Shots on Goal: Early Look - Southeast Division
The NHL landscape has changed drastically over the past seven weeks. This seven-week window has included the NHL Entry Draft, the start of free agency, and all 30 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, as well as those rookies/prospects that are knocking on the proverbial door for key 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.
Departures: Brandon Sutter
Arrivals: Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, Joe Corvo
Knocking: Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman
Projected Top Three Lines:
Jordan Staal - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Tuomo Ruutu - Jussi Jokinen - Jeffrey Skinner
Jiri Tlusty - Zac Dalpe/Zach Boychuk - Chad Larose
The team has said that they will start training camp with the two Staals together on the same line. Despite the similar DNA there's no guarantee that it will work. Thus these projected top three lines could easily change once the exhibition games start, if not sooner. If they don't mesh as well as expected, Jordan Staal is a natural center so he could move to the second line, where Jussi Jokinen is currently listed at center. Jokinen is a natural left wing and prefers playing there while Ruutu can play either wing. So there are several top six forwards on the team that can play multi positions. An exception would be Alexander Semin, in Carolina on a one-year deal and who should be motivated to have a big season. Semin will play right wing on one of the top two lines. That is a given. Another sure thing is that Jeffrey Skinner will be the right wing on the other top line. The Canes may be tempted to spread the scoring out over three lines but that shouldn't affect the Staals, Semin, or Skinner. Jokinen would be the most likely to be put on the third line in that scenario with either Jiri Tlusty, who enjoyed a sort of breakthrough season last year managing to stay healthy for a change and produce a career-high 17 goals and 39 points, or Chad Larose getting moved up. If they dismiss the idea of combining the Staals, there are a myriad of options. One of those options would be to experiment with the two Russians (Semin, Tlusty) on the same line, playing with one of the Staal brothers or even Jokinen as their center. This is certainly a fluid situation.
Some forward stats for you ... Skinner has scored 51 goals and 107 points in 146 games thus far in his career - a 29-goal/60-point clip. Ruutu has scored at a 22-goal/51-point clip over the past four seasons. In his first four full seasons as a Hurricane, Jokinen has 163 points in 230 games - a 58-point clip. Whichever Finn gets top six minutes, Ruutu or Jokinen, should have some value. This is probably the first year in some time that at least four, if not five, Carolina forwards will be drafted in standard 12-team fantasy leagues.
It's time for one of the "Zac" guys to step up and assume a top-nine position. Zac Dalpe has scored consistently both in the NCAA (70 points in 76 games) and in the AHL (64 points in 70 games) while Boychuk (the 14th pick in 2008 draft) has done it in junior and in the AHL.
The Hurricanes defense, when fully healthy, has an abundance of puck moving defensemen and a supremely gifted one in their prospect pipeline. The defense will be led by Joni Pitkanen (17 points in 30 games) and last season's breakthrough player Justin Faulk (22 points in 66 games), both of whom should play major minutes when healthy (Pitkanen missed 52 games last season). Then there's Jamie McBain as well as Joe Corvo, back for a third tour of duty with the team. Pitkanen, McBain (27 points in 76 games) and Corvo (25 points in 75 games for Boston) should all get some power play time. Keep a an eye out in training camp for who's working with the first power play unit and keep in mind that Corvo scored 40 points for Carolina in 2010-11. Moreover Corvo has scored 111 points in 187 career games for Carolina, a 49-point clip. Pitkanen has scored 131 points in 254 career games for Carolina, a 42-point clip. Whoever lands on the first PP unit alongside the Staals, Skinner and Semin could be in store for a 45-50 point season.
A dark horse for that coveted first PP unit QB spot is 19-year-old Ryan Murphy, the 12th player chosen in the 2011 NHL draft. Murphy has some serious upside, as he's a swift skating puck moving D-man who's racked up 172 points in 174 games for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL over the past three seasons. Murphy still has a year of junior hockey eligibility left - he won't turn 20 until next February. Tim Gleason (18 points in 82 games) and Jay Harrison (23 points in 79 games) should both be in the top six.
Cam Ward played in front of an injury-riddled and inexperienced defense last season. Still, he managed to sport a 30-23-13 record with a 2.74 GAA and .915 SV %. While it was Ward's worst GAA in four seasons, it does match his career GAA. We expect that Ward will have a much better team in front of him this year, as long as the elite talents stay healthy, including their No. 1 defenseman Pitkanen.
