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The Stock Exchange: Projecting final NHL leaders

by Sergei J. Feldman

The grind of a fantasy hockey season is just that: A grind. When you consider all the details, big and small, all the nuances and all the possibilities, you're still left with roster setting and juggling, trade offers and rejections and day-to-day focus and attention. But ain't it great?

To get fantasy hockey owners to where they want to be, fantasy insider Sergei Feldman brings you his weekly piece highlighting various players who have increased or decreased their value after each week and suggesting which players to buy or sell moving forward. In the end, you'll have a clearer picture of the marketplace and be in perfect position to enhance your fantasy hockey portfolios.

When the 48-game 2012-13 season began, everyone had a theory as to how things would unfold.

Speculation ranged from injuries dominating early headlines to veterans finding their name atop the scoring list, and everything in between. The uncertainty that came with a compressed season had various fantasy implications.

Will the recognized big names remain the powerhouses we've expected them to be?

Will those young studs break through and lead the new wave of fantasy impact performers?

What to make of it all?

Well, as the halfway point of the season approaches, it's as good a time as any to examine where we stand and what to expect from our current crop of the game's best.

Following is a list of the leaders of some of the major statistical categories in standard Yahoo! leagues and a "buy" or "sell" grade as to the likelihood of their remaining atop the list at season's end.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 31
SOG: 72 | +/-: 2
Goals: Steven Stamkos, C – Tampa Bay Lightning (14)

Tampa Bay's sniper Steven Stamkos has taken the NHL by storm after a modest rookie campaign. Since that "quiet" 23-goal first outing in 2008-09, Stamkos has scored 51, 45 and 60 goals in the three subsequent years. He'd currently be on pace for 57 goals in an 82-game season. The jury is very much settled on No. 91: he knows how to score and is showing no signs of losing that edge. The only things getting in the way of Stamkos winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy is another goalie in the net or a broken stick. Even then, beware.

Stamkos as leading scorer at season's end: Buy.

Assists: Sidney Crosby, C – Pittsburgh Penguins (22)

Despite being widely considered one of the most, if not the most, gifted playmakers in the game, since breaking into the League in 2005-06, Sidney Crosby has yet to lead the NHL in assists. Things could change in 2012-13. In 21 games, Crosby has collected two or more assists six times and stands two ahead of another Lightning forward, Martin St. Louis. With no timetable for an Evgeni Malkin return quite yet (concussion), it's logical to assume Crosby will need to shoulder a healthy share of the offensive load. With or without Malkin, Crosby has proven to be a more than capable goal-scorer. As the season winds down, it's likely that his assist rate drops as his goals increase. And with the St. Louis's and Joe Thornton's of the world still around, leading in helpers could be a challenge.

Crosby as leading puck distributor at season's end: Sell.

Brandon Prust
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 5
PIMs: 76 | +/-: 9
Penalty Minutes: Brandon Prust, LW – Montreal Canadiens (76)

All-around tough guy Brandon Prust was brought in to Montreal to be a physical presence on both ends of the ice. He's delivered for the Eastern Conference-leading Canadiens. The current PIMs leader is no stranger to the pedestal. Prust has found himself in the top 10 in the category in two of the past three seasons. He's a perfect complementary piece in deep fantasy leagues. You know what you're going to get season in, season out: a scrap here, a rough there. At the end of the day, Prust is the dependable option that's so hard to find.

Prust as leading PIMs getter at season's end: Buy.

Power Play Points: Evgeni Malkin, C/RW – Pittsburgh Penguins (14)

Last year's Hart Trophy winner has missed the past three games after reportedly dealing with concussion symptoms. Some would argue that “Geno” has failed to live up to grand expectations set in recent seasons so far, as he's found the back of the net just four times. But he has found comfort and production with the man-advantage. With options like Crosby, James Neal, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz on the ice, Malkin will not surprisingly continue to rack up the power-play points. But some of those same players will threaten the same category, not to mention many stars right behind No. 71 in the power-play points category.

Malkin as leading power play points getter at season's end: Sell.

John Tavares
Center - NYI
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 25
SOG: 82 | +/-: -8
Shots: John Tavares, C / Matt Moulson, LW – New York Islanders (82)

John Tavares and Matt Moulson are, pardon the pun, on an island by themselves atop the list of shot leaders as the halfway point of the 2012-13 campaign nears. For Tavares, this was expected to be a big year after a top-10 finish in points last season. He was a shot-producing machine then, too, ultimately throwing 286 pucks on net. As for Moulson, he's been a quiet fantasy goal-scoring force in recent seasons and is showing signs of emerging as a perennial player in fantasy ranks. It's hard to score 30-plus goals in three straight seasons without knowing how to get the puck on the cage. It may be a stretch to think that both players will finish at No. 1 and No. 2 in shots, but one of them seems like a more and more likely bet.

Tavares or Moulson with the most shots at season's end: Buy.

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