Those of you who participate in fantasy football know how intense of a pursuit that can be, particularly in the way that it manages to stay a relevant topic even during the off-season. Fantasy hockey does not get the same type of coverage, but I can’t think of a good reason why it shouldn’t, so I’m making it my personal goal to consistently provide fantasy analysis throughout the summer, starting now.
As the season draws closer, which seems weird to say while the playoffs are still in progress, coverage will undoubtedly become more frequent. For now, I’ll try to get something out on a bi-weekly basis.
With that out of the way, welcome to the first installment of Fantasy Fliers. In the future, things will be more categorical and list-like in nature, but I’ll take as my focus here one player in particular who is worth keeping an eye on during the coming months.
Alexander Radulov, RW, 24 – Ufa Salavat Yulayev (Rights owned by Nashville)
The reigning KHL scoring champion is widely considered to be one of the top offensive talents playing outside the NHL. Coming off a season in which he put up 80 points in 54 games, a KHL record, and was a key factor in Ufa’s capturing of the Gagarin Cup, the league’s Stanley equivalent, Radulov is playing some of the best hockey of his career and enjoying star status at home. His relationship with Ufa has been a good one, as he’s been well compensated financially for his high quality of play there and signed a contract extension last fall that extends through 2014 and lacks an NHL-out clause, seemingly committing his short-term future to staying overseas.
It’s ironic, then, that financial concerns, which caused Radulov to head for richer soil at home three years ago, are what may be propelling him back to the NHL. Ufa’s championship roster is rapidly being dismantled as a result of budget issues (see Dmitry Chesnokov’s great Yahoo article here for more detail) and rather than seeking a new home in the KHL, there is a good chance Radulov will return to the NHL to give the best league in the world another crack, which is good news for Predator fans, and NHL fans in general, because he’s one exciting player to watch.
Radulov plays a style of game that is driven above all by skill and speed. He is able to create space for himself with shifty stickhandling and evasive skating and possesses an elite wristshot that he utilizes frequently. He has the ability to create offense by deking off the rush but is equally effective when his team sets up in the offensive zone, and can usually be found between the circles looking to create chances from the high slot after taking the puck there from the outside or finishing plays after finding open space down low. His passing ability is top-notch, but he generally prefers to quarterback the offense and has a tendency to be selfish with the puck.
Where Radulov differs from many similarly gifted forwards is in his chippiness, as he proved himself willing to take the to cut across the middle or crash the net for rebounds during his first NHL stint, when motivated. When he finds the balance between anger and precision, he is nearly unstoppable and has the ability to take over a game, but has illustrated a propensity in the past to let his frustration boil over, resulting in poor penalties and dirty hits. He’s inconsistent and frequently outworked along the boards and in his defensive zone, where he focuses more on restarting the offense than keeping the puck out of his net. Determination is an issue, as he tends to get visibly frustrated and can be taken off his game if checked tightly by his opposition.
In his second and final NHL season before heading overseas, Radulov posted 26 goals and 58 points in 81 games, ranking third on the Predators in both categories. With three more quality professional seasons under his belt and a better quality group of teammates to play with, Radulov could feasibly produce numbers that are in the same ballpark, if not better, making him relevant in fantasy leagues of every scale and format. The Predators have been sorely lacking a dynamic player; Radulov would instantly become their most dangerous offensive weapon.