Brian Boucher, now 35, had a brief and forgettable season for Carolina last year, appearing in 10 games and posting a 3.41 GAA and .881 SV %. That's a far cry from his 2010-11 season that he enjoyed for Philadelphia when he played in 34 games and posted a 2.42 GAA and .916 SV %. Justin Peters, 25, appeared in seven games for Carolina last season and posted a 2.48 GAA and .931 SV %. They are both under contract for next season but we'll give Boucher the lead here based on his age and experience.
Departures: Jason Garrison, Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm
Arrivals: Filip Kuba, Peter Mueller
Knocking: Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Keaton Ellerby
Projected Top Three Lines:
Kris Versteeg - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Fleischmann
Peter Mueller- Shawn Matthias - Scottie Upshall
Sean Bergenheim -Jonathan Huberdeau - Tomas Kopecky/Mike Santorelli
The first line is entrenched but the rest of the top nine is open for debate, as far as who plays where. After the Versteeg-Weiss-Fleischmann trio, there stand seven forwards vying for six spots. It would seem prudent to play newcomer Mueller with some power forwards who can do more of the dirty work on the line and keep Mueller, who has had a long history with concussions, out of the high-traffic areas. As such someone like big Shawn Matthias (6-4/225) and/or the gritty Scottie Upshall (354 PIMs in 387 games) would make a good line-mate for the former World Junior superstar. They could also pair Mueller with their top forward prospect, center Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau, the third pick overall of the 2011 NHL draft who turned 19 in June, is expected to make the Panthers and could crack the top six as a center or even at left wing. Huberdeau has an impressive 88 goals and 212 points in 165 games for Saint John of the Quebec junior league. He was even more of a prolific goal scorer in the Quebec league playoffs with 37 goals (69 points) in 55 games.
Based on seniority, potential, and contract size, Santorelli will have a hard time beating out Mueller, Huberdeau, Matthias, Upshall, Bergenheim or Kopecky for a top nine spot. Following a semi-breakthrough 2010-11 season in which he scored 20 goals and 41 points in 82 games, Santorelli crashed last season scoring just nine goals and 11 points in 60 games. With all of the high-priced free agent additions that season Santorelli saw a drop in ice time from 16:41, including 2:42 on the power play, in 2010-11 to just 12:24 with only 1:06 on the power play in 2011-12. Santorelli could face further competition soon in Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad, the Panthers' 2010 first-round selection, scored 25 goals and 42 points in 40 games last season for the University of Minnesota. The 19-year-old center could turn pro at any time. After the top line, the Florida forwards with the most fantasy upside are Mueller and Huberdeau, with Mueller being with a huge health risk.
One thing we were right about in last season's "Early Look" was that the trade to Florida from Chicago would elevate Brian Campbell back to fantasy relevance. We even reminded you that Campbell had averaged 49 points per season in the five seasons prior to 2010-11. Campbell bounced back from the disappointing 2010-11 season in which he only managed 27 points in 65 games. We predicted a return to 45+ points and he delivered 53 points, including an amazing 31 PP points. Time for another prediction regarding another Florida D-man: Jason Garrison left Florida as a free agent and Dmitry Kulikov should be playing alongside Campbell on the first power play unit this season. Last season Kulikov scored 28 points in 58 games - a 40-point pace - with 10 power-play points. Kulikov, still just 21, has already played three full seasons in the NHL after winning virtually every award that he could in his lone season of junior hockey in 2008-09 (named QMJHL's Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Best Defenseman, and Top Draft Prospect). Assuming he beats out Filip Kuba for the first PP unit, expecting 40-45 points from Kulikov seems fairly realistic.
The other Florida defensemen that should see power play time include the new addition Kuba (32 points in 73 games for Ottawa last season), and one of Ed Jovanovski (13 points in 66 games) or 2010 top-3 pick Erik Gudbranson (eight points in 72 games). Gudbranson started last season as a 19-year-old before turning 20 in January. He displayed a quick temper (78 PIMs) and willingness to fight (six fights). Perhaps this season he can display the offensive prowess that made him a top-three pick overall. Florida management has been patiently waiting for Keaton Ellerby to become an NHL regular. Drafted 10th overall three years before Gudbranson, Ellerby's played more for their AHL team (150 games) than he has for Florida (116 games). It's time for the big Ellerby (6-5/220) to step up. If Ellerby doesn't meet expectations this year the sixth spot will go to Tyson Strachan, a 27-year-old depth defenseman who played 15 games for Florida last season and 50 games for their AHL team in San Antonio.
