Sure, Alex Ovechkin is a top-three pick and Martin Brodeur is a top-five goalie in all fantasy leagues, but what about pick No. 200? Because it’s in the later rounds that pools are won! There are several interesting battles that deserve your attention as the results will heavily impact late-round picks. Here is the final part of FPL’s ‘Battles to Watch’:
Ottawa: Power play quarterback
Ryan Shannon’s bid to beat out Jesse Winchester for the last top-six forward spot will be interesting. He has an uphill battle before him, as Winchester is looking good on the top line with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. However, the big fight will be between Brian Lee, Alexandre Picard and Filip Kuba to see who will run Ottawa’s power play. In the end, I think the three of them will rotate in and out of the first and second units.
Philadelphia: Jeff Carter’s wingers
With Mike Richards anchoring the top line with Daniel Briere on his right and Simon Gagne on his left, the question is who will Carter’s wingers be on the second line. Candidates include Mike Knuble, Scott Hartnell, Scott Upshall, Joffrey Lupul and rookie Claude Giroux. Give Hartnell and Lupul the edge here.
Phoenix: Battle of the talented rookies
Barring a catastrophic injury, Kyle Turris is assured of a spot on the second line. However, there is room for a maximum of two more rookies among the forwards. Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov, 2008 draftees, will get long looks, as will Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter. At least one of these talented youngsters will start the year in San Antonio while the other two will see as many as 50 points.
Pittsburgh: The annual Crosby/Malkin lottery
Petr Sykora will play with Evgeni Malkin again and newcomer Miroslav Satan will almost certainly line up with Sidney Crosby, but the other two top-six spots are up in the air. The winner could see 70 points if he can hold down the spot, while the loser could see 30 points and possibly some press-box time. The stakes are high for Pascal Dupuis, Ruslan Fedotenko, Janne Pesonen and even dark horse Bill Thomas. I give Dupuis an edge and although some experts peg Fedotenko as the other one, I would take a flyer on Finnish star Pesonen.
San Jose: The top-line shuffle
New coach Todd McLellan will almost certainly try to reignite the magic between Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, but who will be their left winger? Options include Ryane Clowe, Milan Michalek and even moving Patrick Marleau or Joe Pavelski from center. Whoever it is, their production could get as much as a 30-point boost if Thornton has one of his monster years.
St. Louis: Three centers, two scoring lines
Veteran Andy McDonald has no reason to believe that he will be demoted to centering the third line, but then again – these kids are good. Rookies T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund are both excellent bets to make the opening-day roster, but they are both skilled pivots. Whoever lines up on the third line is looking at a 35-point season, while the other two spots will generate 55 to 70 points. You may also see one of the rookies moved to the wing.
Tampa Bay: Andrew Hutchinson vs. Janne Niskala
Although the battle for a forward spot will be fierce (currently about 15 NHLers looking for 12 spots), these two defensemen both have offensive upside, meaning their battle more clear-cut. Each is on a one-way contract and one of them will anchor the second power play unit. Both Hutchinson and Niskala have a possible 35-point season ahead of them, but it’s likely only one will get there.
Toronto: Tomas Kaberle’s power play partner
Kaberle will not have his usual buddy Bryan McCabe to pass the puck to when the Leafs go a man up. Will Pavel Kubina step into the role? If not, perhaps newcomer Mike Van Ryn’s wrist problems are behind him and he has his old shot back. Promising youngster Anton Stralman is another good candidate and Ian White is a dark horse. There are 45 points up for grabs here.
Vancouver: Playing with the Sedins
Early indications are that newly acquired Steve Bernier will start the season with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. However, Taylor Pyatt could steal the spot with a strong camp. But if neither has a strong camp, look for Pavol Demitra to see some time there. The job will mean an additional 15 points this season.
Washington: Right wing on a scoring line
Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are entrenched as the top left wingers, while Michael Nylander and Niklas Backstrom can say the same about their roles at center. That leaves several players fighting it out to play with them. The candidates, in order of my favorites: Viktor Kozlov, Brooks Laich, Chris Clark, Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann.
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