Every poolie wants two or three solid breakout candidates on their rosters after draft day. When that solid research pays off, aided by Lady Luck's good graces, the poolies smiling broadly are probably at the top of standings at this time of year.
As always, there have been several meteoric bursts in this NHL season, from previously average players now on pace to collect 20 or 30 points more than they did last year to players who were selected later in the draft or for very little salary.
Jason Blake of the Islanders is a blazing example. Now in his seventh pro season, Blake was always a decent producer, averaging about 53 points over the past three years. But this year, he's taken the big leap, leading his team in goals and points. He'll finish the current campaign with more than 70 points, a level that will next year move him from a middle-round selection to a top draft pick.
Be thankful you have him this year.
Calgary has two bright supernovas in Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius. Both will finish the year with 25 more points than last year, a good reason why the Flames are bearing down on a playoff spot and their pool owners are feeling good about themselves.
Another strong breakout performer is Chris Clark of the Capitals, who with 50-plus points and 70 penalty minutes is a must-own in all pools. And, while we knew he was good, who knew that Canadiens defenceman Sheldon Souray would become such an elite player? He's going to finish the year with 65 or so points, a big jump over his high-water mark of 39 points in 2005-2006.
Generally, these breakout stars finally come into their own after several so-so years. But there's a surprisingly sizzling sophomore class this year that is also is rewarding poolies who took a chance on their potentials.
Any fantasy club with players like Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Alexander Semin, Peter Budaj and Lee Stempniak is no doubt a winner this year and, in keeper leagues, is in great shape for the next NHL season.
Mark down Milan Michalek of the Sharks as another breakout sophomore now paying dividends for poolies who drafted the winger or plucked him off the waiver wire. As of Sunday, he had 20 more points than he did in his rookie year.
Obviously, playing with Joe Thornton doesn't hurt.
Pundits might've wondered why the Red Wings would give up on Jason Williams in order to acquire Kyle Calder at the trade deadline, but the fantasy dud has become a super stud since he arrived in Motown. Calder has picked up 11 points in his first nine games in Detroit, and has managed to light a fire under slumping linemate Robert Lang (12 points in eight games).
Like Lang and Calder, linemate Jiri Hudler ( six points in four games) is someone who can really help poolies down the stretch.
Also with Detroit, poolies can probably write off Henrik Zetterberg (back) for the remainder of the regular season. The hard-luck sniper - and one of the league's best breakout players last year - will likely rest until the playoffs now. That same scenario could keep Todd Bertuzzi (back) on the shelf until the Wings begin their quest for the Stanley Cup.
Glen Murray of the Bruins and Karel Rachunek of the Rangers are also done for the season, but poolies should get ready to activate the concussed Brendan Shanahan of the Rangers and Tomas Kaberle of the Leafs.
The Islanders - and his pool owners - are hopeful Rick DiPietro will be back between the pipes later in the week.
Greg Dennis can be reached at cp.pool(at)hotmail.com.
Some suggestions on players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:
1. RW Milan Michalek, Sharks. Move to the top line and power play pays off with nine points in four games.
2. D Francois Beauchemin, Ducks. Fills Pronger's big skates with seven points, plus-7 rating in five games.
3. RW Keith Tkachuk, Thrashers. Veteran presence and eight points have team on an 8-2-0 roll since trade deadline.
4. LW Sean Avery, Rangers. Two goals and five points on the weekend, and the bonus of six minutes in penalties.
5. D Marc-Andre Bergeron, Islanders. Ex-Oilers keep new club in hunt - Bergeron with seven points, Smyth with eight.
1. C Yanic Perreault, Leafs. Whoopee ding that he wins faceoffs - he's only got two points in last 13 games.
2. LW Ladislav Nagy, Stars. Pretty sure poolies expected more than six points in 15 games since his trade.
3. G Mike Dunham, Islanders. Three straight poundings have no one laughing about DiPietro's 15-year deal now.
4. LW Martin Straka, Rangers. He's hurt again, but with no points in last 10 games, who really cares?
5. LW Tomas Holmstrom, Wings. Nothing to show for March but a string of goose eggs and doughnuts.