OK, so Team Canada collapsed in epic fashion in the final of the world junior championship earlier this week. But that got us thinking: would the boys have held onto their lead in the third period if they'd been able to ice all their best players?
Several junior-eligible Canadians are in the NHL, making them unavailable for the annual tournament. So it's hard not to wonder if things would've turned out differently had the likes of John Tavares, Evander Kane, Jeff Skinner, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Kyle Clifford been wearing the maple leaf in Buffalo.
With that in mind, we decided to single out the best junior-age players in the NHL from a fantasy perspective.
Plus, we give our advice on who to add and drop in your league.
Don't have a league yet? Check out CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool presented by Kia. You could win an automobile.
All stats are through Thursday.
1. Who's the best junior-eligible Canadian player?
Jordan: With 40 points in 40 games, how could you not go with Matt Duchene? The guy's done nothing but produce and succeed in the NHL and he's a bona fide superstar in the league already. But I find the play of Evander Kane very impressive this season. The Thrashers forward had just 26 points in 66 games last season for Atlanta, often looking lost on the ice with the big leaguers. This year has been a different story. Kane already has 13 goals and 26 points in 40 games to go with 42 PIMs and 132 shots. More importantly, fantasy managers were able to get Kane a lot later in their draft than the likes of Duchene or Tavares, as Kane wasn't drafted in the top 150 of Yahoo! leagues on average. Kane is the real deal and will only get better, especially when (or if) the Thrashers add some offensive help.
Jesse: You're right about Duchene becoming a bona fide star. Back in the fall when we were picking breakout players for this season, I said Duchene had a lot of potential to jack up his numbers because last season he put up pretty good stats despite a relatively modest amount of power-play and overall ice time. If his opportunities went up, I figured, so would his goal and assist totals. Well, those totals have gone up. Duchene is averaging exactly a point a game, up from 0.68 last season, and he's on pace for 32 goals after potting 24 a year ago. I checked his ice time and, sure enough, Duchene is playing almost a minute more per game than he did as a rookie. But, amazingly, his average power-play time has actually dropped by five seconds, to 2:57. It takes a real star to lead his club in points and goals when he ranks just sixth in power-play time. Duchene is a real star.
2. Who's your add of the week?
Jesse: If you're looking for a No. 2 or No. 3 goalie (who isn't?), take a look at Brian Boucher. There was a time not long ago when rookie Sergei Bobrovsky looked to have a stranglehold on the top job in Philly, but now it looks like Boucher may be the better player. The 11th-year veteran has a superior save percentage (.916 to .915) and goals-against average (2.31 to 2.57), and he's been on a tear of late, winning eight of his last 10 starts. With Michael Leighton now out of the picture, Boucher is, at worst, a split-time goalie on one of the best teams in the league. And he could be on his way to becoming more.
Jordan: If you're in a deep hockey pool like I am, some of the league's hottest players, like Jason Pominville and Kevin Bieksa, are not available for a mid-season boost. So I'm looking down to the great depths of the NHL. We could almost call this the "Former Habs: Where are they now?" section. If you haven't noticed, Sergei Kostitsyn has been playing very well. With 19 points through 35 games, he's already threatening his career-high in points (27), which was back in his rookie campaign in 2007-08. More importantly, though, is the fact that almost all of his points have come since Dec. 1. He followed up an early-December eight-game point streak by tallying six points in his last four games for Nashville. And speaking of former Habs and obscurity, how about Chris Higgins? Yes, he's still in the league, and he's playing quite well in Florida these days. Higgins has seven points in his past six games and 10 points in his past 10 games. Both he and Kostitsyn are owned in less than five per cent of Yahoo! leagues. And just to continue with the theme, Saku Koivu has been decent in Anaheim lately, too.
3. Who's your drop of the week?
Jordan: I finally gave up on Magnus Paajarvi this week. It's sad to say, but he's had little value this season. Yes, he is a rookie, but there's so much potential there that I was optimistic he'd perform early on. After a five-game point streak to open December, Paajarvi has struggled mightily and hasn't recorded a point since Dec. 16. Though there's still time for him to turn things around and adjust more appropriately to the NHL game, Paajarvi just isn't worth the roster spot in fantasy leagues anymore. Better luck next year.
Jesse: Hard to believe a rookie failed to put up good fantasy numbers. That never happens. Speaking of rookies, it may be time to give up on your boy Kevin Shattenkirk. After that impressive nine-game point streak in late November-early December, the defenceman has only five points in his last 14 games, and none in his last eight. Has Shattenkirk hit the dreaded "rookie wall?" Hard to know, but with no NHL track record to look at, is he worth waiting for?