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.
Chicago prioritized its keepers and flipped the switch on the rest. By and large the Blackhawks managed to retain their core offense (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa) and defense (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson) along with their top netminder (Corey Crawford). The missing parts will be filled by holdovers (Dave Bolland, Viktor Stahlberg, Bryan Bickell, Nick Leddy, etc) and free-agents. They added some cost-efficient talent, including gritty players like Montador and Carcillo.
Up front former Minnesota Wild left wing Andrew Brunette is an aging vet but he's still good for 20-goals/50-plus points if he sticks with Toews and Kane. Stahlberg will have to fight off Bickell (17 goals/37 points in his first full season) for a second-line spot alongside Sharp and Hossa. Other than one of Stahlberg/Bickell, the third line should feature Bolland and Michael Frolik, two players with talent but whom remain works in progress. Rostislav Olesz will struggle for any top-nine minutes - barring injury - while prospects Marcus Kruger, Kyle Beach and Jeremy Morin will struggle to make the team.
Defensively the Hawks were able unload Brian Campbell's insane contract (ironically, to the GM who signed him to that deal) while adding a ton of character, grit and decent top-four skill in Steve Montador. Sami Lepisto is a cost-effective top-six signing. Both Montador and Lepisto have a good shot at second power-play unit minutes. Sean O'Donnell was another cheap signing for Chicago and he'll serve as the seventh defenseman. He's great in the room and provides the cliched-yet-true "veteran leadership."
Columbus had a great offseason. It added a No. 1 center in Jeff Carter, a power-play QB in James Wisniewski, and a top-six veteran in LW/C Vinny Prospal. Deploying Carter and Rick Nash together should create headaches for the opposition and the lucrative spot alongside them is open with Prospal the most logical choice for two reasons: First, he has excelled playing with the likes of Vincent Lecavalier and Marian Gaborik, both when in their respective primes; second, R.J. Umberger's size is needed on the second line. The caveat here is that Prospal has to remain healthy and the team will also consider Antoine Vermette, who can play left wing or center, and Derrick Brassard - a natural center.
Most of the promising third-line candidates are all 22 or under. They include talented 19-year-old rookie prospect Ryan Johansen (taken 4th overall in 2010), 21-year-old Matt Calvert (who had 11 goals/20 points in 42 games for Columbus last season), two-time 30-goal collegian Cam Atkinson (22), and 21-year-old Tomas Kubalik coming off his first pro season while scoring 24 goals/53 points in 76 AHL games.
It's worth knowing which defenseman will play beside Wisniewki on the Blue Jackets first power play unit. Fedor Tyutin has averaged 31 points over the past three seasons but could push the 40-point level if he can land on the first unit. Grant Clitsome came out of nowhere last season to emerge as a Fantasy factor after becoming a regular during the second half of the season with an impressive 19 points in 31 games. Either one of those two should land the gig, though former first-rounder Kris Russell (23 points in 76 games) could pull the upset and usurp them both, leaving Tyutin and Clitsome on the second power play unit. Defensively speaking, outside of the power play, the signing of Radek Martinek (128 blocked shots in 64 games last season on Long Island) should improve the Blue Jackets' top four as well as their penalty kill. Martinek has averaged a sizeable 22 minutes per game over his last three seasons. John Moore, a 2009 first-round selection, with 24 points and a minus-27 in his first pro season, likely needs another year of development in the AHL. Another promising defenseman, 2009 fourth-rounder David Savard, scored 11 goals and 42 points in his first pro season. Awarded the 2010 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year, Savard is a 20-year-old to remember.
Mathieu Garon has left Ohio for Florida and the new backup figures to be Mark Dekanich, who owned the AHL last season in posting a 23-12-2 record with a 2.02 GAA, .931 SV% and four shutouts in 43 games with the Milwaukee Admirals. Dekanich is a deep sleeper, as Steve Mason has been inconsistent in his young career and the Jackets figure to be an improved team whose new veteran additions bolster their young talent.
Detroit lost one significant player during the offseason when Brian Rafalski unexpectedly retired. The good news for Red Wing faithful is that Niklas Lidstrom is back for one more year. To partially help replace Rafalski, they signed Ian White. While White is neither as talented nor productive as Rafalski, he is a right handed shot - the only one amongst the Detroit D-men. Should that translate into first power-play deployment, White makes for a relatively inexpensive D-man come Draft Day who has the possibility to score 45 points. White's main competition for the first power play unit is Niklas Kronwall, a left shot with a 51-point season on his resume and 181 points in 385 career games. The fourth defenseman who will see power play time is undetermined at this point but it would be prudent for the Wings to give that time to Jakub Kindl. Kindl, drafted by Detroit 19th overall in 2005, has paid his dues playing three full seasons for their AHL farm team in Grand Rapids. Kindl, who has posted 71 points in his last two AHL seasons (159 games) and racked up 113 points in his last two years (114 games) of junior hockey in the OHL, has shown he can put up points if given power play time. Not far behind Kindl is Brendan Smith, two years younger than the Czech native at 22. Smith completed his first pro season in fine fashion potting 12 goals/32 points in 62 games in the "A" after three seasons at Wisconsin where he put up 24 goals and 75 points over his last two seasons (73 games).
