Hot starts that matter

Tanner Pearson, center, has picked up where he left off this past spring. AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

It's the finest of lines that fantasy owners have to walk early in the hockey season. While overreacting is the more commonly discussed concern, underreacting is just as much of a problem. Underreacting early last season could have prevented you from enjoying the successes of Ryan Johansen, Victor Hedman or Semyon Varlamov.

You don't want to overrate a hot start and you don't want to underrate a hot start. It's really a delicate balance. Remember to always fall back on skill and opportunity as your baselines for evaluation. Most of the time, they won't let you down.

With that in mind, let's look at some hot starts that should not be overlooked:

Tanner Pearson, F, Los Angeles Kings: It's possible you may look at Marian Gaborik's absence from the top line and Pearson barely skating 10 minutes per night and wonder if you should invest in acquiring the latter's services. Don't discount what this sophomore can bring to the table. He has multiple seasons of chemistry with linemate Tyler Toffoli at the AHL level, and Jeff Carter seems to be the perfect veteran presence for the two young players. Through six games, Pearson has collected seven points and a plus-7 rating. The pace will slow down once opponents realize they need to concentrate on this line as much as they do Anze Kopitar's line, but this trio is a solid investment for fantasy owners. Don't write off Pearson due to the low ice time.

T.J. Brodie, D, Calgary Flames: He's just drafting off Mark Giordano, right? Yes and no. Yes, Brodie benefits directly from skating with Giordano both on and off the power play. But no, it isn't just a matter of drafting off his value. Brodie brings his own offensive skills to the table from a playmaking perspective. He doesn't have the goal-scoring instinct, but has a resume of collecting assists at every level of the game on his way up to the NHL. There are plenty of other defensemen out there craving your early-season attention, so it's easy to overlook Brodie in the mix. But with more than 27 minutes of ice time on some nights and a role at the top of the depth chart, he is deserving of a roster spot in every league.

Mason Raymond, F, Calgary Flames: The Flames came into this season with a bag full of offensively gifted but generally raw forwards. We knew one or two gems would be pulled out based on line assignments and depth chart, we just didn't know exactly which ones it would be. Early returns would make Raymond a favorite, and it's easier to get excited about him because we have some history of fantasy success. Raymond scored 25 goals once upon a time with the Vancouver Canucks and, after a couple of seasons of struggling with injury and opportunity, potted 19 last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is one of the more experienced of the Flames' forwards, and is definitely one of the fastest. Playing with a budding Joe Colborne at center, Raymond already has five goals this season. Someone is going to lead this Flames offense, and it is easy to envision Raymond being among those leaders.

Forward value shifts

Scott Hartnell, F, Columbus Blue Jackets (down 17 spots to No. 82): An editorial cartoon might picture the Blue Jackets players surrounding Nick Foligno and praising his performance with Hartnell sitting in the background grumbling to himself. Playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen has resulted in Foligno scoring seven points through five games as he plays the role of "physical presence" on that top trio. Unfortunately for Hartnell (and his fantasy owners), that was supposed to be his job. That may have been the case if it had been a normal training camp and preseason, but Johansen's contract dispute and a slew of injuries left the lines to be assembled the day of the season opener. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, you can see we aren't writing Hartnell off completely yet, but for the downward trend to reverse, the return of Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky in November will have to shake things up in Hartnell's favor.

Patric Hornqvist, F, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 30 spots to No. 44): A top 50 ranking is actually pretty lofty for a player who is clearly and entirely a star by association. But just as Chris Kunitz has become a fantasy mainstay as a top forward, there is clearly enough to go around to have Hornqvist as an elite asset, as well. The eight points in four games are one thing; it's the 28 shots on goal (including a whopping 12 on Saturday) that are truly exciting.

Mike Cammalleri, F, New Jersey Devils (up 27 spots to No. 102): He'll score 40 goals if he doesn't get hurt, although if recent history is any guide, he will get hurt. He always gets hurt. The last time Cammalleri nearly managed an 82-game season, it was the 2008-09 campaign, and he scored 39 goals in 81 games. His pace of five goals through five games this season is not completely unsurprising. He is the top winger for New Jersey, and is shooting like it is going out of style. But we just can't rank him too high this soon given the potential for missed time. If Cammalleri climbs the ranks to the elite, it will be done over time, as he proves he can stay on the ice.

Defenseman value shift

James Wisniewski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets (down 29 spots to No. 77): The Blue Jackets are being somewhat equitable with ice time for defensemen this season, and that is not a good thing for fantasy owners invested in Wisniewski. Power-play time was handed out fairly evenly among Wisniewski, Tim Erixon, David Savard and Jack Johnson on Saturday. That's not to mention that Ryan Murray is expected to make his debut sometime this week. Murray, remember, is expected to take on an expanded offensive role this season as he grows into a true top-pairing defenseman. The question mark is whether the other half of that top pairing is Wisniewski. We can push Wisniewski back up the rankings if Murray comes back and ice time begins to look like it did last season for the defensemen in Columbus, but until then, there are concerns.

Goaltender value shift

Frederik Andersen, G, Anaheim Ducks (up 56 spots to No. 130): Sing the praises of John Gibson's maturity in asking for some starts in the AHL all you want, but Andersen has clearly won this battle. The war isn't over, but Andersen can ride the starting gig for as long as he is able to do so. We know he is skilled enough based on last season's numbers, it's just a matter of whether he can handle the workload. If you gambled on the Ducks' goaltending tandem and had Andersen on your team, you won the jackpot. Assuming there isn't a hiccup in the next week, Andersen should settle into a ranking among the low-end No. 1 fantasy goaltenders.

Quick hits

Jonathan Drouin is up with the Tampa Bay Lightning now, and we'll watch for whether he lines up with Steven Stamkos. If all goes as expected, lift Drouin and downgrade Ondrej Palat accordingly.

• Everyone is talking about Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz after the breakout game on Saturday. That's cool. Both of them are very useful fantasy players. But you should quietly pick up Jori Lehtera. He was the catalyst between them.

• Speaking of the Blues' explosion on Saturday, it should be noted that Brian Elliott is 1-3, while Jake Allen is 1-0. If Elliott doesn't turn his record around at some point, he won't be able to fend off Allen.


Paul Stastny, F, St. Louis Blues: It's not clear if Stastny's wrist injury will keep him out for an extended period of time. If he does need to miss time, look for the old gang to get back together on the top line: Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie. That combo would be to the significant benefit of Oshie.

Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dallas Stars: Watch for Nichushkin on a waiver wire near you. His placement on injured reserve for a lingering groin injury might make an impatient owner drop him. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are still his likely linemates once healthy, though.

Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: The hand injury doesn't sound good at all. But before reacting, we want to hear a proper prognosis. That said, Jason Garrison would be in for some sleeper value if Hedman is out for an extended period of time.

And now, the weekly update to my top 250, end-of-season rankings, including each player's spot among players at their position, as well as their most recent spot in the rankings:

Updated Fantasy Hockey Top 250

Note: Sean Allen's top 250 players are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies.