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Fantasy Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

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Scott Cullen
9/17/2013 1:03:26 PM
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Life is good for the defending Stanley Cup champions and their players, naturally, have loads of appeal when it comes to fantasy hockey. Trouble is, finding value won't be easy since everyone knows who the big wheels are in the Windy City.

Top Picks: C Jonathan Toews is a better "real" hockey player than fantasy player and that's saying something because he's a top-tier fantasy centre too, having his points-per-game increase every year, going over a point-per-game last season and never having less than a double-digit plus rating. He doesn't have the super-high offensive ceiling of a few others, but Toews is a safe cornerstone pick in the first round.

Maligned a year ago after some off-ice concerns, RW Patrick Kane re-established his place as an elite scoring winger, putting up a career-high 1.17 points per game in 2013. Even with less than stellar peripheral stats (hits, blocked shots, penalty minutes), he's a No. 1 winger whose low-point in a full season is 66 points, which is a nice safety net.

An injury shortened what was already a short season and LW Patrick Sharp managed just six goals in 28 regular season games, posting the lowest shooting percentage (6.8%) of his career. Then the playoffs started and Sharp led the postseason with 10 goals in 23 games, showing how those percentages can fluctuate in small samples. He's scored at least 25 goals in each of the five previous full seasons and, even with last year's problems, has 160 goals since 2007-2008, ranking 21st. With a strong cast around him, Sharp is a reasonable No. 1 left wing pick.

A scorer who backchecks, RW Marian Hossa is one of six players to have at least 275 points and a plus-90 rating over the past six seasons. While he is one year removed from a 77-point season, he's generally not scoring at that level any more and, at 34, that's entirely understandable. He's on the border of being a No. 1 or No. 2 right winger.

While D Brent Seabrook's scoring numbers have fallen, he remains valuable in fantasy leagues that count hits and blocked shots, not to mention plus-minus -- his plus-76 over the last five seasons ranks third among defencemen.

Duncan Keith doesn't have the hits and blocked shots to match Seabrook, but he ranks second among defencemen in plus-minus (plus-80) and points (225) over the last five seasons.

G Corey Crawford had the best (30-game) season of his career, won a Stanley Cup and signed a new long-term contract, but it's worth noting that his career save percentage (.913) is decidedly lower than last year's mark (.926), so if he's not suddenly going to be stopping more than 92% of the shots sent his way, the overall numbers could slip. However, if he's merely an adequate starting goaltender, getting 60 starts for a Cup contender has plenty of value for the win potential alone.

Value Plays: He won't sneak up on anyone after his postseason scoring surge, but LW Bryan Bickell shouldn't be overrated either, considering he has 35 goals and 84 points over the last three seasons. Sure, if he lands a regular spot on Toews' wing, Bickell becomes valuable as a potential 20-goal scorer, but line combinations can change quickly.

Sleepers/Breakthrough: The counter to the Bickell play is LW Brandon Saad, who impressed as a rookie, scoring 27 points in 46 games, but lost his spot on Toews' wing in the playoffs. Saad's not yet 21-years-old and has the big frame to be a scoring power forward, so he may have better chance to play in a scoring role, but there is some uncertainty about who will land that plum spot on the first line.

The playoffs exposed some weaknesses in the game of 22-year-old D Nick Leddy and he's not getting huge minutes as a third-pair defenceman in Chicago, but he has 55 points in 130 games over the last two seasons, ranking 29th. His offensive potential gives him value in deeper, or keeper, leagues.

Rookies: It's not easy for a rookie to crack the lineup of, let alone play a significant role for, a Stanley Cup contender, but C Brandon Pirri has a chance to win the second-line centre job.The 22-year-old has two points in seven career NHL games, but scored 75 points in 76 AHL games last season, his third year in the pros, so he's ready to make the jump.

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

Patrick Kane Jonathan Toews (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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