We're nearly a third of the way into the campaign already. While Peter Pessimist rants and raves about how Alex Ovechkin is sucking and Brian Elliott isn't repeating his surprise 2011-12 season, the optimists can take some positives from the early numbers. It would be easy to list 50 players here, I've managed to whittle it down to 10. Here are the notable, positive surprises so far:
10. Jiri Hudler, Calgary
Yes, we knew Hudler had talent. And yes, we knew that the Flames were investing a lot in him, as one of their two big free agent forward signings. He was going to get a lot of ice time in a lot of great situations. But even so, fantasy owners were unsure of what the result would be. He had his ups and downs in the Kontinental League, to say nothing of Detroit. But close to a point per game is a great start in Calgary.
9. Nazem Kadri, Toronto
Toronto's favorite whipping boy has made Leafs fans forget all about donut-gate. For those not living in the GTA, Kadri reported to the Marlies in the summer with a rather high body fat index. This “scandal” dominated the sports section and radio call-in shows in Toronto for a week. So it's great to see him shut the critics up. He leads the Maple Leafs in scoring. It won't end up that way, but he'll exceed expectations for this season just by topping 30 points, which he should do.
8. Joel Ward, Washington
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer have combined for 30 points this season. Mike Ribeiro and Joel Ward have combined for 29. Who'd have thunk? Ward had 18 points in 73 games last year, so getting half those points in five percent of the games is quite the shocker.
7. Benoit Pouliot, Tampa Bay
Ah the twists and turns of fantasy hockey. I've liked Pouliot as a sleeper for three years now and although he did improve two years ago in Montreal with 30 points and again last year in Boston with 32 points, those improvements were baby steps at best. I was excited about his opportunity with Tampa, but when he had one point in five games to kick off his tenure I shrugged and moved on. I should learn to be more patient, because he has nine points in nine games since.
6. Jamie McGinn, Colorado
Raise your hand if you thought McGinn would pick up where he left off last season when he arrived in Colorado and proceeded to post eight goals and 13 points in 17 games. Alright put your hand back down, liar. McGinn is clicking with star forward Matt Duchene and already has 10 points. His shots-per-game average continues to rise, indicating that his production isn't going to slow any time soon.
5. Matt Frattin, Toronto
Ten points in 10 games – not bad for a guy who didn't make the team. Frattin was a surprise cut in Toronto's mini training camp. It must have really ticked him off because he's been on a mission ever since his return. His knee surgery couldn't have come at a worse time. For the next two weeks, poolies will be teased by his points-per-game average and wondering if he can keep up anything remotely at that pace.
4. David Clarkson, New Jersey
Clarkson has scored 40 goals in his past 96 games. He had 52 in 298 games before that. He has found a lot of chemistry with Patrik Elias, a star veteran who stubbornly refuses to age. You already take Clarkson the PIM player seriously. Time to take Clarkson the goal scorer seriously.
3. John Mitchell, Colorado
This one is such a shocker that you did a double take when you read the name. Especially if you're a Leafs fan. But he's averaging more than 16 minutes of ice time per game, has five goals and nine points. Not to mention he’s a plus-7. This is a guy who was considered a fringe NHLer by most of us, as recently as…well, a month ago.
2. Cory Conacher, Tampa Bay
Everyone's favorite rookie surprise, Conacher was nonetheless on a lot of sleeper lists (including my own). That's what prevents him from taking the No. 1 spot here. He's slowed down in a big way, as of late, managing just one point in his past seven contests (and a minus-7 in that span). He's back to reality, but now we've seen what his long-term upside can be. Even with the slowdown, my pre-season projection of 23 points is probably going to come in low. He'll pass 30 by the end of April.
1. Viktor Fasth, Anaheim
His NHL career consists of nine games played, eight wins and zero losses. His GAA is 1.78. This is a 30-year-old. How did scouts miss him for so long? Astute fantasy owners knew that Fasth would be a great backup goaltender, with a long-term shot at becoming a starter if he could eventually unseat Jonas Hiller. But nobody figured the unseating would take place before the end of February. Poolies who were stuck “settling” for Fasth as their second goalie in the pre-season draft are probably doing a little dance right now.
Honorable mentions: Edmonton's Sam Gagner, Carolina's Jiri Tlusty, Buffalo's Cody Hodgson, Anaheim's Saku Koivu and St. Louis’ Alexander Steen.
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.