Phil Kessel has 19 goals and 34 points in 53 games this season. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)
It’s not just Leaf fans who are starting to get a little restless about the modest - to put it nicely - numbers of Phil Kessel. Fantasy owners are in the same boat as well.
After two seasons in which he missed time with injury or illness, the 23-year-old is on track to play a full campaign. Now in his fifth NHL season, it’s hard to believe someone with his talent has yet to get past 60 points. He would need 27 points in the final 29 games to reach 61 this year.
But he is only 23 and that is why you have to take his mediocre production with a grain of salt. This is a common problem for players who enter the league as a teenager. By the time they reach the “ripe old” age of 23, it seems as if they’ve been in the league forever. In fact, rookies Bryan Bickell (Chicago), Jake Dowell (Chicago), Mark Letestu (Pittsburgh), Linus Omark (Edmonton) and Mats Zuccarello (N.Y. Rangers) are all older than Kessel.
At this point, I’m ready to draw a couple of conclusions about the Wisconsin native. One, he’s not going to be a 90-point player - or even an 80-point player, for that matter. Two, the inconsistent scoring that is keeping his production totals down will eventually smooth out. Most young players iron out the cold streaks as they reach their mid- to late-20s.
Kessel, who has zero goals and three points in his past 11 games, will pick things up enough to finish with 33 or 34 goals and 60 points. As the Leafs build a better team around him – and it will happen, though I can hear the scoffs as I type this – he’ll round into a 70-point player who will often flirt with 40 goals. Patience is needed.
With the signing of Peter Forsberg, I thought I would reiterate the fantasy play here. By all means, get yourself in the mix to acquire him, but then promptly trade him.
If you recall from his last tour of duty, on several occasions he left fantasy owners in the lurch by pulling himself out of or adding himself into the lineup at the very last minute. Whether you have weekly or daily rosters, you are going to go mad trying to play the dress him/bench him game. Take the nice return you would get for him in a trade and leave the headache behind.
Dustin Byfuglien was the story of fantasy hockey up until early January. That’s when he hit a wall.
For every 100 mph slapshot you need a slick setup man and Tobias Enstrom is proof positive of that. Byfuglien was struggling before Enstrom was injured, but the latter’s absence certainly compounds the problem. So now Byfuglien, who started the campaign with 41 points in 42 games, has one goal in his past 14 and is minus-8 in that span. Don’t look for anything spectacular out of ‘Big Buff’ until Enstrom recovers from his broken finger.
Cam Fowler is already posting big points at the NHL level, despite turning 19 just two months ago. Although obviously still a little rough around the edges defensively (he’s minus-6 in his past 11 games), he’s really making his mark at the other end of the rink. He has 10 points during that span with eight of them coming on the power play. In this era of offense from the defense (yes, it’s an era starting now), Fowler should blossom into a 65-point-plus guy.
Potential first overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins posted an astounding 12 points in three games last week for Red Deer, earning Western League player of the week honors. Regardless of where he goes in the draft, ‘RNH’ is quite possibly the player with the highest offensive upside. The other candidates have more well-rounded games, but in fantasy hockey we don’t care so much about that. We want the points and it looks as though this young man is going to bring them.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Get the edge in your league - check out the latest scoop every Tuesday and Saturday. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.