NHL Fantasy Hockey Pool Strategy Guide

Pick 'Em Up! Tarasenko, Brunner, Conacher

The first week of the season is when the fantasy waiver wire is at its most fertile, and owners need to be aggressive if they want to benefit from the onslaught of surprise performers.  That isn't to say you should rush to hit the panic button after a handful of games, it's far too early to toss your pre-draft preparation out the window, but in order to capitalize on the influx of fantasy talent that inevitably emerges at this time of year, you'll need to be decisive with your waiver claims.  

There will no doubt be a handful of key opportunities within your grasp this week, and finding even one critical hidden gem on the waiver wire could be the difference between a championship season and mediocrity.  With that in mind, the first edition of our Pick'em Up column, which regularly profiles emerging or overlooked fantasy talents over the course of the season, begins with a look at some potential waiver steals who may have been passed over at your 2013 draft.  

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Top of the Heap

Vladimir Tarasenko RW - STL:  Unless you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt heard that the first-year Russian is out to a roaring start - five points (3G 2A) through three games.  But it's not just the numbers that make him a tantalizing pick-up, it's the way he's attaining them.  Tarasenko's highlight-reel goals reveal his severe case of the magic hands, and he's making the transition from the KHL - 31 points in 31 games before joining the Blues - look a little too easy.  His stellar play has established him as the (very) early Calder favorite, and he's still available in 82% of Yahoo! leagues.  

Travis Zajac C - NJ:  Zajac is flying under the radar - owned in just 16% of Yahoo! leagues - due to the fact that he missed most of last season with a torn Achilles.  He came back strong during the Devils' Cup run, and he's now at full speed alongside Ilya Kovalchuk on New Jersey's top line.  Zajac posted back-to-back 60+ point seasons in '08-09 and '09-10, so the ability and opportunity are firmly in place for a big fantasy season.  He's scored in each of New Jersey's first two games.  

Andy McDonald  C, LW - STL:  Somehow McDonald is owned in just 18% of Yahoo! leagues, but that's likely to change in a hurry.  Owners who tanked it at the end of last season might not recall that the St. Louis veteran returned with a vengeance late in the year (missed the first 51-games with a concussion), recording 32 points in 35 starts (including playoffs).  He's perennially underrated - mainly due to injuries - but when healthy, he's a fantasy force.  He already has four points through three games, so if your league-mates slept on McDonald, grab him before it's too late.

John Carlson D - WAS:  With last year's top scoring D-man Dennis Wideman now in Calgary, and Mike Green's history of injuries casting a fog of doubt, the Caps' most reliable blue-liner this season might be John Carlson.  He's available in 69% of leagues, and he's coming off seasons of 37 and 32-points, respectively.  He's an up-and-comer with 40-point potential to begin with, and if anything happens to Green, Carlson will flourish.  He also topped 150 blocks in each of the last two campagins, which is a nice bonus for owners using the full set of roto-categories.  

Digging Deeper...

Damien Brunner C, RW - DET:  The 26-year old Swiss import is averaging just under 19-minutes of ice time through three games on Detroit's top line.  He hasn't made a huge impact on the score sheet - just one goal through three starts - but considering his line-mates are Zetterberg and Datsyuk, it's safe to assume the points will come.  Brunner plays with enough offensive flair to be productive (check out this ridiculous shoot-out winner), and his situation makes him tempting enough to stash on the bench in hopes of a breakout.  

Cory Conacher C, LW - TB: Another first-year player who looks promising, Conacher is playing a key offensive role in Tampa Bay.  He's smallish (5'8", 180) but he's slippery and has keen awareness - he's always in the right spot to make a play.  The lines are still being shuffled, but Conacher has spent the majority of his ice time with Stamkos and St. Louis, and he's come through to the tune of five points in three games.  That lofty pace won't continue, but he can definitely add some upside to the bottom end of your fantasy roster.

Sheldon Souray D - ANA:  Souray's career has been derailed by injuries the last few seasons, and at 36, his best days are behind him.  With that said, he's out to a good start in Anaheim - a goal and two assists through two games, with a plus-three rating.  We wouldn't bank on the old Souray showing up (64-points in '06-07), but if you have a roster spot at your disposal, it's worth a flier to see if his start is more than a flash in the pan.

Ben Scrivens G - TOR:  Scrivens has won the battle over James Reimer to be the starting goaltender in Toronto.  His hold on the job remains tenous at best, but he's acquitted himself well in two starts, surrendering just three goals (1.53 GAA, .929 SV%).  The shadow of a Luongo trade also looms, but if you're desperate for a starter, Scrivens is available in most leagues, and he's currently pulling the plow for the Leafs.  

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Hopefully that gives you a name or two to take a closer look at for this week's waiver period, but before you go out and overhaul your roster, remind yourself not to overreact to short-term results.  There will surely be some steals out there, and you should be relentlessly seeking them out, but along the way you'll see some unfamiliar names with tempting stats - Daniel Winnik has four goals so far - and most of them won't keep up the pace.  In general, we recommend staying patient and giving your players time to get on track, as for every gem you find, you're sure to encounter plenty of fool's gold.

Good luck on the wire this week!

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