Happy New Year from your favorite fantasy guru!
This week I spotlight six players who've flown under the radar all season but can help turn your fantasy squad around in 2008.
I hope you'll excuse the brevity of this week’s introduction—I’ve been glued to the World Junior Tournament.
Jonathan Tavares has been superb. I envy the team that's able to draft him.
Like Sidney Crosby, Tavares has the ability to single-handedly turn a franchise around.
Mike Fisher (OTT – C)
Don’t look now, but Mike Fisher has had an absolutely UNREAL December.
In 12 December games he’s posted nine goals and two assists.
Fisher's a streaky player who scores in bunches when given the opportunity. Coach John Paddock has given him that opportunity by pairing him with captain Daniel Alfredsson. Their third linemate rotates depending on the matchup.
Fisher makes a solid third or fourth center in most fantasy leagues.
Andrei & Sergei Kostitsyn (MTL – LW)
The young brothers have both been putting up decent numbers for the struggling Canadiens.
Andrei (22) and Sergei (20) were both drafted by the Habs, and have played their way into regular shifts for Montreal this season.
Andrei is the safer fantasy choice, as he was drafted much higher than his kid brother and has two years more experience. However, Sergei has been playing on the No. 1 power play unit, and already has six points in his short nine-game NHL career.
Andrei has notched 13 points in 14 December games, which should earn him a roster spot in most fantasy leagues, as LW is one of the most difficult positions to fill.
While they're not as talented as the Sedins, if this brotherly connection can keep up their current pace, they could eventually be almost as valuable.
Ty Conklin (PIT – G)
The Penguins haven’t been able to find a solid goaltender all season.
Their first overall draft pick Marc-Andre Fleury has been extremely average, going 9-8 this season after posting a 40-16 mark last year. What's more, Dany Sabourin has gotten progressively worse after an impressive October.
An injury to Fleury gave journeyman backup goaltender Ty Conklin an opportunity to prove himself as a starter once again. Conklin has played for four teams in the past four years, and hasn’t been able to secure a starting position with any of them.
While Conklin hasn’t been spectacular for the Penguins, he has played well enough to earn four straight victories—and victories are the statistic that matters the most.
As long as Fleury is injured and Sabourin keeps struggling, look for Conklin to continue to start (and possibly win) games for the talented young Pens.
Alexei Zhitnik (ATL – D)
After a 32-game pointless streak, the Atlanta rearguard has made his way on to every fantasy league’s free-agent list.
But last week, Zhitnik more than doubled his season point total, earning three points in two games to give him five on the year.
While he’s 35 years old and not getting any better, Zhitnik could still be a solid fourth or fifth defenceman in the second half of the season if he's able to regain his form from last year.
In '06-'07, he had 14 points in 18 games with the Thrashers.
Atlanta isn't particularly deep at the point, so if Alexei can prove that he still has some juice left in him, he could even find himself back on the power play. As it stands, rookie Tobias Enstrom is the Thrasher’s only legitimate defensive threat on the power play. Being able to utilize Zhitnik on the point too would give the Thrashers more flexibility and creativity.
Zhitnik just needs to step up and prove he’s still got it in him.
Rob Blake (LA – D)
After starting the season with only six points in 22 games, Blake came under heavy criticism and was written off by most teams.
However, Blake has improved his play over the month of December, and has 10 points in the last 15 games.
Blake continues to log the bulk of ice time on the Kings blueline, and averages more than four minutes of power-play time per game.
Rumours continue to fly about Los Angeles shopping the veteran defenceman, but Blake would have to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade. A move out of Los Angeles to a playoff contender would only increase his value.
If Blake is somehow available in your league, now is the time to buy.