Stanley Cup Playoffs fantasy pool preview: Western Conference

James van Riemsdyk was magic with one hand, Conor Sheary scored after some pretty passing and Jordan Eberle put one home while falling.

Playoff pool strategy is pretty straight forward. You want to pick players off teams primed to go deep into the post-season. Not too many people have won playoff pools with players all eliminated in Round 1. Of course, because this strategy is straightforward, everyone in your pool will be employing it. You won’t just be able to snag the best players off of the favourites and call it a day. You’ll need to find undervalued players off of the favourites and also pick players off of some underdog teams.

Before looking at players to focus on for your draft, let’s first run down some tips to help your draft strategy:

1. Don’t spread yourself too thin.

While having a player off every single team is a good way to ensure you have a stake in the game all the way to the end, it’s also a good way to ensure you finish middle of the pack. While your team won’t be terrible it also won’t be awesome. Playoff pools are a boom/bust proposition. If you aren’t first, you’re last.

2. If you count goalies, pick goalies early.

Every scoring system is different but typically there are big rewards for goalie wins in playoff pools. Odds are if you get a goalie off of a Conference finalist he will be a top-10 scorer in that playoff pool.

3. Key in on players who see power-play time.

Scoring in the NHL is hard. Scoring in the NHL playoffs is even harder. Every power-play opportunity is huge. You want guys who get minutes while the opposition is short-handed.

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Now let’s look at the Western Conference:

Chicago Blackhawks

Starting Goalie: Corey Crawford

Top Five Scorers

Patrick Kane

Artemi Panarin

Jonathan Toews

Duncan Keith

Marian Hossa

Playoff Stud: Patrick Kane

It’s the Blackhawks so we could probably put half the roster into this slot but we’ll take Kane who has amassed 121 points in 123 career playoff games, a devastating track record on the game’s biggest stage.

Playoff Dud: Marcus Kruger

One of the few pieces of the Blackhawks’ core who lacks big-time playoff numbers but that’s because his job is to shut down the opposition and he is great at it. Still, because Kruger is a long-time Blackhawk and the Blackhawks are the top seed out West there may be a temptation to snag a known commodity. Kruger is known but not for points, look elsewhere.

Top Power-Play Unit: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, Richard Panik, Duncan Keith

Second Power-Play Unit: Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook

Sleeper: Richard Panik

Fantasy hockey players will remember Panik for his surge of goal-scoring back in October. While he was up-and-down all season he found a home on the top power-play unit in the second half scoring 11 goals and 21 points in 27 games after the all-star break. He is coming in hot!

While Panik does not have a long track record of playoff scoring at the NHL level (three points in eight games) he was a big scorer for Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in two runs to the Calder Cup final in 2012 and 2013 scoring 14 goals and 20 points in 34 games.

Two Dark Horses:

Artem Anisimov

Nick Schmaltz

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Minnesota Wild

Starting Goalie: Devan Dubnyk

Top Five Scorers

Mikael Granlund

Eric Staal

Mikko Koivu

Nino Niederreiter

Charlie Coyle

Top Power-Play Unit: Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Jared Spurgeon

Second Power-Play Unit: Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba

Playoff Stud: Zach Parise

Playoff Parise is a thing. He has cranked things up for the Wild in the past two post-seasons averaging a point per game in each of their second-round runs. For his career, Parise has a playoff scoring rate of 0.76 points per game with 68 points in 89 career games, and he has a Cup Final on his track record.

Parise is coming off of his worst regular season since his rookie year but still compiled a reasonable 19 goals and 41 points, while battling injuries and even a bout of the mumps. He should be healthy just in time for another playoff push.

Playoff Dud: Ryan Suter

Suter carries the No. 1 defenceman label and it is well-earned but he simply does not produce points like one. That has been especially true in the playoffs where he has just 26 points in 73 career games. Suter is more focused on keeping pucks out of his own net than on getting pucks in the opposition’s net. That’s fine, it just won’t help you in your playoff pool.

Sleeper: Erik Haula

Haula’s playoff track record is unassailable. Despite being predominantly a fourth-liner Haula has scored six goals and 12 points in 20 NHL playoff games through his first three seasons.

