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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres
John Tavares (Photo: Getty Images)
Ask any poolie, and they’ll tell you that one of the toughest things to do in fantasy hockey is to take the chance on drafting a rookie. Highly touted or not, too often the risk outweighs the reward. Simple logic says you’re better off having an older player in your lineup that will play guaranteed minutes in prime situations, as opposed to a youngster still growing into his body and while becoming accustomed to the rigors of the pro game, both on and off the ice.

There are obvious exceptions to this rule – John Tavares being this year’s prime example. Everyone knew he was going to walk into Long Island and get prime time minutes on a team desperate for offense and an identity. Even in a keeper league, drafting Tavares early was as much of a sure thing as Derek Jeter in a clutch situation.

In many ways, I liken the process of drafting rookies in fantasy hockey to picking out your date for the prom: don’t let the flashy exterior fool you; a little research and legwork will go a long way to helping you avoid any potential problems. There’s nothing worse than making a snap judgment, only to find out later that she’s some clingy, psychotic chick that introduces you to her entire family on prom night while taking hundreds of pictures and forces you to rent a limo and automatically thinks you are in a serious relationship and won’t leave you alone for the rest of the summer. Oops, sorry about that. I thought the therapy had helped erase those memories.

In fact, think of yourself as Eric Stoltz in the iconic 1987 film “Some Kind of Wonderful,” or Freddie Prinze Jr. in 1999’s “She’s All That.” Both characters find themselves intrigued by someone unusual, in the same way that a fantasy owner might be fascinated by flashy newcomers like Evander Kane or Ryan O’Reilly. Patience pays off in the end for both men, and they submit a successful waiver claim on their new cuties.

Now it’s time for you to do some research on some of this season’s rookies, and decide for yourself if they are worth picking up. Here are three of my favorites so far:

Michael Del Zotto (NY Rangers): I’m still kicking myself for not drafting Del Zotto, after reading reports he had been quarterbacking the Rangers PP during the pre-season. The 19-year-old blueliner has nine points in nine games, including four goals on just 13 shots. What surprises me is that Del Zotto has only topped 18 minutes of ice time in just two games this season.

Jamie Benn (Dallas):
Benn has seven points in his first nine games, and has continued to see his ice time increase almost every night. Despite his low goal total, he is among the team leaders in shots with 23. The 20-year-old Benn was a junior teammate of Tyler Myers in Kelowna, and he combined to score 79 goals over his last two WHL seasons.

Matt Duchene (Colorado): He hasn’t posted gaudy numbers so far, but it’s only a matter of time for the 18-year-old Duchene. He has tremendous hockey sense and is a solid physical presence even though he stands just 5’11 and 200 lbs. (Duchene was a provincial discus champion in high school) An impressive early stat for this 18-year-old: he is second on the Avs in total faceoffs, including a 55% night in Detroit on Oct. 17.

Who to Watch This Week

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay (Saturday): The Sabres are 7-3 in their last 10 in Tampa, but they still have to contend with the dynamic duo of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Lecavalier leads all Lightning skaters with 27 points (12+15) in 37 career games against Buffalo, while St. Louis trails close behind with 26 (10+16) in 31. Alex Tanguay, who signed with Tampa over the summer, has also had some success against Buffalo over the years with nine points (3+6) in 12 career games.

Buffalo @ New Jersey (Wednesday): The Sabres and Devils combined to score 21 goals last season, but only eight were scored in Buffalo’s two wins in Newark. David Clarkson led all Devils with four points (2+2) in the four games, after scoring just one in his five previous games against Buffalo. Brian Rolston leads the Devils with 22 points (11+11) in 44 games vs. the Sabres, followed by Jamie Langenbrunner’s 19 (7+12) in 34. One player to keep an eye on is defenseman Paul Martin, who has 10 points in 18 games against Buffalo – despite having just one in three games last season.

My name is Kevin Snow, and I have a fantasy hockey problem.

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