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2011-12 Draft Prep: Atlantic Division preview

by | Rotowire.com
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The NHL landscape has changed drastically over the past five weeks, including the NHL Entry Draft, free agency, and teams' prospect development camps. With that in mind we will begin a series of articles looking at each division on a team-by-team basis to discern the important alterations that affect Fantasy Hockey. We will look at departures, additions and those rookies/prospects that are knocking on the proverbial door for roster spots.

This examination will not cover every player movement but rather those that are considered more pertinent for roto players. Thus don't be overly concerned if some fourth liners, backup goalies and sixth and seventh defensemen are omitted.

New Jersey Devils

Departures: Anssi Salmela
Arrivals: Adam Larsson, Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen
Knocking: Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Adam Henrique, Alexander Urbom

Due to the large contracts of Brian Rolston ($5.06 million), Dainius Zubrus ($3.40 million) and David Clarkson ($2.67 million), this trio is basically impossible to trade away and thus take up a third of the team's top nine forward ranks. This makes it extremely hard for many of the top Devils' prospects to get a proper opportunity. Nick Palmieri is the exception as his latter season play with New Jersey (he finished the season playing on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac while overall registering nine goals and 17 points in 43 games) has elevated him to possible first line deployment. Those linemates for a full season would put the big (6-2, 212) right wing in deep sleeper territory with 20 goal/40 point upside.

If you add the three deadweight contracts together with 22-year-old Palmieri there's five spots left. Now include Kovalchuk, Zajac, restricted free agent Zach Parise and Patrik Elias. That leaves one spot available between Tedenby, Josefson, and Henrique. Whoever wins out will not be fantasy relevant this season barring a major rash of injuries. Tedenby and Josefson played together last season and could form 2/3 of the fourth line along with either Boulton or Janssen. Incidentally, the duo of Bouton and Janssen should free up more time and energy for Clarkson to try to re-discover his modest scoring touch, as with those two brutes around Clarkson shouldn't be called on for his pugilistic skills nearly as often as years past. Henrique projects as a potential future No. 2 center. The 21-year-old scored 25 goals and 50 points in 73 games last season for Albany of the AHL in his first season as a pro after amassing 111 goals and 228 points in 238 games in junior for Windsor of the OHL.

The Devils' blueline remains steady but unspectacular. They re-signed Andy Greene and Matt Taormina while letting Anssi Salmela walk. The biggest change is the addition of rookie Adam Larsson, who's already completed two full seasons in the Swedish Elite league (SEL). Larsson, taken fourth overall in June's NHL Entry draft, is expected to make the Devils as an 18-year-old rookie. Larsson had 26 points in 87 SEL games and four points in six games playing for Team Sweden at the 2011 World Junior Championships. As the Devils were frugal (shocking) in free agency when it came to signing offensive defensemen, Larsson should see power play time immediately. Moreover, before drafting Larsson the Devils may have been the only NHL team without a draft worthy D-man for standard 12-team leagues that start five defensemen. Andy Greene was supposed to be draft worthy last season, coming off a 37-point season in 2009-10, but he was abysmal in registering a mere 23 points in 82 games along with a dreadful minus-23. Greene and Larsson are the best fantasy bets among Devils D-men this season, but whether that translates into fantasy relevance in 12-team leagues remains to be seen. Matt Taormina, who had 50 points in 75 games for the Devils' AHL affiliate in 2009-10, started the season well for New Jersey with five points in 17 games, then fell to injury. Urbom is a promising big (6-5, 210) Swede who is perhaps a year away from a viable top-six role and could be fantasy relevant down the road.

New York Islanders

Departures: Doug Weight
Arrivals: Marty Reasoner
Knocking: Nino Neiderreiter

Unless Alexei Yashin comes back (is the contract offer real or just a favor by owner Charles Wang to his friend who fleeced him with indifferent play and a $17 million buyout?), there is no July free-agent impact on the Isles' top nine forwards. Meanwhile leading prospect Nino Neiderreiter faces a battle to crack the top nine despite scoring 41 goals in 55 games for Portland of the WHL last season. While there's no reason to rush the Swiss-born sniper, as he'll only turn 19 in September, the other stumbling block is Trent Hunter and his $2 million cap hit. The Isles will find it hard to find a taker for Hunter, as he's scored just 38 goals combined over the past four seasons (215 games) after scoring 36 goals between 2005-06 and 2006-07 (152 games) and he's coming back from a torn MCL in his left knee. The best-case scenario for the Isles and Neiderreiter would be if they can put Hunter on the long-term injury list.