Two Dark Horses:

Joel Eriksson Ek

Martin Hanzal

St. Louis Blues

Starting Goalie: Jake Allen

Top Five Scorers:

Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz

Alex Steen

Alex Pietrangelo

David Perron

Top Power-Play Unit: Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo

Second Power-Play Unit: Ivan Barbashev, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Colton Parayko, Jordan Schmaltz

Playoff Stud: Vladimir Tarasenko

On a team known for playoff disappointment Tarasenko has been anything but scoring 19 goals and 26 points in 33 career NHL playoff games. If there’s been anything disappointing about Tarasenko in the playoffs it’s that Ken Hitchcock didn’t use him enough, particularly when nursing leads. Mike Yeo has loosened the reins, using Tarasenko more in crunch time. This could help add to his already stacked playoff credentials.

Playoff Dud: Alex Steen
We’ve got a long list to choose from here but Steen takes the cake having failed to produce in multiple playoff flameouts. Even in last year’s trip to the Conference finals Steen scored just 10 points in 20 games. Overall, he has 24 points in 51 career playoff games.

Sleeper: Ivan Barbashev

It’s a shame that Robby Fabbri is out because he was a breakout performer in last year’s post-season. The top candidate on the Blues to fill those shoes is rookie Ivan Barbashev. He doesn’t even crack the top 10 for the most electric rookies this season but that’s only because this rookie class is STACKED.

Barbashev doesn’t see many minutes and frequently gets shutout of power-play time but he is second on the team in points/60 at 5-on-5 behind only Tarasenko. He is a dynamic offensive talent scoring at an exceptional rate in the minutes he does receive, which is reminiscent of Fabbri going into last season’s playoffs.

Two Dark Horses:

Paul Stastny

Vladimir Sobotka

Nashville Predators

Starting Goalie: Pekka Rinne

Top Five Scorers:

Viktor Arvidsson

Ryan Johansen

Filip Forsberg

Roman Josi

Mike Fisher

Top Power-Play Unit: Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Roman Josi

Second Power-Play Unit: Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban

Playoff Stud: P.K. Subban

Never shy of the spotlight, Subban has produced in the playoffs throughout his career starting as a rookie back in 2010. He has never produced less than a 0.5-points-per-game pace during any professional post-season run, racking up 38 points in 55 NHL playoff games. He has slid into more of a secondary role in Nashville but expect Subban to continue to bring his A game on the biggest stage.

Playoff Dud: Filip Forsberg

Consider this more of a “buyer beware” situation. Forsberg was largely held off the board during last year’s second-round run scoring just four points in 14 games but was much more explosive in his first NHL playoff experience scoring six points in six games. It’s been a mixed bag but Forsberg fell short as a No. 1 option last season and has experienced an up-and-down season.

Sleeper: Colin Wilson

Wilson could easily slot into the “Playoff Stud” category after piling up 10 goals in 20 playoff games over the past two playoffs. For his career, Wilson has 20 points in 33 NHL playoff games but 18 of those came in the last 20 games. With 17 points in 30 games since the all-star break, Wilson is trending up at just the right time.

Two Dark Horses:

Viktor Arvidsson

Ryan Ellis

Anaheim Ducks

Starting Goalie: John Gibson

Top Five Scorers:

Ryan Getzlaf

Ryan Kesler

Corey Perry

Rickard Rakell

Jakob Silfverberg

Top Power-Play Unit: Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Eaves, Jakob Silfverberg, Shea Theodore

Second Power-Play Unit: Rickard Rakell, Corey Perry, Antoine Vermette, Brandon Montour, Sami Vatanen

Playoff Stud: Ryan Getzlaf

Getzlaf and Perry have won at every single level and have had some dominant playoff performances. Getzlaf has been particularly lethal in the post-season with 99 points in 104 career playoff games. Never forget that Getzlaf is a playoff stud.

Playoff Dud: Rickard Rakell

It’s hard to hold Rakell’s first two playoff appearances against him since he was a youngster breaking into the league but netting just two points in a tight seven-game upset at the hands of the Predators puts Rakell squarely in the “dud” category. For his career Rakell has just five points in 27 NHL playoff games. He did just breakout for 32 goals. Perhaps he can also breakout of his playoff funk.

Sleeper: Jakob Silfverberg

This isn’t much of a sleeper as Silfverberg’s clutch play has been known since he ran roughshod over the SHL in his final season in Sweden ultimately claiming the MVP for both the regular season and the playoffs. It took him a couple of seasons to settle into the NHL but he has put up big numbers in the Ducks’ last two playoff runs, scoring 23 points in 23 games.

