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Fantasy Puck Preview: Washington Capitals

TSN.ca Staff
10/2/2010 11:48:57 AM
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Whether this is the year the Washington Capitals get it done in the playoffs isn't really the concern for fantasy owners. As the highest-scoring team in the league last year, the Capitals are a prime source for mining fantasy gold.

The high-octane offense starts with Alexander Ovechkin, the most dynamic player in the game who has scored 50 goals four times in five seasons, while putting up 100 points in four of five seasons. At left wing, perhaps the shallowest position for fantasy production, he's off the charts (even moreso in leagues that count shots on goal -- Ovechkin has averaged 5.45 shots on goal per game throughout his career).

Heading into his fourth season, centre Nicklas Backstrom is developing into one of the game's elite in his own right. His point totals and plus-minus have gone up each season, reaching 101 points and a plus-37 rating last year, and as long as he's got Ovechkin patrolling his wing, the opportunity will be there for Backstrom to put up numbers that rival the best at his position.

Veteran Mike Knuble has made a career out of being the complementary piece on a scoring line and he does it well; planting his big body in front of the net. The 38-year-old has topped 20 goals for seven straight seasons and that should continue into an eight consecutive year in 2010-2011.

On occasion, the Capitals have played Alexander Semin with Alexander Ovechkin, but they are usually kept apart, which makes Semin one of the most dangerous second-line players in the league. Over the last two seasons, he's accumulated 163 points (and a plus-61 rating) in 135 games, which makes him as productive as any right winger in the game...when he's healthy.

Semin's also looking for a new contract, as his current deal expires at season's end, and trying to erase the memories of last year's playoff flop, so he ought to be motivated to have a big campaign.

Books Laich is a blue-collar player who has turned himself into a rather productive pro winger, increasing his points in each of the last three seasons and earning a significant amount of time on the game's top power play.

A winger by trade, Tomas Fleischmann has been steered towards the middle to fill the second-line centre void on the Capitals. Fleischmann has steadily improved his production over the last few years and while he's not apt to score on 19.0% of his shots again, if he plays more than 69 games, that could keep his point total moving in the right direction.

Some day, 25-year-old winger Eric Fehr will end up in a role that allows him to play more than 12 minutes per game and we'll see what he can really do. Consider, with 21 goals last season while playing 12 minutes a night, Fehr was one of two players in the league to score more than 20 goals in fewer than 1000 minutes of ice time. The other? Teemu Selanne.

Clearly the No. 1 option on defense, Mike Green has accumulated 149 points and a plus-63 rating in 143 games over the last two seasons; rare, rare production. How rare? Last year was the first time, since Ray Bourque in 1995-1996, that a defenseman had more than a point-per-game and better than a plus-30 rating.

Standing out at his position like that makes Green a viable first-round fantasy pick and that's not easy for a defenseman to warrant that kind of consideration.

There aren't a lot of other great fantasy options on the Capitals defense, though rookie John Carlson could be ready to make that kind of impact after chipping in six points and a plus-11 rating in 22 games with the Caps last season after 39 points and a plus-37 rating in 49 AHL games.

Any goaltender who gets the kind of offensive support that the Capitals can provide is a valuable fantasy commodity, but there is a battle for the No. 1 job in the Caps' crease.

Semyon Varlamov may be the favourite, but hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to handle the starter's workload. If healthy, Varlamov could be an elite goaltender.

If Varlamov doesn't stay healthy, or if his play slips a little, Michal Neuvirth will be there. The 22-year-old had some off nights, but was nevertheless impressive in 17 appearances with the Capitals last season, posting a .914 save percentage.

If either one of these goaltenders steps into the number one role, that will provide great fantasy value. If it's closer to a shared responsibility then, individually, their numbers will suffer.

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



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