Everyone loves to remind others of that gem they found each year in their fantasy pool. It is very rewarding to believe in a guy who flies a bit under the radar and watch him blow up. It happened to me last year with Brent Burns, who went from a largely forgotten young defenseman in Minnesota to a lock for the 2010 Canadian Olympic squad. It happened two years ago with Zach Parise, who showed why being undersized means nothing if you work twice as hard as the guys bigger than you. It looks to be happening this year with Brandon Dubinsky in New York as well. That is enough bragging, though. For every steal and sleeper pick, there are the complete misses. I have had a few of those already in this short season.
Phil Kessel. For anyone who frequents the boards, my opinion on Kessel was probably clear. Amazing skater with the total offensive arsenal, but zero idea of how to use his teammates or read the play – I thought he severely lacked hockey sense. Sure, he had the talent alone to get 20-25 goals and 45-50 points, but I did not expect much more out of him this season. But with six goals in six games, I am beginning to rethink that.
As well, when captain Chara already points to him as the go-to guy on Boston, I begin to rethink it even more. He still struggles at times to use his teammates, but he sure can fire the puck. Kessel is making me rethink both his short term and long term upside. An eclipse of 35 goals could be in order this year – a number I figured he would struggle to ever reach.
Fabian Brunnstrom. Brunnstrom was extremely hyped last season, and many people misinterpreted the hype. He was essentially a free asset for teams to sign with a limit on his contract (entry level), so all teams had an even shot at getting him. He was not hyped because he was going to come in and set the world on fire, or so I thought.
His first game in the NHL – hat trick, boy it doesn’t get much sweeter than that. I had him on my DND (do not draft) list this year, along with a few other notables (Havlat, Connolly, and so on). He is clicking on the top unit with Morrow and Ribeiro (both of who are struggling a bit), and is a much better fit than the oft-injured Jere Lehtinen. Brunnstrom is more of a playmaker (even with the goal-fest of a debut), and has a real shot at hitting 60 points this season. I figured he was going to need at least a year in the AHL to adjust to the North American game. Wrong.
Todd Bertuzzi – I underestimated Keenan’s love for him! Getting a lot of ice time and thriving right now.
Saku Koivu – With the acquisition of Robert Lang, Koivu looked to be bumped down to checking line center. With nine points in the first six games, he has proven to still have some offensive tricks up his sleeve.
Paul Kariya – Came into camp in terrific shape and is flourishing with the infusion of youth in St. Louis. The Blues much improved power play also helps.