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Posted - 01/22/2015 :  13:19:36  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Fourteen Eastern Conference players to keep an eye on.

In fantasy hockey we are always looking to gain that extra edge over our competition in our quest for the league championship. That includes spending an insane amount of time preparing for the pre-season draft. It also includes spending even more time browsing through statistics, player news and game footage to make roster changes during the season. With the internet and social media growing every day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to act quickly when news breaks to be the benefactor of the fallout. Therefore, it is important to be ahead of the curve and anticipate change before it happens. This does not necessarily mean making a corresponding roster change immediately, but simply being mindful of players that could be helpful in the near future can give you a big advantage.

With that said, today we will take a moment to analyze players that should be on your radar. This list ranges from established players to potential multi-category studs to newcomers trying to make their mark. The key is that each of them has a reason for optimism which, depending on your league setup, can have a significant impact on your fantasy hockey success in the second half of the season.

Part One will cover the first half of the Eastern Conference. Next week will cover the other eight teams.

Boston

Loui Eriksson – There are plenty of reasons to be down on Eriksson. There is the fact that he has not been an idea fit in Boston over his first season and a half with the organization. There are also concerns about concussions as he suffered two of them during the 2013-14 campaign. And looking at Eriksson’s stat sheet, you can see that his decline in production actually started during the lockout-shortened season – before his trade to the Bruins. But in the end Eriksson is still only 29 years of age and used to be one of the better point-producing wingers in the league. He did not forget how to play hockey. In fact, he has been much better of late with 15 points over his last 19 contests. While his former heights of 70-plus points are unlikely to be reached again, there is no reason to believe that he cannot be a 50-60-point winger with the Bruins.

David Pastrnak – The 25th overall pick in the 2014 entry draft has made quite an impact in his first year post-draft. Most importantly, he has done enough in his most recent tour of duty with the Bruins – four goals in five games – to stick around for the time being. The young winger has built up a lot of hype which has awarded him some golden boy status, which is significant in fantasy hockey. The longer the leash, the more owners can feel safe with their investment. As of right now, Pastrnak is playing next to the longtime duo of David Krejci and Milan Lucic. If he can stick in this spot, he could be a fine depth scoring winger down the stretch for your fantasy team.

Buffalo

Matt Moulson – Clearly, Moulson has not lived up to the expectations set when he signed a four-year deal with Buffalo that carries a cap hit of $5 million. He will certainly not repeat the numbers he posted with the New York Islanders. After all, there is no John Tavares in Buffalo. But Moulson is better than he has shown thus far. He is shooting a lot but has been extremely unlucky converting on only 8% of his shots. With a bit more puck luck and hopefully some improvement shown by the team’s young core Moulson still has time to finish north of the 40-point mark. He is showing some signs of life with three assists over the last two games.

Chris Stewart – The subject of many trade rumors of late, Stewart has been a frustrating player to own over the years primarily due to his offensive inconsistency. What make him such an enigma is what when he is on his game his potential is massive – especially in multi-category leagues. After a rough start Stewart is beginning to turn things around with five points and 11 PIM over the last six contests. This level of play will make him appealing to other teams that will offer Stewart better support and likely improve his plus-minus. Of course, nothing is a guarantee with Stewart and he could turn out to be an offensive bust even in a new environment but the potential is too great to ignore. Keep an eye on him down the stretch.

Carolina

Ryan Murphy – Murphy is certainly part of the plans for the Hurricanes. In fact, although he is still getting sheltered minutes, he has been getting fairly consistent minutes on the man advantage and responded with a recent streak of four points in three outings. Murphy’s production at the NHL level has been limited overall but as a former first-round choice getting this much attention it is only a matter of time before he produces respectable numbers – especially once the team starts moving out some veterans, namely Andrej Sekera.

Andrej Sekera – The veteran defender has not been nearly as good as he was a year ago but that has not stopped teams from showing interest in acquiring the pending unrestricted free agent. In a new environment Sekera is likely to play in offensive situations with a better supporting cast around him. On a new team you could expect him to shoot more frequently, at least in the early going, and perhaps pot a few goals. Most importantly, the ugly plus-minus numbers offered in Carolina would be a thing in the past post-trade which can only further help his overall fantasy value.

