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Fantasy Puck Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Scott Cullen
9/6/2010 10:34:30 AM
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Last year was supposed to be the next step in the ascension of the Columbus Blue Jackets, following a playoff appearance in 2009, but it didn't quite work out that way and a pair of slumping sophomores were part of the reason why.

If goaltender Steve Mason and centre Derick Brassard can rebound, there may be enough here for the Blue Jackets to get right back into the playoff mix, providing plenty of fantasy options along the way.

Rick Nash is the obvious blue-chipper on the team, a 25-year-old who has topped 30 goals in five of the past six seasons. Nash has been waiting for a premier playmaker to centre his line but unless Brassard rises to that challenge, it looks like Antoine Vermette's position to lose.

Vermette, to his credit, scored a career-high 65 points last year, so he's a capable playmaker, but that would figure to be pretty close to his ceiling as a point producer.

The Jackets have depth on the wings, with R.J. Umberger scoring a career-high 55 points last year and Kristian Huselius scoring more than 55 points for the fourth straight season.

While those veterans seem like safe bets, the Columbus winger with the most upside (aside from Nash) could be Jakub Voracek, the third-year winger who scored 22 points in his last 25 games in 2009-2010.

The wildcard in the Blue Jackets' offensive plans is Russian winger Nikita Filatov, who couldn't get on the ice when Ken Hitchcock was coaching, so he returned to Russia, where he scored 22 points in 26 games with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. If Filatov is ready to play full-time in the NHL, his dynamic offensive skills could really help the Jackets.

After scoring 25 points in 31 games as a rookie in 2008-2009, Derick Brassard managed just nine goals and 36 points in 79 games last year; a colossal disappointment. Brassard needs to produce more and, like Filatov, has a fresh start under new coach Scott Arniel, but cautious optimism is the way to approach him for fantasy purposes.

As the Blue Jackets continue to look for a bona fide No. 1 puckhandling defenceman, they are left with few strong producers on the blueline. Fedor Tyutin may be the best of the bunch, with back-to-back seasons with at least 30 points, but he's more durable and consistent than productive.

Kris Russell and Anton Stralman have some offensive skills, but Russell has yet to exceed last year's totals of 70 games and 22 points, while Stralman counteracted his 34-point season with a minus-17 rating; that leaves them as darkhorses, at best, in most leagues.

And now we arrive at the goaltending. Steve Mason had a sensational rookie season in 2008-2009, winning the Calder Trophy and recording ten shutouts, but his goals against average jumped from 2.29 to 3.06 (and his save percentage dropped from .916 to .901) last year, which made goaltending an area of weakness when it was perceived to be one of the club's greatest strengths going into last season.

The Blue Jackets have little recourse but to hope that Mason is better this year. While it's not fair to expect him at his outstanding rookie level, something in between last year and his rookie performance could be enough to keep the Blue Jackets competitive and enough to make Mason at least a viable No. 2 fantasy goaltender.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.



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