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An Early Glimpse At The Top Picks

Henrik Sedin was the surprise points leader this year, with his 112 points.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Sure the temperature has topped 90-degrees almost every day this month, but that doesn't mean we can't think cool thoughts. Imagine the ice, not the cubes in your "soda" glass, but a just Zamboni-ed rink.

Okay, now you are ready to think about the top-five players in next year's NHL Fantasy Draft.

The first question you must ask yourself is whether to include goalies on your list. Goaltenders like Boston's Tuukka Rask, Buffalo's Ryan Miller and future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur had great seasons in 2009-10. However, in most hockey fantasy leagues, they contribute in only four categories (Wins, Goals Against Average, Save Percentage, Shutouts) while the rest of the skaters contribute in six (Goals, Assists, Plus/Minus, Penalty Minutes, Power Play Points, Shots on Goal). So for this piece, we will only concern ourselves with non-goalies.

Next we have to look at a few defensemen who might be part of the mix. Duncan Keith of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks had a very good season (14 G, 55 A, +21, 51 PIM, 16 PPP, 205 SOG) and so did Washington's star defenseman Mike Green (19 G, 57 A, +39, 54 PIM, 35 PPP, 205 SOG) but are they worthy of a top- five selection?

Unfortunately, the answer I came up with is that neither Green nor Keith can crack the top-five.

Which leaves us with centermen and wingers. Or actually four centermen and one winger - Alexander Ovechkin.

Henrik Sedin was the surprise points leader this year, with his 112 points edging out Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin for the scoring crown. Sedin also has a strong +35 plus/minus rating. For fantasy owners the question is whether this is a new level of production for Sedin, or whether last year was a "career" season. Given that he averaged 78.5 points for the previous four seasons, I believe he overachieved last year and will return to his "normal" level in 2010-11.

Such is not the case for Crosby. It was another 100+ point season for the Penguins star, ho hum. However, there was a new feature added to his game, "big-time" goal scorer. Having never cracked the 40-goal mark before this year, Crosby lit the lamp 51 times in 2009-10. Unfortunately it was at the expense of his assist total which dropped from 70 to 58 last season. That total, however, could have been hurt by Evgeni Malkin's off year. Malkin struggled with injuries for much of the year and wasn't himself. He dropped 36 points from his 2008-09 total of 113 and it likely hurt Crosby's assist total. If Malkin is healthy in 2010-11 then Crosby's assist total should also perk up.

Tamps Bay's young star Steve Stamkos came into his own in 2009-10. The 2008 No.1 overall pick more than doubled his scoring statistics from his rookie season (95 vs. 46) and tied Crosby for the goal-scoring title with 51. At just 20-years old, Stamkos figures to get better next season and that could put him in line for a points-scoring title and fantasy superstardom. The questions here are twofold; Can his linemates, particularly the 35-year-old Martin St. Louis, keep up with him and can he improve upon his mediocre -2 plus/minus rating?

The final option is a familiar one. The Capitals leftwinger, Ovechkin, has been the consensus No.1 fantasy pick for the past two seasons and he rewarded his owners with 110 points in 2008-09 and 109 points last season. You certainly can't go wrong choosing him, he's the safe pick, but is he the best pick? Simply put, the answer is yes. Because there are so many quality centermen available these days, Ovechkin should be the No.1 pick again next fall.

2009-10 Selected Player Statistics
Player Team Pos G A Pts +/- PIM PPP SOG
Henrik Sedin VAN C 29 83 112 35 48 27 166
Alex Ovechkin WAS C 50 59 109 45 89 36 368
Sidney Crosby PIT C 51 58 109 15 71 34 298
Steven Stamkos TB C 51 44 95 -2 38 41 297
Evgeni Malkin PIT C 28 49 77 -6 100 28 268

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