Fantasy Puck Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Scott Cullen
10/2/2008 2:24:51 AM
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It doesn't appear to be a very promising upcoming season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and that leaves them with few appealing fantasy options.

The forward lines are comprised of a lot of unproven commodities and even the ones that are proven aren't particularly consistent.

Perhaps the most accomplished forward is Nik Antropov, the 6-foot-6 winger coming off a season in which he tallied a career-best 56 points. While the inclination might be to expect Antropov to build on that production, it will be hard for him to duplicate those numbers without Mats Sundin.

Antropov's frequent linemate, Alexei Ponikarovsky, is a strong skater and a big body, but has yet to top 45 points in a season and that doesn't figure to change this year.

Slated to start the season as Toronto's number one centre, Mikhail Grabovski has nine points in 27 career NHL games, but has 74 points in 78 career AHL games. He has some scoring potential

One of the Leafs' young forwards that needs to elevate his game is Alex Steen, the 24-year-old who hasn't yet been able to duplicate his 45-point rookie season. Steen has upside, but may not have the right pieces around him to expect a breakthrough campaign.

Newcomer Niklas Hagman will be counted on for goals, after scoring 27 of them last season, but last season was the first time Hagman had surpassed 30 points in a season, so expectations have to be reasonable.

Last year's big free agent signing, winger Jason Blake, could be a fair bet for a bounce back season since he managed just 15 goals on a career-high 332 shots on goal last year, a rate far lower than his previous career numbers. However, it's also difficult to project Blake for more than last season's 52 points.

The Leafs could always hope for Matt Stajan or Jiri Tlusty to take their game to a new level, but it's a longshot for either of them to be viable fantasy performers. Same goes for Mark Bell, whose game has fallen off dramatically in recent seasons.

On defence, the Leafs actually have a couple of desirable players.

Tomas Kaberle has scored 178 points over the last three seasons and is one of the best power play quarterbacks in the game. Even with the risk of a poor plus-minus, Kaberle is a quality fantasy defenceman.

For all the grief he's taken in Toronto, veteran Pavel Kubina is coming off a very productive season, scoring a career-best 40 points and registering a career-high 116 penalty minutes while putting up a respectable plus-5 rating.

A possible sleeper on the blueline would be Mike Van Ryn, whose 2007-2008 season was ruined by a wrist injury. Van Ryn is a mobile, puck-moving defenceman who has twice scored 37 points in a season.

Even if the season isn't expected to be great in Toronto, goaltender Vesa Toskala may have some value as he's likely to approach 70 games played and, with head coach Ron Wilson's defensive approach in front of him, Toskala could put up good enough numbers to be a fantasy backup.

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