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Fantasy Puck Preview: Washington Capitals

Scott Cullen
9/26/2009 7:51:47 AM
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Last year's darlings of fantasy hockey, the Washington Capitals, finished third in the league in goals scored and have the young talent to at least match last season's production.

The pre-eminent player in the league right now, Alexander Ovechkin should be the first pick in the vast majority of leagues, not only for his production -- more than 50 goals and 100 points in three of his four seasons -- but also for his durability (he's missed four games in four years) and, at left wing, he holds a dominating edge over the rest of his positional competition.

Ovechkin is also in a good situation, with rising young star Nicklas Backstrom serving as his setup man. Backstrom's game is still developing, but he's filling out physically and with that improved strength comes more confidence and ability to protect the puck. Since he already has 157 points in his first two seasons, expectations will be very high for Backstrom going forward.

Despite playing only 62 games last season, Alexander Semin put up a career-high 79 points and a plus-25 rating, establishing himself as a premier scoring winger. If he can put it together for a full season (he's played more than 63 games just once in four NHL campaigns), Semin will be a major factor, but his injury history makes him somewhat of a wildcard.

Bringing in veteran Mike Knuble was a smart move for the Caps, as the 37-year-old goes hard to the net and is a strong complementary winger for skilled linemates. Over the last six seasons, the consistent Knuble has averaged 27.5 goals and 54.3 points, which should be well in line with what he produces for Washington this season. Oh, and he's also put up double-digit power play goals in four straight seasons too, so add that to his list of assets.

Brooks Laich has steadily improved his game and emerged as something of a power play force last season, netting 24 of his career-high 53 points with the man advantage. The 26-year-old should just be hitting his prime, so a third straight 20-goal season should be in the cards.

While he struggled coming off knee surgery last year, usually durable Brendan Morrison could be a nice sleeper as Washington's second line centre.

Since it appears that the Caps have little use for Michael Nylander, Morrison will have an opportunity to play with skilled players and show that he still has what it takes to put up 50-plus points, as he did for six straight seasons before injuries affected his last two campaigns.

The Washington blueline doesn't offer a lot for fantasy owners, aside from high-scoring Mike Green, who will be one of the first defencemen taken in any draft. That's what happens when you score 31 goals, as Green did last season.

Of course, it's asking a lot for the not-yet-24-year-old to match last season's 73 points (38 on the PP) and plus-24 in 68 games, but Green's aggressiveness joining the offensive rush and his quick release from the point on the power play makes him a fantasy star.

No other Washington defenceman had even 15 points last season, so that limits the appeal. Perhaps a youngster like Karl Alzner will develop as a decent puck-mover, but he's not projected to be a big point producer either.

In goal, the most likely scenario has rookie Semyon Varlamov supplanting Jose Theodore for the number one job. Theodore's inconsistency and Varlamov's strong showing last spring gives the 21-year-old the upper hand. If Varlamov can get in for 55-60 games, with a strong Capitals team, he could be a major factor for fantasy owners this season.

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