With the arrival of the first days of September, we smell hockey in the air here at Hockeyland Canada. The Young Stars tournament is underway as NHL teams deploy their rookies against each other. Games are available online, the media coverage is increasing, and it certainly feels like the 2013-2014 NHL season is upon us. Thankfully, we get to start on time without the headache and unnecessary delay of a lockout. This season will be an exciting one and we hope to provide you insightful analysis along the way.
Each year a group of players elevate their game to the next level. Some become stars, others superstars but they all need next level shifts to take their game higher. Hockeyland Canada defines a next level shift as a forward or defenseman who records at least 10 more points than their career high. For goalies, a next level shift is defined as winning 10 more games than their career high. As you can imagine, many players may even take two or three or four next level shifts in a given year, especially if they are young. Hockeyland Canada presents 10 young stars who will take a next level shift this year and give fantasy hockey teams the edge they need to win a championship.
John Tavares – The new captain of the New York Islanders, John Tavares is the talk of the hockey world. He is getting heavy consideration for the most elite team in the world, Hockey Canada, and is poised to score 50 goals for the first time in his NHL career. On his shoulders, the Islanders are becoming a team on the brink of NHL legitimacy. Up until now, Tavares has a career high of 81 points and he backed that up with a point a game season last year. By upping his goal totals as he did last season, while continuing to set up improving linemates Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo, he will record 90 – 100 points this year. The probable addition of top prospect Ryan Strome to the top 6 will help alleviate some of the burden on Tavares. Expect to see Tavares light up the highlight package all year long with deadly shots and deft passes.
Taylor Hall – The pride of Oil Country, Taylor Hall expanded his game in a big way during the shortened season by registering over a point per game for the first time in his career. This year, the Oilers need a repeat performance from their top player as they go as he goes. Hall has proven his goal scoring and playmaking abilities at the pro level, and this is the year he puts it all together to record 80 – 90 points. Sharp shooting pal Jordan Eberle and cerebral Ryan Nugent-Hopkins give Hall ideal linemates to compliment his swashbuckling style. With the growth of their young players, such as Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov, the Oilers are expected to contend for a playoff spot. Added motivation for Hall is the opportunity to represent Canada at this year’s Olympics. A strong first half will go a long way to unleashing Hall’s unmatched acceleration on the bigger ice surface in Sochi, Russia. Oiler fans are in for an elite season from their top dog, for the first time in a long time.
Jonathan Toews – Jonathan Toews’ list of accomplishments is long and he is already a hockey legend. This still young man has proven time and again that he is able to raise his game at the most important moments, be it Game 7 or the Gold Medal Final. Blessed with a championship roster, and high scoring teammates in Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Duncan Keith, Toews is primed to raise his point totals in his 7th season. Jonathan Toews will go from his career high of 76 points and record 85 – 95 points in the 2013-2014 NHL season, joining the top 10 in scoring, just as his buddy Patrick Kane did last year. The last time the Hawks won the cup, half their roster was gutted and they went from defending champs to a team in transition. Although they lost key playoff performer Dave Bolland to the Leafs, the Hawks remain largely intact and the team’s stability will propel Toews into a new points stratosphere. The growth of linemate Brandon Saad and continued expansion of Pat Kane’s game will provide that added offensive boost for Toews. He may go higher than expected in fantasy pools based on name value, but this is the year he begins justifying a high draft position in fantasy.
Tyler Seguin – Just 21 years young, Tyler Seguin is a Stanley Cup champion and two time Stanley Cup finalist. His exuberant celebratory nature left him in the dog house with the Bruins in Boston. Dealt to the Stars, Seguin will see first line minutes, power play time, and a linemate in Jamie Benn who is a star in his own right. The additions of 2013 first rounder, Valeri Nichushkin, and perennial power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar will only increase the offensive pop in Dallas. With a career high of 67 points, Tyler Seguin is sure to eclipse the point per game mark this season and register 80 – 90 points. Using his smooth skating ability and agility, he puts himself in positions to rack up goals and assists. He always had it in him, but its all about opportunity in this player’s case and he’ll get it this season.
Bobby Ryan – The man infamous for being taken 2nd overall after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Bobby Ryan is about to show the hockey world that he belongs in elite company. Freed from second line duties in Anaheim, Ryan will slide in next to one of the premier set up men in the game, Jason Spezza, on the first line in Ottawa. A four time 30 goal scorer, Ryan will record 40 goals for the first time in his career and over a point per game with 80 – 90 points. You can expect to see his power play totals rise, as he hasn’t before had the luxury of playing on a unit with the game’s best defenseman, Erik Karlsson. On a roster full of young developing players, Ryan will be counted on to produce and the Sens will make sure to finally unleash this talent on the NHL.
