When the puck drops on the 2012-13 NHL season, stars that had been competing internationally during the lockout will make their NHL season debuts. With that, a truly unprecedented fantasy hockey season finally will be underway.
Many players who competed overseas already were considered reliable or even elite fantasy assets. For example, reigning Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin (23 G, 42 A, plus-23, 58 PIM in 37 games for Magnitogorsk) and fellow Russian forwards Pavel Datsyuk (11 G, 25 A, plus-14 in 31 games for CSKA) and Alex Ovechkin (19 G, 21 A, plus-13 in 31 games for Dynamo Moscow) simply reaffirmed their status as clear-cut, first-round fantasy assets by their stellar performance in KHL action.
While certain established players may have lived up to their billing from a fantasy standpoint, it's important to note that many players will see a significant spike in value as a result of their notable outputs overseas.
Here's a look at 10 players -- some of whom NHL fans have become very familiar with over the years -- who thrived in various leagues and tournaments around the world during the lockout. Whether these players were projected to be first- or second-round material over the summer or simply found themselves off the fantasy radar entirely, their performances should have owners calling their names upon their returns to the NHL.
NOTE: While a player's stats in Europe by no means guarantee similar results at the NHL level, these numbers can provide an indication of a player's fantasy capability entering the new season.
*Player positions indicate current eligibility in Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey leagues
Danny Briere, C/RW, Philadelphia: Briere missed 12 games last season, but bounced back in a big way in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, finishing tied for the playoff lead in goals (eight), and posting the top playoff shooting percentage (30.8) among players with 20-plus SOG. His play in Germany for the Berlin Polar Bears during the lockout also was impressive, as he thrived with 34 points in 21 games, averaging over a PIM per game with a plus-9 rating. His status for the start of the 2012-13 season is in question due to a wrist injury suffered while playing overseas (LINK: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=649279), but as long as it's not serious, he'll be a top-six forward for the Flyers that will cover points, PIM and PPP.
Damien Brunner, RW, Detroit: Brunner, who signed a two-way contract with Detroit in July, was joined by Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg while playing for EV Zug in the top Swiss league during the lockout. The 26-year-old standout took full advantage of playing with his future teammate by leading the league with 57 points and tying for first with 25 goals. He also had 49 PIM and a plus-18 rating. With Pavel Datsyuk Detroit's top-line center entering 2012-13, it would be ideal for Zetterberg to take Brunner under his wing on the team's second unit once training camp gets underway. If the chips fall into place, Brunner could be a steal in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts and make a sizable impact in a number of categories in his first NHL season.
Devan Dubnyk, G, Edmonton: Dubnyk finished outside the NHL's top-20 in goals-against average, save percentage and wins last season with the Oilers, but has managed to storm into 2012-13 with positive momentum. The 26-year-old was the starting goalie for Canada in the 2012 Spengler Cup in Switzerland last month, turning in three great outings capped by a 28-save victory in the tournament title game against host HC Davos. For Edmonton, having its starting goalie gain valuable reps in a tournament packed with NHL stars should pay dividends, especially once the club recalls AHL standouts Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz from Oklahoma City. If you're looking to draft a sleeper goalie in late rounds, Dubnyk comes with plenty of upside.
Christian Ehrhoff, D, Buffalo: The Sabres' top free-agent addition in the summer of 2011 didn't turn out as planned for fantasy owners in 2011-12, as Ehrhoff missed 16 games due to injury and finished with 18 less points and 73 fewer shots on goal than 2010-11. His PPP (11) and PIM (47) totals were respectable, but his overall fantasy profile left something to be desired. But the 30-year-old regained his scoring touch back home in Germany during the lockout, putting fantasy owners back on notice. He had 27 points (8 G, 19 A), 52 PIM and a plus-4 rating in 32 games for the Krefeld Penguins. If Ehrhoff can stay healthy and manage the Sabres' offense in man-advantage situations, he certainly can re-emerge as a top-15 fantasy defenseman by season's end.
Jaromir Jagr, RW, Dallas: Jagr made a quick transition back to the NHL last season after three seasons playing in Russia, so what's stopping him from yet another strong return from overseas? He came back with a purpose (54 points, 20 PPP in 73 games) for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12, and then was second in scoring in the Czech Extraliga with 57 points in 34 games for Kladno during the work stoppage. Now the 40-year-old sniper takes his game to Dallas, where he likely will team with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson on the Stars' top line. Jagr is far from the game-breaker he was in his prime, but he's still likely to be a key part in Dallas and a top-20 fantasy right wing.
Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg: With an array of NHL prospects on display in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Russia, I felt it was appropriate to showcase a player like Scheifele, who has legitimate upside in the short- and long-term. The 19-year-old Jets prospect had accumulated 48 points in 29 Ontario Hockey League games with the Barrie Colts this season before suiting up for WJC action. Shifted to right wing and splitting time on lines centered by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome, Scheifele led Canada with five goals in six games. If invited to training camp, Scheifele could boost Winnipeg's scoring depth. While he's not worth drafting in most fantasy leagues at this point, he carries dark-horse potential in deep leagues and should be monitored on the waiver wire if he's brought to camp.
Tyler Seguin, C/RW, Boston: Seguin's rise to the No. 2 spot on NHL.com's fantasy RW rankings this summer (LINK: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=640449) may have seemed premature at the time, but his numbers in Switzerland over the past few months have reminded us how dangerous a scoring threat this 20-year-old can be. In 29 games for Biel in the top Swiss league, he tied for the league lead with 25 goals and was sixth with 40 points. He had a minus-2 rating, but that likely will change for the better when he re-joins a Bruins team that turned in each of the top-five finishers in plus/minus last season (Seguin was second at plus-34).
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis: Tarasenko, who turned 21 in December, steps into a great situation in St. Louis for what will be his first NHL season after spending the last four-plus seasons in the KHL. During the work stoppage, the Russian-born forward was a dynamic, point-per-game player in 31 games with SKA. There's a great chance he will be given a second- or third-line opportunity with the Blues right out of training camp, but regardless of his place in the lineup, he brings a ton of experience to the table for his age and can benefit from the team's wealth of talent up front. As per my projection in early September, Tarasenko remains a premier sleeper candidate entering the new season (LINK: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=641141).
John Tavares, C, N.Y. Islanders: Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, already is a top fantasy commodity entering his fourth NHL season. Some argue he doesn't have much to work with on Long Island, but Matt Moulson's emergence lifted Tavares' fantasy profile to new heights in 2011-12. Last season, there were 46 team goals scored by the Isles where Tavares and Moulson each recorded a point (third among NHL duos). Tavares also registered 22 multi-point games (tied for eighth), and finished with 81 points in 82 games. Simply put, it may only be a matter of time before he's in the thick of an NHL scoring title race. He hasn't let the lockout hinder his development, either, posting 42 points, 28 PIM, and a plus-16 rating in 28 games for Bern in the top Swiss league. All things considered, Tavares should be picked in the first round of drafts.
Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia: During his recent stint with Lev Praha in the KHL, Voracek overcame a knee injury to finish with 20 points in 23 games with a plus-11 rating. With Jagr leaving the Flyers, Voracek (49 points in 78 games in 2011-12) is a projected top-line player, meaning he'll have a chance to mesh with two of last season's elite fantasy forwards, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. That duo combined for 160 points a season ago, so there should be a surplus of scoring chances for the taking on Voracek's new line, making him an excellent under-the-radar option to target in fantasy drafts.
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