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Fantasy Puck Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Cullen
9/22/2010 10:25:31 AM
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Can the Philadelphia Flyers pick up where they left off in their postseason run to the Cup Final? There is no shortage of talent, though it appears they are risking it all on the play of an unproven goaltender.

So which is the real Flyers team -- the one that squeaked into the playoffs on the last day thanks to a shootout win, or the one that stormed to within a couple of wins of the Stanley Cup in the spring?

Captain Mike Richards scored a career-high 31 goals last season, yet his point total dipped from 80 in 2008-2009 to 62 last year, while his plus-minus plummeted from plus-22 to minus-2.

Richards is a battler who does a lot of things that don't necessarily show up on the fantasy stat sheet, but he's been a productive enough player to think that he could end up with more points than he had last season.

Connected with Richards as one of the foundation pieces for this team, Jeff Carter scored 33 goals and 61 points last season, which would be considered a productive year by many, but after he tallied 46 goals and 84 points the year before, it was a bit of a letdown.

Because of the Flyers' depth down the middle, Carter could spend some time on the wing, which could give him more finishing opportunities, so the 25-year-old's production could rebound this season.

Even coming off a 14-goal regular season, Scott Hartnell is a valuable fantasy performer because few can match his penchant for penalties combined with his ability to put up points. In three years with the Flyers, Hartnell has averaged 49 points and 152 penalty minutes per season.

Since signing his big free agent deal in 2007, Danny Briere had largely been a disappointment until last season's playoff run, when he led all scorers with 30 points in 23 games. He's a seven-time 20-goal scorer and eight-time 50-point scorer, but has the game to push for a point-per-game with the right linemates.

22-year-old Claude Giroux is poised to take off in his third season, following up his respectable 47-point sophomore campaign with 10 goals and 21 points in 23 playoff games.

A wildcard, coming back from a year in the KHL, Nikolai Zherdev is a brilliant puckhandler who accumulated 119 points in his last two NHL seasons before managing 39 points in 52 KHL games last season.

If Zherdev is put in position to score, he could be very productive. Of course, after his early years in Columbus, there are lingering doubts about his consistency, so there is an element of risk involved in selecting him.

With 11 points in 55 regular season games last year, it looked like the Ville Leino experiment was a bust, but then he tore up the postseason, scoring 21 points in 19 games while playing a bunch with Briere, and suddenly it appears that the skilled 27-year-old could be ready for a breakout regular season a year later than expected.

The second overall pick in 2007, James van Riemsdyk has rare skills for a big forwards, but needs to gain the trust of the Flyers' coaching staff so that he plays more than 13 minutes per game. If van Riemsdyk gets the minutes, he could be one of the league's best sophomores.

For leagues that cater to penalty minutes, Daniel Carcillo can't be ignored, especially at those times when he ends up skating on the first or second line.

His rambunctious style seems to fit in Philly, where he's accumulated 287 penalty minutes in 96 games and Carcillo scores just enough (12 goals, 22 points in 76 games last year) to warrant fantasy consideration.

Closing in on 36, Chris Pronger had one of his best seasons last year, scoring 55 points along with a plus-22 rating (only twice before had he put up better numbers in both categories in the same season).

At the same time, Pronger is working his way back from a knee problem that has lingered over the summer, so he may not be ready for the start of the season and, even if he's ready, may not quite be in peak form.

That doesn't mean not drafting him, just keep it in mind and maybe knock him down a round or two if his health is still in question as the season approaches.

The biggest beneficiary of Pronger's arrival in Philly was Matt Carle, who paired with Pronger last season and got his career back on track with 35 points and a plus-19 rating.

Kimmo Timonen's production may be starting to slide, but he's averaged 42 points per season in three years with the Flyers, enough to remain useful to fantasy owners.

With so much talent in front of him, there is a certain amount of pressure on goaltender Michael Leighton to duplicate his late-season )16-5-2, 2.48 GAA, .918 SVPCT) and postseason (8-3, 2.46 GAA, .916 SVPCT) run. Given his limited track record, there are legitimate questions about whether the 29-year-old is ready to handle the full-time No. 1 job for a playoff team.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy for Facebook.




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