Top-9 Time - Northwest
The second of a series of articles, in this issue we will attempt to accurately project the top three lines for each team in the NHL's Northwest Division factoring in all the offseason activity as well as players that might be changing roles or moving up from the minors, college or junior ranks. As most would agree, offensive output virtually always equates to opportunity. The players on the top two lines usually get significantly more ice time and power-play ice-time which leads to better output. Opportunities will come for third-line forwards when injuries, trades, and/or slumps occur. That's why it's imperative to know who's on the third line and which of those third-liners have the requisite upside should second-line duty call.
The final section for each team will include a ranking of their top four fantasy forwards (TFFF) in addition to the most attractive seventh forward fantasy-wise for each team if/when injuries hit.
(All stats for the 2009-10 NHL season unless otherwise noted)
Alex Tanguay - Matt Stajan - Jarome Iginla
Niklas Hagman - Olli Jokinen - Rene Bourque
Curtis Glencross/Mikael Backlund - Backlund/Daymond Langkow - David Moss/Ales Kotalik
Normally finishing an NHL season eight games above .500 would equate to a playoff spot, but not when you lose 10 games in overtime. Thus the Flames finished five points out of a playoff spot. A lack of offense was Calgary's Achilles' heel last year, as the Flames finished last in league scoring during the regular season with just 204 goals scored in 82 games – a mere 2.48 goals per game. The manner in which Flames GM Darryl Sutter has addressed the situation remains a hot topic in Cowtown. Sutter signed former Flames Olli Jokinen (two years, $6 million) and Alex Tanguay (one year, $1.7 million) to relatively frugal free-agent contracts. It wasn't so much the cost of the Joker and Tangs that have Flames fans up in arms, it's that they brought them back into the fold that has caused the consternation of Flames nation. Jokinen, who made $5.5 million last year, was a complete flop in his first tour of duty with Calgary. Traded to Calgary from Phoenix in March of 2009, Jokinen played parts of two seasons for the Flames before being traded to the Rangers on February 1, 2010. Jokinen played 75 games for the Flames over two seasons and amassed 19 goals and 31 assists for 50 points. The Flames were not pleased about paying nearly six million for a 50-point center. Moreover, there appeared to be no chemistry with Flames sniper Jarome Iginla. Tanguay was more successful as a Flame, averaging 20 goals and 70 points in two seasons. The reason that the Flames let him go the first time around was that they felt that he wasn't tough enough to succeed in the playoffs. A cynic would argue that the Flames are now just trying to reach the playoffs, so concern over Tanguay's playoff prowess is rendered moot. On the positive side of the argument to bring them both back is cost and age. While Jokinen and Tanguay made a combined $10. 6 million the last time they were Flames, this season they'll make a combined $4.7 million. In addition Tanguay's deal is for one year so there's lots of extra motivation to produce. Then factor in their ages – Jokinen is 31 and Tanguay is 30. They should both have plenty left in the tank.
The talk is of putting Jokinen and Tanguay with Iginla (32 goals/69 points) but it may be more prudent to keep Matt Stajan (19 goals/57 points) with Iginla and add Tanguay to that first line with Jokinen playing with fellow Finn Niklas Hagman (25 goals/44 points) and the gritty Rene Bourque (27 goals/58 points) on the second line.
If injuries are kept to a minimum the Flames could actually have three scoring lines this season. With the news out about the Flames allowing winger Ales Kotalik to come to camp and compete for a top-9 role, there's suddenly a little more depth now. While Kotalik made zero impact last season after being acquired from the Rangers, with a mere three goals and five points in 26 games, this coming season's theme in Calgary seems to be about second chances for disappointing forwards. Kotalik was expected to be loaned to a KHL team after the Flames could find no takers in a trade for him this summer. The condition of center Daymond Langkow may help to keep Kotalik in the fold. Langkow (14 goals/37 points) hurt his neck in March and it remains a concern heading into training camp. GM Sutter went on record in July saying that Langkow was only at 60 percent and while a visit to the doctor in mid-August showed slight improvement, it doesn't appear as though he'll be ready to start the season. Mikael Backlund was probably going to make the team either as a center (his natural position) or as a left wing. With Langkow's current health status it appears that Backlund will start the year as the third line center. Backlund will be flanked by two of David Moss (coming off a disappointing season with just eight goals and 17 points in 64 games with a minus-9, a year removed from a 20-goal/39-point season in 2008-09), Curtis Glencross (15 goals/33 points), and Kotalik (a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL with a good shot from the point on the power play who amassed a total of 45 power-play points in the two seasons prior to last). If/when Langkow returns Backlund would likely move to left wing and one of Glencross/Moss/Kotalik would drop down to the fourth line.
