It's that time of year. Now that everyone has their fantasy football teams, it is time to get down to business: Fantasy Hockey. Teams are in training camp and are beginning the preseason. Now all of the fantasy managers will be doing their homework to get ready for drafts or to improve an already drafted team.
Everyone knows about the fantasy powerhouse teams like the Red Wings and Blackhawks, where all of their players are fantasy options. The way to win leagues is to scoop up players on the other teams that people don't know as much about. One good example is the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues made a ridiculous run to get to the playoffs last season, after being in last place in the Western Conference. The amazing thing is that they didn't have many of their top players because of injuries. This season they are healthy and should be a fairly dangerous team.
The players on the Blues that are getting drafted early are right wingers Brad Boyes and David Backes. They are going anywhere from round three to round six. Both had about 30 goals. Boyes with 33 goals and 39 assists, and Backes with 31 goals and 23 assists.
Boyes had 43 goals two years ago and he feels like he can get back there. I would not be surprised if he did get back to 40 goals, but draft him with 33 to 36 goals in mind and see if he can give you more.
His down side was his +/- of minus 20. That should not be a problem this year. The team is better and they are not expected to give up as many goals with Chris Mason and Ty Conklin in goal. Boyes is a number one right wing option.
David Backes should have a season similar to last year when it comes to points. The thing that will probably change with him is his penalty minutes. He had 165 penalty minutes last year, but the team was missing many of their enforcers. Backes stepped up and replaced them early on.
This year he will be more offensive minded. His upside of being a big offensive player who gets over 100 penalty minutes will probably be gone, but this could lead to more goals.
The other thing that could change is his position. He is listed as a right wing, but could gain eligibility as a center as well. He played center a lot last year and could play some this year as well. Backes is probably more of a No. 2 right wing option, but could pass as a No. 1.
Aside from Boyes and Backes, the only other Blues that are being drafted consistently are goalies Chris Mason and Ty Conklin. Mason is getting drafted in the second tier of goalies, while Conklin is being drafted in the late rounds as a backup.
After Manny Legace was sent to the triple-A Peoria Rivermen, Mason played every game the rest of the season and was one of the best goalies for those months. Previously Mason has been an average to below average goalie.
His real ability is somewhere in the middle. He will be the No. 1 goalie for the Blues to start the season, but there is a real possibility that his amazing stretch was a mirage. Then again it may have been for real. Only time will tell how good or bad Mason really is. He seems safe enough to draft as long as you back him up.
Mason's counterpart, Ty Conklin, would be a good option, whether you have Mason or not. He was stellar for the Detroit Red Wings last year.
"Conks" got to play as the No. 1 for much of the year while Chris Osgood struggled. He will have a similar chance with the Blues. If Mason struggles, Conklin could steal the No. 1 job, making him very valuable.
The tricky part about Conklin is his playing time. The Blues have not said how they plan to use their goalies. Many think that they will split time fairly evenly.
If this happens or if Conklin even plays one third of the time, he will be a valuable fantasy option. He will provide solid production and will not eat up games (if your league has a limited number of games played).
There is also the chance that Mason plays all but a few games, making Conklin fairly useless. I would still take a chance on Conklin. If he plays, he will be solid. If not, you can always get someone else.
Boyes, Backes, Mason, and Conklin are the only Blues getting drafted regularly, but they are not the only valuable Blues. There are actually more sleepers than obvious options. They include Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, and Erik Johnson.
Center Andy McDonald missed much of last season with a broken ankle. When he was playing, he was one of the more productive Blues players. He had 15 goals and 29 assists in a little over half of a season. He had a chance to double that and have near 30 goals. I would expect a potential 20 to 25 goal season.
I would not expect Boyes or Backes numbers from "Andy Mac", but he is still a very productive player. He would be a very good third center option. Maybe a second center if you need one.
T.J. Oshie is also a center to pay attention to. He missed part of the season as well due to injury and only had 14 goals and 25 assists. With a full season, he should be able to put up more. How much? We can't be sure yet. Oshie is an energetic play-maker who has a very bright future. He may not reach his potential this year, but his production will surely go up. When he breaks out, it should be a sight to see.
Like Oshie, left winger David Perron also has a breakout season coming, and many people think that it will be this season. Perron had 15 goals and 35 assists. Watch him. If he gets hot, grab him in your draft or on the waiver wire. He is another guy you want to own when he breaks out.
People like T.J Oshie, but of the guys waiting to break out, Perron may be the best for this year. Perron was fairly productive last year, so he may be a good guy to grab for the bench in case he takes the next step this year.
The third member of so called "Kid Line" is center Patrik Berglund. Berglund had 21 goals and 26 assists. There is not as much talk about Berglund as there is about Oshie and Perron, but he actually had the most goals.
Being a young kid, he figures to score more in the future. With Andy McDonald out, Berglund was used as one of the top two centers most of last year, but now he may not be used in the same way. He will probably shift to the third line. Keep him in mind if you need a center on the bench.
After the kids come the veteran left wingers, Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk.
Kariya missed pretty much all of last year due to surgery on both hips. He was ready to play in the playoffs, so he will be ready to go this season and is not considered to be an injury risk.
He is a good option as a left wing, but the question is his production. He had 24 goals and 52 assists three years ago with Atlanta, but only had 16 goals and 49 assists with the Blues two years ago.
After being gone last year, it is hard to tell how productive he will be. He will be back on one of the top two lines and he did score the first goal of the Blues preseason against the Minnesota Wild.
He should be a good third left wing option if he shows that he still has it. He isn't the player he used to be, but he should still be able to be counted on when healthy. Keep a close eye on him. There is a chance that he has a comeback year.
Keith Tkachuk, who was listed as a left wing and center last year, is only a left wing this year. That could change, but either way it doesn't matter too much. He scored 25 goals and 24 assists last year, and will probably have about the same this year. He could be a good option if you need a bench guy, since he is still fairly productive. Be careful, as he isn't the player he used to be.
The hard part will be deciding which of these sleeper players can help you most. McDonald and Oshie are probably the best options of the centers. Berglund is still useful, but I would go with one of the others first.
Of these sleepers, Andy McDonald may be the safest bet overall. He will be on the first or second line and will do his thing. There is a chance that one of the kids breaks out, but McDonald's production shouldn't go down.
The left wings are a little harder to predict. Perron and Kariya are the best candidates. You will have to decide if you want to gamble on the young Perron breaking out or the solid veteran Kariya getting his groove back. Both are very possible, making it a tough decision.
The last guy to keep in mind is defenseman Erik Johnson. He missed last year due to a freak golf cart injury, but he is back. I might wait and see if he is more of an offensive or defensive defenseman. He looks like he could provide some offense from his 2007-2008 stats. He may not be a bad gamble as a fourth or fifth defenseman.
Overall, the Blues are still not the Red Wings or Blackhawks, but they do have a good group of players to choose from. You don't have to take all of the Blues players, but grabbing one can't hurt. There are some risks to take, but if they work out, the rewards will be great.
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