Logan Couture – After another stellar playoff performance, the San Jose Sharks seem glad to hand over the first line center spot to Logan Couture. With a career high of 65 points, he will put up 75 – 85 points this season as the top dog on his team. Don’t be mistaken, their is still plenty of talent in the Bay Area with Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski around. Interestingly, Brent Burns is being transformed from defenseman into Couture’s right winger. Burns’ big frame will free up space for Couture’s elusive game to flourish. Being a player on the outside looking in for a Team Canada roster spot, Couture is going to put all the tools together to take a next level shift.
Alex Galchenyuk – Alex Galchenyuk’s nasty set of paws are ready to light up the lamp nightly. A former 3rd overall pick and youngest player on this list, he has only recorded 27 total points in his career, but you can see how its easy to think he will take a next level shift. Outside of P.K. Subban, Galchenyuk is far and away the most talented offensive player the Montreal Canadiens have. Being a rookie last year, the Habs controlled the reigns on him but this year the impatient, rabid fanbase will demand to see a bigger role. With sights of his native Russia in his mind’s eye, Galchenyuk will record 60-70 points to make his case for the US Olympic team. The growth of Max Pacioretty and addition of Danny Briere can only help this net filling stud.
Brandon Saad – Another sophomore poised to take a next level shift, Brandon Saad knows he can’t get too cozy in the Hawks top 6 just yet. Given a prime role on a line with Jonathan Toews, Saad showed he was the missing piece to go with Kane, Sharp, and Hossa. With only 27 career regular season points under his belt, Saad will have to show this season he can contribute and Hockeyland Canada believes he is up to the task. A compliment to Toews with his strong play and cerebral game, Saad will record 50-60 points this season. How the Hawks will fit him into their payroll long term is anyone’s best guess, but this season, just enjoy his enviable position in Chicago and ride it to a fantasy championship.
Jonathan Bernier – Once hand picked for the Kings’ crease, Jonathan Bernier ran into one of the game’s best in former teammate Jonathan Quick. A stellar goaltender at every pro level first with the Manchester Monarchs and as backup with the L.A. Kings, Bernier put up his most sparkling numbers last season with a 1.88 goals against average and a 0.922 save %. In an offseason deal, Bernier landed in the hockey melting pot, Toronto, only to face another goalie battle with James Reimer. While Reimer is the incumbent, the Maple Leafs gave up a hefty price tag to get Bernier and are paying him a higher salary. All signs point to Bernier getting a shot to win the crease, and if pedigree dictates anything, Bernier will be the number one puck stopper in Toronto. Despite not having young phenom, Nazem Kadri, in the fold, the Leafs are ready to build on last season’s success and will see Bernier record 25 – 30 wins next season. It may not be in time for this season’s olympics, but the future of Team Canada’s goaltending looks brighter with young brick walls like Bernier developing into elite goaltenders.
Gabriel Landeskog – The youngest captain in NHL history lead his team to an abysmal season last year, but with first overall pick Nathan Mackinnon ready to step onto the scene, Landeskog knows he and his team are getting better. With still a growing offensive game, Landeskog recorded a career high of 52 points in his rookie year. After a sophomore slump including injuries, Landeskog will record 60 – 70 points this year with offensive dynamos in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly helping him along the way. An underrated shot, smart passing, and do it all attitude give Landeskog the edge over his competitors. Expect to see Patrick Roy’s first NHL captain take his game and his numbers to the next level.
These 10 players are Hockeyland Canada’s pick to take a next level shift this season. If you can think of any players and want to put it on the line, state your case in the comments.
For Hockeyland Canada,
Please check out the PACIFIC http://www.hockeylandcanada.com/2013/10/03/fantasy-hockey-whats-the-point-man-pacific-division-preview-2013-2014-nhl-regular-season/ , ATLANTIC http://www.hockeylandcanada.com/2013/09/28/fantasy-hockey-whats-the-point-man-atlantic-division-preview-2013-2014-nhl-regular-season/, CENTRAL http://www.hockeylandcanada.com/2013/10/02/fantasy-hockey-whats-the-point-man-central-division-preview-2013-2014-nhl-regular-season/, and METRO http://www.hockeylandcanada.com/2013/09/26/fantasy-hockey-whats-the-point-man-metro-division-preview-2013-2014-nhl-regular-season/ division previews as well.