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Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 14, 2009. (JASON COHN)
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 14, 2009. (JASON COHN)

Hockey Pool Primer

Forward thinking represents key to success Add to ...

Picking out quality wingers and centremen is the real meat of any fantasy draft.

After all, of the NHL's 950 or so players every season, nearly 600 are forwards, and those players produce about 90 per cent of the league's goals. They also present the greatest opportunity for gains, as breakout players often go from 40 or 50 points to 80 or 90 with an increased role.

At the top, the first three forwards in every draft this coming season are going to be no-brainers. Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were the only players to top 100 points last season, and since the lockout, they've all averaged 1.26 points per game or better (the equivalent of 103 points over a full season). There's no reason to believe any of the three will take a step back, either, as all are entering their prime and play on top teams in the higher scoring Eastern Conference.

After that, things get a bit more interesting.

Keep in mind that, last season, only 15 players had 82 points or more, the equivalent to a point-a-game production. What that means is that the bulk of your fantasy team is likely to be made up of players in the 50 to 70 point range, and the more you can find in the top of that group, the better.

One way to do that is to look for players who are either coming off an injury or a poor season who have proven to be top scorers in the past. Forwards in the "coming off an injury" category this year, for example, include Marian Gaborik, Andy McDonald, Paul Kariya, Paul Stastny, Brad Richards, Danny Briere, Derick Brassard and Brenden Morrow, all of whom may slip on draft lists because their production was limited last season.

Another key group of players that can offer unexpected fantasy totals is the young breakout player, someone like the Philadelphia Flyers' Jeff Carter, who went from career highs of 29 goals and 53 points prior to last season to 46 goals and 84 points in 2008-09. Keep an eye out for similar players who are in line to inherit more ice time due to teammates leaving via free agency or even injuries in training camp.

Profiling the fantasy forward (70-plus points)

  • Nationality: 54 per cent Canadian, 41 per cent European (incl. 15 per cent Russian), 5 per cent American
  • Average age (start of last season): 27
  • Size: 6 foot 1, 200 pounds
  • Average ice time: 19 minutes, 52 seconds a game

The following chart details how forwards' points (projected over 82 games) correlate with their power play ice time last season based on players who played at least 20 games and a minimum of two minutes per game on the man advantage.

Forwards who skate on their team's first power play unit average about 3 minutes and 50 seconds a game on the man advantage, while those who play on the second unit average about two and a half minutes a game on the power play.

There's a strong relationship between power play ice time and total point production for a variety of reasons, and who you draft should be based in part on the number of minutes those players will see at 5-on-4 and 5-on-3:

Globe tip sheet

Elite options (85-plus points) other than the big three (Alex, Geno and Sid):

  • Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim: The catalyst for what may be NHL's top line in 2009-10
  • Alex Semin, Washington: 90 points is within reach (if healthy)
  • Joe Thornton, San Jose: Will benefit from having elite sniper in Dany Heatley on his wing
  • Jonathan Toews, Chicago: Just 21, he's trending toward joining the league leaders
  • Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta: It is a contract year

Second-tier (70-plus points):

  • Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa: Totals should rebound after mess of last season
  • Corey Perry, Anaheim: Offers plenty of extras in the PIM department
  • Thomas Vanek, Buffalo: Led the NHL in goal scoring in the early going last season and isn't far off winning the Rocket Richard Trophy
  • Alex Frolov, Los Angeles: Hard to imagine the Kings will be as offensively inept as they were in 2008-09
  • Ales Hemsky, Edmonton: Bet on new coach Pat Quinn jumpstarting his offensive star

Underrated gems:

  • Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh: Will be a tempting fantasy option given he'll get a full season on Crosby's wing
  • Valtteri Filppula, Detroit: Had just four power play points last season and is in line for a far more prominent role this time around
  • Jason Arnott, Nashville: Preds captain is always under the radar, for whatever reason, but he'll score you 30 goals
  • Stephen Weiss, Florida: Lowest profile No. 1 centre in the league has potential to erupt at some point
  • Bryan Little, Atlanta: Expect another leap forward if he slides in on Ilya Kovalchuk's line

Rebound/breakout candidates (trending up):

  • Claude Giroux, Philadelphia: Loss of Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul opens prime spot for unheralded phenom
  • Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay: Showed over second half last season he'll be the real deal
  • Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles: Should be one of several revelations for the Kings this season
  • Scott Gomez, Montreal: Last year's 58 points are as low as he can go
  • Dave Bolland, Chicago: Without Marian Hossa around to start the year, expect some of the youngsters to step up their game

Players to avoid (trending down):

  • Patrik Elias, New Jersey: Injured to start the season and unlikely to catch fire under Jacques Lemaire once healthy
  • Mike Richards, Philadelphia: Extensive off-season shoulder surgery is worrisome
  • David Krejci, Boston: Coming off hip surgery with expectations sky high
  • Slava Kozlov, Atlanta: Will take a step back as newcomer Nik Antropov and youngsters assume larger scoring roles
  • Marian Hossa, Chicago: Set to miss at least first two months and unlikely to be at full speed until midseason

Check back Wednesday for part two of our fantasy hockey preview series, when James Mirtle will examine the best bets among point-scoring blueliners.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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