During my time with one of my previous employers, I had a fantasy hockey column called Free Agent Finds. This was a quick look around the league to find performers that are worth owning yet might have been overlooked in your specific fantasy league. With any luck, you can then run out and secure said player and ride his performance to victory.
Now that I’m writing for this lovely establishment (it still has the new site smell!), I figured I might as well bring a previously successful concept to a new place and a new audience. Even if you aren’t into fantasy hockey, what lies below may still be interesting to you as it goes beyond the big names and big performers you always hear about. Think of it as a column for the guys overlooked by the national media, or in other words, guys that don’t play in Pittsburgh or Detroit.
Ryan Smyth – Edmonton Oilers
You want a guy that’s not mainstream media? Ryan Smyth is your guy. After skating in Edmonton for almost 12 seasons, Smyth transitioned to the Islanders, then to the Avalanche and finally the Los Angeles Kings all in a span of four years. Following his two-year stint with the Kings, Smyth left the City of Angels and returned to his familiar stomping grounds in Edmonton prior to the 2011-12 season.
Smyth has skated in more than 1,000 games, scored more than 350 goals and produced over 750 total points. He may be one of the most reliable, consistent skaters in recent memory as he has averaged just under a point-per-game (0.71) since he made his debut back in the 1994-95 season.
Enough of all the history, here’s why you should own Ryan Smyth this season. On Yahoo!, the winger out of Edmonton is owned in just 59% of all leagues. Granted, if you play in a shallow league, 10 teams or less, Smyth is a guy you’d expect to find on waivers. However, if your league is deeper than that or has a large roster, Smyth is a player you should wrap up tight.
Through 16 games in 2011-12, Smyth has found a new gear to his game thanks to the wealth of performing young talent around him. He has nine goals and seven assists for 16 points and is a +3 on the early season. Attention will likely continue to fall on all the kids around him (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), assuming they keep clicking, and Smyth will quietly put together another solid season.
Tomas Fleischmann – Florida Panthers
If you haven’t, it’s time to start paying attention to what’s going on in Florida. Move over Lightning, you’re not the only squad with players of fantasy relevance in the Sunshine State.
There have been numerous Panthers that have kicked off the 2011-12 campaign with solid performances, one being Tomas Fleischmann. Following a 2010-11 season that saw him play a handful of games with both the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche, Fleischmann signed with Florida in the hopes he might land a more permanent spot in the roster.
Through 15 games, Fleischmann has been outstanding, scoring five goals while adding nine assists for a total of 14 points. He also boasts an extremely impressive plus/minus rating of +10, and has contributed several times while on the power play. Despite his efforts, Fleischmann still hasn’t received much love in the fantasy game as he is owned in just 51% of all Yahoo! leagues. Whether or not Fleischmann can continue this hot streak is up for debate but certainly with so many other skaters around him excelling he’s an option worth considering in your league.
Craig Smith – Nashville Predators
While all the attention has landed on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton, Craig Smith is quietly making a very strong case to be this year’s best rookie. Through Nashville’s first 16 games, Smith finds himself sharing the team lead in total offense with David Legwand, another candidate to be included in this week’s Free Agent Finds.
Smith has done no wrong in the early going. He has scored seven goals, contributed seven assists and fired a healthy 51 shots. Currently, Smith is owned a fraction of all leagues – just 22%. This fact seems even more silly when you consider that to date he has produced more offense than the likes of the previously mentioned Nugent-Hopkins, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, Milan Hejduk and a whole cast of other much larger names.
The real question is whether Smith can sustain his early offensive explosion and that’s a tough question to answer. Smith really doesn’t have much history to draw from as he spent the 2010-11 season skating with the University of Wisconsin where he scored 43 points in 41 games. It’s an impressive line, but collegate hockey doesn’t come close to comparing to life in the NHL.
If you can, roster Smith now and ride his hot streak out. At the very least you’ll enjoy some solid production until he comes back down to Earth or until the much lengthier NHL schedule catches up to him. When it appears he may be slowing, then sell high and look like the smartest manager in your league.
Brad Marchand – Boston Bruins
Today’s Free Agent Finds ends with a player that produces across multiple categories – a huge asset in the game of fantasy hockey. Brad Marchand is in just his third year at the NHL level and it’s clear the average fantasy hockey owner hasn’t caught on to the value he holds.
Last year in his first full season, Marchand skated in 77 games and lit the lamp 21 times. He ended the year with 41 points, an impressive +25 plus/minus rating and accumulated 51 penalty minutes and 89 hits.
This year, from a fantasy angle, Marchand’s value appears to be increasing. He has already scored five times and has a total of 12 points, but it’s his other areas of the game that truly enhances his value. To date, Marchand already has 31 penalty minutes and appears to be well on his way of besting his career-high from 2010-11. This increased time in the sin bin may subtract from his offensive numbers, but boost his overall value as he will be helping your team in more than one area.
Marchand could be well on his way to having an all around huge 2011-12 and you don’t want to be among the 43% of leagues where he is sitting freely on the waiver wire.
All photos are courtesy of ESPN.com.