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Top 10 fantasy keepers for the 2011-12 season

by Eric Goodman
Now that the NHL regular season has come to a close, it's time to start thinking about which fantasy players are worth keeping and which should go back in the draft pool for the 2011-12 season. Choosing the right keepers can set the tone for a very successful season and the following list should provide a basic guide toward who can help lead your fantasy club moving forward.

While there are varying criteria dictating which players are keeper eligible, the following list takes into account that anyone picked in rounds one or two of typical 2010-11 fantasy draft cannot be kept. Therefore, you won’t find likely top picks like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist or Nicklas Lidstrom on this list.

These are strictly players that likely flew just a bit under the radar in most Yahoo! fantasy hockey drafts last season. They might not be keeper eligible in your actual fantasy league. The statistical categories considered were the basic 6-by-4 format: goals, assists, plus/minus, shots on goal, power-play points and penalty minutes for skaters and wins, saves, goals-against average and shutouts for goalies.

1. Bobby Ryan, C/LW, Anaheim Ducks -- Ryan registered at least 30 goals in each of his first three full NHL seasons and the dynamic Duck shows no signs of slowing down. The potential for 40 goals and 40 assists next season should be enough reason to consider keeping Ryan, but 270 shots on goal and a plus/minus rating of plus-15 in 2010-11 gives the young American forward two more attributes to add to his fantasy repertoire. Also, Ryan benefits from playing on one of the most potent lines in the NHL with teammates Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. And if all those solid stats haven't convinced you already, then consider that Ryan will give you dual position eligibility (C/LW) in Yahoo! leagues next season.

2. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens -- Top-tier goalies usually get snatched up in the first two rounds, but a sub-par 2009-10 season for Price should mean that he was taken in the middle rounds in most fantasy leagues for 2010-11. And now that Price is clearly the right goalie for Montreal, fantasy owners should strongly consider hanging on to this Hab. For this past season, Price was in at least the top three in three of the four major fantasy categories including wins (tied with Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo for the League lead with 38), saves (1,982) and shutouts (8). If you consider that typical fantasy leagues allow for two stating goalie positions, then choosing to keep Price will have you halfway towards a terrific tandem for next season.

3. Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks -- Consistent and dependable are the first adjectives that come to mind when talking about Kesler. The second-line center for the 2011 Presidents’ Trophy winning Canucks has played in all 82 regular-season games in each of the past three seasons and only missed two games in the 2007-08 season. Of course, the 26 year-old American has put up great statistics as well, posting a career-high 41 goals in 2010-11 along with 32 assists, a plus-24 rating, 66 penalty minutes and 260 shots on goal. Add the fact that he can also chip in with 20+ power-play points and Kesler easily becomes the anchor for your fantasy squad moving forward.

4. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Atlanta Thrashers -- High-scoring defensemen are tough to come by, but Big Buff is an exception as he shifted from a winger with Chicago in 2009-10 to a blueliner for Atlanta this past season. The change in position for Byfuglien resulted in a fantasy-owner's dream as the burly American was second among all skaters in the NHL with 347 shots on goal in 2010-11 and led all d-men with 20 goals. Add in the potential for 80+ PIMs and 35+ assists and you have yourself a special kind of player that can work wonders for your team in 2011 and beyond.

5. David Backes, RW, St. Louis Blues -- Entering his sixth season with St. Louis, Backes is a rare player that can help you compete in both PIMs and goals. The 26 year-old has already tallied 31 goals in a season twice in his career and can be depended upon to spend at least 100 minutes in the penalty box. Backes also plays close to 80 games a season, so owners can rest assured knowing they should have someone who can help out on a consistent basis. Additionally, the Minneapolis, MN native set a career high last season with a plus-32 rating. Getting 200+ shots in 2011 would be good but if you’re choosing to keep Backes, then you should really be expecting the unique combination of 30+ goals and 100+ PIMs as the main course and take anything else he gives you as a delicious dessert.

6. Cam Ward, G, Carolina Hurricanes -- Truth be told, Ward could have resided in the second position on this list and Carey Price could have been bumped down, but either goalie is a wise choice to keep. In order to assure a successful goalie corps, you will want a guy like Ward who starts 70+ games when healthy. The Canes goalie led the NHL in games started last season with 74 and put up great numbers across the board with a League-leading 2,191 saves, coupled with 37 wins (second in the NHL), three shutouts and a respectable 2.56 GAA. Cam Ward has been a workhorse for Carolina in recent years and he can do the same for your fantasy team.

7. Shea Weber, D, Nashville Predators -- The Preds defenseman never seems to get the respect he deserves on draft day, which means he should be keeper eligible in most leagues. In fantasy, blueliners are typically depended upon to chip in with assists, plus/minus and shots on goal and while Weber just cracked the top 20 with 32 assists last season, he makes up for it with his goal-scoring potential and solid numbers in most other categories. For the 2010-11 season, Weber was in the top five for defensemen in both goals (16) and shots on goal with 254. Another fact to note is Weber has only missed four games since the 2008-09 season, making him a fine choice if you're looking to get your defensive group off on the right foot.

8. Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche -- There is certainly a lot of reasons to keep this Canadian-born center, but the pure scoring potential tops that list. While it’s difficult to pinpoint what you’ll get from a player who is only 20 years old and entering his third NHL season, it’s safe to assume that Duchene will continue to build upon his numbers from his rookie and sophomore seasons. Assuming that he keeps at the same pace of improving his goals and assists numbers, Duchene is projected to give your fantasy team 30 goals and 49 assists next season, along with 200+ shots on goal potential.

9. Milan Lucic, LW, Boston Bruins -- It's sometimes hard to find the balance between scoring potential and physical play within one individual player, but Lucic is one that possesses both abilities. While a repeat of his career-high 30 goals in 2010-11 might not be likely, it is definitely worth a flier in maintaining Lucic for next season. Other similar players that could help you out in the goals/PIMs combo categories would be the Lightning’s Steve Downie and Flyers’ Scott Hartnell, but Lucic and Downie’s upswing appear to be slightly greater than Hartnell due to the fact that Lucic is just 22 years old, Downie is 24 and Hartnell will be 29 once next season begins.

10. Logan Couture, C, San Jose Sharks -- Choosing to keep a rookie can be a bit of a high-risk choice, but the potential to reap the benefits can sometimes be tremendous. If you take the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos as an example; your choice to keep him after the 2008-09 season (when he was third among all NHL rookies with 23 goals) would have meant that your fantasy squad boasted a 50-goal scorer the following season. While it’s hard to say if Couture will have a similar sophomore season to Stamkos, it’s worth it to keep the sensational Shark for 2011. The 22-year-old led all rookies in shots on goal in 2010-11 with 253 and was second among rookies with 32 goals scored. There is also a chance at getting a plus/minus posting in the plus-20's. The opportunity to capture the latest bolt of lightning in a bottle can be yours, if you’re willing to take the chance.

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