Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Sleeper Keepers

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I'm taking a break this week from my usual format of providing nuggets of fantasy wisdom to spend some time discussing keepers. With the current season winding down, there are certainly some of you out there whose interest has already turned towards next season. Here are a few players I'll be targeting in off-season trade discussions in my leagues.

James Neal – While a number of media members made a point of congratulating the Penguins for their stealth acquisition of Neal a few weeks ago, the talented young winger is still waiting to record his first point in a Pittsburgh uniform. Through six contests with his new club, Neal has a grand total of 12 shots on goal, four penalty minutes and sports an unimpressive –3 rating. Hardly the profile of a fantasy star, but if you're like me, you're hoping his struggles continue for a little while longer. With the prospect of playing on a line with a fully-recovered Sidney Crosby next season, there's really nothing that can happen this year that will deter me from targeting Neal in the summer. I'm just hoping the price remains low.

Jakub Voracek – Most of the hype coming out of the Columbus camp last fall surrounded top prospect Nikita Filatov, but while the spotlight was focused on him, Voracek went about his business and has now become an integral part of the Blue Jackets' nucleus. Still only 21 years of age, the Czech winger is a mainstay on the team's first line and top power play unit and he has recorded an impressive 20 points over his last 26 games. He'll never be a significant contributor in leagues that reward penalty minutes, but his great vision and playmaking tendencies make him a great complement to sniper Rick Nash. You may think he has already arrived, but believe me when I say he's got another level that he hasn't displayed yet.

Jamie Benn – If you look around, you'll see that all of the pieces are beginning to fall into place for Benn to become a fantasy stud. In six games since the trade of James Neal opened up more playing time for the power forward, he has recorded five points, six PIM and a +2 rating. I`m aware that the possibility of Brad Richards signing elsewhere this summer looms on the horizon, but I think his departure would simply allow Benn to move up the depth chart, since Dallas is prepared to build their team around a young core that also includes Alex Goligoski and Loui Eriksson. The 21-year-old is on a 60-point pace in just his second NHL season and there`s reason to believe he'll be even better next year.

Zach Bogosian – Bogosian presents us with a tricky case because Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien have clearly emerged as the dynamic duo on the Thrashers' blue line and this seems to have stunted his development, as the 13 points and –17 rating he has put forth in 55 games will attest. There are rumors circling that Bogosian has requested a trade out of Atlanta, but whether the disgruntled Thrasher is dealt or not, I foresee a bounce back for him next year. On one hand, a change of scenery could offer him an opportunity for regular ice time with the man advantage, but there's also no reason to think he can't be a valuable contributor if he stays in Georgia. It's impossible to predict how his role might transform next season's Thrashers, but with a young player this talented, one simply has to trust the immense skill and remain confident that the rest will sort itself out.

Kyle Okposo – It wasn`t long ago that the former seventh overall pick was considered one of the best young prospects in the league, but a mediocre final 20 games last season combined with a shoulder injury earlier this year seem to have caused many to sour on his chances at future stardom. Admittedly, Okposo has only notched 13 points in 23 games this season, but he should be afforded some time to round back into form. On a team with many more scoring options than it has boasted in a long time, consider the remainder of this season a tune-up for what should be a solid rebound campaign in 2011-12.

Mark Streit – If there`s one thing the Islanders have proven in recent weeks, it`s that the team is well on its way to finally shedding its reputation as league doormats. The emergence of John Tavares in his second NHL campaign along with significant steps forward from P.A. Parenteau, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson finally give Isles fans hope for the future, but the one glaring weakness for this club has been a true power play quarterback. That`s where Streit comes in. With a significant shoulder injury forcing him to the sidelines for the entire 2010-11 season, many with a short memory will forget that the Swiss blueliner averaged 55 points over his past three seasons. He`s one of the top offensive defensemen in the league with a reputation as something less than that. Sounds like a bargain to me.

Jonathan Bernier – It seems a little disrespectful to Jon Quick for us to be discussing his potential replacement, especially when you consider how well he has played this season, but there are signs that the Kings are hoping for Bernier to step up and claim the number one job. After a rocky start to his season apparently put any goaltending controversy to rest, the fact that Bernier has posted a sparkling 1.30 GAA and .950 save percentage over his last six appearances leads me to believe the door might still be slightly ajar for the Laval, Quebec native. As a former first round pick, he certainly has the pedigree to be an NHL star and his performance in the AHL last season showed glimpses of what he`s truly capable of. Perhaps all the Bernier hype prior to the year wasn`t unfounded after all – maybe it was just one year too early.





Kevin Brown is fantasy hockey writer for Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter @kbrownroto.
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