Center Craig Conroy was brought back for another season but the soon-to-be 39-year-old is strictly fourth-line material barring a major rash of injuries. Conroy was brought back to be the checking center, to groom Brett Sutter, be his usual positive influence in the locker room, take some of the heat off of Jokinen and Tanguay and give good material to the local media.
TFFF: Iginla, Bourque, Tanguay, Stajan
Best 7th forward: Langkow
TJ Galiardi - Paul Stastny - Chris Stewart
Peter Mueller - Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
David Jones - Ryan O'Reilly - Brandon Yip
Amazingly two 18-year-olds, Duchene and O'Reilly, made the team out of camp last season, as the Avs became the first NHL team to ice two 18-year-olds in their season opener in 15 years. The last team to do it was the Winnipeg Jets, who dressed Shane Doan and Jason Doig in 1995. However, the youth movement doesn't end with the Rookie of the Year finalist Duchene and the gritty O'Reilly. In fact, if you're looking for a team loaded with exciting, quick and young talented forwards, look no further than Colorado. No other NHL team has eight of its top nine forwards under 27. The first line features the 24-year-old Stastny (20 goals/79 points) centering 22-year-olds Galiardi (15 goals/39 points) and Stewart (28 goals/64 points). The second line features the 19-year-old Duchene (24 goals/55 points) centering 22-year-old Peter Mueller (9 goals/20 points in 15 games as an Av) and 34-year-old Hekduk (23 goals/44 points in 56 games).
Even the third line boasts some potential as 26-year-old David Jones (10 goals/16 points in 23 games before tearing his ACL) and 25-year-old Brandon Yip (11 goals/19 points in 32 games), the projected wingers on the third line, were very productive linemates back in 2003-04 for the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL . Expected to be their center is 19-year-old Ryan O'Reilly (8 goals/26 points).
If and when injuries occur among the top nine the first man to get the call should be Ryan Stoa. Drafted 34th overall in 2005, Stoa is a big (6-3, 213), natural goal-scoring center. With 46 goals in 136 career games in the NCAA and 23 goals in 54 career games in the AHL, Stoa has a proven knack for finding the back of the net. While O'Reilly made the jump to the NHL more quickly than Stoa, Stoa should eventually usurp him on the team depth chart or flip over to left wing and join a scoring line.
TFFF: Statsny, Stewart, Mueller, Duchene
Best 7th forward: Yip
Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Dustin Penner - Gilbert Brule - Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paarjarvi-Svensson - Shawn Horcoff - Andrew Cogliano
It's been a steady downhill slide for Edmonton since they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2005-06. Thankfully many of the ridiculous contracts (hello Fernando Pisani) are now off of the books, though Horcoff's deal remains to remind everyone of GM Kevin Lowe's egregious errors in the summer of '06.
This year signals a second possible rookie triage – Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paarjarvi-Svensson - joining the Oilers this decade, similar to the arrival of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson back in 2007-08. Back then the aforementioned trio arrived with much hype and fanfare as the saviors of a low-scoring Oilers team. They contributed a total of 41 goals and 135 points in a combined 232 games in their first season. Unfortunately their development has been relatively slow, as the trio contributed only 36 goals and 96 points in a combined 204 games last season, their third in the league. While Gagner just turned 21 and should be the Oilers' first line center this season and Cogliano is 23 and likely slated for third-line duty, the 25-year-old Nilsson was not re-signed and has left for the KHL.
Hopefully for Oilers fans the second rookie trio will prove far more productive and longer lasting. Unlike the rookie trio of 2007, the rookie trio of 2010 features a 1st overall pick in Hall. Gagner was taken 6th overall in his draft year, Nilsson 15th overall in his and Cogliano 25th overall in his. Hall was an unstoppable force in junior hockey (123 goals and 280 points in 183 regular season OHL games, 35 goals and 76 points in 44 playoff games) and is expected to make the Oilers as an 18-year-old. The left winger should crack the top two lines. Hall could really click with Gagner and top Oilers sniper Hemsky, who's coming off an injury-ravaged season but still young, quick and dangerous.
