Bryan Little, Right Wing, Atlanta Thrashers
After a 31 goal campaign last year, Little enters the 2009 season as Atlanta’s first line right winger and is still only just 21 years old. Little will be helped by the addition of Nik Antropov as well as the attention that Ilya Kovalchuk garners. Look for Little to emerge as a dynamic scorer on this underrated Thrashers’ line and offense.
Tim Connolly, Center, Buffalo Sabres
The issue with Connolly has never been with his talent or his production, but rather with his inability to stay healthy. Over his last 161 games, Connolly has posted 153 points, though he has missed 167 games in that span. Connolly will be flanked by prolific goal-scorers, as Buffalo is flush with guys who can put the puck in the net. Connolly is the epitome of a high risk-high reward player, but with how low he is going in drafts, the risk is certainly worth it.
Cristobel Huet, Goalie, Chicago Blackhawks
When Huet was signed to a huge free agent contract last season, most people believed that Chicago would be turning over the netminder duties to him completely. Unfortunately for Huet owners last year, he was stuck in a platoon with incumbent goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and ended up not being a viable fantasy goalie.
With the ‘Bulin Wall’ signing with the Oilers in the offseason, Huet enters the 09-10 season as the Blackhawks everyday goalie. Now that Huet will be the consistent netminder behind an excellent Chicago squad, look for him to be a top 10 fantasy goalie.
Patrick O’Sullivan, Left Wing, Edmonton Oilers
O’Sullivan was never quite able to find his stride while with the Los Angeles Kings, but a change of scenery could be just the thing to spark a career year out of the 24 year old. O’Sullivan was stuck on a talent starved team in Los Angeles and his numbers suffered as a result. The Oilers want to give O’Sullivan every chance to be successful and productive so they plan to play him on the top line with talented forwards Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Look for O’Sullivan to take advantage of his new situation and be productive on an underrated line.
Nathan Horton, Right Wing, Florida Panthers
Horton moves back to his natural position of right wing this season after a failed campaign at center last year. It seems that Horton has been poised for a breakout year for the past two years, but this season he finally has the means to live up his lofty expectations. Horton figures to be a feature of the Panthers offense, on a dynamic top line with Stephen Weiss and David Booth. Look for him to finally get over the hump and put up a 70 point season.
Jason Arnott and JP Dumont, Center and Right Wing, Nashville Predators
There is nothing exciting or sexy about Arnott or Dumont, but year in and year out they produce. Both of these guys are woefully underrated every season, but seem to always put up solid numbers. Nashvilles top line features these two and an oft-injured Steve Sullivan, so the Preds will be looking to their wily veterans to come through with another good season. Don’t expect 90 point explosions out of either of these guys, but if you want to put 70 points in the bank, these are the guys to target.
Daniel Alfredsson, Right Wing, Ottawa Senators
Reports of Alfredsson’s demise are greatly exaggerated as he is currently on the wrong side of 35. Alfredsson is one of the most consistent fantasy hockey players in recent memory and another year is not going to change that. Despite losing Dany Heatley in the offseason, Ottawa’s top line is still one of the best in the NHL.
Center Jason Spezza remains one of the great playmakers in the world, and newly acquired Milan Michalek should perform well in the shoes of Dany Heatley. Alfredsson still has a couple of good fantasy years left in him, so one should expect him to reach 75-80 points as usual.
Claude Giroux, Right Wing, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux gains a spot on this list due purely to his upside. Many have likened Giroux to a young Peter Forsberg, and he will get a chance to live up to those expectations on a extremely talented Flyers squad. He will likely play with Jeff Carter or Daniel Briere, either way Giroux is in good hands with a proven playmaker in the middle.
A strong showing in the playoffs have left Flyers fans salivating over what this kid can do, but he is only 21 so expecting superstardom may be foolish. I am personally a believer in Giroux, expect him to flourish and grow on a stacked Philadelphia team.
Kimmo Timonen, Defense, Philadelphia Flyers
Timonen is one of the more unrecognized yet productive defensemen in the NHL. Referred to as a ‘poor man’s Niklas Lidstrom’, he might surpass Lidstrom in fantasy production this season. Timonen is an excellent +/- player and is dynamic on the power play. While he is not much of goal scorer, Timonen makes up for it in other categories. Timonen certainly does not have the sexy upside of several other players, but you will never regret having him on your fantasy team. Look for him to have a +/- of 25, with 50 points.
Matthew Lombardi and Peter Mueller, Centers, Phoenix Coyotes
Lombardi and Mueller represent the two most intriguing and exciting players on a putrid Coyotes team this year. Many of the Coyotes players have been undervalued in drafts based on the fact the team will be dreadful. Mueller and Lombardi are the two that have suffered the most from this. Lombardi, a newcomer from Calgary, will get his first shot to be a No.1 center.
While he will struggle at +/-, Lombardi should be able to produce a fair amount of points on a line with Shane Doan and Scottie Upshall. At the end of the 07-08 season, no player looked more promising than Peter Mueller, but after a disastrous 08-09 campaign, Mueller’s expectations have fallen back down to earth. Mueller is still just 21 years old, look for him to bounce back this season.
Segei Shirokov, Right Wing, Vancouver Canucks
Shirokov played well enough during the preseason to beat out Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson for the much coveted right wing spot on the Sedin line. Shirokov will join the Sedin twins on the Canucks top line, which should help the progression of the 23 year old rookie.
Shirokov will surely benefit from the presence of the veteran twins, and will have a solid fantasy season as a result. The Canucks like this kid enough to play him along side their two best skaters, so expect him play hard and produce decent fantasy numbers.
Mike Knuble, Right Wing, Washington Capitals
While many of the players on this list are young guns looking for their breakout, Knuble is veteran who has been placed in a great situation. While the name Mike Knuble has become synonymous with the Philadelphia Flyers, the 37 year old veteran signed with the Washington Capitals in the offseason. Knuble brings experience and grit to a very talented team that was accused of being soft last season.
Knuble will hold down the right wing spot on the Capitals top line with Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom. Knuble brings the kind of toughness and savvy that the Capitals were missing last season. Look for Knuble to improve his point total from last year and thrive in this new environment.
Joe Thornton, Center, San Jose Sharks
While most of the players on this list are borderline fantasy starters or even deep sleepers, Thornton joins this list as a star who is still being underrated this year. Thornton is one of the most dynamic and exciting playmakers in the game and in some drafts I have seen him slip to the forties. Last year was an off year for Thornton and he still put up 86 points.
This season, Thornton was given the gift of having Dany Heatley on his line. Those two are sure to develop great chemistry as the best passer-scorer tandem in the league. If you are able to get Thornton in the third round or lower then he is an absolute steal. Thornton will put up top 10 numbers this season; look for him to eclipse the 100 plateau.