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Swinging For The Fences

With the World Series upon us, there is no better time to tackle the art of hitting homeruns... Fantasy hockey style that is!  Two weeks into the regular season is still early enough to find those undervalued assets that could land you a championship (or a few) for a clearance price-tag.

It could be a struggling veteran, a high-ceiling youngster who has yet to get his chance at glory or a late-blooming prospect.  The key is identifying potential signs pointing to a pending explosion in a player’s production.

The second step will be evaluating the cost: if the player is a free agent, you may have to release someone from your current roster to make room for the new acquisition; if he belongs to a competitor you’ll have to put together an attractive enough package to make your counterpart bite on the offer, without affecting your starting lineup.

Just remember that when you swing for the fences, you must be willing to strike out once in a while.  That’s why you shouldn’t spend more than depth players and/or draft picks on under-the-radar purchases, unless you are completely sold on the player’s upside. 

It’s definitely too late for Alexander Steen to qualify, but here are a few other notable bombs that have yet to detonate.

 nhl-columbus-blue-jacketsRyan Johansen (C) – CBJ: The 21 y/o has had an underwhelming first couple of seasons in The Show, but we can’t ignore the talent level that made him the Jackets’ 4th overall pick in the 2010 draft.  He’s since made consistent gains in strength and skating technique.  He may have been rushed by Columbus, cracking the lineup straight out of junior, but had a fortunate confidence-building stint in the AHL during last year’s lock-out (40-17-16-33).  Recently posted his best outing as a pro, recording a goal and a helper and logging a career-high 20:22 TOI in Montreal on October 17th.  Finally seems to have grabbed a hold of the second line role on an improving roster.  Prime candidate if available or if his current owner has lost patience.

nhl-toronto-maple-leafsT.-J. Brennan (D) – TOR: Should be a fantasy free agent since he didn’t make the Leafs’ opening day roster out of camp.  Part of a fantasy GM’s due diligence is following up on AHL stats and if you have, you’ve already noticed the ‘Justin Schultz’-type start to the season that Brennan is authoring (5-8-4-12, +4 – league scoring leader).  You read it right, that is not a typo!  Brennan is a key injury away from a shot at quarterbacking the Leafs’ PP and might then do too good a job to be sent back down.  He’s already proven he can produce offense in the NHL (19-2-7-9 for Florida last season).  Great opportunity if your league allows for a farm team or a deep roster.  Hurry before someone else notices the video game numbers!

 nhl-ottawa-senatorsCory Conacher (LW-RW) – OTT: Only has 7 points in his first 20 games as a Senator (8-2-0-2 this season), after a strong start in his rookie season with the Lightning last season (35-9-15-24).  There is a reason this torpedo of a winger was called ‘mini- St-Louis’ in Tampa Bay.  He has the exceptional vision and the proverbial knack for being in the right place at the right time.  Now his +4 rating has him in coach Paul MacLean’s good books, which has translated in a regular spot on Ottawa’s first line and first PP unit (with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek).  He’s on the verge of a major breakthrough and has point-a-game upside.

nhl-la-kingsSlava Voynov (D) – LAK: The young Russian rearguard has been quiet following a stellar campaign in 2013 that featured a Conn-Smythe type performance during another solid playoff run for the Kings.  He is well behind last year’s point producing pace, but it is noteworthy that his booming point shot has him on an early pace for his best goal-scoring season.  The assist shortage (9-2-1-3 so far this season) might simply be a by-product of a generally anemic start for L.A. offensively (21st overall with a 2.33 G/G).  Voynov has been much more involved in the offense lately and should get back on track toward a 40-50 point posting.  Trigger-happy fantasy owners could be lured here.