Open Ice: Now is the perfect time to panic

Hockey is a bit of a different beast than other fantasy sports. Most other sports lend themselves to the early season, cut-and-paste, "don't panic" article. In hockey, you should be advised to exercise "cautionary panic."

You can quickly divide forwards into three categories for fantasy: stars, scrubs and stars by association. Think of stars as celebrities, scrubs as you and I, and stars by association as the scrubs who are lucky enough to be included in a celebrity's entourage. It's a crude analogy, but it works.

The reason it's OK to panic as the season starts is that all the training camp analysis in the world can't help divine the minds of NHL coaches. Most teams opened with two top scoring lines that could not have been anticipated by anyone poring over preseason box scores trying to predict who would land where on the team's depth chart. With regards to the analogy, you can sift through photos of whom a celebrity hangs out with, but you just never know whom he will take to the party until the doors open (hey -- I already admitted the comparison is crude).

So, a player like Joffrey Lupul can be bailed on almost immediately, as he lost out on a top-six role with the Flyers. He is owned in 85 percent of ESPN leagues yet won't be seeing the ice as much as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble and Scottie Upshall. His exclusion was a bit of a surprise, as he seemed to have an "in" after scoring 46 points in an injury-shortened season last year. Still, Lupul is most definitely "out" for now and should not be holding you back from picking up a surprising top-six forward like Todd White.

White didn't even seem to be in the running this preseason as Atlanta experimented with Bryan Little and Erik Christensen between Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Williams. Nonetheless, White has the role and should be picked up in most leagues, as he has the same role on the first power-play unit for the Thrashers as well.

That is the kind of barometric shift we'll be tracking here in Open Ice all season. Yes, "barometric shift." Everyone likes the stock-market analogy when talking about fantasy value, but considering the economic climate lately, weather terms might be more palatable. At least until the first blizzard paralyzes the Eastern seaboard.

Sunny Days Ahead

Paul Kariya, LW, Blues: It might be the plan even if Lee Stempniak is healthy, but for now, Kariya is generating some serious offense on the power play. With Brad Boyes and Alex Pietrangelo on the point, Kariya, Keith Tkachuk and Andy McDonald are showing off some chemistry up front. Stempniak's return from a knee injury could throw a wrench into the machine, but the Blues' power play looks pretty good this year, so let's keep a close eye on who is getting the minutes.

Alex Pietrangelo, D, Blues: Tying in with the above, Pietrangelo is a budding star and seems to have won the power-play quarterback role to start the season. Definitely add him for now, as he won't be easy to get if he breaks out.

T.J. Oshie, C, Blues: Jumping back to the Stempniak injury briefly, as Oshie is his fill-in on the top line at even strength. Another star rookie for the Blues, Oshie just needs an opportunity to prove himself, and depending on how much time Stempniak misses, this could be the chance he needs.

Kevin Porter, C, Coyotes: Despite being a little on the small side and not as quick as some of the competition, Porter won the job of second-line right wing to start the season. Part of a unit with fellow rookie Kyle Turris and converted tough-guy Daniel Carcillo, Porter is intriguing. Anyone with his size (5-foot-11, 194 pounds) is always a question mark, despite prolific scoring in college. But with two assists in two games and the promise of decent linemates, Porter should be on your radar at least as much as fellow Phoenix rook Mikkel Boedker.

Anssi Salmela, D, Devils: Not much of a sample size for Salmela, but we do know two things about the Devils: They lack a power-play quarterback, and Paul Martin is just not up to the task. That means this offensive-minded Finn has a chance to lock down the point on the power play. He scored 16 goals and 32 points in 56 games in the Finnish Elite League last season. Don't run out and get him just yet, but be familiar with his name for a rainy day.

David Booth, LW, Panthers: Booth's penchant for scoring big goals (six of his 22 last season were game winners) is starting to translate to a talent for scoring goals, period. With three already having found the twine this season, Booth looks good next to Stephen Weiss and Richard Zednik on Florida's second line. Booth also seems to be making good on his plus-13 from last season; he already is at plus-4 after just two games.

Antero Niittymaki, G, Flyers: He has been nothing but a fantasy tease since the lockout. So much potential, but wonky hips have prevented him from capturing and keeping the No. 1 job. The Flyers were sick of waiting and signed Martin Biron to be the No. 1, but Niittymaki is still there and looked great Saturday as he shut out the Rangers after Biron was pulled late in the first period. Three of the four goals Biron allowed could be called softies, and his stats after the first month of last season were far from inspiring. Right now, Biron is still the unquestioned No. 1, but it would take only a few more bad performances combined with solid play from Nittymaki to cause a controversy. If you want to try to stay ahead of the curve, add him to your bench now.

