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And they're off, finally
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just past 3 p.m. this Saturday, someone will open the scoring on the 2013 NHL season. While it is anyone's guess who that person will be, the odds say it will most likely come from our top-10 fantasy skaters. Here at the Sports Network we've done our homework and have supplied you with our player projections for the upcoming hockey season. Below is just the top part of the list - the league's dozen best scorers.

1) Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh - 23 goals, 38 assists, 63 points

Crosby is the ultimate in high-risk, high reward. He's scored 609 points in 434 games over his seven-year career, but he's also missed more than 100 games over the past two seasons. Do you feel lucky?

2) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh - 27 goals, 36 assists, 63 points

With Crosby sidelined for most of the season, Malkin's role expanded and he had the best season of his six-year career. In 75 games he put up a league- best 109 points and 339 shots. He also posted a career-best +18 rating. He and winger James Neal fit well together and that chemistry should continue. He's a much safer selection than Crosby because he's not injury-prone (he's played 75 or more games in four of six seasons).

3) Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay - 33 goals, 23 assists, 56 points

Stamkos has led the league in scoring in two of the last three seasons and we expect him to be the top dog in 2013 as well. He has not missed a game in three NHL seasons. At only 22-years-old, he'll only get better and hopefully so will the people around him. His only weak category, if you can call it that, is a mediocre plus-minus rating.

4) Alex Ovechkin, Washington - 30 goals, 26 assists, 56 points

Out from under the shackles of a defensive-minded head coach, Ovechkin will re-emerge under Adam Oates. Last season was the first, and hopefully the last, that he scored less than a point a game (65 points in 78 games). He didn't lead the league in shots for the first time in his NHL career and posted a -8 rating after being an aggregate +105 over the previous four seasons. Throw out last season's results and expect him to be a top fantasy player once again.

5) Nicklas Backstrom, Washington - 15 goals, 41 assists, 56 points

The rise of Ovechkin will also help bring Backstrom back into the top-10. Backstrom's season was stymied not just by the defense-first attitude in Washington, but he missed 40 games due to injury. However, in the games he played, he managed to produce 44 points in 42 games. He could very easily lead the league in assists.

6) Claude Giroux, Philadelphia - 16 goals, 39 assists, 55 points

Giroux won't be playing with Jaromir Jagr this season, but that won't change the fact that he's a great scorer. He led the league in power-play points and will battle with Backstrom and Henrik Sedin for the assist lead.

7) Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay - 18 goals, 35 assists, 53 points

After two consecutive seasons of 90-plus points, St. Louis stumbled last year to a 74-point season. His drop in production can be directly related to his work on the power play, where his assists total dropped from 37 to 12. We think 2011-12 was an aberration and he will return to being a top scorer.

8) Henrik Sedin, Vancouver - 10 goals, 42 assists, 52 points

Sedin has led the league in assists in each of the last three seasons and that likely won't change in the shortened 2013 season. He's also going to give you production every night - he hasn't missed a regular season game in seven seasons. Throw in an average +26 rating over the last four seasons and you have a fantasy stud. The only weakness in his game, from a fantasy point of view, is that he doesn't shoot as much as his brother.

9) Eric Staal, Carolina - 16 goals, 35 assists, 51 points

Staal has been a solid, but unspectacular, fantasy option over the years, scoring between 70 and 82 points in each of the last six seasons. This year could be a breakout season as the team has set him up to succeed by trading for brother Jordan Staal and signing Alexander Semin. Jordan brings chemistry to the line and is a better two-way player who should also help with Eric's mediocre plus-minus rating. Semin knows what it is like to play on a great line having been with Ovechkin and Backstrom in Washington and is capable of being a point-a-game player.

10) Daniel Sedin, Vancouver - 21 goals, 28 points, 49 points

Daniel Sedin is the finisher for his brother's great passing ability. In the three seasons his brother led the league in assists, Daniel has averaged 33.3 goals a season. Add Alex Burrows on the other wing and you have as potent a line as there is in the league.

11) John Tavares, New York Islanders - 20 goals, 29 assists, 49 points

Heading into his fourth NHL season and still at just 22-years-old, Tavares has yet to hit his ceiling. He's improved his goal scoring and point total in each season. If the team can find the right linemates, he'll continue his rise up the charts.

12) Phil Kessel, Toronto - 24 goals, 25 assists, 49 points

Kessel could be an elite goal scorer on the right line. We're still waiting for that to happen. He does have a solid linemate in Joffrey Lupul, but the two wingers are still searching for the center to make them a world class trio. We're not sure that guy is on the Maple Leafs' current roster.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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