Every Tuesday from now until the beginning of the regular season I'll do my best David Letterman impression and put together a unique top ten list about our beloved Canes. Last week I listed the Top Ten Trades in Hurricanes history. This week, in honor of the return of the Canes Country Fantasy Hockey League returning, I decided to predict which Hurricanes would make an impact in the realm of fantasy sports. I have always been active in fantasy football leagues and have been somewhat successful in a majority of them. That being said, I have never participated in fantasy hockey due to the fear of beginning to root for opposing teams or players instead of the Canes.
This is my best attempt of predicting which names will be remembered as the fantasy hockey season gets underway, with a little twist on each player. As usual, feel free to tell me if I went wrong somewhere and don't forget to contact me via Twitter (@LeePhillips18) if you have something to add to the list.
10. Zac Dalpe
Dalpe showed signs of promise last season scoring three times and adding an assist in only 15 games in the NHL. He will technically still be a rookie, having played under 25 games with the Hurricanes, and could be in the Calder debate come the end of the season.
He will probably be given the duty of second-line winger this upcoming season. He might even see time with last year's Calder winner Jeff Skinner or a player like Tuomo Ruutu. I think that given the right circumstances Dalpe could turn out to be a decent surprise this season.
Final Line: 77 Games Played, 17 Goals, 20 Assists, 37 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Tim Tebow (DEN), won't start right away but will give you some numbers as the year goes on.
9. Tuomo Ruutu
Ruutu will look to eclipse the 20-goal mark again this year for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Last year he finished 3rd on the team in scoring with 57 points and it was still considered a somewhat down year for Ruutu. Over the past few seasons, Ruutu's role has developed into a physical second-line center who scores occasionally. He doesn't have to notch 25 goals to have an effective season, but it's always something players drafted in the first round shoot for.
This year Ruutu will probably find himself centering the second line yet again. He has been snubbed by countless lists on "Who to watch out for this year" so I'll put him on mine. I think the Hurricanes top two lines will be able to score a lot of goals this year and if he improves on faceoffs (something the whole team could get better at) I think he'll cement his spot on the second line and be a prominent fixture on the stat sheet.
Final Line: 81 Games Played, 19 Goals, 39 Assists, 58 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Jeremy Maclin (PHI), puts up some damn good numbers but will always be overshadowed by bigger names.
The first "new guy" on the list is Kaberle. I really like the addition of another offensive-minded defenseman. Obviously the power play is Kaberle's bread and butter. He annually excelled in Toronto with the extra man and continually hovered at around 50 points. However, Kaberle brings a touch of defensive ability to his offensive game, a lot like Joni Pitkanen. A position on the second defensive pairing will do wonders for a guy who will need to see a chiropractor after carrying so many bad Maple Leafs teams on his back.
This year I predict Kaberle to have a pretty average statistical year. However, a defenseman that can give you a 50-point season is comparable to a running back who can catch passes. A few extra points to go along with a good plus/minus total should be a good combination.
Final Line: 82 Games Played, 8 Goals, 44 Assists, 52 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC), gives you the numbers for his position, but also a few more offensive stats that add a bonus.
Second newbie on the list on Ponikarovsky. The Russian winger has turned in some solid, offensively productive seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but didn't find that same groove with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Los Angeles Kings last season. He's scored just seven goals since being traded away from the Leafs and who could be better to help him break out of his slump than former Leafs coach Paul Maurice! In an ideal world, that istuation would prove true... however, 'Poni' has a lot of work to do to regain his 20-goal form.
I think Ponikarovsky will bounce back this season. The offense might suit his game better in Carolina as they run a fairly simplistic style of attack. He's a big guy (listed at 6'4", 224 lbs.) so he might even see a little time on the top line with Eric Staal. He could be a good net presence and a asset on the power play, helping to boost his numbers.
Final Line: 82 Games Played, 22 Goals, 37 Assists, 59 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Tony Romo (DAL), Has had some off years in the recent past, but could still be a good option.
6. Joni Pitkanen
Some people were surprised to hear that Pitkanen signed a three-year deal in Carolina that was drastically lower than what was expected. He could have made a lot more money in the free agent market, but chose to stay with the Hurricanes for a hometown discount. Pitkanen's numbers were pretty marginal last year, netting only five goals with 30 assists. However, Pitkanen plays between 25-30 minutes every game and is always a threat to go on a hot streak. He has a bomb of a shot and is fairly sound defensively. He was a -2 last year which would rank pretty high considering he played against top lines every game (compare to Gleason's -11 and Corvo's -14).
Pitkanen's value hasn't been hurt by the addition of Tomas Kaberle, in fact, I think it's been boosted. Not all of the responsibility will fall with Pitkanen this year and that might ease the mental strain an NHL season can inflict. He will still see his power play time and still play a majority of the games on the top defensive pairing. I also expect to see an increase in his total offense this year with teams having to concentrate on Kaberle as well.
Final Line: 80 Games Played, 9 Goals, 47 Assists, 56 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Adrian Peterson (MIN), Solid guy, you know what you're getting with him and barring injury, he will produce big numbers.
Just about everyone was shocked when the Thrashers (now Jets) didn't even present an offer sheet to Stewart after this past season. He didn't score 50 goals or anything, but he was a solid producer who helped the team more than hurt it. Stewart showed a lot of promise at the beginning of last season and coincidentally, that's when the Thrashers looked like playoff contenders. Stewart is another big body (6'3", 230 lbs.) and has admitted to being able to crash the net and dig for the dirty goals.
