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Fantasy Puck Preview: San Jose Sharks

Scott Cullen
9/26/2010 11:38:51 AM
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The San Jose Sharks have recorded at least 100 points in five of the last six seasons (getting 99 in 2005-2006), so there's little reason to expect anything but continued regular-season success.

But, to be fair, the Sharks have overhauled their goaltending and lost defenceman Rob Blake to retirement, so it's not as if there won't be some challenges along the way.

Of course, the Sharks are set up front, with two good scoring lines; the first, led by playmaking pivot Joe Thornton, is one of the league's most productive.

Thornton, who could be an unrestricted free agent next summer, has scored fewer than 100 points for three consecutive seasons, but has been over a point-per-game for five in a row, with a double-digit plus rating in each of the last seven seasons, making him a high-end fantasy performer.

Patrick Marleau has come into his own as a goal-scorer, hitting a career-high 44 last season as he's scored at least 30 in four of the last five years. Both Marleau and Thornton are now North of 30 years of age, but should have at least a couple more very productive seasons left in them.

Joining Marleau and Thornton on the top line is one of the most valuable fantasy performers in the league, Dany Heatley. Heatley has scored at least 39 goals (last year's total) for five straight years, posting a double-digit plus rating in four of them.

While his penalty minutes were down last year (54 was his lowest total in a full NHL season), Heatley also comes near a penalty minute per game; all this production coming from a right winger is extremely valuable -- making Heatley first-round worthy in many leagues.

Back-to-back 25-goal seasons for Joe Pavelski, coupled with a strong playoff performance (9 goals, 17 points in 15 games), has built quite a bit of optimism that Pavelski is the next Sharks forward due to take his game to an elite level.

Maybe a point-per-game is still out of reach on the second line, but Pavelski could very easily better his career-high mark of 59 points, set in 2008-2009.

Power forward Ryane Clowe is another very valuable asset. He's put up back-to-back seasons with at least 50 points and added 131 penalty minutes in 2009-2010, putting him in rare company in terms of production and penalty minutes.

One of the few Sharks that really saw a dramatic drop in production last season, Devin Setoguchi found it more difficult to score when he was moved off Joe Thornton's wing (who knew?).

Setoguchi's 31-goal, 65-point season in 2008-2009 may be an aberration, because he's not likely to have those same opportunities, but he can still be better than last year's 36 points.

With the top six forward spots spoken for, that leaves promising rookie Logan Couture waiting for a chance with a scoring unit. He chipped in nine points in 25 games last season, after tuning up in the AHL with 53 points in 42 games, so Couture can produce if given the chance; the question is whether he'll get that chance this year.

Dan Boyle has put up back-to-back impressive seasons since arriving in San Jose, accumulating 31 goals and 115 points (61 on the power play). As the one proven puck-handler on the blueline, Boyle's production should continue at an elite level again this season.

With Rob Blake retired, there is an opening for Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Jason Demers to move into a more offensive role. Vlasic is safe and steady and did have 36 points two seasons ago, but registered only 16 points in 64 games last year.

Demers surprised early last year, with eight points in his first ten games, finishing with 21 points in 51 games, but should see more consistent playing time this year and it's not difficult to see his production jumping to 35 points or more in a full season.

Goaltending is the area with the most dramatic change for the Sharks. Evgeni Nabokov is gone and now Stanley-Cup-winner Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki will try to take his place.

Nabokov had been an elite fantasy goaltender for years, winning more than 40 games in each of the last three campaigns, and it doesn't appear that will be the case for the new 'tenders, as neither seems likely to get 60-plus starts.

Niemi had outstanding numbers in limited regular season (26 wins, 2.25 GAA, .912 SVPCT, 7 SO in 39 GP) duty last year, so he could be the one to target among Sharks goaltenders, but there is definitely risk involved.

From Niittymaki being a strong challenger, who took the starting job in Tampa Bay last season, to the challenges faced by second-year goaltenders when the league starts to get a book on them, Niemi is a useful fantasy option, but perhaps not as valuable as one might expect from a goaltender playing for a perennial powerhouse.

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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