Columbus

Cam Atkinson – An undersized forward that had his development tracked closely at this site, Atkinson has not been able to carry over the positive momentum from last year, his first full NHL campaign, where he reached the 20-goal and 40-point marks. Part of the problem is clearly the high number of injuries suffered by the Blue Jackets this year which has demolished lineup stability. Another problem is pure luck as Atkinson only has eight goals despite an impressive 108 shots. With a shooting percentage closer to last year’s 10% and some healthier linemates his numbers would be on track to repeat last year’s total. So even though the total does not look good on paper, the conditions exist for Atkinson to be a solid contributor down the stretch.

Mark Letestu – A nice secondary scorer that is an effective faceoff man, Letestu has solid value in some deep multi-category leagues. This is due to the fact that he typically plays in all situations and offers a bit of everything. This year he has had the misfortune of missing significant time to a groin injury and has not gotten back on track yet. However, keep an eye on him as he could be a valuable player to cover for an injury on your squad.

Detroit

Danny Dekeyser – Don’t look now but Dekeyser is heating up. The undrafted defenseman has four points in his last four games and eight in his last 12. Never a big point-producer in college, he has always impressed his coaching staff with his offensive ability, hinting that he may be a late bloomer. Adding to his credibility is the fact that he plays 20 or more minutes almost every night and is a fixture on the power play.

Tomas Jurco – Even though his production so far in his full NHL season can be considered disappointing, there are signs that good things are around the corner for Jurco. He is getting decent power play minutes and is shooting often but only has two goals. Simply put, he should be scoring more. It is worth noting that he is currently out with an injury and is not expected back until after the All-Star break. Once he returns, Jurco becomes a wild card. If he can get luckier shooting the puck and cash in on some of his power play opportunities he could be a decent injury filler if you get in trouble at some point. Nothing is guaranteed here though.

Florida

Aleksander Barkov – The former fourth-overall pick has been a major disappointment in year two but is certainly in the midst of turning things around. To put things in perspective, six of his 11 points have come in the last eight contests. More importantly, Barkov clearly has the golden boy status as he receives consistently-solid ice time despite poor results including never dipping below 13 minutes since December 1st. There is a good chance that he is available in your one-year league. It would be wise to take a chance on him now. He could be a key contributor in the second half.

Dave Bolland – The oft-injured Bolland is often times very underrated in fantasy circles, especially in multi-category formats. In addition to being a decent point producer, he is strong in PIM, hits, blocks, faceoff wins, shorthanded points and also shoots with decent frequency. However, the elephant in the room is his inability to stay healthy which makes him unappealing as a long-term keeper investment. But in the right context he is certainly worth adding especially if you need some immediate across-the-board production. The massive contract that he signed in Florida last summer will assure that, when healthy, he is played in important roles.

Montreal

Nathan Beaulieu – Since being paired with Sergei Gonchar during his latest call-up, Beaulieu has been a much steadier defenseman. He is playing with more confidence and as a result is receiving more ice time while appearing more frequently on the power play. The points have not come yet but the smooth-skating blueliner will get his due soon, especially if the team’s power play continues its recent strong play.

Tomas Plekanec – Plekanec is usually played in a more defensive-minded role with lesser wingers. This has hurt his point totals over the years. Recently, he has been moved up to the top line between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Plekanec responded extremely well primarily on Saturday when he had a four-point outing. It is not clear how long he will stay up on the top line but the difference in production is very evident. An extended stay would help Plekanec greatly exceed pre-season expectations.

New Jersey

Patrik Elias – The long-time Devil is clearly over his slow start and has gotten back on track with seven points in his past seven games. There is some big potential here for the second half as Elias has been a prolific scorer his entire career and even last year was excellent. Given GM Lou Lamoriello’s loyalty to veterans and especially those with a long history in New Jersey, Elias’ ice time is virtually guaranteed. This will help him avoid prolonged slumps.

Mark Fraser – You may not remember when Fraser was a member of the Maple Leafs and was one of the top multi-category defensemen in the league. Rugged play is his bread and butter as he racks up hits and PIM in spades. Unfortunately, his real-life play does not mirror his fantasy contributions and Fraser has had difficulty staying in the NHL. Recently he was called up by the Devils and has been back to his old antics – 20 hits and 20 PIM in seven games. This is a major wild card as Fraser could be a frequent healthy scratch moving forward or he could be out of the NHL entirely. But if he plays, he will produce in his areas of strength.

Written by Eric Daoust www.dobberhockey.com

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