Defensively, Mark Streit is expected back this season and will anchor the power play once again. Streit averaged 56 points per year over the past three seasons leading up to last year, which he missed entirely due to a major shoulder injury which required surgery last October. Andrew MacDonald (27 points in 60 games) and Travis Hamonic (26 points in 62 games) will compete for the other point spot on the first power play unit.

Al Montoya is an intriguing sleeper goalie for three reasons: first, he played very well last season and revived his career at the age of 26; second, Rick DiPietro has played just 39 games in the last three seasons; third, the Isles look like a team on the upswing and has a potentially potent top three lines and power-play. Montoya is worthy of a latter round pick as a speculative No. 3 or 4 fantasy goalie.

New York Rangers

Departures: Bryan McCabe, Vaclav Prospal, Chris Drury, Alex Frolov, Matt Gilroy
Additions: Brad Richards, Tim Erixon, Mike Rupp
Knocking: Pavel Valentenko

The Rangers landed easily the best center and offensive player in free agency. Richards' arrival also bodes well for Marian Gaborik. The big question heading into training camp is who plays left wing on the first line with them? Whoever wins out is automatically a person of interest in 12+ team leagues. It would seem foolish to break up one of the more promising second line combos (Brandon Dubinsky-Ryan Callahan) in hockey so it should come down to a choice between Wojtek Wolski, Derek Stepan or Sean Avery. The second line, probably Anisimov-Dubinsky-Callahan, could really flourish with all the attention focused on the Richards line.

The Blueshirts will be fairly green on defense this year with 27-year-old Dan Girardi expected to be the oldest among the proposed top six. While Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonough and Michael Sauer form a young but steady top four the other two remaining spots are likely to be taken from this trio of very young defensemen: Tim Erixon (20), Michael Del Zotto (21), and Pavel Valentenko (23).

Erixon, a Swedish national who was born in New York state while his father Jan Erixon played for the Rangers in the early 90's, was the 23rd player taken in the 2009 draft. Erixon has already completed three full seasons in the Swedish Elite league, registering 24 points in 48 games last season for Skelleftea HC. Del Zotto scored 37 points in 80 games as a 19-year-old for the Rangers back in 2009-10. The Rangers hope it's a case of one step back to make two steps forward, as they kept him in the AHL for a significant portion of last season to have him work on improving his defensive zone coverage – he was a minus-20 in '09-10. MDZ was a plus-11 in 47 games last season for the Rangers, though his numbers (11 points) slipped despite receiving similar power play time. Valentenko led the Blueshirts' AHL team in plus-minus and blocked shots last season. He's built for the North American game at 6-2, 220, and plays with an edge that will serve him well in the NHL.

In case one or more of this trio isn't quite ready yet for full-time NHL duty the Rangers brought back veteran Steve Eminger, who played 65 games last season and finished as a minus-5 with 143 hits and 103 shot blocks.

Philadelphia Flyers

Departures: Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg, Nikolai Zherdev, Brian Boucher, Daniel Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Sean O'Donnell
Additions: Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn
Knocking: Brayden Schenn, Erik Gustafsson

With Richards and Carter gone there will be more ice time and power play time for Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Jagr is a fossil yet he could still score 20-25 goals and 55-60 points. That would make him a No. 2 or No.3 right wing in most roto leagues. Jakub Voracek could be Ville Leino's replacement on the Briere-Hartnell line with numbers (20goals/50points) a bit less than Jagr, who should draw the right wing spot on the first power play unit over his younger countrymen. Simmonds is a gritty third-line winger at this point with 15-goal/45-point upside. The blue-chip prospect Schenn will probably start slowly, like most rookies 20 or under usually do.

