Editor's note: Wamsley is a contributor for the "Habs Eyes on the Prize" blog and is also editor of the Fantasy Sense Hockey site. He offered to provide a fantasy preview for the Hurricanes and we were thrilled to oblige! The fantasy expert has already previewed the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Buffalo Sabres. Good luck to him in completing all 30 teams before October!
By the way, we will be starting a Hockey Wilderness Fantasy Hockey league on Yahoo within the next couple of weeks. Email me if you're interested.
Since the Wild's inception they reflected the character of their coach Jacques Lemaire.
In fantasy it meant two things.
1. You were set in goal if you had the Wild's starting goaltender
2. Wild forwards rarely cracked 70+ points. In their 8-year history the Wild have placed 6 goaltenders in the top 10, but only one forward who scored 80+ points. The Wild's attack has been so anemic that Alexandre Daigle once led the team in scoring.
Was the Wild fortunate to have elite level goaltending? Doubtful. With the departure of Lemaire, the Wild had the opportunity to change philosophies. Would they alter the course of the franchise? Or would they continue to maintain their defensive identity?
For a breakdown on how to read the profles, click here. For a larger version of the previews, click on the individual profile.
Enter Todd Richards.
Will Todd Richards open up the offense or continue to sacrifice the offensive end to insulate his own zone. Looking at his AHL head-coaching resume, it looks like the status quo in Minnesota, but it is hard to make judgments based on such a limited sample. Richards could be similar to Jacques Martin and Lindy Ruff in that he adjusts to his personnel. It looks like it is safe to say that Backstrom will continue to receive plenty of defensive support. The question is, will Richards loosen the reigns on thoroughbreds Havlat, Koivu and Burns.
Complete analysis after the jump
As a fantasy owner I was happy to see the hiring of Richards. It assures the Niklas Backstrom will benefit from the Wonderbra effect. Minnesota's goaltenders are so well supported that it is hard to tell what is real, and what is being propped up. Since his arrival in 2007, Backstrom has done nothing but produce monster fantasy campaigns. He followed up his spectacular 3rd place debut with a 10th place finish in 2008 and a 6th place standing last season. He remains a fantasy lock as long as he remains healthy and the Wild maintain their identity.
After being continually burnt by Havlat's yearly trips to the infirmary, I created a team of oft injured fantasy superstars and labeled them the Marian Havorik All-Stars. It is funny that as the Wild sent founding member Marian Gaborik on his way, that he would be replaced by the other founding member and a player just as injury prone in Martin Havlat. Looking at his dominant finish to the 2009 season (35 pts in 28 games) and his consistent flirtation with a point per game pace during his career, there is no doubt that Havlat has the ability to be an impact player. He is my fantasy kryptonite, and because of his injury history will never have a place on the Peter Northstars.
Mikko Koivu got off to an explosive start in 2009 with 9 points in his first 3 games. His breakout season was derailed late as he struggled with a knee sprain in March producing only 7 points in his final 18 games. Koivu does not possess the foot speed of his older brother Saku, but he is just as fiesty. His instincts manifest themselves in clever play making, as well as the ability to dictate tempo. Because of his late season injury induced swoon, he can probably still be had as a value pick in your fantasy pool. Surrounded by a healthy Havlat, Burns and Bouchard, an 80+ point season is not out of the question in 2010.
Brent Burns was a fantasy disappointment in 2009 as the expectations from a breakout campaign and being named the best defenseman at the World Championship inflated his draft position. Burns production through 34 games was on pace with his breakout campaign until an undetected January concussion hampered his performance (10 pts over his final 25 games). Suffering from post concussion syndrome, Burns was shutdown for the season in March. Burns also had to endure surgery to repair a torn labrum and with it the 4 month rehab. Burns is an elite level talent who will receive top PP minutes and ice time. Injury concerns aside, look for a return to the 40+ point range.
