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The Real Spiel: Giroux proving he's among the elite

by Sergei J. Feldman
Given the complex, never-steady landscape of fantasy hockey, each week, Fantasy Insider Sergei Feldman will give you The Real Spiel on some of the quirks and trends that permeated your week of fantasy hockey by way of in-depth analysis.

This week, The Real Spiel breaks down the first quarter of the NHL season and the fantasy studs that made it exciting for all involved.

The Real Spiel on Claude Giroux as Top Center:

Claude Giroux
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 29
SOG: 68 | +/-: 3
A large segment of the hockey world was stunned when the Philadelphia Flyers said goodbye to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in the offseason. Now, a large segment of the hockey world is stunned at how Claude Giroux has taken the NHL by storm through the first quarter of the season. When Richards and Carter left for Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively, the Flyers sent a message that they believe in Giroux as the straw that can stir the drink in the city of brotherly love. So far, so good.

Giroux is the top-ranked center-eligible player in standard Yahoo! Leagues and his 13 goals and 16 assists are a major reason why. While those stats are understandably eye-popping, Giroux's real value as a fantasy beast is a byproduct of great across-the-board production. Consider his 68 shots thrown on net, 14 PIMs, plus-3 rating and 11 power play points and you can't help but place the gifted playmaker at the top of the list of fantasy centers. Even with Sidney Crosby back in the lineup and names like Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin and Jonathan Toews still out there, Giroux has earned his spot as Top Center going into the second quarter of the 2011-12 season.

The Real Spiel on Kris Versteeg as Top Left Wing:

Kris Versteeg
Right Wing - FLA
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 26
SOG: 61 | +/-: 12
You wouldn't think the Florida Panthers would be atop the Southeast Division, which includes Washington and Tampa Bay, at the quarter-mark of the season. They Are. And you wouldn't think Kris Versteeg would be one of the most prolific players of the young season. He is. The moral: start thinking.

The season is long and a lot could happen, but up to this point, Versteeg deserves props as the main man on the left side of the ice. He currently sits fifth in total points (26) in the NHL and has been held off the scoresheet just eight times all season. What's been just as impressive as his individual numbers has been his ability to lift the play of his Panthers teammates. Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss each have 20-plus points and Versteeg is a big reason why. He's delivered night in, night out for your fantasy club and, seeing as how nicely he's been able to fit in with a newly constructed Florida club, the same discussion could be have come the midway point of the campaign.

The Real Spiel on Phil Kessel as Top Right Wing:

Phil Kessel
Right Wing - TOR
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 30
SOG: 80 | +/-: 4
If you lead the NHL in goals and points, you're pretty good. Phil Kessel is pretty good. The Toronto Maple Leafs right wing has emerged as one of the most feared skaters on the ice. With or without the puck, Kessel has been a threat and, as a result, the Maple Leafs have become a contender in the competitive Eastern Conference.

The Maple Leafs haven't been the only ones benefiting from Kessel's dominance, as your fantasy clubs undoubtedly have, as well. And how about the rub-off impact on teammate Joffrey Lupul? The other star in Toronto has arguably been as impressive as Kessel so far, but the man opponents are focusing on each night is the one with No. 81 on his jersey.

The Real Spiel on Kris Letang as Top Defenseman:

Kris Letang
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 19
SOG: 64 | +/-: 5
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was a Norris Trophy candidate through the first half of last season and then faltered down the stretch. Many people believed the absence of Crosby played a large role in that. This year, Letang has shown he can shoulder the load on the blue line for the Eastern Conference's top club without "Sid the Kid" in the lineup.

While Crosby sat out for the better part of this season, Letang has consistently remained atop the League's most prolific defenseman. So far, the former third-round selection has three goals, 16 assists (good for sixth best in the NHL), 19 points, a plus-5 rating, 12 PIMs and 64 shots on net. With Crosby back in the fold, Letang's production could see an increase, which means so can your fantasy team if you've got him as an option.

The Real Spiel on Tim Thomas as Top Goaltender:

Tim Thomas
Goalie - BOS
RECORD: 11-4-0
GAA: 1.86 | SVP: 0.937
Stanley Cup hangover? Doesn't look like it. Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas has not missed a beat after a jaw-dropping regular season and even more impressive playoff run last season. He has been one of the biggest reasons the Bruins have become the talk of the League this season. Rightfully so, the Bruins' 2011-12 season has so far been highlighted by a 10-game winning streak. 

Thomas is owned in 99 percent of standard Yahoo! Leagues. No surprise there. The 37-year-old is fourth in the League with 11 wins, second in the League in save percentage (.937), third in the League in GAA (1.86) and he has three shutouts, too. Those are the numbers of a top notch goalie. Those are the numbers of Tim Thomas, the top goalie through the first quarter of the season and likely beyond.
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