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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
Calvin Pickard
Avs' Pickard Makes 17 Saves For First NHL Win
Calvin Pickard, G, COL
12:54 PM
News: Calvin Pickard stopped all 17 of the shots he faced for his first NHL win Saturday against Carolina.
Analysis: Pikcard didn't start Saturday's game, but was called upon in the first period after starter Reto Berra was pulled. Berra gave up three goals on 10 shots, but Calvin Pickard was able to step in and help the team comeback to defeat the Canes. With the way Berra has struggled this season, there is a chance Pickard could stick with the Avalanche once starter Semyon Varlamov (groin) returns from injury. The 22-year-old youngster is 1-2-0 this season with a respectable .913 save percentage and 2.66 GAA.

Jaroslav Halak
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Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
10:52 AM
News: Jaroslav Halak notched his sixth victory in a row and ninth overall on the season Saturday against the Penguins, stopping 27 of 28 shots in the 4-1 win.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak's winning streak looked to be in jeopardy heading into the final period with the two teams deadlocked at 1-1, but the Isles' attack heated up thereafter, scoring three unanswered goals to pull away. The netminder's season numbers aren't quite elite, but he's starting to look like a highly dependable fantasy option behind an improved Islanders squad.

Marcel Goc
Pens' Goc A Nonfactor So Far
Marcel Goc, C, PIT
10:48 AM
News: Marcel Goc went minus-2 over his 11:47 of action in Saturday's loss to the Islanders.
Analysis: The minus-2 puts Marcel Goc on the negative side of the plus/minus ledger for the season, but that's not the only area the center has made little to no impact for the Pens. He's contributed just one point, 18 shot attempts, 17 hits and two penalty minutes in 19 games.

Steve Downie
Pens' Downie Drops The Gloves Saturday
Steve Downie, RW, PIT
10:46 AM
News: Steve Downie spent 17 minutes in the penalty box Saturday against the Islanders.
Analysis: Donwie earned a five-minute penalty for fighting with Travis Hamonic in the first period and would later receive a 10-minute misconduct in the third. That penalty would ultimately yield a power-play goal for the Islanders that essentially salted the game away, but Steve Downie's fantasy owners won't be negatively impacted. The winger's 79 penalty minutes on the season lead the league and make him a major asset in that category, but he's not a total liability elsewhere like most bottom-six forwards. He's been a viable contributor on offense with his new team, netting three goals and seven assists over 19 games.

Thomas Greiss
Pens' Greiss Drops Spot Start
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
10:40 AM
News: Thomas Greiss took the loss Saturday against the Islanders, yielding four goals on 35 shots.
Analysis: Called upon to relieve Marc-Andre Fleury for the back end of a home-and-home set with the Islanders, Thomas Greiss was able to keep his team in the game for the first 40 minutes, but came unhinged in the third period. He allowed the Islanders to pot three unanswered goals, effectively turning a close game into a blowout. Saturday's outing was only the fourth of the season for Greiss, who doesn't figure to see much consistent action behind Fleury.

Nathan Lieuwen
Sabres Send Lieuwen Back To AHL
Nathan Lieuwen, G, BUF
10:38 AM
News: Nathan Lieuwen was sent back to AHL Rochester on Sunday, Bill Hoppe of the Times Herald reports.
Analysis: Nathan Lieuwen was called up after Michael Neuvirth went on the disabled list so since Lieuwen is being sent back to Rochester it likely means Neuvirth is healthy again. In the AHL this season, the 23-year-old goalie has compiled a 3-4 record in 10 appearances.

Jimmy Howard
Wings' Howard Folds On Saturday
Jimmy Howard, G, DET
10:36 AM
News: Jimmy Howard surrendered three goals on 27 shot attempts in Saturday's loss to the Maple Leafs.
Analysis: A couple of egregious turnovers by his defense proved costly to Jimmy Howard, who saw his record dip to 8-4-4 with the defeat. The netminder probably deserves some leeway for the poor outing, as he's otherwise been dazzling with a 2.03 GAA and .922 save percentage over 16 outings.

Marcus Johansson
Caps' Johansson Breaks Point Slump
Marcus Johansson, LW, WAS
10:33 AM
News: Marcus Johansson assisted on a goal and attempted five shots in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Sabres.
Analysis: The assist ended a season-long four-game streak without a point, but Marcus Johansson's fantasy owners aren't about to complain. Thanks to a dramatic rise in shot attempts (1.33 per game in 2013-14, 2.35 this season), the 24-year-old has emerged as one of the primary offensive threats for the Capitals. His 13 points rank third on the team behind Nicklas Backstrom (19) and Alex Ovechkin (18).

Erik Karlsson
Sens' Karlsson Scores PP Goal In Loss
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT
10:27 AM
News: Erik Karlsson scored a power-play goal in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Blues.
Analysis: It was Erik Karlsson's five marker of the season, giving him a point in each of the Sens' last three games. Karlsson's 14 points rank sixth among all NHL blueliners, but he's a whopping nine points behind the leader, Calgary's Mark Giordano.

Jay Bouwmeester
Blues' Bouwmeester Struggling Mightily
Jay Bouwmeester, D, STL
10:19 AM
News: Jay Bouwmeester assisted on a goal, spent four minutes in the penalty box and finished with a plus-2 rating in Saturday's win over the Senators, but left with a lower-body injury late in the game, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Despite being limited to 16:40 of ice time in the victory, Jay Bouwmeester managed to turn in one of his better performances in what has been a dismal season, but the injury could represent another pitfall. It's uncertain if he'll be able to suit up for the second game of the Blues' weekend back-to-back on Sunday versus the Jets, putting the defenseman's streak of 737 consecutive games played on the line. With the Blues not holding a morning skate Sunday, Bouwmeester's status likely won't be known until pregame warmups.

 
 
 
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