One of the hardest fantasy pills to swallow is seeing one of your high draft picks underperform. It can be crippling to your team when your top players perform at a level more suitable to the American Hockey League.
Remaining patient is difficult when you have an early-round guy putting up numbers of waiver-wire fodder, but oftentimes it's crucial to long-term success. My bit of fantasy expertise suggests a player’s pedigree and past performance matter. Of course, a player’s age is important to take into account, as is his opportunity. However, past performance is still the most important factor in predicting player success.
Let's take a look at a number of top talents who have finally started to perform like they should (ranked in order of ESPN's average draft position):
OK, so maybe 33 points wasn't what you were expecting out of a player taken within the top few picks this season. The Russian began the year leaving many questioning if his full-bore style was eroding his game, whether his shot just wasn't as good anymore, or whether his move to the net was getting old (and therefore easy to defend). Eight goals in the first two months to go along with 18 points were what made fantasy players raise those questions. But then it all clicked in December (eight goals, 13 points) -- more specifically, in the past few weeks. Finally, the sniper put smiles on the faces of those wondering what the heck was up. He also recorded two points in four consecutive games. The Russian is back, as his shots are starting to find the back of the net.
The Canucks' netminder, overall, has some very solid numbers: a 17-9-3 record, a 2.37 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, and, yes, he's turned the corner for a while now after a rough start and injury. But you don't take a goaltender in the first/second round to be merely pedestrian, and right now, Luongo is living up to his reputation. In December, he quelled the fears of all fantasy owners who worried that Cory Schneider would get the lion's share of starts, winning nine of his 12 games and putting up a 2.04 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Those wins were two more than he had the first two months of the season, and he's got one in January too, to go along with his second shutout of the season (second in eight starts, too).
Kovalchuk is the rare player who can take over a game and has the size to rarely be affected by defenders when he’s on his game. He's also kind of a puck hog and can rip shots off at opposing goaltenders with ease. Thirty-four points doesn't sound too bad at this juncture, but 15 goals is certainly underwhelming for the talented Russian winger. Kovalchuk, though, is the perfect example of why it pays to be patient. He's 10th in the league in shots and has a career-low 10.3 shooting percentage. Sooner or later, shots had to fall, and that's just what they did. He has three already in January (topping his total from October, matching November's) and had seven in December. The winger also has two of his three game-winners in his last two games. I still wouldn't be surprised to see him finish with 40 goals.
The Capitals thought they had their goaltending unsteadiness solved with the addition of Vokoun, but all they were left with was more head scratching -- even using Michal Neuvirth for a five-game spell in mid-to-late December. Many fantasy owners took Vokoun high in drafts, expecting an uptick in the netminder's already-solid numbers because he would be playing behind a formidable offense. But the Caps have had their struggles, among them a bevy of defensive breakdowns almost every night. And Vokoun has had some rough patches too, especially in November and early December. That is, until a recent four-game stretch from the end of December to the beginning of January in which he gave up five goals and won all four games. He has a 2.66 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage both of which should improve as the season progresses.
Ryan is a three-time 30-goal scorer, yet for the first two months of the season you wouldn't have known that as he had only seven goals and 12 points in 24 games. December wasn't particularly a star-worthy month either, but he continued to show some improvement with six goals and nine points. Fifteen goals and 25 points for the year is disappointing from someone with as much potential as Ryan, but he's really been a by-product of an entire Ducks' offense lagging. However, he has five goals and eight points over his last seven games and three-straight two-point games. What worries me about Ryan is that his shots are way down (96, when he had 258, 270 over the last two seasons), but if the offense begins to show life, Ryan should stand to benefit.
Staal is one of the top power centers in the game with the ability to score and set up the offense. For the first two months of the season, though, the center looked lost -- getting only five goals and 12 assists. Some wondered whether concussing his brother, Marc, last April (and seeing him sidelined all year up to the Winter Classic) was taking its toll on him mentally. Who knows what the root problem was. All that matters now is that he's back to performing at a high level. Staal has scored three goals and registered 10 points over his last six games. He has a negative-24 plus/minus, which should see a moderate improvement now that he's scoring more. The only problem is the Canes have been dreadful on the back end, so you can’t expect miracles there.
By no means did I intend to make this the "In The Crease: Capitals Breaking Out Edition," but there's a reason they've strung together a bunch of wins lately. Semin is probably one of the must frustrating guys to own. He has loads of talent, but when he'll actually show it is the mystery. He has the ability to score 40 goals and notch close to a point per game, but we haven’t seen that kind of production in the past few seasons. Five of his 10 goals and 11 of his 22 points, however, have come in the Caps’ last nine games. He's one of the streakiest players out there, and now is the time you want him in your lineup.
The blue-chip blueliner missed all of training camp due to a contract dispute and did not play well In October and November as his conditioning and timing were off. Of course, it didn’t help that the entire Kings’ team was mired in a scoring slump. The 22-year-old can rack up points with the best defensemen in the league, averaging 50 the last two seasons, but had only seven in the season's first two months. He had eight in December though, and has two in January. Clearly he's found his game, as seven of his 17 points have come in the Kings’ last 11 contests. Also on his side for continued resurgence: a shooting percentage that’s about half his career norm.