Like playing the stock market, when it comes to winning at fantasy hockey, it is critical to identify players who are on the rise. These players are all but guaranteed to improve their numbers over last season. Which means that your average opponent may tend to undervalue these options.
Niclas Bergfors ATL
Bergfors was the prize coming back to Atlanta in the Kovalchuk trade. He showed in his first few weeks why the Thrashers targeted him in the deal, with some impressive highlights on offense. He finished his rookie year above the 20 goal mark and will certainly do better than that in his sophomore season. He'll be a significant fantasy factor by the end of the season.
Dustin Byfuglien ATL
The big man had a career high of 36 points last season. If you saw the playoffs, you know he may hit that mark by Christmas. Expect a big jump for Byfuglien in his first year as a Thrasher. One thing to watch, however, is that he may be moved back to defense for the start of the season, which will obviously hold his numbers back.
Matt Duchene COL
Duchesne was an early favorite for the Calder Trophy last season. He slowed down a notch in the second half, but still exceeded expectations for his rookie year. Expect him to be better in his second season and challenge Stastny as the team's top point producer. 70 points are not out of the question for Duchesne.
Loui Eriksson DAL
Eriksson is quickly becoming the top offensive threat in Dallas. His points have steadily climbed over his first four NHL campaigns. He has the talent to score 30-35 goals a season. Look for another small step forward from Eriksson in 2010-11.
Nathan Horton BOS
Horton has a new home and new life in Boston. If he can stay healthy, he should be a 40 goal threat.
Bryan Little ATL
After pounding home 31 goals in 2009-10, Little took a big step back last season, putting in a measly 13 goals and 21 assists. He's a gifted player who has bounced between center and wing. He'll be better in 2010, but it's tough to say if he can get back to 30 goals this year. Count on at least a 20 point improvement this season.
Kyle Okposo NYI
Okposo has progressed nicely in his first two seasons on the Island. He plays a solid game and is emerging as a real offensive threat. He's guaranteed to set another career best in goals and assists, we just need to figure out how high he will go next season. Set your sights on a 60+ point season with the potential for 25 goals.
Joe Pavelski SAN
Pavelski's totals dropped from 59 to 51 points last season, but that was due to the 15 games he missed last fall with a foot injury. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he emerged as one of the most dominant players in the postseason. He overshadowed the likes of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley with his production and all around play. That momentum should carry into next season, where he should reach new career highs in both goals and assists.
Mason Raymond VAN
Raymond has found a home on the Canucks 2nd line. He made some good strides in his 3rd NHL season, recording 25 goals and 53 points. He should top those numbers in 2010-11.
Bobby Ryan ANA
Bobby Ryan (aka the Crosby Sweeps Consolation prize) has steadily risen to be a valuable fantasy forward. He joins Getzlaf and Perry to form a big three punch in Anaheim, with Ryan potentially being the best goal-scorer of the three. He reached 31 and 35 goals in his past two seasons and is quickly tracking towards being a 40 goal guy. Only warning is that at this point, he is still unsigned.
Jordan Staal PIT
In his first 4 seasons, Staal has been held back in the fantasy world by his excellent defensive skills. He plays a good chunk of his time short handed, despite having the size and skills to produce up front as well. There are rumblings that he may be used more often on the top 2 lines by shifting either he or Malkin to the wing. If that happens, expect a big time boost in his stats. Don't forget, he'll be just 22 years old when the season kicks off. He'll top his career best of 49 points for sure.
Chris Stewart COL
Stewart surprised many fans with his outstanding 2nd season stats. He's got the talent and strength to score goals in bunches. Last season he pounded home 28 for the Avalanche and will probably be in that vicinity again in 2010-11.
James van Riemsdyk PHI
Drafted 2nd overall in 2007, van Riemsdyk showed considerable promise in his rookie season with Philly. He may be one more year away from becoming a significant fantasy forward, but he's a player on the rise and should contribute more in 2010-11.
Zach Bogosian ATL
Bogosian is entering his third NHL season and is still on track to be a star in this league. He's registered 9 and 10 goals in his first two tries and should approach the 15 goal range this season as he earns more playing time with the Thrashers.
Alexander Edler VAN
Edler ended last season with an ankle injury, but should be fine and/or dandy for the start of this year. He's gradually become the go-to guy in Vancouver on defense and his fantasy totals are starting to get him some attention. There's a good chance he'll hit the 40 point mark this season, but don't expect a ton of goals from Edler, which may limit his value in certain leagues.
Tobias Enstrom ATL
After 3 seasons in the NHL, Enstrom has established himself as a solid fantasy defenseman. If nothing else, he's durable. He hasn't missed a game yet in his career. He took a big leap in points last season to 50, putting him among the elite. The only drawback at this point is his low goal totals, having peaked last season at 6. Plan on a 55 point season in 2010-11.
Cody Franson NAS
At age 22, the huge Nashville defenseman is just starting to show the world what he can do. If he can wrestle some power play minutes away from Weber and Suter, his value could go way up. As it stands, look for a 30+ point season in his sophomore year.
Alex Goligoski PIT
Goligoski's role and fantasy numbers have risen steadily over the past couple seasons. With the departure of Gonchar, the Pens will be looking to Gogo to carry the puck even more. He should have no trouble topping the 40 point mark this season and could approach as high as 15 goals in 2010-11.
Erik Karlsson OTT
Karlsson started his rookie season slowly, but ended it with a huge bang. He registered 12 points in the last 10 games of the season, leaving us wandering what's in store in his sophomore year. Karlsson should enter into the 40 point territory in 2010-11 and may get as high as 10 goals.
Alex Pietrangelo STL
Pietrangelo has a fair shot at making the Blues club this fall, and if he does, look for him to quickly put the puts on the board. He was drafted 4th overall in 2008, mostly for his offensive potential. Now at age 20, he's ready to start showing he was worth it.
Ian White CGY
White came over to Calgary as the key piece in the Phaneuf deal. His numbers have risen steadily in his first few NHL seasons, and he's established himself as a goal scoring threat from the point. His 13 tallies last season rank among the best at that position. Unless the Flames move somebody, he'll have to fight for playing time, with the likes of Regehr, Bouwmeester, and Giordano in the lineup. He should repeat in the double-digits for goals, which makes him a decent mid-round option.
Jonathan Bernier LOS
Despite the unexpected emergence of Jonathan Quick last season, the Kings still have future plans for Bernier. Don't be surprised to see him steal some starts from Quick and start to get some recognition as the season progresses. Not quite worthy of a starting role on your fantasy squad just yet, but keep him in mind as the season wears on.
Michal Neuvirth WAS
Why is Neuvirth even on this list? Mostly because Theodore is gone, the Caps haven't landed another goalie (nor do they have much cap space to do so), and mostly because I'm not sold on Varlamov as the long-term #1 option in Washington. Neuvirth has as much upside as Varlamov, so don't be surprised to see a battle in camp for the #1 job. Sit on him as a possible late round sleeper option, or keep an eye on him as the season goes on. At some point, he'll get a good run going this year in D.C.