Alexandre Picard, D, Senators: The Sens haven't been getting crafty with their power play yet, icing their top line and top defensemen to make up the first unit. That has meant Picard has been manning the point with Filip Kuba for the majority of the Sens' time on the man advantage. Picard already has some familiarity with Kuba from practices in Tampa Bay, and the pair are performing an adequate job, Kuba with three power-play assists and Picard with a power-play tally.

Patric Hornqvist, RW, Predators: Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont have wasted no time getting into midseason form; each has four points through two contests. Although Hornqvist has yet to get in on the action, he is the even-strength linemate for the duo. He isn't quite a must-add yet, though, as Martin Erat takes his wing spot on the power play.

Aaron Voros, LW, Rangers: He has energy to spare and is somebody to roster in deep leagues right away. He brings a combination of adequate skill and above-average toughness to the Rangers' second line with Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev. I touted him in this year's Love/Hate, and I stand by the assertion that he could top both 20 points and 150 penalty minutes.

Mark Giordano, D, Flames: When you are paired with the best, good things will happen. Giordano has been tagging along with Dion Phaneuf, both on and off the power play. Only Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla have logged more power-play time in Calgary's first two games. Giordano has some modest offensive skills to boot, so consider him a decent pickup if you play in a league that starts five or more defensemen.

Storm's A Brewin'

Evgeni Nabokov, G, Sharks: This is just a slight drop. Nabokov was a workhorse last season, playing in 77 games. Brian Boucher gives the Sharks the reliable backup they lacked most of last season (until they acquired him). Boucher stopped all 21 shots he faced in his first start against L.A. Here's betting the Sharks are a lot less timid about resting Nabokov against weaker teams this season.

Dan Hamhuis, D, Predators: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have been playing the lion's share of power-play time for the Predators. That leaves Hamhuis waiting for an injury to have a chance at points. Even Kevin Klein and Ville Koistinen, who have played in only one of the Preds' two games so far, averaged more power-play ice time than Hamhuis.

Milan Michalek, LW, Sharks: There are few things in an NHL career as sweet as being planted on the wing of a center like Joe Thornton. Michalek has enjoyed the ride for a couple of seasons now, but it looks like his time is at an end. Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi appear to be locked in as Thornton's wingers to begin this season, with Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo relegated to the second line with Joe Pavelski. Cheechoo has the advantage of still being on the first power-play unit with Thornton, but poor Michalek has been left out. I don't know whether he is droppable yet, but he certainly isn't one of your best assets at this point.

Tobias Enstrom, D, Thrashers: After a breakout 38-point rookie season, Enstrom finds himself way down the Atlanta depth chart as the season begins. Mathieu Schneider and Ron Hainsey have averaged more than six minutes on the power play through the Thrashers' first two contests, while Enstrom isn't averaging half that. In fact, he's eighth on the team for power-play time so far. He doesn't have any upside outside of the power play, so his ownership in 25 percent of ESPN leagues is justified only through an injury to Schneider or Hainsey.

Alexander Frolov, LW, Kings: The Kings have decided to spread their assets to three lines to begin the season, and that means the fantasy-relevant players will have to rely on their power-play time to earn value. Trouble for Frolov is, he is the odd man out. Anze Kopitar, Patrick O'Sullivan, Dustin Brown, Tom Preissing and Jarret Stoll make up the first power-play unit, leaving Frolov with Oscar Moller, Michal Handzus, Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty. Not exactly an inspiring group. Frolov also is playing even strength on a line with Handzus and Wayne Simmonds. Yuck.

Philippe Boucher, D, Stars: Is Boucher really the Stars' choice as offensive defenseman while Sergei Zubov is on the shelf? It certainly doesn't look like it. Stephane Robidas has played more than twice the amount of time Boucher has on the power play through two games and has three points to Boucher's zero. In fact, Matt Niskanen is only 20 seconds behind Boucher for second place among Stars' defensemen for power-play time. Whether it has something to do with Boucher's health or another reason not yet known, it certainly is not an enjoyable trend for those who took him as a No. 2 defenseman.

Fabian Brunnstrom, LW, Stars: Those caught in the hype machine can't be happy to see Brunnstrom as a healthy scratch so James Neal can get in the lineup. You can safely drop Brunnstrom and pick him back up for the 2009-10 season, when he'll have an effect. He won't be of much use this season.

Tim Connolly, C, Sabres: Connolly, a consistent presence on the Sabres' injured reserve, is already out indefinitely with a hairline fracture of the vertebra. So much for hoping for the best with the potential point-per-game player. Consider revisiting the idea of him on your bench next month.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.