Cullen: First Line Opportunities

Scott Cullen
10/13/2010 1:13:42 PM
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In honour of the Los Angeles Kings inserting rookie Andrei Loktionov onto the first line with Anze Kopitar last night, here's a look at some other unlikely first-liners early in the season.

For good reason, not every team goes with their top three forwards on one line and there are players who aren't the most skilled that have made productive careers out of being complementary pieces (Mike Knuble and Chris Kunitz come to mind) to elite skilled forwards.

Detroit has often tried to keep Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg separated at times over the years, to increase scoring balance, with the option always there to put them back together when necessary. 

This year, the Wings are rolling them out on the same line right from the start, but in many cases, NHL teams are going with more balanced lines, making it more difficult to ascertain which line is really the No. 1 unit. 

If one or more of these lines is considered 1A or 2 on their team, it still won't take away from the point, which is that some guys are in rather fortunate spots at the moment.

"Ability is nothing without opportunity." - Napoleon Bonaparte

"The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes." - Benjamin Disraeli

Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are one of the more formidable combinations in the game, so it's a good break for Tomas Kopecky -- he of the career-high 10 goals and 21 points last season -- to land a spot on the wing with such great players. As long as Kopecky produces (he has three points in three games this year), he may be able to ride those coattails a while longer.

The Flyers roll a balanced top nine forwards which, at times, means Dan Carcillo skating with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.  Carcillo has some skills, scoring 12 goals last year and 13 in 2007-2008, but he has yet to hit 25 points in a season, so he may not bring out the best offensive production from the Flyers' stars.

The Phoenix Coyotes made noise in the summer about Wojtek Wolski playing centre, but they opened the season with Wolski and Shane Doan on the wings, with Eric Belanger in the middle.  Belanger was miscast as a No. 2 centre in Minnesota, though he did finish last year with a career-high 41 points, so it will be interesting to see how long he lasts in this lofty spot with the Coyotes.
Consider who's lining up with Nik Antropov in Atlanta.   It may be a function of Antropov easing back from off-season hip surgery, but right now, it's Nigel Dawes and Fredrik Modin, neither of whom has scored 40 points in the last three seasons. 

Dawes' career high is 32 and Modin has played just 117 games in the last three seasons.  The lines are hardly set in stone in Atlanta, so changes will occur, but this isn't exactly the ideal setup for Antropov to be productive.

Eric Staal has longtime linemate Erik Cole on one side, coming off a 16-point season and now Chad LaRose on the other flank.  LaRose did register a career-best .50 points per game last year (28 points in 56 games), but it still seems a stretch to have him skating regularly with an elite talent like Staal.

Antti Miettinen has back-to-back seasons with at least 40 points, so it's not like he's completely inept offensively, but he's definitely not as proficient as No. 1 centre Mikko Koivu.  Should Pierre-Marc Bouchard return from his concussion woes, Miettinen could easily slide back to a third line spot.

Signed as a free agent, journeyman P.A. Parenteau is getting a turn on the Islanders' top line.  The 27-year-old had eight points in 22 games with the Rangers last season and is skating with Blake Comeau and, with John Tavares out, Josh Bailey.

Nashville's Cal O'Reilly, who had 16 points in 42 career game entering this season and has found himself between Patric Hornqvist and Steve Sullivan, the Predators' top two scorers last season.  O'Reilly has been a productive minor-league scorer, better than a point-per-game in the last three years, but this is a significant opportunity he's been handed to start the season.

Erik Christensen has been in a pretty sweet spot, centering Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov; not bad work for a guy with a career-high of 33 points.  Christensen is a skilled puckhandlder, but his position on the Rangers' number one line is going to constantly be up for grabs.

Last year's 18 goals and 38 points were the most for Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis since the 2002-2003 season and he's opened this year on the Penguins' number one line, alongside Sidney Crosby and Kunitz.  The Penguins are desperate for talent on the wings, so Dupuis could be supplanted at any moment by a more gifted offensive performer that might improve Crosby's production but, for now, that falls to Dupuis.

San Jose is splitting up last year's top line, and striving for more offensive balance has Joe Thornton flanked by Devin Setoguchi (which worked well in 2008-2009) and Jamie McGinn, the 22-year-old who had 10 goals and 13 points ni 59 games last season. 

For fantasy owners, any of these players could turn out to be huge value additions early in the season, carried to a new career best while playing with a star, but none of them are established enough to think that they couldn't get bumped from their first-line gig at a moment's notice.

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.

Tomas Kopecky, Mike Richards (Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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