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Cullen: Hurricanes need production from young players

Scott Cullen
9/6/2011 11:59:22 AM
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The Carolina Hurricanes may be in a battle all season for a playoff spot, so they aren't the most appealing team when it comes to fantasy, yet there are enough quality performers and intriguing youngsters to keep them interesting.

The tried and true on the Hurricanes roster is centre Eric Staal who, at 26-year-old, is in the prime of his career. He's scored at least 29 goals and 70 points in each of the last six seasons and, as an added sweetener, he has at least 68 penalty minutes in four of those six seasons.

Last year's rookie sensation, Jeff Skinner, was only the eighth rookie aged 20 or under since 1990 to score at least 30 goals and 60 points. The others? Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Bure, Jason Arnott, Evgeni Malkin and Alexei Yashin.

Of those seven others, five scored better than a point-per-game as sophomores while Arnott (37 points in 42 games) and Yashin (44 points in 47 games) had their second seasons shortened by the lockout in 1994-1995.

By no means does this guarantee that Skinner is on his way to a point-per-game aleady, but that possibility shouldn't be discounted either. He figures to get more ice time and could spend more time playing with Staal, which should increase his scoring chances.

Beyond their marquee scorers, goaltender Cam Ward likely holds the most appeal among Hurricanes. An established number one goaltender who played a career-high 74 games last year, Ward has played at least 68 games, winning at least 37, in three of the last four seasons. In fantasy circles, he figures to be a strong number two option in most leagues.

On defence, the Hurricanes have Tomas Kaberle and Joni Pitkanen, both of whom have some shortcomings to go along with consistent point production. Kaberle's lack of goal-scoring and low penalty minute totals offset the production of a blueliner who has scored at least 45 points in six of the last eight seasons.

In Pitkanen's case, he has declining goal totals and has some plus-minus problems -- he's a combined minus-32 over the last five seasons -- that undercut his appeal. He's still worthwhile, having scored at least 33 points in five of the last six seasons, while playing more than 24 minutes a game in each of the last five seasons, but is a depth option in most leagues.

So long as Kaberle and Pitkanen are ahead of him on the depth chart, Jamie McBain remains a sleeper. After an impressive showing in the final 14 games of the 2009-2010 season, McBain's role was reduced last season and his production suffered.

Two Finns have more value with wing eligibility. Jussi Jokinen's last two season have been the most productive of his career (on a per-game basis) so he's a nice fit as a number three left winger in most fantasy leagues.

Tuomo Ruutu scored a career-high 57 points while playing in all 82 games last season. It's difficult to project that success -- and health -- for him again, so he's a better fit as a depth winger with some offensive upside.

There are some openings among the Hurricanes' top six forwards and while journeymen veterans like Alexei Ponikarovsky and/or Anthony Stewart could get a crack, it would be much more interesting if top prospects Zac Dalpe and/or Zach Boychuk are given sufficent opportunities to play in scoring roles.

Dalpe registered 57 points in 61 AHL games as a rookie pro last season, while Boychuk tallied 65 points in 60 games. They may not score enough in the NHL to be fantasy performers this season, but keep them in mind as late-round fliers, particularly in deep leagues.

If the Hurricanes are going to be a playoff team in 2011-2012, they're going to need some players to play above and beyond expectations, but that is part of what makes Carolina's depth players and prospects so intriguing.

Depth Chart - Carolina Hurricanes

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

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