Silfverberg finally broke the 40-point barrier this season setting a career high with 48 points. He has also found himself on the Ducks’ top power-play unit just in time for the playoffs.

Two Dark Horses:

Patrick Eaves

Andrew Cogliano

Edmonton Oilers

Starting Goalie: Cam Talbot

Top Five Scorers:

Connor McDavid

Leon Draisaitl

Milan Lucic

Jordan Eberle

Patrick Maroon

Top Power-Play Unit: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom

Second Power-Play Unit: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Patrick Maroon, Drake Caggiula, Andrej Sekera

Playoff Stud: Patrick Maroon

In 29 career playoff games Maroon has scored nine goals and 18 points. He was predominantly a depth player for the Ducks during his time in Anaheim but it seemed he would find his way onto the top line come playoff time as the physicality ramped up. There won’t be any surprises this time around as Maroon has established his place on the Oilers’ top line.

Playoff Dud: Benoit Pouliot
Most of the Oilers haven’t seen any playoff action, which could make them duds in a sense but we’ll give guys like Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid a pass and instead pick on Pouliot who hasn’t done much with his playoff appearances over the years amassing just 14 points in 54 career playoff games.

Sleeper: Mark Letestu

He doesn’t have an extensive track record of scoring in the playoffs but he’s never had a role as big as the one he has in Edmonton. He is their go-to faceoff man used in all situations, including on the top power-play unit. Simply through volume of minutes, we could see Letestu put up some numbers.

Two Dark Horses:

Zack Kassian

Oscar Klefbom

San Jose Sharks

Starting Goalie: Martin Jones

Top Five Scorers

Brent Burns

Joe Pavelski

Logan Couture

Joe Thornton

Patrick Marleau

Top Power-Play Unit: Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns

Second Power-Play Unit: Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi, David Schlemko, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Playoff Stud: Logan Couture

Couture has been money in the playoffs including an explosive performance during their Cup Final run with 30 points in 24 games. Couture is on the mend after getting a bunch of teeth knocked out but should be ready to go come playoff time.

Playoff Dud: Marc-Edouard Vlasic

If you were expecting to see Joe Thornton here, guess again. Anyone with a 0.78-points-per-game average in the playoffs is a stud, not a dud. The only question with Thornton is if he is healthy.

Vlasic isn’t really known for scoring. He’s a shutdown defenceman who can chip in with modest point totals and he’s one of the best. Naturally, he hasn’t produced many points in the playoffs with 26 points in 108 career playoff games. Nearly half of those came in their Cup Final run last season. Vlasic has never had a season more productive than last year. It was his peak. Vlasic continued to boast wide ownership in fantasy leagues this season off the back of last year’s performance, which shows people still have faith in what he can do. Lower your expectations.

Sleeper: Joel Ward

Ward will earn this spot on an annual basis until he fails to produce. The 36-year-old has out-performed his regular season scoring rate in each of his last six playoff appearances amassing 48 points in 77 career playoff games. He is coming off his worst regular season in years but that hasn’t stopped him before.

Two Dark Horses:

Joonas Donskoi

Tomas Hertl

Calgary Flames

Starting Goalie: Brian Elliott

Top Five Scorers

Johnny Gaudreau

Sean Monahan

Mikael Backlund

Dougie Hamilton

Matthew Tkachuk

Top Power-Play Unit: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, T.J. Brodie

Second Power-Play Unit: Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Matthew Tkachuk, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano

Playoff Stud: Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau lived up to the hype in his only trip to the NHL playoffs scoring four goals and nine points in 11 games. He’s no shrinking violet.

Playoff Dud: Troy Brouwer

Brouwer had a huge post-season for the Blues last spring, but otherwise, his playoff track record is dismal. Brouwer was brought to Calgary to play with Gaudreau and Monahan but hasn’t been able to stick, losing his gig to Micheal Ferland.

Sleeper: Micheal Ferland

Not only has Ferland grabbed the top-line gig but he has skated on the top power play unit as well. Ferland stepped up with three goals and five points in nine games as a rookie during the Flames’ playoff run two years ago and threatens to have an even better playoff this time around.

Two Dark Horses:

Michael Frolik

T.J. Brodie

Steve Laidlaw is the Managing Editor of DobberHockey. Follow him on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.

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