Phoenix's Radim Vrbata spent most of last year playing in Europe after things didn't work out in Tampa. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
The talent has always been there. The consistency and the certainty – not so much. Radim Vrbata was a high-scoring Quebec League grad who made the Avalanche as a 20-year-old, promptly posting 30 points in 52 games. Since that promising season in 2001-02, it has been a long and bumpy ride - and it’s not over yet.
Vrbata has intermingled flashes of a 40-goal scorer with head-thumping cold spells during stints in Carolina, Chicago, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Despite a lot of promise, he has often failed to follow up. In Chicago he tallied 34 points in 45 games at the age of 24, but came back the following year to post just 41 points in 77 contests. His 2007-08 campaign in Phoenix saw him post 56 points in 77 games, but a year later in Tampa Bay he managed just six points in 18 games before going home to the Czech Republic.
This inconsistency has resulted in four trades, bringing a return of such household names as David Hale, Todd Fedoruk, Bates Battaglia and Kevyn Adams.
But if you look deeper, there is some upside here. Now 28, Vrbata is entering his prime. This is the year where he will make his mark – or he’ll be in Europe for good. The situation is perfect. He’s back in Phoenix where he had the most success (27 goals) and he’s playing on a line with fellow Czechs Robert Lang and Petr Prucha. Blazing speed on the opposite wing and veteran savvy up the middle. Vrbata will top 30 goals and 65 points this season or he never will.
I had Vrbata fall very deep in a couple of drafts. One was a rotisserie league where I picked him up with the 295th overall pick. That is the final round, as my right winger to come off the bench. A steal at that spot, even for a player of his uncertainty. In another draft, a keeper league (points only), with about 270 players already belonging to other teams, I was able to grab him again.
With three goals and four points in three games, he’s off to a great start. I believe, much like his last stint in Phoenix, he will be good for strong production for at least 40 or 50 games. It was at that point, in 2007-08, when he hit a wall. This may be the year where he goes start to finish, but I’ll be looking to move him in December or January. That’s the strategy to use here. But definitely expect this trend to last a lot longer than the current three games…
Shoulder? What shoulder? Poolies were quite concerned over a possible sluggish start from Philadelphia’s Mike Richards after he underwent not one, but two shoulder surgeries after the playoffs ended. With five goals and seven points in four contests, you can probably put those issues to bed…
Since going pointless in the first game of the season, the San Jose line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi have made their opponents look like practice pylons. The trio has combined for 23 points in four games. Look for Big Joe and Heater to get back over the 100-point mark this season and Setoguchi will flirt with a point per game…
Farm Report: The rich just seem to get richer, don’t they? Every time a team patiently builds through the draft, by the time they explode in the NHL, their farm system is flush with talent, too. The Chicago Blackhawks are a great example of this: two years ago you could see they had a ton of promising kids and now that the team is elite, there are still a half dozen in the pipeline knocking on the door. You can see it now with the Los Angeles Kings, the team I picked to take the biggest step forward this season. All that youth on the NHL squad and still more promise in the American League. Center Andrei Loktionov made his pro debut for Manchester and promptly tallied four points in his first game. The Kings are so deep now I would not expect him to take a roster spot until 2011-12 at the earliest.
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 throughout the season. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.