Fantasy Hockey: Who's the next Steven Stamkos?

It's every poolie's dream: snagging the perfect sleeper in the mid to late rounds of your draft, then watching that player blossom into a fantasy (and real-life) superstar. So who will be the guy this season?
Flyers youngster Claude Giroux is looking to prove last spring's playoff heroics were no fluke. ((Bruce Bennett/Getty Images))

It's every poolie's dream: snagging the perfect sleeper in the mid to late rounds of your draft, then watching that player blossom into a fantasy (and real-life) superstar.

The payoff can be huge: you get bragging rights over your rival owners and, more importantly, a big boost in the quest to win your league championship.

Last season, the NHL's breakout star was Steven Stamkos. Coming off an encouraging, but unspectacular, rookie season, the Lightning forward wasn't even a top-100 pick in the average Yahoo! draft. But those smart enough to select Stamkos were rewarded to the tune of 51 goals and 95 points — more than double his rookie production in both categories.

Now that the Stamkos market has swung completely the other way and he's going third or fourth overall in most drafts (a little too high, we say), fantasy players are on the lookout for the next rising star. The next Steven Stamkos, if you will.

As always, we've got a few suggestions in this week's edition of Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1. We also look for the flipside of that coin by outing the potential flops, plus we debate the players poised for a bounce-back year.

Need more help with your draft? Check out Jordan's pre-season top-350 player rankings.

Don't have a league yet? Check out CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool presented by Kia. You could win an automobile.

And don't forget you can get more expert fantasy hockey info (and maybe a few laughs) all season long by followingJesse  and Jordan on Twitter.

1. Who will be the breakout star of 2010-11?

Jesse: I'm going to stick close to the Stamkos template by identifying a player who, like the young Tampa sniper a year ago, is entering his sophomore season. The obvious candidates are Colorado's Matt Duchene and the Islanders' John Tavares, but which guy is most likely to break out? It's a tough call because both produced rookie numbers eerily similar to the other guy's, and also quite close to Stamkos's (see chart). But Duchene is my pick to break out for one simple reason: he's got more room to grow.

Rookie-year production

 Player G A PTS
 Steven Stamkos 23 23 46
 John Tavares 24 30 54
 Matt Duchene 24 32 55

Playing for a surprisingly good Colorado team, Duchene averaged 3:02 of power-play time, while Tavares logged 4:08 for the awful Islanders. Now that the Avs know they can trust Duchene, expect him to get more opportunities with the man advantage. What does that do for a player's stats? Just look what happened when Stamkos saw his PP time increase from 2:50 as a rookie to 4:39 last year. I'm not saying Duchene wins a share of the Richard Trophy, but he's got a good chance to be better than the eighth-round pick he's being rated as in most 12-team leagues.

Jordan: You bring up some great stats, Jesse, but c'mon: couldn't you be more original? You're taking the easy route by identifying Matt Duchene as the next Stamkos. So in the interest of being creative, I'm going off the board and going with Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. The former Gatineau Olympiques winger got his first real shot in the big leagues last year, scoring 16 goals and 47 points in 82 games with the Flyers. And based on your theory of needing room to grow on the power play, Giroux averaged 2:45 of ice time with the man advantage last season, which is less than both Duchene and Tavares and almost identical to Stamkos's PP ice time as a rookie. More importantly, Giroux looked like a star in Philadelphia's run to the Stanley Cup finals. He tallied 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 23 playoff games with a plus-7 rating, which was good for third in team scoring behind only Danny Briere and Mike Richards. Expect Giroux to become a crucial part of the Flyers' offence this year and score no less than 65-plus points.

2. Which player is poised for a rebound?

Jordan: This one's simple. Guaranteed, it's Ales Hemsky. The Oilers sniper played in just 22 games last season due to injury and tallied 22 points. Over the previous four seasons, Hemsky averaged 67 points and 26 power-play assists with Edmonton. And because he was injured last year, he's sure to drop a bit on the fantasy hockey radar, so you should be able to scoop him up lower than he deserves to go.

