The Blue Jackets moved to the Eastern Conference this season and everyone and their mother knew the team would regress as a result. After all, the straw that stirred the drink last season was goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky – and he was suddenly about to face Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and John Tavares (and theoretically Steven Stamkos) a whole lot.
But the regression was a little beyond what we expected, as Columbus stumbled to a 17-19-4 record in its first 40 games. However, Nathan Horton made his Blue Jackets debut eight games ago and the team has been flying ever since. They’ve won six in a row and have gone 7-1-0 with Horton in the lineup. But there are a couple of other reasons to believe the team will take off in the second half.
The first reason is health. Matt Calvert and James Wisniewski are both in the lineup and on top of their game. Calvert has dealt with a couple of injuries and the team has missed his secondary scoring and hustle. Wisniewski is on pace to tie his career high of 51 points (2010-11) despite missing seven games this year.
The second reason is development. Cam Atkinson, Calvert and Ryan Murray entered the year with fewer than 100 NHL games under their belts and not one of them has played a full season in the NHL yet.
But the key, of course, is Horton, a proven first-liner and two-time 62-point player who is just entering his prime. With him in the lineup, skilled defensemen such as Wisniewski and Murray have another option to pass the puck to. Secondary scorers can now play the role of secondary scorers instead of being counted on to spearhead the effort.
The Blue Jackets look to be in for a terrific second half – just like last year. And here are some thoughts on their key fantasy players.
Sergei Bobrovsky - More wins for the team mean more wins for the goalie. A definite “buy” and at this point he’ll still be cheap.
Ryan Johansen - With 33 points in his past 42 games, Johansen is already having a fantastic season. This won’t get better or worse down the stretch.
Marian Gaborik - The glitch in this theory. Currently sidelined with a broken collarbone, Gaborik hasn’t been missed. In fact, a return could disrupt things, since Gaborik will be given first-line minutes and may not do much with them (as was the case early in the campaign). He’ll play for Team Slovakia in Sochi and when he returns, owners of Columbus players will hope he gets traded early. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Nathan Horton - Horton’s return to the lineup has been perfect. His ice time has been moderate and expectations the same. But his presence has spread out the offensive threat and the rest of the team has benefitted. Look for 30 to 35 points in 42 games.
Brandon Dubinsky - Dubinsky is on pace for 58 points, which would be a career high. He’s also been fantasy gold, thanks to his production in other categories. But don’t look for an increase in production down the stretch; he’s doing all he can do.
Cam Atkinson - Atkinson has 15 points in his past 18 games. Assuming he continues that pace for the final 34 games, he’ll finish with 55 points. He may fall short of that if Gaborik returns and isn’t traded since ‘Gabby’ will gobble up Atkinson’s power play time. But if he’s dealt quickly, look for Cam to top 50 easily.
Matt Calvert - Calvert will continue posting a point every two games while tagging along on Atkinson’s line. However, if Atkinson slips (which will happen when Gaborik returns), Calvert will too.
Artem Anisimov - About the only player who will benefit from Gaborik’s return. Anisimov hasn’t been clicking with Horton (get the latest line combinations here), nor does he click with Atkinson. But with Gaborik, there is some chemistry. So if they don’t trade Gaborik, look for Anisimov to have a strong second half.
Jack Johnson - In his past six games, Johnson is a plus-5 with five points. Another five games like that and his overall numbers will be about where we expected, thereby erasing what was a horrible first half. I say he gets up to 40 points and an even plus/minus by April.
James Wisniewski - Wisniewski is a very underrated fantasy defenseman. But that’s because he gets injured so often. If healthy, he could flirt with 60 points and 70-plus PIM. That’s what it will boil down to going forward – health.
Ryan Murray - Murray’s production has ironed out and now he is a pretty consistent player at a point every two games. He had four in his first 23 contests, but 11 in his past 25. The latter is what you can expect the remainder of the campaign.
Nick Foligno - Foligno’s production is down slightly with the return of Horton (three points in eight games) and things will only get worse when Gaborik comes back. Foligno is on pace for 47 points, but I would expect something closer to 41 or 42.
R.J. Umberger - As with Foligno, Umberger is also hurting a bit with the Horton return (just two points, eight games). When Gaborik returns, Umberger will be planted on a checking line for good.
Boone Jenner - When Gaborik returns, there is a chance Jenner will be an occasional healthy scratch. Either way, his fantasy value as a rookie is relatively low.
Bottom line – kick some tires. Ask around your league about Blue Jackets players. Their owners will probably be eager to move them. I put my money where my mouth is – on the weekend I went after and acquired both Wisniewski and Atkinson.
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Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.