking to show that he belongs next season and he's doing a pretty good job of it.
Roman Cervenka – The 27-year-old European star is on a one-year contract. In his first 10 games, his ice time hovered around 15 minutes or so and he did manage six points, but he was a minus-4. His ice time was cut and he started getting scratched. After the Iginla trade his ice time shot back up to 15 minutes per game. A second chance. But again, the defensive shortcomings hurt and his ice time was just 6:42 Sunday. He's playing for his next NHL contract.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avs are the one team on this list that hasn't really changed the game plan. Their stars and their veterans are getting the ice time they should. With one exception: Tyson Barrie is getting leaned on heavily, seeing 48 minutes over the course of the past two games. He has five points in his past 11 games and coach Joe Sacco seems to finally be able to overlook the defensive shortcomings. Barrie's future in fantasy hockey wasn't exactly a slam-dunk, when you look at his nine healthy scratches this season. But this latest stretch makes his long-term value more promising.

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.

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