NHL Fantasy – Fantasy hockey primer for the Western Conference

NHL News


Labor Day is in the rearview mirror, and the NHL season is just one month away. A lot has changed in the league landscape since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in June, and to get you up to speed and ready for the fantasy season, we will preview all 31 NHL teams. Here is a look at need-to-know information for the Western Conference ahead of your fantasy hockey drafts, and be sure to check out our Eastern Conference preview, as well.


Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks

Saad and Toews reunite: After cycling through a variety of wingers this past season (see: Nick Schmaltz, Richard Panik, Marian Hossa, Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyler Motte, Artemi Panarin etc.), Jonathan Toews is probably grateful to have former linemate Brandon Saad back on his left side. While Saad maintained a similar scoring pace in his transition from Chicago to the Columbus Blue Jackets — in the neighborhood of 0.65 points/game — Toews experienced a tangible decline in the two seasons since they last played together. The renewed sense of consistency alone should see the Blackhawks’ captain settle around the 65-point mark once again. Also, look for Panik to reach a new productive high of 50-ish points if he manages to nail down a spot on the right side of Toews and Saad.

Panarin’s departure: Saad isn’t the only former Blackhawk forging a path back to Chicago. Signed to a one-year deal, veteran Patrick Sharp is tasked with filling the yawning void on Patrick Kane‘s line following the deal that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus. While Panarin and Kane forged superb chemistry as an exceptionally productive duo, combining for 346 points over only two seasons, we’re not anticipating too great a drop from the Blackhawks’ resident sniper. If anything, Sharp is poised for a serious bout of productive recovery. Coming off the most dismal season of his career, a campaign of just 18 points in 48 games, the 35-year-old veteran has nowhere to go but up. Sharp’s numbers should recover as long as that recently-repaired hip holds together.

Blue-line youth movement: Behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Michal Rozsival, the Blackhawks’ blue line is bursting with youthful promise — and inexperience. So while this young lot, which includes former Arizona Coyotes first-rounder Connor Murphy, is worth monitoring this season and beyond, anticipate some growing pains along the way. Keep that in mind in appraising Chicago’s No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford as a fantasy asset.

Colorado Avalanche

Duchene’s pending departure: Until the fog surrounding Matt Duchene‘s status in Colorado clears, there’s little point in prognosticating much; there are simply too many variables in play. According to the most recent rumor, Duchene is leaning toward avoiding camp, and GM Joe Sakic continues to demand a massive return for the speedy center. Beyond suggesting that center prospects Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher merit monitoring, we’re waiting this mess out.

Dallas Stars

Radulov’s role: Hours after the Stars signed Alexander Radulov to a five-year deal in early July, coach Ken Hitchcock was already hinting at skating the former Montreal Canadien on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. If that’s how the cookie ultimately crumbles in Texas, look out. Helping form one the most formidable lines in the league (on paper, anyway) should see Radulov easily better last season’s NHL renaissance of 54 points in 76 games. However, it won’t shock anyone if Hitchcock opts for a more balanced approach, choosing instead to slide Radulov on the right side of center Jason Spezza on the second unit. While that arrangement should also reap handsome dividends for both experienced forwards, the aforementioned top-line trio boasts the more explosive fantasy potential.

Bishop brings stability: The Stars are stronger between the pipes now than they have been in years. Through five seasons in Tampa Bay, Ben Bishop racked up a record of 131-64-20 with a 2.28 goals against average and .921 save percentage. Now he’s bringing that reliability to a Dallas squad starved for consistency in the crease. Hitchcock’s commitment to defensive play, along with the offseason trade for veteran blueliner Marc Methot, will only strengthen Bishop’s chance of putting up impressive numbers as Dallas’ undisputed No. 1. The 30-year-old should be a top-10 fantasy netminder in most conventional redraft leagues.

Minnesota Wild

Parise’s decline: Since joining his home state club in 2012, Zach Parise has fallen well short of equaling his most productive days with the New Jersey Devils. Still, few anticipated last season’s drop-off to a mere 42 points in 69 games. Pledging to rebound this season, the veteran winger will be afforded ample chance. Following an offseason in which management avoided major moves, Parise remains entrenched in the Wild’s top six and on the No. 1 power play. If he can remain healthy (which has become a concern over the past few seasons), the 33-year-old should again flirt with the 60-point plateau. But, it’s worth repeating, his health is a worry.