Eberle is a 20-year-old, drafted 22nd overall in 2008, who scored 155 goals and 310 points in 254 career games in the WHL. A brief AHL stint last spring after his junior season ended showed that he's NHL ready, as Eberle bagged six goals and 14 points in his 11-game AHL stint. Eberle was named the Canadian Hockey League's Player of the Year. This award encompasses all players in the WHL (Western hockey league), OHL (Ontario hockey league), and QMJHL (Quebec major junior hockey league). Eberle has also excelled at international hockey while representing his native Canada. Eberle has scored an incredible 14 goals and 26 points in just 12 career games at the World Junior Championships over the past two years, including being named the MVP of the 2009 tournament. Eberle even made the 2010 senior men's World Championships team for Canada last spring scoring a goal and three assists in four games for a Canadian team filled with NHL scorers like Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, and Ray Whitney. Eberle should be the Oilers' second or third right wing to start the season and could form an effective unit with the hulking (6-4, 213) Dusting Penner, who potted 32 goals and racked up 63 points in his best season, and the equally career re-born Gilbert Brule (17 goals, 37 points).
Paarjarvi-Svensson is the least known of the rookie trio but what you should know is that he is extremely fast on skates. The well-built Swede (6-1, 201) was taken 10th overall in 2009. While still just 19, Paarjarvi-Svensson has already played three full seasons for Timra Ik of the Swedish Elite league, with a modest 20 goals and 49 points in 134 career games. Like Eberle, Paarjarvi-Svensson has been very productive on the world stage while representing his country. Paarjarvi-Svensson has 19 points in 18 career games at the World Juniors and five goals and nine points in nine career games at the senior men's World Championships. Paarjarvi-Svensson should compliment Horcoff and Cogliano on a speedy and fairly exciting third line.
TFFF: Hemsky, Penner, Eberle, Hall
Best 7th forward: Horcoff
Andrew Brunette - Mikko Koivu - Antti Miettinen
Guillaume Latendresse - Pierre-Marc Bouchard/Matt Cullen - Martin Havlat
Colton Gillies/James Sheppard - Cullen/Sheppard - Chuck Kobasew
The only notable free-agent addition this summer was Matt Cullen, a versatile center who can also play wing. Moreover Cullen has a two-way game and is an adept penalty killer. Cullen is insurance in case Bouchard cannot play this season. Bouchard, an NHL regular since he was 18 in 2002, suffered a career-threatening concussion during his first game of last season. Bouchard missed 81 of the Wild's 82 games last season because of post-concussion symptoms but there appears to be some hope on the horizon, as he's been able to ride his bike and swim laps in his pool this summer. Still, he has yet to try to lift weights or let his heart-rate get too high, showing that he's still in "baby steps" mode. Both the Wild management and Bouchard are cautiously optimistic that he'll play this season but there are no concrete timelines as to when that would occur. The fact that Bouchard has had previous concussions adds to the precautions being taken to ensure a full return to health for the 26-year-old.
Should Bouchard not be ready for October Cullen would be the second line pivot with Guillaume Latendresse (25 goals and 37 points in 55 games for the Wild) and Martin Havlat, who's coming off a disappointing season in which he woefully underperformed (18 goals and 54 points in 73 games). Perhaps a healthy Bouchard would have made a difference but Havlat needs to return to the 30-goal/70-point level to justify the huge contract that GM Chuck Fletcher gave him last summer - 6 years for $30 million. But what are the chances that that will happen when Havlat's only reached those levels once in his career?