Pierre Marc Bouchard finds himself on breakout/sleeper lists every season, looking at his offensive skills it is easy to see why. Bouchard has an ability to change pace and when combined with his insight and puck skills he should be an offensive star. Bouchard tends to avoid contact and with that struggles to fully engage. Add in his back problems and a recent concussion and his weaknesses become an even bigger concern. One wonders if he will ever reach his full potential.
Marek Zidlicky set franchise records in assists (30) and powerplay goals (10) during his first season in Minnesota. Zidlicky has cemented his status in the second tier of fantasy defensemen as he continually produces top 20 seasons, but rarely threatens the elite class. Zidlicky has settled nicely into the 45 point fantasy range and in a defensive minded system is unlikely to return to his heady Nashville days.
After a season in which he struggled with his role and found himself at odds with Lemaire, Sheppard has been provided a clean start with the appointment of Todd Richards. A prolific scorer in the Q, Sheppard's struggles lead me to wonder if he could have used an apprenticeship in the AHL. When he establishes consistency in his compete level and uses his size to his advantage, he should be able to begin to flash his fantasy potential. 2010 is an important season in his progression.
The worst thing that happened to Benoit Pouliot was his lofty draft status. A project pick at number 4 overall, Pouliot has struggled in his progression. With peers Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson, Carey Price and Anze Kopitar already established NHLers, it is easy to understand the frustration of fantasy owners and Wild fans alike. Looking at his slow progression at the OHL level, is it unrealistic to believe that maybe he is just slow to adjust to new surroundings? Although he struggled with the Wild, he finally established himself as a pro by matching his 2008 production in 18 fewer games (24 pts in 30 games). At 22 the clock is ticking, but I don't suggest abandoning the project yet.
It should come as no surprise that the Wild's minor league system is filled with players who reflect their style of play. Most of their players are hard nosed, intelligent individuals who lack true offensive explosiveness. Players who are being bred to seamlessly enter the system. For fantasy purposes, that creates a challenge.
Leddy was Minnesota's top high school player in 2009 and was named Mr. Hockey after a dominant State Championship. Leddy possesses strong skating skills that allows him to reach top speed effortlessly. His poise and ablitly to control the tempo of a game with his elite transition ability are impressive for a player his age. Leddy is entering his freshman year at the University of Minnesota and is the top player to keep your eye on in the Wild's system.
Scandella posted breakout numbers on the last placed Val D'Or Foreurs. Logging a ton of ice time, Scandella managed to finish 6th in team scoring during the 2009 season. His ability to avoid the forecheck and jump start the transition game will serve him well in the NHL. With an improved team around him entering 2010, Scandella will have the opportunity to assert himself as an offensive force. He looks to have an NHL game, it is just a matter of assessing if he will make a significant fantasy impact.
Tyler Cuma is a solid two way player, he remains Minnesota's best prospect as he fits the Wild profile to a T. From a fantasy standpoint, the question is whether he can unlock his fantasy potential. Cuma possesses strong transition skills, but his instincts seem to lack the attacking mentality or creativity of an elite offensive rearguard. He is a lock for top 4 minutes and if used properly could become a PP factor. His athleticism and intelligence make him a solid fantasy gamble, but his lack of offensive production at the junior level act as a red flag for me.
Gillies is a fantasy project. He has the power forward skill set that causes scouts to drool, but has failed to produce significant offensive at any level. Ultimately he lacks the elite hands or puck skills to become a consistent point producer. If the Wild utilize him correctly, the combination of PPP and PIMs could make him a worthwhile investment. Now if he grows a beard and they can convince Pierre-Marc Bouchard to grow a balding mullet and wear a leather helmet, we may be on to something.
The lack of offensive depth in the Wild's minor league system forced me to do some digging and take a late round flyer on Eero Elo. Coming off a point per game season in the SEL, Elo's great hands and the potential for him to grow into his 6'3" frame make him an interesting prospect. Add in his work ethic and offensive upside and he may succeed in Minnesota. A reach, but a low risk/high reward pick.