Potential breakout year for Eriksson Ek: Selected 20th overall in the 2015 draft, Joel Eriksson Ek notched seven points in his first 15 regular-season games in 2016-17 before enjoying a brief taste of playoff action. Now, the 20-year-old Swede is expected to take the next stride in securing a full-time gig out of camp. However, tucked behind fellow centermen Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu on the Wild’s depth chart, a third-line gig opens only if versatile forward Mikael Granlund sticks on the wing. So, barring serious injury down the middle, we’re probably a season or two away from seeing Eriksson Ek truly blossom.

Dubnyk’s workload: Only Edmonton’s Cam Talbot and Toronto’s Frederik Andersen played more games than Devan Dubnyk in 2016-17. L.A.’s Jonathan Quick solitarily topped Dubnyk in that category the previous season. Ideally for the organization, that trend ends in 2017-18. After the club fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs after racking up 106 points through 82 regular-season games, Minnesota’s bench is likely to reign in their No. 1, if at all possible. Perhaps the Wild give Dubnyk a lighter load of 55 games, rather than 65, opening the door for Niklas Svedberg or Alex Stalock to fill in more often. Fantasy managers targeting Dubnyk should adjust their expectations accordingly.

Nashville Predators

Bonino’s role: Scooting out from behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the Penguins’ depth chart, center Nick Bonino is finally offered the opportunity to prove his value as an everyday top-six center in Nashville. Following Mike Fisher‘s retirement, there’s little argument Bonino will get a shot at skating alongside Craig Fisher, who is himself pressed to reassert his value following a four-year decline, and perhaps even Filip Forsberg, and Bonino ought to see time on the man advantage. Look for the 29-year-old to easily bust through the 50-point mark for the first time in his new digs.

Fiala’s breakout potential: Presuming his once broken femur is right as rain by season’s opening, sophomore Kevin Fiala is tapped to bust out as a significant contributor in 2017-18. The newly James Neal-less Predators are hoping for as much, projecting the 21-year-old versatile winger into a regular top-six and power-play role. Selected 11th overall in 2014, it’s Fiala’s opportunity to take or leave, and fantasy players in deeper leagues should keep close watch on this potential dark horse in later rounds.

More Saros: Turning 35 years old this November and in the penultimate year of his current contract, Pekka Rinne — despite an outstanding showing this past playoff run — is entering the twilight of his pro career. Enter Juuse Saros, stage right. Through 21 appearances in his rookie season, the 22-year-old sported a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage. While a 50-50 tandem split with Rinne isn’t likely, the former Finnish Elite League Rookie of the Year (2013-14) is projected to see a larger chunk of playing time with the Predators in 2017-18.

St. Louis Blues

Schenn’s arrival: Acquired via trade with the Philadelphia Flyers, Brayden Schenn will be handed the plum chance to carve out a spot for himself within the Blues’ top six, either at center or on the wing. A slot on the club’s top power play alongside Vladimir Tarasenko is also within reach, which suggests last year’s 25-goal, 30-assist performance might even be improved upon.

Fabbri shifts to the middle: Before tearing his ACL in February, Robby Fabbri was enjoying a successful sophomore campaign with 11 goals and 18 assists in 51 games. Pegged to launch training camp at center and recovered from injury, the 21-year-old will be afforded even greater opportunity to make an impact within the Blues’ top six, particularly if Schenn sticks to the wing. Just be wary that with a promising youth movement gaining strength in St. Louis, including the likes of Zach Sanford, Dmitrij Jaskin, Ivan Barbashev, coach Mike Yeo is spoiled for choice up front.

Pietrangelo without Shattenkirk: Once defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was dealt to the Washington Capitals in late February, Alex Pietrangelo erupted for 18 points, including eight with the extra skater, on 55 shots in 20 games. He also averaged near 27 minutes of ice time per contest. Since the Blues have yet to pursue a figure resembling Shattenkirk 2.0, Pietrangelo should pick up this fall where he left off last spring, as the Blues’ top offensive defenseman on the top pairing and power play.

Winnipeg Jets

Connor’s potential: Not only does Kyle Connor have a solid shot at making the full-time jump to the NHL this season, but he could also snag a top-six gig in doing so. While veteran Mathieu Perreault might be the early favorite for the position, there’s wiggle room left of center for Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler on the second line. Selected 17th overall in 2015, Connor held his own in his first year as a pro, scoring 25 goals and 19 assists in 52 games with the Manitoba Moose (one year after lighting it up at the University of Michigan). The 20-year-old will also benefit from the experience of suiting up for 20 games with the Jets last season.

Trouba, post-contract brouhaha: Now that all involved have moved well past the contract dispute that sidelined Jacob Trouba for the first month of 2016-17, the young defenseman can go about building on an otherwise solid campaign. Playing second fiddle to fantasy heavyweight Dustin Byfuglien on the Jets’ blue line, the 23-year-old Trouba is set to at least equal last season’s 0.55 point/game pace while enhancing his power-play production well beyond a measly two goals and two assists.

Upgrade in Jets’ net: Don’t buy too much into the tandem talk in Winnipeg. Signed to a two-year deal this summer, Steve Mason has the early edge over Connor Hellebuyck for the starter’s job. While Mason endured a series of highs and lows in Philly these past five years, accruing a 2.47 goals against average and .918 save percentage altogether, a more potent offense and less porous defense in Manitoba should steady the 29-year-old’s numbers. By no means an elite fantasy netminder, Mason promises substantial value as a No. 2 option in most standard leagues.


Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks

Eaves’ encore: The re-signing of Patrick Eaves to a three-year deal proves that the Ducks were impressed enough following their limited relationship last spring. Now, whether the 33-year-old slots in again on Ryan Getzlaf‘s wing, as he did for a good part of last season’s 20-game stint following his trade from Dallas, is another matter. If so, Eaves is in position to build on the 11 goals and three assists that he accumulated through that span, before making an additional impact in the playoffs. If not, a role on the Ducks’ top power play might serve as minor consolation prize for invested fantasy owners.

Injury subs on ‘D’: Having both Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm out of commission to start the regular season throws the door wide open in Anaheim for a couple of enterprising defensemen. Look for Brandon Montour and Josh Manson to slide up the lineup and into power-play roles, while the above-mentioned proven puck movers recuperate from their respective shoulder surgeries. If nothing else, the standout from the two could serve as a bargain-value DFS asset. Keep an eye on how it temporarily shakes out.

Miller’s new role: Signing a two-year deal with the Ducks, Ryan Miller has clearly made peace with serving as understudy to close out his career, especially if it wins him a Cup. Unless 24-year-old John Gibson, who is coming off his best season in Anaheim (25-16, .924 save percentage, 2.22 goals against average), falls hurt, we won’t see much of the 37-year-old veteran. Mind you, having both Anaheim goalies on your own fantasy roster would serve as prized insurance should Gibson falter at some point.

Arizona Coyotes

Stepan’s arrival: Dealt from the New York Rangers to the Coyotes this offseason, Derek Stepan, still only 27 years old, takes over as the bonafide graybeard on a roster bursting with young, raw talent. Tapped to center a top line with dynamic wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair (or Tobias Rieder), Stepan should smoothly leap through the 60-point barrier for the first time since his NHL debut in 2010.

Here come the kids: Heading a list of promising up-and-comers, both Dylan Strome, 20, and Clayton Keller, 19, loosely project to earn NHL roster spots out of camp. They’ll either make the team or they won’t, as new head coach Rick Tocchet won’t bury either young forward in some limited, depth role. As such, we have Strome battling fellow young buck Christian Dvorak for the No. 2 center’s slot behind Stepan, and Keller could serve as a top-six winger right away. Selected third overall in 2015 and seventh overall in 2016, respectively, Strome and Keller present as long-term dynasty league assets with the capacity to pay out fantasy dividends almost immediately.

Improved defense: While no great fantasy force himself, former Chicago blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson brings his defense-first aptitude to an Arizona squad historically lacking in that sector. No one should be more grateful for this move than new No. 1 goalie Antti Raanta. Sparkling in limited action with the Rangers this past season (16-8-2, .922 save percentage, 2.27 goals against average), the 28-year-old is earning his first crack at running the show. Though he probably won’t mimic his numbers from The Big Apple, enhancements made to Coyotes all around, along with the young corps simply improving through experience, could result in a surprisingly successful year for Raanta. He might be worth a roll of the fantasy dice as a No. 2 or 3 netminder, depending on your league size.

Calgary Flames

Foo ready?: After signing Spencer Foo to a two-year, entry-level deal, the Flames are strongly suggesting the college standout will secure a gig at the NHL level this season. For his part, having chosen to sign with Calgary as a free agent, the 23-year-old forward clearly sees himself in the bigs through most, if not all, of 2017-18. While we’ll get a better sense of those odds through training camp, here is a premature proposal: Foo replaces fellow right wing Micheal Ferland on the right side of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. It isn’t wildly out of the question. The Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist amassed 26 goals and 36 assists in 38 games with Union College this past season.

New vet in net: After six years with the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in position to regularly backstop a club that isn’t one of the weakest defensively, leaguewide. Finishing middle of the pack in 2016-17 with an average of 2.67 goals allowed per game, the Flames will be further improved in that capacity with the acquisition of former Islanders blueliner Travis Hamonic, who joins an already strong corps of defensemen. Most agree that Smith has been a good-to-great goalie, generally hampered by competing for a developing team. If he remains healthy, the 35-year-old could quickly achieve a top-10 fantasy ranking in Calgary.

