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Today our blogging team expert is Mike Rucki... he writes under the handle OrderedChaos about all things Caps for the great site On Frozen Blog and is our most favourite thing associated with the Caps since Yogi Svejkovsky. We asked Mike nine fantasy relevant questions about the Capitals and the NHL in general. Follow the jump to read his answers...
by Mike Rucki, On Frozen Blog
Q1) Capitals Breakout of the Year?
Brooks Laich isn't really a breakout candidate, as he notched a 25-34-59 campaign last season. But he has steadily improved each of the past three years; don't be surprised if Laich tallies 30 goals and 60+ points in 2010-11.
But my real Breakout of the Year pick is John "Captain America" Carlson, the defenseman who scored the US Junior Team's OT Gold-medal-winning goal. Carlson will be a starter this year, and could see PP time with the second unit. He's shown he can score: 78 points in 59 games with the OHL's London Knights; 1G and 3A in seven NHL playoff games. Carlson could notch 40 points this year, more if he gets significant time on the power play.
A candidate for both breakout and breakdown is Tomas Fleischmann. This is a make-or-break year for "Flash," a speedster who's shown flashes (sorry) of both brilliance and snake-bitedness (yeah, well it's a word now... wanna make something of it?). Flash had 51 points in the regular season, but just one point in six playoff games before being benched for Game 7—which should provide ample motivation in the coming season. Flash will likely start on the Caps' 2nd line again, so he'll get the chance to succeed with ample playing time and skilled linemates.
Q2) Darkhorse Breakout on the Caps?
Marcus Johansson. The Swedish pivot was the Caps' first-round pick in 2009 (24th overall) and captained Team Sweden to a bronze medal in the 2009 World Junior Championship. Johansson turns 20 next month, and it's possible he'll spend one more year in the Swedish Elite League. It's equally possible he'll be playing in the NHL this year—Coach Bruce Boudreau is "optimistic" that Johansson will crack the opening night roster.
After the September 16 Rookie Game vs. Philadelphia, Boudreau said that Johansson "was probably the most consistent player we had all night." And if Johansson were to earn time as the Caps' second-line center, well, it's amazing what passing to Alex Semin can do for one's point totals.
Q3) Breakdown on the Caps?
Jeff Schultz. "Sarge" had a heck of a year in 2009-10, holding down the fort behind free-roaming partner Mike Green: 23 points, and a stunning league-best plus-minus of +50. But with youngsters Karl Alzner and John Carlson joining the Caps, Schultz may not get as much ice time this season and may not always be paired with Green. He'll still be a solid stay-at-home defenseman, but his +/- and point totals will likely fall back to Earth a bit.
Q4) League-Wide Breakout of the Year?
Such a tough call... someone always comes out of the blue, and so many can't-miss picks, well, miss. But keep an eye on Peter Mueller in Colorado. He had 20 points in his 15 games with the Avs last year before Rob Blake concussed him out of the lineup. Mueller just signed a two-year deal with the Avs, and has a chance to play with Paul Stastny. He won't challenge for the scoring lead, but he'll make his mark this year.
Side note: Remember that the Atlanta Thrashers plan to play Dustin Byfuglien on defense. If you can draft Byfuglien and use him as a defenseman in your fantasy league, do it. Because you know Atlanta will move him to power forward during PP time, meaning a good chance for more points than your average d-man.
Q5) Who will be the First Five Players Drafted in a Fantasy Draft?
Alex Ovechkin, without a doubt. Then Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, Steve Stamkos (new-look Tampa is probably playoff-bound), and either Geno Malkin or Martin Brodeur (Marty's still got enough gas in the tank for another season... right?).
Q6) Best Value for Money Fantasy Goalie?
Keep an eye on the Capitals' tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth—neither has played a full NHL season before, and if one emerges as the clear starter he'll be a monster fantasy player. If Jimmy Howard slips to the second round in your draft, snag him immediately (though draft Chris Osgood late to handcuff him).
If you want to spend your early picks on forwards and defense rather than the usual first-round goalies like Brodeur, Miller, Luongo, etc., Cam Ward will slip under most draft radars after his injury-plagued 09-10 campaign. Ward will be the clear #1 goalie in Carolina, and folks tend to forget that he consistently carries even an average 'Canes team. W-L will be around .500, but lots and lots of saves.
Q7) Taylor or Tyler?
Q8) Your Stanley Cup Pick?
The Vancouver Canucks have the tools to make it out of the West, and with their improved defense this season could win it all. Further south, with Dany Heatly's rebirth, it could finally be San Jose's year to exceed (or even meet) expectations.
But I see the Washington Capitals finally etching their name on the Stanley Cup this season. There are still some concerns on defense, but if they can stay healthy they're an even better team now than they were last season. A Capitals win would mean my first tattoo, a promise a friend and I made years ago: a Stanley Cup tattoo when the Caps finally win. Don't worry, it'll be on my arm or something, not a tramp stamp with the top of the Cup peeking over the... never mind.
One thing's for sure: I'd love to see two teams who've never won the big one face each other in the finals. So Caps v. 'Nucks or Caps v. Sharks would be terrific theater.
BONUS) George McPhee & Europeans... fetish or addiction?
There's a fine line between fetish and addiction... er, or so I'm told.
GMGM's predilection for European players is a fairly recent development; traditionally, he's drafted heavily from the Western Hockey League. Of the Caps' first-round picks from 1997 through 2004, 6 were from the WHL, 2 OHL, and 2 Russian League (Ovechkin & Semin). Since 2005, McPhee has shifted first-round focus a bit, with 3 picks from Sweden, 2 Russia, 2 USA, and 2 from Canada.
In deeper rounds, for every Michal Neuvirth there are two guys like Matt Pettinger or Braden Holtby. I wouldn't say GMGM is a Euro-addict... though he does go on a Euro binge now and then. But combine McPhee's poker-faced approach at draft day & trade deadlines with the Caps' excellent scouting team, and they've built one heck of a team from the ground up.
Big thanks to Mike... you should all be checking out his stuff over at On Frozen Blog.