I think Stewart will fit in nicely with the Canes. I also think that he will see a majority of his time on the ice spent with Mr. Staal. He is clearly an asset to a team that doesn't have many net crashers or big bodies, so it would be wise of the coaching staff to utilize him. I see Stewart, a boom-or-bust type of player, being a boom this year. He loves the team and the fans and has already been more than welcomed on Twitter.
Final Line: 82 Games Played, 27 Goals, 40 Assists, 67 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Kevin Kolb (ARI), Has a ton of potential and showed flashes of it last season; now has a chance to prove he can handle a bigger role to new teammates and fans alike.
4. Jeff Skinner
The wonder kid of Carolina. The baby-faced superstar. The Justin Beiber of hockey. Yes, all of those accolades go to Skinner. Skinner, who turned 19 last May, will try to replicate a rookie season that included an All-Star nomination, incessant media coverage, magazine shoots and the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. One thing that will be sure to drive Skinner to push harder is the fact that despite his 31 goals, the Canes didn't make the playoffs and his name is not etched on the Stanley Cup.
Last season was a roller coaster for Skinner. He did more in one season than most players ever dream of doing in their careers. The question still remains though; what does he do for an encore. A good sign of things to come would be his participation in his second conditioning camp with former Cane Gary Roberts. It seems like Skinner is a good kid with a good head on his shoulders and I really hope he succeeds this year, avoiding the sophomore slump. Realistically, I think Skinner will produce similar numbers to last season. His role will be increased with the departure of Erik Cole, but the expectations are on him this year and so are others team's defenses.
Final Line: 81 Games Played, 32 Goals, 35 Assists, 67 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Jamaal Charles (KCC), If you didn't know who this guy was last year, you know now. After bursting on the scene in 2010-11, he now faces questions about whether he can replicate his success in 2012.
The final Finn on the list. Jokinen took somewhat of a step back last campaign scoring only 19 goals after he hit 30 the previous year. Jokinen bounced between center and wing and between lines last year so hopefully his dip in goals is due to inconsistency. With a full summer to stew about how maybe 11 more goals would have pushed the Canes into the playoffs, maybe Jokinen can return to form and silence his critics.
This season I would expect to see Jussi rebound from a less-than-stellar 2010-11 year. Consistency in position and in linemates will hopefully propel him back into the upper-tier of fantasy hockey players this season. I expect Jokinen to return to 30 goals this year; unrelated but I also expect to see the one-handed shoot-out drag move he made so popular in Dallas at least once this year.
Final Line: 82 Games Played, 35 Goals, 44 Assists, 79 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Larry Fitzgerald (ARI), Numbers were slightly down last season, but the combination of new teammates and a drive to return to the playoffs will do nothing but help him.
2. Cam Ward
There is absolutely no doubt about it; Cam Ward is a rock in net. Ward will again be asked to shoulder the load when it comes to defensive responsibility as the Canes are not one of the most defensively-sound teams in the league. Ward finished last season with 37 wins in 74 games played. His 2,191 saves were the most in the league and only 112 less than the NHL record set by then-Panthers goalie Roberto Loungo. With unproven Justin Peters serving as backup, the Canes were forced to rely on Ward 100% during the drive for the playoffs late in the season. Ward played every minute of every game from March 4 on with Peters appearing in only 12 contests.
This season will be much different for Ward. The Hurricanes signed Brain Boucher to a two-year contract this past offseason which affects Ward fantasy value. He will still be one of the most influential goaltenders in the NHL, statistically speaking, but will play in far less than 74 games this year. Boucher will help ease some of Ward's workload which is good for him and the team, but not so great for fantasy owners.
Final Line: 66 Games Played In, 36-20-9, 2.49 GAA, .929 SV%, 5 SO
Fantasy Football Comparison: Peyton Manning (IND), Mr. Consistency, period. Manning probably won't start the season so the Colts brought in veteran backup Kerry Collins, which hurts his value.
1. Eric Staal
Staal will always be the leader of this team. He annually puts up the biggest numbers and always plays against the toughest competition. He always seems to find another gear to switch into during crunch time and is the unquestioned leader of the franchise. No matter if he plays in 82 games or misses games due to injury or personal reasons, Staal always seems to be a point-per-game player. Despite the pressures of being the first forward selected in the star-studded 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Staal has excelled. Ever since being named team captain, he has shown the willingness to put himself on the line for his teammates.
Staal will undoubtedly be a point-per-game player this season, with an upside. While I don't see him reached the 100-point mark he did in 2005-06, I do see a monster season coming up for a healthy Staal. He has new linemates that are not shy about dishing the puck to him and they are big enough to push players around, creating time and space for Staal. Even when Staal is being double-teamed, he has shown a awareness to pass the puck off to a player in better position than himself.
Final Line: 82 Games Played, 44 Goals, 50 Assists, 94 Points
Fantasy Football Comparison: Drew Brees (NO), He's not Michael Vick (Ovechkin), Aaron Rodgers (Crosby) or even Philip Rivers (Stamkos) but he gets the job done. He will put up big-time numbers every year no matter if he has an All-Star supporting cast or not. He has the ability to turn 'Average Joe' players into stars. Oh yeah, and he has a ring too.