If we're talking about players that played a full season in 2009-10, I'd head back to the City of Brotherly Love. Like Giroux, the duo of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have so much skill and potential that their stats are bound to go up. Carter had 61 points in 74 games last season, but the season before he scored 46 goals and 84 points in 82 games. Richards is coming off a mediocre season of just 62 points in 82 games, but the year before he had 80 points in 79 games, including seven short-handed goals and 25 power-play assists. And just like Giroux, Richards was dominant in the playoffs with 23 points in 23 games.

Jesse: How has Evgeni Malkin fallen to seventh overall in the average Yahoo! league? Behind Ryan Miller? And Hank Sedin!? Classic overreaction. Sure, Malkin is coming off an off year in which his production dipped to 77 points from a NHL-best 113 the year before. But he missed 15 games, mostly due to shoulder and foot injuries, and how many players would love his 1.15 points per game (tied for the seventh-best clip in the league) to be considered an off year? I'm betting on a rebound in both the rate and counting stats as Malkin is likely to return to health — the big Russian is still very young, and he didn't miss a single game the previous two seasons. Put it this way: if you're picking third in your draft, Ovechkin and Crosby are already off the board, and you still want a guy with an Art Ross Trophy on his shelf, who's the better option here:

  • Player A: a 24-year-old with a pair of 100-point seasons under his belt who has never averaged less than 1.09 points per game in a campaign, and has averaged almost 36 goals for his career.
  • Player B: a 30-year-old who's coming off a 112-point season but had never previously averaged more than a point per game and has never reached the 30-goal plateau.

Player B is Hank Sedin. Player A is Evgeni Malkin. Your move.

Jordan: I'll take neither. If I'm picking third, it's Washington's Nicklas Backstrom for me. I'm actually almost anticipating Ovechkin and Backstrom finishing 1-2 in league scoring this season.

3. Which player is in danger of dropping off this season?

Jesse: From the bottom of this Sabres fan's broken heart, it's Ryan Miller. As I alluded to earlier, the Buffalo goalie is going sixth in the average Yahoo! draft, and he's the consensus top netminder. Don't fall into the trap. Sure, Miller may have been the most valuable stopper in the league last season — he won his first Vezina Trophy, and in the marquee categories of goals against and save percentage he trailed only Boston's Tuukka Rask, who appeared in far fewer games. But there's reason to believe 2009-10 may go down as the pinnacle of Miller's career. He turned 30 over the summer after facing a ton of rubber for both the Sabres, who he carried back to the playoffs, and Team USA, which he backstopped to within a shot of Olympic gold.

Goaltending stats are always tough to predict, and the same could be said for the quality of the defencemen in front of Miller: maybe Tyler Myers will improve on a sensational rookie campaign, but who knows, and long-tenured Sabres Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder left as free agents. Miller isn't likely to turn into Patrick Lalime, but enough red flags exist to consider someone else in the first round. Even if you're zeroing in on a goalie, Roberto Luongo may be a better bet.

Jordan: Talk about a bitter Sabres fan, Jesse. Imagine where Buffalo would be without Miller. Now that's a scary thought. But I digress. The player I'm pegging as an underachiever this year is Jarome Iginla. Once again, Iginla has little talent to work with in Calgary, and I expect he will not exceed his totals from last season, when he scored 32 goals and just 69 points — his lowest output since 2005-06. Veteran centres Craig Conroy and Daymond Langkow simply can no longer keep up with the Flames captain. And with Matt Stajan on the shelf with a separated shoulder, who will be the setup man for Iginla? Unless the newly re-acquired Olli Jokinen can regain his form from his Florida days (which he failed to do in his first stint with Calgary) or unless rookie Mikael Backlund shocks the world and takes over the top-line centre duties, Iginla will not likely turn any heads. Frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if this is Iggy's final season in Alberta, despite his no-trade clause. After the Flames missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2003 and with Iginla now at age 33, perhaps the Flames will decide to maximize his trade value and go with a youth movement.