Bryzgalov was already a top-five fantasy goalie but now he has a shot at more wins with an improved forward ranks compared to Phoenix. One major caveat is the health of Chris Pronger, who, when healthy, is easily the best defenseman on the team and provides a level of physical intimidation unmatched by any other Flyer (defensemen or otherwise). While the six-foot six rearguard is expected to make a complete recovery from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in May, it's almost certain that he won't be ready to play at the start of the season. Pronger, who will turn 37 in early October, suffered numerous injuries last season causing him to miss 32 games. Pronger is nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career but one wonders if he has it in him for one more stellar and healthy season. The Flyers defense without Pronger is smaller, weaker, and easier to play against both physically and obviously talent-wise.

Looking at the defense without Pronger, Mathieu Carle and Andrej Meszaros become even more important players both in Fantasy and reality. Carle is coming off a 40-point season in which he was an impressive plus-30. Meszaros also finished with a plus-30 along with 32 points, while ending the year strongly - he had five goals and 12 assists in his last 27 games (regular season and playoffs combined). Carle and Meszaros, who played 21:59 and 21:07, respectively, last season will be expected to increase their workload with Pronger out. Braydon Coburn averaged 21:04 while Kimmo Timmonen led all of them with 22:28. The 36-year-old Finn has seen his point totals drop for four straight seasons, finishing last year with 36 points, 15 power play points along with a plus-three. After the aforementioned four, the drop off in talent is quite significant and without Pronger there are two spots still to fill. Until Pronger returns to the lineup two of Andreas Lilja (36 years old and a minus-15 in 52 games for Anaheim last season), Oskars Bartulis (24, minus-16 in 66 career games), Matt Walker (31, played 4 games in NHL last season, 310 career games) and Erik Gustaffson (22, was named to AHL All-Rookie team 2010-11, 56 points in 77 AHL games) are the third pairing. That does not bode well for Bryzgalov owners.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Departures: Maxime Talbot, Alexei Kovalev, Mike Rupp, Mike Comrie, Eric Godard
Additions: Steve Sullivan, Jason Williams, Alexandre Picard
Knocking: Dustin Jeffrey, Eric Tangradi

Sullivan could see a real boost in scoring playing alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. If the two young centers are back to their usual greatness Sully has a serious chance at returning to his former scoring ways, though the Timmins Tornado will need to stay healthy (he's 37). Throw him into the deep sleeper pile. As always the talk of who plays with Sid and Geno keeps Fantasy astrologists busy. The early odds seem in favor of James Neal and Chris Kunitz with Crosby and Staal and Sullivan with Malkin, though there are those who insist on keeping Pascal Dupuis with Crosby over Neal (ridiculous). If Dupuis sticks with Crosby, Sullivan could drop out of the top six. Training camp will solve the riddle but for now here's this writer's ranking of roto-worthy Pens wingers: Neal, Staal (if he switches to top six wing), Kunitz, Sullivan, Dupuis, Kennedy, Williams. Williams is a long shot to crack the Pens' lineup but he could surprise with a strong training camp and exhibition play. Coach Dan Bylsma likes the fact that Williams has played the point on the power play often in his NHL career and that could help his plight.

Jeffrey and Tangradi will probably need some injuries to get into the top nine. Jeffrey, 23, had 17 goals and 45 points in 40 AHL games last season in addition to scoring seven goals and 12 points in 25 games for Pittsburgh. Tangradi, 22, had 18 goals and 33 points in 42 AHL games last season in addition to potting one goal and three points in 15 games for the Penguins. Should Staal play left wing as expected, the third line center spot would belong to Mark Letestu. The 26-year-old pivot emerged last season in scoring 14 goals and 27 points in 64 games.

Pittsburgh's defense returns relatively unchanged, with Alexandre Picard (eight points and 17 PIMs in 43 games with Montreal last season) a depth signing. The one cloud on the horizon is the health of Brooks Orpik, who underwent hernia surgery this summer for the second summer in a row. Orpik had surgery in early June of 2010, was out of action for nearly three months, and missed the first six games of the season. This summer he had surgery in mid-July so there is very reason to believe that he will miss part if not all of October, which would be up to 13 games. Picard's signing becomes that much more important and he'll give Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy some competition for playing time. If Jason Williams makes the Penguins it will likely mean less power-play time for Zbynek Michalek and/or Matt Niskanen because Williams plays the point with the man advantage. The first PP unit QBs will likely remain Kris Letang and Paul Martin.

