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Closers

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - No, we're not talking about fantasy baseball here - we're taking a look at guys who can finish off a play by putting the puck in the net.

Looking at the top-10 goal scorers, there are guys who you would expect to see, like Tampa Bay star center Steven Stamkos (30) and Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (24) and there are surprises like Ottawa's Milan Michalek (23) and Phoenix right winger Radim Vrbata (22).

Lets examine the top-10 to see whether they can continue at their current level of production.

Stamkos, the 2008 No.1 overall selection by the Lightning, is certainly no surprise and in fact was probably the odds-on favorite to post the most goals back before the season began. Despite not turning 22-years-old for another three weeks, the Markham, Ontario native has already led the league in goals (51 in 2009-10). He "slumped" last year to 45, but is currently on a pace to score 56 times this season. The only fault you could find in his game is the lack of power play goals. He scored 24 times in 2009-10 and 17 last year, but has just six power play goals this season.

Toronto's Phil Kessel (24 goals) is on pace to set personal bests in goals, assists and points. Drafted around the seventh round in most fantasy drafts (Yahoo preseason rank - 81), Kessel is playing like a third rounder - averaging more than a point-per-game. Based on the amount of ice time the Leafs are giving him, just under 20 minutes-per-game, he should finish as a top-20 fantasy value.

James Neal (24 goals) was traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh late last season, but didn't show much in that short stint with the Penguins, producing just six points (1G, 5A) in 20 games. However, with all the injuries to key players this season, the Penguins had to give Neal a lot of ice time and he has responded in a big way. The winger should break his personal record for goals in a season (27 set in 2009-10) in the next week or so and currently leads the NHL in power play goals (12) and shots on goal (186). His breakout season is keeping Pittsburgh in the playoff hunt and the 10th-round fantasy selection (Yahoo ADP 115) will need to continue to produce in the second half of the season for the Penguins to have a chance for the postseason.

Toews has been a star since coming into the league in 2007-08 and has continued to improve each season. He's currently scoring at a point-per-game pace and has an excellent +15 rating. But then you expected that from him when you drafted him in the third round. There is no reason to expect anything less over the second half of the season.

Marian Gaborik has always been a goal scorer and in his 11th season in the NHL, nothing has changed. With 23 goals in 43 games, Gaborik is on pace to score 40+ goals for the third time in the last five seasons. The only question here is whether he can stay healthy as that's the only thing that can slow down the Rangers' right winger.

Michalek is one of the year's biggest surprises. Even in his best days with San Jose from 2005-2008, Michalek was about a 55-60 point guy who would barely crack the 20-goal mark and give you a solid plus/minus number. In his third year with the Senators, Michalek has become a big-time goal scorer (23 in 42 games) and is just three off his personal best of 26 goals set in 2006-07. Unfortunately, he's struggling in other fantasy categories - just six assists and a -5 rating. Still, if you need goals and can get past the shortcomings, he could help you as he's still available in 25% of all leagues.

Vrbata is well traveled, having played with four other teams, but 2011-12 is going to be his best season yet. Through the Coyotes first 46 games he already has accumulated 22 goals and 16 assists. The goals put him just five away from his best total of 27 set in 2007-08. On pace for 70 points, he hasn't neglected the other end of the ice and his +12 rating is the best of his career. And the best news in that he's still a free agent in 30% of all leagues.

Evgeni Malkin was a top-five selection on Draft Day and he's played like it, posting 51 points in 37 games. He's just one point behind leader Henrik Sedin despite playing 11 less games due to an early season knee injury. The injury bug is the only thing that can keep this sniper from putting the puck in the net.

Matt Moulson didn't get much of a chance in his first two seasons in Los Angeles, but since coming to the New York Islanders in 2009-10, he's been a force. He scored 30 goals and 48 points in his first year in New York and last season improved to 31 and 53. So far this season, he already posted 21 goals and 19 assists in 43 games. He's also drastically improved his plus/minus rating and should give you a double-digit plus number by season's end. He's still available in 25% of all leagues.

Corey Perry was my preseason pick as the top right winger in the NHL but he and his entire line got off to a horrible start. Perry has rebounded of late and cracked the 20-goal mark for the fifth consecutive season. On pace for 38 goals, it would be the second-best total of his career, but given that he scored 50 last season, fantasy owners will still be disappointed.

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