In the words of WWE superstar The Rock, “Finally, hockey has come back… home.”
While football is in full swing and receives the majority of the attention, hockey is still one of the most exciting sports out there, and fantasy hockey is just as fun. So, with the season slated to begin just hours from now, I will be pumping out a bunch of fantasy puck content to get owners ready for the season. First up?
Let’s get bold.
Phil Kessel will score more goals than anyone not named Steven Stamkos
If Stamkos wasn’t in the league, Kessel would definitely be my pick to lead the league in goals. He is one of the purest snipers in all of hockey, flirting with 40 goals throughout his career. Here’s a guy who has consistently scored 35 goals with an array of linemates around him, but in 2013, he’ll have skilled playmakers like Nazem Kadri, who is only going to get better. Over the last three seasons prior to last year’s shortened one, Kessel has posted at least 295 shots in every year, and if he can get his shooting percentage consistently in the range of 15 percent, he’ll easily eclipse 40 goals. At 25-years old, Kessel is just entering his prime, and with an improving Toronto roster around him, this will be the year he eclipses 40 goals. Book it.
Victor Hedman takes another step forward, finishes as top-15 d-man
He’s so close to absolutely exploding onto the scene in fantasy land. Hedman has improved in each of the last three seasons, and while he hasn’t scored more than 26 points in his career, this will be the season he eclipses 50. He’ll be on the first defensive pairing for the Lightning, which means tons of assist potential alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. He’s been a workhorse for Tampa, posting at least 24 minutes of ice time in each of the last two seasons. I see his plus/minus improving, upwards to 70 penalty minutes and over 40 assists. At just 22-years old, Hedman has plenty of room to grow, and it continues in 2013.
Bobby Ryan bounces back, finishes as top-20 fantasy player
The move to Ottawa is nothing but good for Ryan’s fantasy value. He struggled heavily last season with the Ducks, but joining the Senators, Ryan will see plenty of opportunity. Ryan joins one of the league’s better playmakers in Jason Spezza, who has posted 50 or more assists four times in his career. Ryan is more than capable of scoring 30-plus goals, and barring injury, he will easily reach that mark. He’ll see a huge uptick in power-play ice time, which is something that hindered him a bit during his time in Anaheim. With arguably the best puck-moving defenseman in Erik Karlsson on the same unit as him, Ryan has plenty of power-play point potential. And no, that alliteration was not intended. Keep in mind that despite being known as only a goal scorer, Ryan is also a very physical power forward, so owners should expect some hits and penalty minutes as well. As long as the core around him can stay on the ice, Ryan will return to his 35-goal days with some added PIMS, hits and shots. Expect a major return to form from Ryan this season.
Thomas Vanek fails to crack the top-30 among forwards
Man, it’s hard to go against a guy who scored 15 points in his first six games a season ago, but I think Vanek is due for some serious regression this year. He is still an injury risk, and the Sabres don’t necessarily have the best talent around him to serve as one of the top fantasy forwards. A lot of their talent has promise, but has yet to prove themselves in the NHL. Could Vanek post strong numbers without top-tier talent alongside him? Sure. However, drafting him in hopes of him scoring 35-40 goals is not a very wise investment. I don’t expect him to be terrible by any means, but it’s hard to trust that he will post those blistering numbers from a season ago. The Sabres may be in a rebuild mode this season, and while Vanek still has significant upside and brings a lot to the table, expecting out-of-this-world numbers would be foolish.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.