"Oh man. I forgot about him." Inevitably, you will hear this curse several times at any fantasy hockey draft. It typically comes from the guy whose draft preparation consisted of printing off last year's stats. That guy always overlooks the players who missed a good chunk of time, or even the whole season, due to injury. It seems like 2010-11 had an unusually high number of quality fantasy options who fell to the IR early on. So it's critical to keep these guys in mind as you prepare for this fall's draft. Unless you want to be that guy.
Zach Parise (F-NJ)
First and foremost in this group is Zach Parise. It may be easy to forget, but not too long ago, Parise was regularly mentioned among the top 10 most talented players in the league. A slow start last season, followed by a season-ending injury in week 3 quickly pushed him to back of fantasy owners' minds. By no means am I prepared to immediately reinstate him in the top 10 of my draft list, but he's one player that you shouldn't overlook in the early rounds based on his 6 points scored last season. Top 25 is certainly within reason, and among left wingers, he should be in your Top 10. He's had nearly a year to recover and should put up at least 70 points for the Devils in yet another contract year.
Mark Streit (D-NYI)
Another completely forgotten commodity not to pass by is Mr. Streit. In the previous two seasons, Streit established himself as a top-tier fantasy defenseman for the Islanders. He missed all of last season after being injured in the pre-season. There was talk of him returning down the stretch, but it wasn't worth the risk, given where the Isles stood in the standings. He should be back and ready to resume his role as #1 defenseman for New York. He's a strong bet for your top 25 and a case could be made for pushing the top 15.
Kyle Okposo (F-NYI)
Another early casualty on the Island last fall, Okposo returned half way through the season, but took his time getting up to full speed. The shoulder injury should be well behind him at this point, and he should get back on track towards being New York's top power forward. Expect goal scoring to be up on the Island this season, and Okposo should be a big part of that progress.
Peter Mueller (F-COL)
Hard to know what, if anything, to do with Peter Mueller at this point. He missed all of last season with a concussion, but recently started skating and expects to be in uniform for this season. After arriving in Colorado at the tail end of the 2009-10 campaign, he tore it up, scoring 9 goals and 20 points in 15 games. Prior to that run, he had been a marginal fantasy forward during his time in Phoenix. If you're in a deep league, keep him on your radar for a late round pick.
Marc Savard (F-BOS)
Once upon a time, not too long ago, Savard was a top 10 fantasy forward. His story is infamously tragic with the concussion problems he has suffered. Although he continues to fight, there is no guarantee he will play again. If he does, it seems unlikely that he will ever return to star status. Until he a) returns, b) plays a few weeks, and c) puts up some decent numbers, I wouldn't bother placing him on any draft list.
Andrei Markov (D-MON)
The only question you need answer here is do you believe that he is, and will stay, healthy. When he's in the lineup, he has shown himself to be in the top 15 of all fantasy defensemen. Missing 112 games over the past two seasons is enough to scare me away. In his 10 year career with Montreal, he's played 80 games or more just once. If he's available come round 10, I'd give him a serious look. Any earlier than that is not worth the risk.
Evgeni Nabokov (G-NYI)
The Islanders can't buy a break in net. When they finally sneak around and snatch up a top-notch goalie, he refuses to show. After sitting out all of last season across multiple continents, Nabokov has shown marginal interest in putting on an Islander jersey, so it's worth considering his possible placement on your draft list. First, the facts: 1. When he left the NHL last summer, he was still among the very elite at his position. San Jose needed to save cap space, and Nabokov thought he would be happy making more money back in Russia. 2. That didn't work out for him, so he spent most of the year at home. Should he return, there's no reason to think he's lost his gift in one year's time.
Should he actually play for the Islanders, you'll be looking at a very good goalie on an average, but improving team. Should he garner enough attention elsewhere and be shipped out to a contender, better yet. There's certainly a risk factor in drafting him too high, but if it plays out right, he could be the steal of the draft if you can nab with a mid-to-late round pick.
Jordan Staal (F-PIT)
Remarkably, Pittsburgh's top 3 centers all missed almost exactly 1/2 of last season, with Crosby, Staal and Malkin having played 41, 42, and 43 games respectively. It seems unlikely that you will overlook Crosby and Malkin, but Staal is still an afterthought for most fantasy owners. While it doesn't seem that he'll reach fantasy stud status the way big brother has, don't forget this guy is just 23 years old. There's still plenty of room to grow in terms of fantasy value. Determining how high to place him remains a challenge on many fronts, particularly with the uncertainty of his role and playing time expectations based on the health of centers 1 & 2. It's a fair bet to expect 60+ points out of Staal with potential for more.
David Perron (F-STL)
Perron seemed to be on the cusp of a breakout last October, starting the year with 4 goals in his first 6 games. His season came to an end early on due to a hit by Joe Thornton. He's still recovering from that concussion with no firm commitment on a return. That makes him a tough sell for an early pick. He's got plenty of upside if he can shake the headaches. Pencil him for a late round sleeper and listen to everyone else groan when they realize what they overlooked.
Derek Roy (F-BUF)
Roy was in the midst of a career season, when injuries put him on the shelf last December. At that point, he was sitting on 34 points in 34 games and carrying the Sabres up front. He missed all but the last game of the season after that, dropping him from the minds of most fantasy owners. He should be just fine to start the season, and thus should be regarded as a fairly safe pick on your draft list. 70 points are well within reason.
A few other noteworthy selections that you won't find high on last year's scoresheet:
- Jaromir Jagr - subject for another article, to be sure
- Vinny Prospal - a decent depth option finds a new home in Columbus
- Steve Sullivan - latest experiment on the wing in Pittsburgh.
- Mike Green - probably not forgotten. But what to do with him?