Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Have you checked the 2013 NHL scoring leaders lately? The leader isn't either of the Pittsburgh Penguins' duo of Sidney Crosby (he's second) or Evgeni Malkin (10th), and it's not Tampa Bay superstar Steven Stamkos (third).
In fact, the league leader in goals and points is Buffalo winger Thomas Vanek. Through 15 games, he's totaled 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).
What a bargain you are getting if you selected him on Draft Day. He was a fifth-round selection in my fantasy league (No. 56 overall) just after Mike Richards, who has four goals and five assists this season and is currently ranked No. 99 in my Yahoo league.
Vanek has always been a goal scorer, averaging 32.8 goals over his first seven seasons, but he's on a pace to score 37 goals in a 48-game schedule. That's almost double his normal goal-scoring rate. He's also putting up assists at an astonishing rate - again, almost twice his career average. The question that every fantasy owner must ask themselves is whether he can keep it going.
Here's the good news:
Over his career, Vanek has been a better scorer after the All-Star break than before it. He averages 0.41 goals and 0.81 points per game before the break (normally in February), while his post-break numbers are 0.49 and 0.92, respectively.
The key to his continued success may come from his linemates - Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson. Pominville has a solid history to look at and is coming off a 30-goal, 43-assist season. He's producing at the same level as a season ago.
But the center for Vanek and Pominville is the 23-year-old Hodgson, who is just beginning his second full season in the NHL and his first full year with Buffalo after begin traded from Vancouver last February (for winger Zack Kassian).
Hodgson and Vanek played together at the end of last season, but Pominville wasn't added until this season. And at the moment, the trio is the highest scoring line in the league, two ahead of the Crosby-Chris Kunitz-Pascal Dupuis line.
Don't feel bad if you are missing out on Vanek's production. Yahoo had him rated at No. 96 in their preseason rankings (an eighth-round pick), so apparently they missed out on his line's improvement, too.
But back to the question of the day. Should you keep Vanek or trade him while his value is high?
I believe this line can continue to be one of the top lines in the league. While the trio may not keep up their current pace, they should stay at or near the top. And this season you can't expect everything to simply even out over the "long haul" because there isn't such a thing in a shortened 48-game schedule.
Our advice is to hold on to Vanek and enjoy the ride.
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