The first weekend of the NHL fantasy season and some gems are already there to be found. A lot of teams with two games this weekend so let’s break down the Weekend Warriors of fantasy studs to watch out for.
Teams with 2 games this weekend: Ducks, Thrashers, Bruins, Sabres, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Kings, Devils, Coyotes, Senators, Sharks, Capitals.
Forwards to watch:
Patrice Bergeron, Bruins C: Fresh off a new three-year contract extension the seventh-year veteran is now poised for a breakout season. The 25-year-old is coming off a season where he led the team in points for the second time of his career. The center also won a gold medal as a part of the Canadian Olympic team. Without Marc Savard to start the season expect Bergeron to start earning his big contract.
Jiri Hudler, Red Wings C/W: After spending last season in Russia, playing for the KHL, this talented pivot is back where he belongs. The 26-year-old was coming off a season in 2008-09 that saw him score a career high in both goals (23) and points (57). Hudler, who only stands 5-10, should bring an immediate boost to the Red Wings power play that was ranked 9th in the NHL last season (19.2%). Of his 127 career points 49 of them have come on the man advantage. How Hudler adjusts to being back in the NHL will be a big key to the success and depth of this team.
Brooks Laich, Capitals C/W: The 6-2 power forward seems to be on the verge of a breakout season as he is now solidified his position on the second line of this offensive juggernaut. Let us not forgot how the season started for Laich last season with seven points in the first four games. The player that once was traded for Peter Bondra is coming off a season that saw him score a career high in goals (25) power play goals (12) and points (59). With back-to-back games scheduled this weekend at Atlanta and home vs Jersey, expect Laich to get some extended ice time.
Defenseman To Watch:
Dustin Byfuglien, Thrashers: The ever changing position of Dustin Byfuglien has now found him back on the backline. The Thrashers paid a big price to acquire the Stanley Cup champion big man and now have moved him back to his original position. The thought process by Coach Craig Ramsay was to have your best player on the ice more and use his booming shot from the point and his big body in front of both creases. All parties seem to be on board for this move and fantasy owners should be also.
Lubomir Visnovsky, Ducks: Someone has to take the ice time left by the retirement of Scott Niedermayer and the 34-year-old seems primed to take that position. The veteran finished last season strong with 13 points in his last 16 games with the Ducks. Entering his 10th NHL season Visnovsky has 180 career power play points and now is playing with a power play that ranked fifth in the NHL last season.
Andy Greene, Devils: The Devils retooled their defense this offseason but one major player remained in the 27-year-old offensive defenseman. Greene took advantage of extra ice time last season and had a career high in goals (6) and points (37). The former Miami (OH) standout also had 15 power play point last season and should see some time on the Devils powerful power play.
Goalies To Watch:
Jonathan Bernier, Kings: Jonathan Bernier was 19 years old and named the Kings starting goalie when they opened up in London in 2007-08, two seasons later the 11th overall pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft could be in the same position. Now 22-year-old Bernier is coming off a season where he won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. He led the league in save percentage (.936) and shutouts (9) and was second in goals against average (2.03). Bernier even got a call up on an emergency basis last season in March and made a case to not be sent back down playing three games and only giving up four goals all three wins for the Kings. With back-to-back games this weekend for the Kings, will be interesting to see how Bernier does in his first start this season.
Kari Lehtonen, Stars: Can this guy stay healthy will be the biggest question for fantasy teams that took a chance on this talented goaltender. The 26-year-old has a respectable career 2.84 GAA and .912 save percentage but only played in 16 games last season due to back surgery. Fewer trips to the IR and more time on the ice would benefit fantasy owners all over.
Rick DiPietro, Islanders: The Islanders have named the golden boy as their opening night starting goalie and now the 29-year-old with the big contract will have to start earning his money. During the last two seasons, he only played in 13 NHL games, but in the three seasons prior to that, he recorded games played of 63, 62 and 63. The Islanders are down their top defender, Mark Streit and one of their top scorers in Kyle Okposo so the team and fantasy owners would love to see an early statement by DiPietro that he is healthy and ready to contribute.