With the start of the 2012-13 NHL regular season days away, fantasy owners find themselves in the midst of the most exciting yet anxious time of year -- draft week.
Entering a normal fantasy draft, owners typically reflect on the past season, injury history surrounding their targeted players, and other factors such as potential line changes.
But considering the unique landscape entering a 48-game season, fantasy owners face more dilemmas than ever when deciding on players.
So as you consider draft strategies, mull trade offers and monitor the waiver wire, fantasy insider Pete Jensen is here to point you in the right direction with NHL.com's Fantasy Hockey Mailbag. The most compelling fan-submitted tweets will be answered all season long in an effort to provide you with the best chance to succeed in your league.
In terms of how they tend to slip in drafts, I value Cam Ward, Miikka Kiprusoff and Antti Niemi. Ward didn't have much support last year but is a Stanley Cup champion with a revitalized Carolina Hurricanes roster in front of him this season. Niemi, despite the San Jose Sharks' regression, was solid all-round with strong win (34) and shutout (6) totals last season. Kiprusoff, 36, remained a four-category force between the pipes despite the Calgary Flames missing the playoffs. My best advice for fantasy owners is to monitor your goalie situation throughout your draft because the dominoes can fall quickly. The length of this season means workhorse goalies will come at a premium, so the fact these three goalies appeared in 68-plus games apiece last season is noteworthy.
Because the top-tier fantasy forwards likely will be gone by the time you pick, it's important to seek consistency and category coverage in your selection at No. 5. Daniel Sedin (LW), Alex Ovechkin (LW) and Corey Perry (RW) are reliable fantasy wings who provide elite category coverage. James Neal (LW/RW in Yahoo! leagues) was the NHL's lone 80-point, 80-PIM player and was a power-play difference-maker (30 PPP in '11-12) alongside Malkin, but he lacks a track record of fantasy prowess prior to last season. Your safest bet here is Daniel Sedin (LW); his seven straight seasons of 65-plus points and 200-plus SOG with an average rating of nearly plus-20 per season over that span bodes well for a season that will be defined by unpredictability.
Though some veterans around the League could find it difficult keeping up with the condensed schedule, I'm confident Thornton (33 years old) and Zetterberg (32) will hold up well. They were point-per-game players in Swiss-A during the lockout and return in game-shape to respective units with talented linemates. Zetterberg is even fortunate enough to have played with Detroit Red Wings teammate Damien Brunner in Europe. Alfredsson (40), because of so many explosive young players around him with the Ottawa Senators, clearly came back for a reason. If his training regimen during the lockout proves to have been sufficient, Alfredsson could certainly follow up his 59-point campaign with 30-35 in 48 games.
Schultz is a clear-cut, top-20 defenseman to start the season in my opinion. After watching him rank behind only Jordan Eberle among AHL leading scorers with 48 points in 34 games, you have to imagine the Edmonton Oilers have short-term plans for Schultz as a power-play quarterback. I'd be careful how early I select him, but I have a feeling many fantasy owners will begin to eye him once Erik Karlsson, Zdeno Chara, Kris Letang, Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien are off the board. It would be wise to begin to target Schultz in the middle rounds, because the fact that Edmonton's power-play unit was working together in Oklahoma City for the past few months is an indication Schultz can have an immediate impact.
With Tim Thomas out of the picture for now, this is Rask's job to lose. It's not quite time for promising goalie prospect Malcolm Subban to make an appearance, but that doesn't mean Anton Khudobin won't compete for time if given a real chance to do so. Despite a rocky road for Rask over the past few seasons, there are high hopes he can thrive during a short season. Durability is always a question mark when a goalie has appeared in less than 30 games in each of the past two seasons, but I have him ranked as my No. 12 fantasy goalie for a reason. Rask was on the fast track to stardom in 2009-10 with a 1.97 GAA and five shutouts in 45 games before losing the job to Thomas later that season. This will serve as Rask's second chance.
Who are five underrated fantasy centers poised for breakout seasons? -- @RAFFIRAMIREZ93
I love how cohesive the second line of the San Jose Sharks can be when healthy, so I'd say Logan Couture (C/LW) is my bold pick to finish as a top-10 fantasy center despite being behind Thornton in the lineup. Brayden Schenn and Derek Stepan are two youngsters on explosive teams (Philadelphia Flyers; New York Rangers) who should co-exist well with the respective weapons around them. To round out the list, you have to like the promise surrounding Mikko Koivu with the Minnesota Wild and Travis Zajac with the New Jersey Devils as bounce-back candidates. The Devils may have lost Zach Parise to the Wild, but the presence of Ilya Kovalchuk will make Zajac's ceiling just as high.
Schultz tearing up the AHL, Yakupov being the top pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and Tarasenko going from the KHL to a Cup-contending team with the St. Louis Blues are all compelling rookie storylines. That being said, Huberdeau warrants fantasy consideration in later rounds, especially after posting nine points in six games for Canada in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. He turned in outstanding point and PIM totals in the QMJHL as well, so he appears to be a logical choice to center the second line for a Florida Panthers' offense that lacked scoring depth despite their success in the standings last season.
If you didn't consider his injury history, would Sidney Crosby have been your No. 1-ranked fantasy player? -- @THESPORTIC
Crosby is the most explosive fantasy point-producer by a wide margin when healthy but certainly comes with questions after playing in 63 of a potential 164 regular-season games due to injury over the past two seasons. Last season, Crosby reeled off four three-assist games (T-3rd in League) in 22 games. His points-per-game average is upwards of 1.6 over the past two seasons (1st in NHL), but he simply must prove he can stay healthy before he reclaims the No. 1 overall ranking.
Submit questions for NHL.com's Fantasy Mailbag on Twitter all season long: @NHLJensen
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