NHL Fantasy Fare: First-half surprises come in pairs

JOEL COLOMBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:34 PM ET

TORONTO - With the top 10 first-half fantasy flops out of the way last week, let’s celebrate the pleasant surprises, the ones who have outstripped their draft position. We’ll leave those who were undrafted in a separate category below.

10. Ian White DET: Bottom-round filler in most drafts, and playing for his fifth team in less than three years, ex-Leaf is only six points shy of his career-high 26 and is among the NHL’s plus-minus leaders.

9. Scott Hartnell PHIL: Drafted for his 40-point, 100-PIM potential, he’s on pace to obliterate both riding shotgun for Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. His plus-18 is gravy.

8. James Neal PIT: Scored just once in 20 games with the Sid-less Pens last year, which makes his 40-goal pace of this season — again, for the most part, without Crosby — all the more unexpected.

7. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM: First overall picks in recent years have taken a while to get going but, until he got hurt, RNH was on pace for the best points-per-game season by a rookie since Evgeni Malkin five years ago.

6. Michael Del Zotto NYR: Just as fantasy owners were about to give up on the former first-rounder, the confidence and the skill finally meshed in November and he’s been among the NHL’s best D-men ever since.

5. Kris Versteeg FLA: A reliable 20-goal scorer three years running, he should surpass that by the end of this month and is showing what he can do with the consistent top-line minutes denied him previously by Chicago, Toronto and Philly.

4. Claude Giroux PHIL: We knew last year that he’d be good. We just had no idea it would be this good, this fast.

3. Erik Karlsson OTT: Another quick bloomer who is leading all D-men in scoring and, just as impressively, has turned that minus-30 from last year into a plus-8.

2. Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney PHX: Rated 256th and 257th overall by Yahoo on draft day, the Coyotes linemates are both top 40 in points — with 37 and 36, respectively.

1. Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel TOR: The Leafs linemates sit side-by-side in the league’s top 10 and are both deserving of this heady ranking. But, if we had to choose one, it would be Lupul who, unlike Kessel, was strictly late-round material on draft day.

-- A name that certainly would belong on any list of fantasy surprises — except for the fact that he started the year in the minors and was ineligible on draft day in most pools — would be Devils rookie Adam Henrique. Chew on this: While most have been conceding the Calder Trophy to Nugent-Hopkins, Henrique’s numbers have been almost identical. Both have 13 goals. RNH, in two fewer games heading into Saturday, has one more assist, but Henrique’s plus-minus is nine points better.

-- As great as the temptation might have been to re-unite Mike Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla, Flames coach Brent Sutter was expected to start his newly acquired winger on a line with Mikael Backlund and Lee Stempniak for Saturday night’s game against L.A., and leave his first line Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross intact. At least for now. Bourque, meanwhile, sat out Saturday night’s Canadiens game to complete his five-game suspension, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him starting on the right side with Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez on Sunday against the Rangers.

BEST OF THE REST

Our top 10 list of fantasy surprises could easily have been twice as long. So here are a handful of honourable mentions: Blake Wheeler WPG, Jimmy Howard DET, Milan Michalek OTT, Brian Campbell FLA, Michael Ryder DAL, Tyler Seguin BOS, Curtis Glencross CGY, Brian Elliott STL, Dion Phaneuf TOR, Olli Jokinen CGY, Tomas Flesichmann FLA, P.A. Parenteau NYI

WAIVER WATCH

With fantasy rating out of 5

Ryan Ellis

D, Predators

* * *

If three-time Team Canada junior star can, once again, work around his lack of size, he has the vision and surprisingly big shot to put up strong numbers from the back end. Called up just after Xmas, he went pointless his first three games, but is 2-2-4 (with both goals on the PP) in his past three.

Andrew Shaw

LW, Blackhawks

* *

Replacing Daniel Carcillo who is out for the season, the feisty picked a fight with Zac Rinaldo on his second NHL shift on Jan. 5, and finished the game an assist away from the Gordie How hat trick. After scoring against the Red Wings on Saturday, he now has three goals in six games, but has been bumped down to a third line.

Marc-Antoine Pouliot

C, Coyotes

*

The former Oilers first-rounder appears to have found his way on to the top line between Vrbata and Whitney, which is reason enough to at least monitor his progress. His career NHL stats aren’t much to look at but he is coming off a 72-point year in the AHL.

Jay Harrison

D, Hurricanes

* *

Quiet veteran has four goals in his past half dozen games after managing two in his first 29. Worth a gamble if you’re desperate for D points, but you’ll have to absorb a less-than-inviting plus-minus.

GAMES THIS WEEK

4 — BOS, BUF, COL, DAL, DET, FLA, LA, NASH, NYI, NYR, OTT, PHIL, PHX, PITT, WASH, WPG

2 — VAN

All other teams play 3 games

INJURY UPDATES

Dustin Penner wound up missing only one game after that horrific pancake-eating back injury he suffered a week ago … Patrick Sharp (wrist) won’t need surgery, but is out for about three weeks ... While James Neal will play on with a broken bone in his foot, teammate Jordan Staal (knee) owners aren’t as lucky. He’s gone until late next month … Jeff Carter is back out with separated shoulder … Yawn! Rick DiPietro (hernia) will miss the rest of the season … Mike Ribeiro’s knee injury isn’t serious. He could be back this week … Jose Theodore (knee) is targeting Monday’s game for his return … Jeff Skinner (concussion) is close to returning … Dan Ellis (groin) will be sidelined for a month.

HOT AND NOT

Skaters, the past two weeks

Loui Ericksson DAL

4-6-10, plus-5

Nathan Horton BOS

5-2-7, plus-4

Alex Pietrangelo STL

1-7-8, 18 blocks

- - - - - -

Dany Heatley MIN

1-2-3, minus-2

Claude Giroux PHIL

1-3-4, minus-5

Stephen Weiss FLA

0-1-1, minus-6

-- Statistics do not include Saturday’s games except where denoted --


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