Minny's third line is anchored by right winger Chuck Kobasew. The 28-year-old Kobasew suffered through an injury-riddled 2009-10 that saw him traded to Minnesota just seven games into the season. Kobasew averaged 21 goals and 41 points the previous two seasons for the Bruins and has three 20-goal seasons on his NHL resume. The other two spots on the Wild's third line are up for grabs with the leading candidates being Colton Gillies, James Sheppard, Petr Kalus, and Casey Wellman. Gillies has played one year in the AHL and the 21-year-old didn't light it up with just seven goals and 20 points in 72 games. Meanwhile Sheppard, still just 22, has yet to make an impact at the NHL level with just 11 goals and 49 points in 224 games. Sheppard, in hindsight, could have used a year in the "A" rather than making the Wild as a 19-year-old back in 2007-08 and receiving minimal ice time from then coach Jacques Lemaire, a coach known for his defensive style of play (the painfully dull trap). It seems Sheppard understands that he's underperformed for a 9th overall pick and, having played out his initial three-year entry level contract, he re-upped on a one-way contract for one year at $803,250. This is pretty much a make or break year for Sheppard.
Kalus is a 23-year-old Czech native drafted 39th overall in 2005 who's played just 11 NHL games in his career and has bounced between the KHL and AHL over the past two years. Wellman is a 22-year-old center who finished his NCAA career with 34 goals and 78 points in 75 games. He scored four points in 12 NHL games after joining the Wild late last season. While Wellman could be sent to the AHL, he could make the Wild with a good training camp and exhibition season. Other intriguing prospects include Erik Haula, a 19-year-old Finn who scored 28 goals and 72 points in 56 games in the USHL, and Mikael Granlund, an 18-year-old who was taken 9th overall in the 2010 NHL draft and who has already played a full season in the Finnish elite league where he scored 13 goals and 40 points in 43 games. Granlund is expected play at least another season in Finland. Calgary natives Cody Almond (21, 6-1/200) and Kristopher Foucault (19, 6-1/202) are both at least a year away from seriously competing for a Wild roster spot.
TFFF: Koivu, Havlat, Brunette, Latendresse
Best 7th forward: Cullen (if Bouchard plays), Kobasew
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Mikael Samuelsson
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Cody Hodgson/Jordan Schroeder/Sergei Shirokov
Raffi Torres/Manny Malhotra - Malhotra/Hodgson - Jannik Hansen/Schroeder/Shirokov
Injured: Alexandre Burrows (top six winger)
The Canucks lost a trio of forwards this summer: they traded wingers Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner and they decided not to re-sign center Kyle Wellwood. The team then signed former Shark center Manny Malhotra to play a third-line checking role and take the big defensive zone face-offs, thereby alleviating some of that duty from Kesler. Since then the team has let it be known that Malhotra will also play a lot of left wing on the third line, other than taking face-offs, so that top prospect Cody Hodgson can play his natural position of center. Hodgson was an uber blue-chip prospect heading into last season who essentially lost almost a full year of development due to a back injury. Hodgson was the 2009 Major Junior Player of the Year, the award that top Oilers prospect Jordan Eberle won this year. Hodgson was also a standout at the 2009 World Juniors, scoring five goals and 16 points in just sx games, while playing with Eberle (who narrowly edged him out for MVP) as Canada took gold. Hodgson's back woes caused him to miss most of training camp last year and he was shut down for several months. Hodgson eventually returned to junior hockey late in the 2009-10 season managing to play 13 games for Brampton where he scored eight goals and 20 points. Hodgson followed that up with a somewhat disappointing OHL playoff with just three goals and 10 points in 11 games. Decided to call it a season after that and declined an opportuniy to join the Canucks' AHL farm team in Manitoba for their playoffs.
While Burrows played much of last season on a line wirh the Sedin twins he's not expected to be ready for the season opener, as he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in June and the normal recovery period for a such a procedure is 4-to-6 months. By the time he returns to the lineup Samuelsson may have solidified his spot alongside his fellow countrymen. Because of Burrows' injury someone else is going to start the season getting top six minutes. It could be Hodgson (if they flip him to right wing with Kesler and Raymond) or Jannik (nine goals and 15 points in 47 games). Other possibilities include Jordan Schroeder (taken 22nd overall in '09, scored 73 points in 72 career NCAA games then amassed nine points in 11 AHL games) and Sergei Shirokov (22 goals/45 points in 76 games for Manitoba). Torres was signed in late August to provide some extra grit and insurance in case Hodgson isn't NHL ready or starts the year on the second line.
Top right wing prospect Anton Rodin will play a second season with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League this coming season instead of playing for Manitoba.
TFFF: D. Sedin, H. Sedin, Raymond, Kesler
Best 7th forward: Hodgson