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Right of Way: Phil Kessel: A man on a mission

by Matt Cubeta /
Every Friday during the season, fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy right wings in our weekly segment: "Right of Way." From updated right wing rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy right wing expert all season long.

Last week's "Right of Way" preached patience to fantasy owners, and this week should be no different. We are still very early into the 2011-12 season with no teams playing double digit games yet this season and the Penguins leading the way with nine games played so far -- in fact no other team has played in more than seven other than Pittsburgh. Looking even more closely at the schedule there are still three teams that have only played four games -- the Devils, Red Wings and Sharks.

You simply cannot read too much into the production of each player at this point -- there is a whole lot of hockey still to be played and we can expect our usual top fantasy players to perform up to their capabilities.

When looking at the top right wings at this point of the season, you'll notice several unlikely players -- Phil Kessel is the No. 1 right wing in standard Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, with Jason Pominville, Joffrey Lupul, Patrick Sharp and Milan Michalek rounding out their top five. However, when you look at our updated ranks, things will look quite different.

That's because we're sticking with our guns and again, it's just too early to start believing or disbelieving in these early starts.

Let's take a look at some the right wings that have made significant jumps or drops in our new ranks…



These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). Note: positions are now dictated by how they're labeled in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues.
*dual position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues

NOTE: Patrick Sharp recently gained RW eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues

Players that dropped out of our previous rankings: Jaromir Jagr, Ryan Callahan, Ales Hemsky
Claude Giroux -- Giroux is quickly turning into a superstar in the NHL. With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of the picture in Philadelphia, Giroux was looked upon to be the team's offensive leader -- and so far, he has been nothing short of exactly that. Through six games of action, the first-round draft choice has posted 5 goals and 3 assists and has recorded at least one point in five of those six contests. Giroux has been skating on a line with Jaromir Jagr and fellow youngster James van Riemsdyk, and while both of his wings have struggled, Giroux continues to produce. Throw in the fact that he has center and right wing eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues and Giroux is quickly moving up in the overall fantasy ranks, not just at right wing.

Phil Kessel -- Only one player is currently ranked higher than Kessel in standard fantasy leagues: Jonathan Quick -- no skater has been more productive than the Toronto right winger. Kessel is putting up points at an unworldly pace right now with 7 goals and 12 points in his first six games. He's succeeding in every aspect of hockey right -- he has chipped in 3 power play points, a plus-6 rating, 4 penalty minutes and 22 shots on goal. While we can't expect him to keep at this rate, Kessel seems like he's out to prove something this year -- and his fantasy owners shouldn't complain about that. He may hit a cold streak at some point, but 35 goals seems like a lock assuming the speedy winger stays healthy.

Martin Havlat -- After missing the first four games of the season, Martin Havlat is expected to make his Sharks debut Friday against the Devils. This is a big boost for any fantasy owner that spent an early draft pick on Havlat and you should expect him to start producing immediately. Havlat will likely line up on the team's second line with Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture -- expect their fantasy value to increase with Havlat back as well. Havlat struggled a bit in his two seasons with Minnesota (although last season's 62 points in 78 games isn't too shabby), but he is a crafty player that registered 77 points in 2008-09 with the Blackhawks. Insert him into your lineup immediately and let's see if he can rejuvenate his career on a high-powered offensive team like San Jose.


Evgeni Malkin -- Sure, Malkin has put up a goal and 3 assists in the three games he's played, but that's obviously the big problem here -- we need Malkin to stay healthy. After missing his fourth straight game on Thursday, Malkin fantasy owners are surely getting frustrated. The good news here is that his knee injury is not considered serious and a return seems imminent. Try to stay patient if you were fortunate enough to land the world-class talented Penguins forward and you will surely be rewarded when he's back and healthy.

David Backes -- Backes is the fantasy player we've all grown to love. He gets you the goals, throws in some assists, puts up a good plus/minus, gets his share of power play points and shots, and most importantly, he racks up the penalty minutes. Unfortunately, he's off to a rough start in 2011-12 with just a goal and an assist in six contests to go along with a minus-3, 6 penalty minutes, 1 power-play point and 16 shots on goal. The Blues captain has been mixed and matched on lines since the injury to his usual linemate Andy McDonald (clearly playing a factor in Backes' slow start) and just hasn't been able to get much going. Backes started off slowly last season with just 1 goal and 5 points in his first 13 games, but he ended up rewarding his fantasy owners in a big way by season's end -- stay patient with Backes and all will be well.

Ales Hemsky -- Hemsky is a player that has always been a question mark because of his health every year. Well, this season is no different so far. It's safe to lower fantasy expectations annually for the talented Oilers winger. After appearing in 70-plus games in consecutive seasons from 2007-09, Hemsky has played in just 22 games in 2009-10 and 47 games last season. Now he's being ruled out for at least "a couple of weeks" because of problems with his surgically repaired right shoulder according to Oilers head coach Tom Renney. Hemsky had recorded one assist in two games prior to the reoccurring injury, but fantasy owners should certainly reserve the 28-year-old for the time being.


David Jones -- Not too many fantasy owners are paying attention to David Jones -- as demonstrated by his 20 percent ownership in Yahoo! Leagues -- but they certainly should be keeping a close watch on the Avalanche forward. After bursting onto the scene last season with a team-high 27 goals (tied with Matt Duchene), Jones is off to a good start in 2011-12 with 4 goals and 1 helper in his first seven games, with all 5 of those points coming in a three-game span. He may be streaky, but he's receiving most of his even strength ice time on a line with Paul Stastny and Chuck Kobasew. The 27-year-old forward might not reach last season's 27 goals, but he's definitely off to a good start this campaign.
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