Six months ago, fantasy hockey players started on a journey that would be filled with many highs and lows. There have been a lot of injuries and some very significant ones at that. We saw Sidney Crosby go down a couple times this year and miss quite a big chunk of time. Then there was the likely career ending concussion to Chris Pronger. It has been a tough year to gauge the top rookies, breakout players, and primetime warriors.
Those are the three categories we are using for this season ender known as the “Best Of The Best”. The reason we went with a bit of chronological youngest to oldest was simply because we could. For each category, we take our three best players and then add in a few honorable mentions. Yes that may stir up some more debate but remember this is from a fantasy hockey point of view.
First we spotlight those young players, err rookies that have really shined in their first full seasons in the National Hockey League.
Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Colorado Avalanche — Landeskog started off very solid but did not have a lot of points to show for it. Then he began to catch some fire as the season went on. When you look at the totals now, it is amazing. Landeskog is a 20-20-20 guy on pace for around 270 shots. The 51 points is impressive but his ability to play in all three phases is what has him tabbed as the leader for the Calder Trophy (Best Rookie). Also for those who count it, the Swedish rookie has a whopping 212 hits on the season. He is the one of the most physical 205 pound forwards we have ever seen. This could be just the beginning of one hell of a career.
Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey Devils — Imagine if Henrique had not been sent down to the AHL for a short stretch and think about what could have happened. As it is, the rookie has had a solid first full campaign with 16 goals and 34 assists on the year. The +8 on New Jersey may be more impressive being the fact that the Devils are not very good on the +/- side for a playoff team. Henrique does not have the hits of a Landeskog but is on pace for 86 hits. The only thing that would limit Henrique is the lack of finishing in the last 20-25 games of the season but the future is bright. There is one parting shot. The rookie has seven shorthanded points which is another reason to smile.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers — This is the one guy who could have run away with the Calder if he had stayed healthy. Health is always an issue here. While the two previous rookies have played 70+ games, Nugent-Hopkins only played 60 at press time with 51 points. That projects out to a 67 point year. His chemistry with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall were obvious from the first shifts at training camp. The pivot has 20 power play assists with his 18 goals on the year. He is a future 30-60 guy for years to come and maybe more upside than that. Edmonton will get another high pick this year. At some point, this has to translate into wins right?
Honorable Mention: Matt Read (Philadelphia), Carl Hagelin (NY Rangers)
PRIME TIME WARRIORS:
Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins — Here is our no doubt about it. Malkin is the best player in the NHL this year by a pretty good margin. We have not seen a 50-50 season for a few years since Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby did the deed for fantasy owners. What #71 has done for Pittsburgh without Crosby for huge chunks should not be a surprise but the 107 points in 74 games is somewhat of one. The 1.45 points per game average would put Malkin close to the 120 point mark had he played a full 82. That is all you need to know about the likely MVP. He is our Fantasy MVP for this year, The parting shots are these. Malkin has four games with five points this year and the Penguin leads all players in scoring on weekends. That is fantasy clutch.
Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning — Stamkos will end up with 300+ shots on the year but most importantly goes into his last game of the year with a chance to score 60. He has 59 goals and 37 assists on the year. Even with all that, the Center has 12 GWG with five of them coming in OT. The only real weakness in his game is his 45.5% faceoff win percentage. That does have to be worked on but when you can pot 50 or 60 goals a year, who is going to complain? By the way, Stamkos nearly plays 22:00 a night which is more than quite a few third and even second defensemen.
Claude Giroux, C/RW, Philadelphia Flyers — Its pivot heavy time here as Giroux makes the third Center to be honored here. Out of the three, he does have a nice 53.5% faceoff percentage which is excellent. His 65 assists is second in the league (Henrik Sedin — 67). There is still some contention that Giroux could have more goals if he would just get a little dirty. Giroux is an elite player but there is a bit of hesitation to see what happens when Jaromir Jagr is gone for good. The Center did miss four games due to a concussion but honestly his shot total is consistent with a 35 goal scorer. Accuracy will have to improve for Giroux to take that step into the 100 point club.
Honorable Mention: Jason Spezza (Ottawa), Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey)
Teemu Selanne, RW, Anaheim Ducks — Selanne is how old? He will turn 42 in July and yet even on a bad Anaheim team managed 66 points with 12 power play goals and 200+ shots. Maybe he does retire after this year but he could play another season and fantasy owners will wait on baited breath again for his decision. He is still a 30 goal scorer in this league and that is truly extraordinary.
Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit Red Wings — Yes Lidstrom does not score quite as much as he used to but he still finds a way to be that defensive glue for the Wings. He is almost 42 and yet has 34 points for the team and 11 goals. Add in the fact that he is a +22 and there is no disputing the fact that he can still play at a very good level. That elite level is likely gone but if this is his last year, he went out his way.
Ray Whitney, LW, Phoenix Coyotes — How many players nearing 40 could pass the puck the way Whitney has? Adam Oates is about the only guy that comes to mind but Whitney is still prolific at it. The 75 point season for him is in another world. One of the things that the Left Winger remarked in a previous interview was that “he left at least 15 points on the ice”. Could he, as a 40 year old, top 75 points next year? I would never doubt it. 24 goals, 51 assists, and a +25. We are sold!
Honorable Mention: Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia), Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa)
OUR ALL STAR FIRST TEAM:
G — Henrik Lundquist (NY Rangers)
D — Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues)
D — Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
LW — James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins)
C — Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)
RW — Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
OUR ALL STAR SECOND TEAM:
G — Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)
D — Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)
D — Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins)
LW — Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey Devils)
C — Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
RW — Marian Gaborik (New York Rangers)
I hope people really enjoyed this and let the debating truly begin.