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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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Player News
Devan Dubnyk
Wild's Dubnyk Confirmed To Start Tuesday
Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN
11:57 AM
News: Devan Dubnyk is confirmed to start Tuesday against the Senators, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: It will be a battle of two of the game's hottest goalies in Devan Dubnyk and the Sens' Andrew Hammond, a development unforeseen at this point last season, when both looked to be washouts at the AHL level. Dubnyk has sustained his stellar play far longer than Hammond has, so he still looks to be the favorite to come away with the victory Tuesday in what projects to be a low-scoring affair.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres To Sit Grigorenko On Tuesday
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
11:53 AM
News: Mikhail Grigorenko, recalled from Rochester of the AHL earlier in the day, will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday's game at Tampa Bay, The Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: The Sabres had to call up three forwards Tuesday in the wake of the team's Monday sell-off, but the other two will get a chance to play in this one while Mikhail Grigorenko waits his turn. That will likely come soon for the talented center - who's had his ups and downs with the organization in his young career - as the team has little to play for other than to start lining things up for next season.

Taylor Beck
Preds' Beck Dazzles After Rejoining Lineup
Taylor Beck, LW, NSH
11:41 AM
News: Taylor Beck registered an assist - just his 11th point of the season - in Monday's 4-1 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: After sitting out four of the previous five games as a healthy scratch, Taylor Beck made his presence felt right away with a dazzling, no-look, behind-the-back pass from his knees to set up Matt Cullen for the Preds' only goal of the night. The play was a thing of beauty, to be sure, however Beck will need to start putting points up on the board with a little more regularity before we can start recommending him. This was a good start, though.

Steve Mason
Flyers' Mason Between The Pipes Tuesday
Steve Mason, G, PHI
11:38 AM
News: Steve Mason will be in the cage for Tuesday's game against the Flames, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Analysis: Steve Mason was superb Saturday against the Rangers in his first start since returning from a knee injury, turning away 32 of 34 pucks to score his 12th victory of the season. He'll look to bring up his record to .500 against the Flames, who learned a day earlier that their best player, defenseman Mark Giordano, would miss the rest of the season with a torn biceps tendon. Mason looks like a serviceable play against a deflated team, as his ratios (.926 save percentage, 2.25 GAA) have belied his rather pedestrian record this season.

Carter Hutton
Struggling Preds Expected To Turn To Hutton
Carter Hutton, G, NSH
11:31 AM
News: Carter Hutton was the first goalie off the ice at Tuesday's morning skate and appears to be in line to start later in the evening against the Devils, NHL.com's Mike Morreale reports.
Analysis: The Predators likely won't offer confirmation on their starting goalie until pregame warmups, but with Pekka Rinne remaining on the ice for extra work Tuesday after having started a night earlier, Carter Hutton figures to get the call. Rinne has assumed one of the larger goalie workloads in the league, and for good reason, but he's currently in the midst of his roughest stretch of play this season, losing five of his last six games. While his standing atop the Preds' depth chart is certainly not in peril, Hutton could find himself in the net a little more frequently if he's able to turn the Preds' fortunes with a steady outing Tuesday.

Tomas Fleischmann
Ducks' Fleischmann To Make Debut Tuesday
Tomas Fleischmann, LW, ANA
11:27 AM
News: Tomas Fleischmann (coach's decision) will make his Ducks debut Tuesday against the Coyotes, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: After he was acquired from the Panthers on Saturday, Tomas Fleischmann served as a healthy scratch upon joining the Ducks for Sunday's game with the Stars. It seems to have just been a byproduct of him not arriving in time to have a chance to skate with the rest of the team, so look for Fleischmann to hold down a regular role with the Ducks in the subsequent games to follow. He was slotted on the second line next to Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg at Tuesday's morning skate.

Chris Wagner
Ducks Recall Wagner From AHL
Chris Wagner, RW, ANA
11:18 AM
News: Chris Wagner was recalled from AHL Norfolk on Tuesday, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: With the aftermath of the trade deadline now settled, the Ducks found themselves with an open roster spot and will tab Chris Wagner to fill it. The newly acquired Tomas Fleischmann has joined the team in Arizona and is expected to play Tuesday, likely leaving Wagner to serve as a healthy scratch in his return to the parent club.

Jacob Markstrom
Canucks Tap Markstrom For Season Debut Tuesday
Jacob Markstrom, G, VAN
11:15 AM
News: Jacob Markstrom will be between the pipes for Tuesday's game against the Sharks, Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun reports.
Analysis: Coach Willie Desjardins suggested that Jacob Markstrom was on tap for his season debut with the Canucks in the near future, and it appears that will come Tuesday, as Eddie Lack gets a rare night off. A former top goalie prospect during his days in the Panthers organization, Markstrom saw his stock fall after rough showings in the AHL over the last two seasons. After landing with the Canucks last March as one of the pieces in the Roberto Luongo deal, Markstrom passed through waivers unclaimed following training camp and has since thrived at AHL Utica, going 17-7-2 with a 1.95 GAA and .932 save percentage. If he's able to keep the momentum going against a possible playoff team in the Sharks, Markstrom could have a legitimate case for more frequent outings.

Johan Franzen
Red Wings' Franzen Expected To Return This Season
Johan Franzen, LW, DET
11:05 AM
News: GM Ken Holland said Johan Franzen (concussion) is expected to return before the regular season ends, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: Holland indicated the forward is beginning to make progress in his recovery, but there hasn't been any tangible evidence of that, as he has yet to receive clearance to skate. He remains without a definitive timetable for a return.

Jonathan Quick
Kings Roll With Quick On Tuesday
Jonathan Quick, G, LA
11:05 AM
News: Jonathan Quick was the first goalie off the ice at the Kings' pre-game skate and is thus in line to draw the start Tuesday against the Oilers, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Quick will look to bounce back Tuesday against the Oilers (who are in last place in the Western Conference) after giving up four goals on 21 shots before being yanked at the end of the second period in Sunday's 5-2 loss to Winnipeg.

 
 
 
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