Fantasy Fix

CHRIS NICHOLS -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 2:38 PM ET

You've seen them.

Men in business suits, walking with a coffee in one hand and a blank stare on their faces; construction workers not even noticing that they're hammering away at a nail that's already been pounded into the board; and people in bars with empty stares at the TV in the corner. All of them: lost souls.

What gives? What could cause such a mass disruption of society as we know it?

The answer is simple. There are no hockey pools this year.

The NHL lockout mess is having a severe trickle-down effect on the economics surrounding the game, including fantasy hockey. What's a pool junkie supposed to do?

The McKeen's Hockey Pool Yearbook, a 10-year staple for many poolsters, was not published in hard copy form this year. When the summer publishing deadline came, McKeen's had no choice but to nix the magazine because of what was a pretty safe bet to be a lockout year.

Poolies still needed their fix though.

In an effort to keep fans from completely starving for fantasy info, McKeensHockey.com has just released an Online Prospects Magazine to its subscribers. The staff took long, hard looks at all NHL-affiliated prospects and in addition to the write-up, also gave each prospect a mark based on a 5.0 grading system.

This info is gold for those of you in keeper leagues. Even if you just want a fantasy fix to get ready for whenever this season gets started, it'll give you a running start on the youth of the game and how they're developing.

You can check out the A-Z listing for yourself and get an explanation of how the 5.0 rating system works, but here are a few profiles to whet your appetite.

Kari Lehtonen, Atl, G, (Rating: 4.5), Chicago (AHL) -- Finnish phenom was everything and more in a sensational North American intro that saw him rebound from a pair of injuries (concussion and hamstring) to enjoy a flawless NHL debut in March, and then followed up a strong regular AHL season with a spellbinding playoff performance for the Wolves (6-4, 2.08, .942) .. A poised, gifted athlete with remarkable agility and lower-body quickness, Lehtonen possesses an extraordinary sense for how to position his imposing frame, and a rare ability to elevate his play at crucial times in a game .. On a steeper curve than most.

Zach Parise, NJ, C, (Rating: 4.0), Albany (AHL) -- Super sophomore finished among the nation's top scorers to earn Hobey Baker consideration for a second straight year, this time as a top-three finalist, and also powered Team USA to a historic first gold medal at the World Juniors, where he tied for the lead in scoring and was named Tournament MVP (6-5-6-11, plus-7) .. A gritty, deceptive-skating pivot with great skills, poise and imagination, Parise senses danger instinctively and possesses a special ability to process the game around him and find creative and probing solutions, even when it appears he waited too long .. Universal talent will nullify size factor, but will need time acclimatizing to NHL strength and pace.

Andrei Kostitsyn, Mtl, RW, (Rating: 4.0), Hamilton (AHL) -- Fiery Belarusian failed to win over CSKA coach Viktor Tikhonov and spent most of last season spinning his wheels on the farm, and at lower-profile tournaments such as the U20 Group B World Juniors, where he led his country to gold (5-5-5-10, plus-5) .. A dynamic skater with an explosive change of pace, Kostitsyn plays a fearless and passionate attacking game, always eager to show off his deft one-on-one moves and prodigious shooting arsenal, but often ignores his linemates and only gives a half-hearted effort defensively .. Reckless weapon needs to mature and fine-tune his overall game.

Ryan Kesler, Van, C, (Rating: 3.5), Manitoba (AHL) -- Ohio State dropout drew raves at camp and during a November call-up before heading overseas to win a gold medal for Team USA at the World Juniors (6-3-0-3), but struggled to generate offense at both the NHL and AHL levels upon his return .. A big, power-skating forward with superb balance and strength on his skates, Kesler uses his impressive top-end speed at both ends of the ice and exhibits a defensive maturity and physical consistency that belies his age .. Thrived briefly with Trevor Linden, to whom Kesler has been compared, but will need better finishing skills to fulfill that prophecy.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit, G, (Rating: 4.5), Wilkes-Barre (AHL) -- First-overall pick made an electrifying pro debut, winning NHL Rookie-of-the-Month honours for October (2-2-2, 1.96, .943), but faltered and was returned to juniors in January, via Finland where he won his second straight World Junior silver medal (4-1, 1.81, .920) .. A technically-sound, butterfly goalie with outstanding agility, athleticism and leg speed, Fleury never gives up on shooters and plays with a poise and confidence that belies his age, though he gets over-aggressive at times, which leads to positional breakdowns .. Will work out the kinks with maturity.

You can also check out their latest 2005 draft update and get scouting reports from junior leagues all across the world, all season long, by visiting McKeenshockey.com

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When the lockout ends, Chris can be found writing fantasy hockey right here for Slam! He can also be seen on the fantasy pages of ESPN.com and he serves as the Managing Site Editor for McKeensHockey.com. Chris can be reached at chris_nichols@canoemail.com


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