Chris Stewart

Note*** A full NHL schedule breakdown by week is available here on a Google doc.

 PLEASANT SURPRISES AND PUZZLING STRUGGLES

Almost two thirds into the season, we now have a clearer picture of the 2013 fantasy outlook.  Sure you want to win your league championship this year if you’re still in the running.  But for keeper leaguers out there, this is the time of year to make educated projections for next season concerning: your core group, your overall depth chart, your protection list, your strengths and needs.

As you examine and rate each player, you must determine if the risers will keep rising and if your struggling assets are on a permanent down-slope.  This week, we go through this exercise with 2013’s class of rising and fading fantasy properties.

PLEASANT SURPRISES

Chris Stewart (RW) – STL: (28-14-14-28, +5) You don’t score 28 goals in consecutive NHL seasons by fluke.  Stewart did that before a lack of focus and physical commitment caused him to drop off the fantasy planet last year.  We quickly forget this guy is only 25.  He now understands the importance of off-season training, especially for a budding power-forward.  As a result, he has the Avalanche (and every former fantasy owner) regretting losing their patience with him during his one season slump.  He’ll be a jewel for years to come.

Jacob Voracek (RW) – PHI: (29-13-18-31, -6) Must be the Flyers’ orange meshing with the long red hair…  Seriously though, Jaromir Jagr’s departure has meant a promotion to the top line for the big Czech winger and, dare we say, he is starting to resemble his famous compatriot: wide stance, long reach, strong along the wall and protects the puck well.  He’s always displayed decent vision, but now has the confidence and the linemates (Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell) to execute scoring plays.  Hey fantasy world, here’s your new perennial point-a-gamer.

Slava Voynov (D) – LAK: (27-4-15-19, +10) The highly intelligent Russian rearguard has proven to be a quick study at both pro levels.  Makes much better reads on the rush this season, quickly recognizing carrying and passing options.  Has even dislodged Drew Doughty from first PP unit duties.  His hard one-timer is a tantalizing weapon, but he has learned to use it as a decoy (a-la Al MacInnis), making him that much more effective as a quarterback.  We do expect Doughty to recover his spot as his conditioning picks up (as it usually does) late in the season, so don’t expect the same scoring pace the rest of the way.  Voynov has arrived however as a legitimate 40 point D-man.

Sergei Bobrovsky (G) – CLB: (20-.932) The Jackets finally seem to have found their man between the pipes.  Second in the league in SP, the 23 y/o Russian has earned a point for his team in his last 9 starts.  His technique seems to finally have caught up to his quick reflexes.  His game has steadied and so has the team in front of him under Todd Richards’ tutelage.  This season has taught us that no goalie is set-back proof, but Bobrovsky looks as good as any under-25 prospect in the crease at the moment.

PUZZLING STRUGGLES

Jordan Eberle (RW) – EDM: (28-7-13-20, -8) After witnessing him dominate the AHL during the lock-out, many expected Eberle to lead the young Edmonton offense, one that would be among the elite in the NHL.  But it has been Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner doing the leading.  Eberle and his centerman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, are being challenged physically by top opposing checkers and have to work harder than they probably anticipated in order to generate quality scoring chances.  As a fantasy scout, there is one combination of elite skills you should look for that unmistakably leads to offensive success in The Show: quick and soft hands with a high hockey I.Q.  The Nuge and Eberle do possess both in spades.  The diminutive winger will find a way to get back to the point-a-game pace in short order… and beyond that in the long term.

Drew Stafford (RW) – BUF: (29-4-7-11, -10) His PPG has gone up and down these past few seasons.  But this is a second straight down year and such a huge set-back at 27 y/o that it leads us to believe Stafford may have over-achieved in the past.  Because of deficiencies with his skating and hockey sense, Stafford relies on chemistry with his centerman in order to produce consistent offense.  His poor play this season now has him off the top 6, his minutes diminishing as the season rolls along.  His plus-minus is trending the wrong way, suggesting the minutes aren’t likely to go up any time soon on a struggling squad looking for answers.  Fantasy value: 0.

Jaroslav Halak (G) – STL: (11-.881) Have the Blues found their tender of the future in Jake Allen?  Nobody saw this coming on the eve of the 2013 season as St-Louis was touted as a Cup contender, mostly due to their stellar duo of Halak and Brian Elliott.  The Slovak’s undersized frame seems to sap him of the stamina needed from a number one goalie at this level.  The numbers back-up this theory: Halak has played more than 46 games only once and in that season (57 GP in 2010-11) he posted a middling .910 SP.  Halak’s nightmarish season, combined with 22 y/o Jake Allen’s current run (8-1-0, .920 SP) does nothing to improve the likelihood of him ever being viewed as a legitimate franchise goalie.

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