Monday, October 24, 2011

Fantasy Hockey Under the Radar Players with Low Cap Hit

Every year coming out of my fantasy hockey draft, I am always brimming with confidence about the team I put together. Each year in the early going, I am let down by a few players. Perhaps it is because they are injured  (Jacob Josefson), or perhaps I simply over estimated their role (Bobby Butler).

Either way I am always searching for good, cheap free agents to fill the holes on my roster. Here are some players who are off to great starts who have relatively low cap hits and may be available in your league.

Aaron Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets. 
4 GP, 2 goals, 2 assists, 19:11 TOI

Cap Hit $550,000
At 28 years old, Johnson is not a rookie coming out of nowhere at an accelerated pace. He may, however, be another example of a late bloomer. Columbus signed Johnson as a free agent this offseason for the low price of $550,000 but last season he was traded with a third round pick from Calgary to Edmonton for Steve Staios.
Playing in the AHL last season for Milwaukee, Johnson scored nine goals and 26 assists in 72 games. Johnson has been a journeyman defenseman his entire career and never stuck in the NHL, but his great start this season may be his ticket. The real test will come when James Wisniewski returns from suspension as Johnson has a two-way contract.

Corey Potter, Edmonton Oilers
5 GP, 1 goal, 2 Assists, 19:57 TOI

Cap Hit $525,000
Potter is another potential late bloomer at 27 years old. He is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman who has good size at 6-3, 205. He has been playing extremely well both offensively and defensively this season and played his best game against his former team the New York Rangers scoring the insurance goal on the power play.

Even after Ryan Whitney returned, Potter has not only remained with the team but continues to play a prominent role as Whitney’s defense partner.

Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
6 GP, 2goals, 2 assists, 25:07 TOI

Cap Hit $1.3 million
It’s all good with McDonagh. At 6-1, 222 he is big and plays a mean physical game. If your pool counts hits, blocked shots, plus/minus or other peripheral stats, McDonagh is very valuable.

He is an excellent skater who plays both ends allowing him to log big minutes. Acquired from Montreal for Scott Gomez McDonagh began his breakout last season with an impressive plus-minus of -14 and scoring nine points in his 40 games.

Coach Tortorella has confidence in him and that’s good enough for me.

Raphael Diaz, Montreal Canadiens
7 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist, 18:34 TOI

Cap Hit $900,000
Injuries to Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek have given Diaz an opportunity, and has not disappointed.

At 25 years old, Diaz has stepped right into the NHL. He is playing on the power play and looked very good. The Habs hope they have found another Mark Streit.

Diaz continues to improve on a game by game basis, so move quick on him before it’s too late.

Chris Butler, Calgary Flames
7 GP, 0 goals, 2 assists, 23:38 TOI

Cap Hit $1.25 million
Acquired from Buffalo with Paul Byron in the offseason for Robyn Regehr, Butler has stepped into the Calgary line up as a top four, and as a result Anton Babchuk has spent time in the press box. Butler has won the confidence of the coaching staff with his reliable two-way play.

Ryan Wilson, Colorado Avalanche
8 GP, 0 goals, 4 assists, 16:40 TOI

Cap Hit $1.275 million
Now in his third NHL season at age 24, Wilson is another late bloomer. The departure of Kyle Cumiskey should indicate that the team has decided Wilson has made the team full time. Wilson plays a physical game, so he provides hits and PIM’s increasing his fantasy value.

Last year he produced 16 points in 67 games and with four points already this season he is on his way to a career season.


David Jones, Colorado Avalanche
8 GP 5 goals, 1 assist 16:01 TOI

Cap Hit $2.5 million

Coming off a career season of 27 goals last season, Jones says his surgically repaired right knee is stronger than last season and he has five goals in his first eight games. He is versatile enough to play either wing and is much more of a sharp shooter than playmaker. With Peter Mueller on the injured reserve list with another possible concussion, Jones will continue to see top six playing time.

Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche
8 GP, 0 goals, 7 assists 17:20 TOI

Cap Hit $900,000
O’Reilly is another Avalanche player off to a great start, and the second-round draft pick has been impressive since making the team out of training camp. Although he is perhaps nothing more than a career third line center in the NHL he has offensive upside beyond what his back to back 26 point seasons indicate. O’Reilly probably won’t be able to move into the top six unless there is an injury or he moves to the wing. 

Luke Adam, Buffalo Sabres
7 GP 3 goals, 3 assists 14:51 TOI

Cap Hit $875,000
If you are in a pool and Luke Adam is still available, what are you waiting for?
Adam is playing between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville on Buffalo's top line and they are showing tremendous chemistry. At 6-2, 215 Adam is the big center Buffalo has been searching for.

Adam won Rookie of the year in the AHL last season, and may be in contention for that award this year in the NHL.

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators
7 GP, 2 goals, 3 assists 13:41 TOI

Cap Hit $715,000
Who is Craig Smith you ask?

Smith showed up on a lot of radars playing in the 2011 World Championship with Team USA, scoring six points in seven games. Last season was Smith's last in Wisconsin of the WCHA, where he produced 43 points in 41 games. Smith brings offense to a team that needs it desperately.

Colin Greening, Ottawa Senators
8 GP, 2 goals, 2 assists 16:05 TOI

Cap Hit $850, 000
The Ottawa Senators have had an awful start to the season, but some players are playing better than expected.

Greening has been on a line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek and they are clearly the team’s top line. Greening is developing into a nice power forward on that line with his 6-3 211 frame, speed and two-way play.

Kyle Wellwood, Winnipeg Jets
7 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists 14:29 TOI

Cap Hit $700.000
Wellwood is as inconsistent as they come. But he is off to a hot start this season playing with Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov. That line has been the Jets most productive line so far this season.

Conditioning problems have made Wellwood a fringe journeyman player over his career but there is no denying his skill and hands. At only 28, he is still young enough to have a fantasy impact if he is committed. He is not a long term solution, but could fill a hole for the short term.

David Steckel, Toronto Maple Leafs
7 GP, 2 goals, 0 assists 15:53 TOI

Cap Hit $1.1 million

Recently acquired from New Jersey for his faceoff proficiency, Steckel has not disappointed in Toronto. With a staggering 61.4% win rate, he takes all the important draws for Toronto. Steckel's dominance on the face off will keep him in Toronto's lineup and playing top minutes night in and night out.

Due to injuries to Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly Steckel has even played on the top line between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul for the last two games.

But where Steckel impresses me the most is on the power play. He wins the draw clean, and immediately takes his big 6'5", 217-pound body to the front of the net, causing a screen and looking for tips and rebounds. Look for him to carve out a niche there similar to the way Thomas Holmstrom and Dave Andreychuk did.

However it remains to be seen if Steckel can maintain or improve on his recent offense Keep an eye on Steckel, especially on the power play.

Winning your pool is all about identifying and reassessing value. Right now these are players who may have previously gone undetected in your pool depending on its size. Every team suffers injuries or has under performing players every year, but how you recover from those set backs is what can separate you from the pack.

Sometimes, a quick claim off the waiver wire or free agent signing can be the turning point where you look back on at the end of the season and say “that guy won me my pool”. Don’t miss out!

Follow me on Twitter: @pharling

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