The Wings did not add a top-six forward and they will likely roll with the usual suspects come October. While we all know that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are top-15 picks in many Fantasy drafts and Johan Franzen is a top-40 pick, what about the rest of the Wings' forwards? Dan Cleary (26 goals/46 points in 68 games last season) may usurp 38-year-old Tomas Holmstrom (18 goals/37 points in 73 games) on Datsyuk's line this season. It's a situation that bears watching in training camp, as it could propel Cleary into a 30-goal/55-point player - just don't expect many PIMs, as he only had 20 last season. Todd Bertuzzi has value in deeper leagues, coming off a 16 goal/45 point season with 71 PIMs. Should one of the 30-somethings (Cleary, Holmstrom, Bertuzzi) get injured, Jan Mursak will be around to fill in, as the young Slovenian has earned his stripes in Grand Rapids over the past three seasons. While displaying more scoring prowess than Mursak as a pro thus far, another year in Grand Rapids is the likely scenario for Tomas Tatar, a 20-year-old left wing from Slovakia who had 57 points in 70 games in his second AHL season. Chris Conner will be available to fill in on a short-term basis when the need arises but he only managed seven goals and 16 points in 60 games for Pittsburgh last season even with all their injuries.
With three-time Cup winner Chris Osgood retiring, the new backup is former Red Wing Ty Conklin - one of the better backup goalies to own.
On the surface it would seem that the Predators lost a lot of scoring in the offseason but the fact of the matter is only Sully had a top-six role last season. Lombardi played one game. The biggest lost may have been Joel Ward, but was his playoff run last spring, with seven goals and 13 points in 12 games, a fluke? While Ward remains a solid third-line physical presence, he was not a Fantasy factor in the regular season, averaging 13 goals and 33 points over the past three seasons. The best news at forward last year was the return to relevance of the often disappointing David Legwand. Now 31, the former No. 2 overall pick ended the year strong with 15 points in his last 19 games (17 goals and 41 points in 64 games overall), followed by six goals and nine points in 12 playoff games. Legwand's wingers, Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat, are both latter-round considerations in 12-plus team leagues. Kostitsyn emerged last season with 20 goals and 50 points in 77 games while Erat is the picture of consistency. For seven straight seasons he's registered between 49 and 57 points. Niclas Bergfors is getting perhaps his last shot at an NHL job and he'll most likely have to do it on the third line with Patric Hornqvist, the second-line right winger. Hornqvist dropped from 30 goals in 2009-10 to 21 last season, but the point totals were a lot closer (51 to 48). Hornqvist had five goals and 19 points in 27 games after Nashville acquired Mike Fisher on Feb. 10. Fisher struggled at first with just four points in his first 20 games with the team and he's not draft-worthy in leagues with 12 teams that start three centers. The other top-six job should go to Colin Wilson. Entering his third season, Wilson has to step up and validate his seventh overall selection in 2008. Another option for the left wing spot on the Fisher-Hornqvist line is Bergfors. Bergfors has the advantage of being able to make a good first impression whereas Wilson was a healthy scratch for nine of the team's 12 playoff games after seeing his production nosedive in the last quarter of the regular season: two goals/four points in the last 20 games. Blake Geoffrion is a name to watch but he'll need more than the eight minutes a game and virtually zero power play time that he received last year. Bottom line: the Preds have five guys who can score 20-plus goals and 50 points so you can wait until the late rounds to pick one up to help fill out your roster.
The Preds have more elite talent on defense than at forward. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, each were Olympians in 2010 and each figure to be a top-four defender for their respective countries in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. The third defenseman to receive power play time last season was Cody Franson, now a Toronto Maple Leaf. Holdover Francois Bouillon recently suffered a setback from a concussion he suffered last January against Chicago. With Franson gone and Bouillon out indefinitely, the opportunity is there for someone to step in and play major minutes.
Two prospects are up from Nashville: Jonathan Blum (drafted 23rd overall in 2007) and Roman Josi (taken 38th overall in 2008). Blum quickly earned the trust of coach Barry Trotz, averaging almost 18 minutes per game, with 2:19 on the power play, after his February insertion into the lineup. Blum has 35-point potential in his first full season. Josi had 40 points in 69 games for AHL Milwaukee in his first season playing hockey in North America. Josi turned 21 this summer. Former Islander Jack Hillen signed a two-way deal with Nashville this summer but he'll need a rash of injuries for power-play consideration even if he makes the team.
Meanwhile Pekka Rinne remains the top Predator to draft in virtually any league and should be among the first seven goalies selected along with Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Vokoun, Jimmy Howard, Ilya Bryzgalov and the much-maligned Roberto Luongo.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are very deep in 50+ point forwards, and adding Arnott and Langenbrunner only adds to the depth and confusion. Realistically, the two new additions should play on the third line. The first line will feature Andy McDonald and the most valuable St. Louis forward (both in reality and Fantasy) - David Backes. Another power forward, Chris Stewart, is expected to join them. The second line will be centered by the emerging Patrik Berglund, who finished the year scoring 24 points in his last 32 games. There are three players vying for the two spots alongside Berglund with the loser likely to play on the third line with the former Devils Arnott and Langenbrunner - Alex Steen, Matt D'Agostini and the talented yet immature T.J. Oshie. Top-six winger David Perron remains sidelined indefinitely with concussion symptoms and, unfortunately, should not be drafted. Tarasenko is still in the KHL but he's worth acquiring in keeper leagues as the likes of Arnott and Langenbrunner are on one-year deals and the young Russian, taken 16th overall in 2010, is very much in the Blues' long-term plans.
There are many forwards here that can hit the 20-goal barrier and 50-point level. The safest bets are on the first line followed by Berglund. Watch for training camp news to sort out the next group of forwards after the top four.
Defensively the top two offensive cogs are youngsters Alex Pietrangelo (11 goals/43 points in 79 games) and Kevin Shattenkirk (nine/43 in 72). Carlo Colaiacovo quietly had 26 points in 65 games last season and has value in deeper leagues. Should any of the top three D-men suffer an injury Nikita Kikitin would be next in line for power play minutes. In nets, Brian Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues last month and he'll compete with Ben Bishop in training camp for the backup role behind Jaroslav Halak.