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Analysis: It looked like the injury was related to Viktor Stalberg's right leg, as he was attempting to keep weight off the limb while he left the ice. The Predators will reevaluate his condition Tuesday, but he'll likely be held out for that night's preseason opener against the Lightning regardless of what the tests indicate. Stalberg was already entering the season with something to prove after he was a major disappointment in Year 1 in Nashville, when he totaled just 18 points in 70 games. The injury could end up hurting his chances of reclaiming a top-six role, and at this point, he's probably best left undrafted in all but the deepest of leagues.

Justin Abdelkader
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Analysis: Justin Abdelkader bounced all over the place for the Red Wings last season as the team dealt with a litany of injuries at forward, but with the team in better overall health entering 2014-15, he should see more stability in his role. The 27-year-old is valued by the coaching staff for his versatility as a checker, penalty killer, and depth scorer, but it's the latter attribute that largely puts him off the radar for fantasy purposes. Last season's meager outputs of 10 goals and 28 points represented career-highs, and he's unlikely to notice a spike in either category in 2014-15 if the Red Wings enjoy some semblance of health.

Brendan Smith
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Analysis: The duo primarily partnered with each other last season, though Brendan Smith did occasionally pair up with top blueliner Niklas Kronwall toward the end of the campaign. The 25-year-old took much grief for the frequency with which he turned over the puck in the offseason, but aside from Kronwall, he may offer the most fantasy upside of any Detroit defenseman. If his decision-making can catch up with his speed and on-ice energy, Smith could make a run at 30 points this season. He'll be a leading candidate to earn a spot on one of the Wings' power-play units, which are in desperate need of talented point men.

Scott Glennie
Glennie Making Strong Early Push For Stars' Roster
Scott Glennie, RW, DAL
2:34 PM
News: Scott Glennie had a goal and assist in Sunday's team scrimmage and could be in the conversation for an opening night roster spot, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Scott Glennie hasn't developed as quickly as the Stars had hoped after he was selected eighth overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but he did show signs of a breakthrough with AHL Texas last season, delivering capable play on both ends of the ice. With Rich Peverley out indefinitely due to his cardiac condition and restricted free agent Cody Eakin still unsigned, a path could exist for Glennie to make the squad if he continues to excel in camp. However, Glennie would likely be limited to bottom-six duty, limiting his fantasy upside.

Trevor Daley
Stars' Daley Nursing Sore Hip
Trevor Daley, D, DAL
2:17 PM
News: Trevor Daley was held out of Sunday's team scrimmage due to a sore hip, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Trevor Daley suffered the injury when he collided with the boards during Saturday's practice, but he isn't expected to miss much time as a result. The Stars could choose to keep Daley out of a few exhibitions just as a precaution, but it won't change his standing with the team with his role virtually assured for the start of the season. The 30-year-old is expected to join Alex Goligoski on the Stars' first defensive pairing, where he'll look to build on last season's career-high nine goals.

Cody Almond
Wild's Almond Competing For Depth Role
Cody Almond, C, MIN
2:11 PM
News: Cody Almond is competing for a gig as the Wild's 12th or 13th forward in training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Cody Almond was signed to a one-year, one-way contract by the Wild in July, after a two-year stint in Switzerland in which he accrued 26 goals and 64 points over 83 games. The one-way deal means Almond will have to pass through waivers if he gets cut during training camp, after which he'd have to decide to play with the Wild's AHL affiliate in Iowa or return to Switzerland. The 25-year-old previously appeared with the Wild for 25 games over parts of three seasons from 2009 to 2012, but that won't necessarily give him an edge over the other skaters competing for depth roles. Should Almond somehow end up claiming a roster spot, he'd likely be relegated to checking-line status, with limited ice time coming his way.

Kyle Brodziak
Wild's Brodziak Day-To-Day With Back Concern
Kyle Brodziak, C, MIN
2:05 PM
News: Kyle Brodziak hasn't skated either of the last two days due to a back ailment, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: The injury will keep Kyle Brodziak out of the Wild's preseason opener Monday against the Jets, but the team isn't classifying the ailment as a major concern. Brodziak is probably again ticketed for fourth-line duty with the Wild this season, after compiling eight goals, 16 assists, and 61 penalty minutes a year earlier.

Jason Spezza
Stars' Spezza To Reunite With Hemsky On Monday
Jason Spezza, C, DAL
2:01 PM
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