Edmonton Oilers

Depth up the middle: Although not carved in concrete, those running the Oilers’ show seem most interested in lining up Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle of the depth chart to start 2017-18, shifting Draisaitl from McDavid’s wing and bumping Nugent-Hopkins to the third line. While Draisaitl, last season’s breakout star, has already proven he’s able to produce habitually outside the company of the reigning Hart Memorial Trophy winner, RNH is due for a statistical decline under such a demotion. Mind you, the Oilers should be stronger as a whole, if this strategy works.

Strome’s fresh start: If all goes to plan as outlined above, that leaves newbie Ryan Strome as the top option to skate on McDavid’s right wing (allowing for Patrick Maroon‘s imposing presence on the left side). All those who criticized the recent deal that sent Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Strome might give pause if that’s indeed how the dominoes fall. Clearly in need of a fresh start after four up and down years with the Isles, the former fifth overall draft pick (2011) is still only 24 years old and has yet to reach his forecast potential. Competing with the best player on the planet will undoubtedly aid in that regard.

Los Angeles Kings

Cammalleri comeback: After stops in Calgary, Montreal, Calgary again and New Jersey, veteran forward Michael Cammalleri is returning to the club that first drafted him more 16 years ago. Following up an awful season with the Devils, the 35-year-old sniper should enjoy greater scoring success, flanking either center Jeff Carter or Anze Kopitar (who’s anticipating a bounce-back campaign after making a greater commitment to offseason conditioning) in a top-six role. Unfortunately, Cammalleri’s questionable health remains an enduring issue that will scare off more than a few fantasy owners. He has averaged just slightly more than 50 games in his past two campaigns.

San Jose Sharks

Marleau’s substitute: Young Timo Meier seems like the early favorite to physically replace Patrick Marleau in the Sharks’ lineup, following the 19-year veteran’s signing with the Leafs. No pressure, kid. The 20-year-old, who was born a handful of months before Marleau was drafted by the Sharks in 1997, has attracted the spotlight since his top-10 selection in 2015. We’ll soon see if he justifies all that attention, given the chance to skate alongside top-six center Logan Couture and with the man advantage. Unless Meier flounders early in training camp, this Swiss dark horse certainly deserves a later-round flier in deeper fantasy leagues.

Vancouver Canucks

Vanek’s chance: Inked to a one-year deal, veteran Thomas Vanek will get ample chance to strut his stuff on a scoring line with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. In addition, the veteran winger will be tasked, along with fellow newbie Sam Gagner, to help improve the league’s worst power play (14.1 percent) outside of Colorado. If he succeeds in both capacities, Vanek could be in for a bang-up campaign. Remember, the 33-year-old slid under the fantasy radar with 38 points in 48 games in Detroit before his trade to the Panthers last season.

Boeser’s role: Of the Canucks’ young bucks ready to make an impact in 2017-18, Brock Boeser prematurely offers the most promise, especially if he settles in on a scoring line with Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat, as was the case in this past season’s nine-game sample. Scoring four goals and one assist in that limited span should at least earn the 2015 first-rounder a solid opportunity in camp.

Vegas Golden Knights

Oh, where to start?: Well, I guess a good spot to start is with the guy who, despite having yet to play a single minute in the NHL, is already fixed to fill the No. 1 center’s role with a club that has yet to suit up together. Bouncing off his most successful season in the KHL (76 points in 50 games with St. Petersburg SKA) 30-year-old Vadim Shipachyov presents as a full-fledged wild card in making the leap to the ground floor of the Vegas expansion club. If they forge palpable chemistry, the scribbled top trio of Shipachyov, James Neal, and Jonathan Marchessault could be some sort of productive force. If not, they won’t last together long. It’s equally exciting and unpredictable.

Special teams’ standout: If you can stomach the predictably unsavory plus/minus rating, former Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore could offer exceptional dark-horse return for your fantasy investment. Poised to skate on the Knights’ top pair and anchor the No. 1 power play with the likes of Shipachyov, Marchessault and Neal, the 22-year-old former first-rounder is in position to contribute to the scoreboard regularly in his first full NHL campaign.

It could get ugly: Parting ways with the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins for an expansion team on the ground floor should prove to be a rough transition for Marc-Andre Fleury. Dubbed the Knights’ inaugural No. 1 goaltender, the 32-year-old veteran is going to face a lot of shots and play (read: lose) a lot of games, which hints at a robust save percentage and not much else to reward fantasy competitors.



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