Jose Theodore (22-16-11 with a 2.46 GAA and a .917 SV %) and Scott Clemmensen (14-6-6 with a 2.57 GAA and .913 SV %) both had good seasons last year for the surprising Panthers. Theodore will be 36 when the season starts so another season of 51 starts may be too ambitious to expect. Top prospect Jacob Markstrom only got into seven games for Florida last season, posting a 2-4-1 record with a 2.66 GAA and .923 SV %.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Departures: Dwayne Roloson, Brett Clark, Ryan Shannon, Bruno Gervais
Additions: Anders Lindback, Matt Carle, Benoit Pouliot, Sami Salo, Dmitry Korobov
Knocking: Richard Panik, Cory Conacher
Projected Top Three Lines:
Teddy Purcell- Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
Benoit Pouliot/Cory Conacher - Nate Thompson - J.T. Wyman/Richard Panik
The Lightning will ice two formidable scoring lines led by the deadly first line of Steven Stamkos (60 goals/97 points), Martin St. Louis (25 goals/74 points) and last season's breakout king Teddy Purcell (24 goals/65 points). Vincent Lecavalier (22 goals/49 points in 64 games) heads up a fairly promising second line as well with underrated power forward Ryan Malone (20 goals/48 points/82 PIMs) and top prospect Brett Connolly. While Connolly had a less than stellar rookie season (four goals/15 points in 68 games), he was 19 and gaining invaluable experience. Moreover, as he represents the team's 2010 first round pick (6th overall) Connolly will be treated with a little more patience by the coaching staff than some journeyman forward. If the youngster falters and wears out the coaching staff's patience, the player most inclined to move up to Lecavalier's line is Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot was expected to be a top-six forward but has averaged only 15 goals and 29 points per season over the last three years. One left wing prospect that's knocking on the door is Cory Conacher but there may not be any room for him this year, barring injuries. Conacher, and undrafted 22-year-old, won the AHL MVP last season with 39 goals and 80 points in 75 games. He also won Rookie of the Year and was the league's leading goal scorer. Conacher is a little ball of hate (5-8 with 114 PIMs) that has an extremely accurate shot - 19% in 82 AHL games, 15% in 129 NCAA games.
Richard Panik could have a tough time beating out J.T. Wyman as the third line right wing beside new addition Pouliot on the left wing and Nate Thompson at center, especially if the Bolts want to ice more of a physical less offensive third line. Panik has the pedigree to eventually be a top-six winger but no opportunity currently exists in Tampa Bay for him to be deployed as one. Panik spent his first pro season in the AHL where he scored 19 goals and 41 points in 64 games. It was just his third season on North American ice. Panik, taken 52nd overall in '09, has the size at 6-2 and 203, has both the size and skill to succeed at the NHL level but may need an injury to crack the lineup. Wyman, 26, isn't much of a scorer with only 97 points in 245 AHL games and 11 points in 40 NHL games.
Defensively the Bolts have added both former Flyer Matt Carle and former Canuck Sami Salo in free agency to their top six to replace Brett Clark and Bruno Gervais. That's an upgrade when Salo is healthy. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was wise to pick up some insurance against both the oft-injured Salo and the aging (on his last legs) Mattias Ohlund getting hurt again. Former Devil Matt Taormina and former KHL defenseman Dmitry Korobov were both signed to two-way contracts. Taormina split last season between New Jersey (30 games) and their AHL farm team (33 games) and has shown offensive ability at the AHL level with 71 points in 113 games while Korobov is a big (6-3/212) defender who's just 23 and never played on the smaller ice.
Carle and friends join a defense that was much maligned last season, though the goaltending of Dwayne Roloson also left much to be desired. Aside from Ohlund (who missed all of last season due to surgeries on both knees) the holdovers from last season's defense are Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Brian Lee. Brewer, Carle and Hedman will all log heavy minutes with the other four (when healthy) expected to be Salo, Ohlund, Bergeron and Lee taking up most of the remaining ice time as the Bolts are known to dress seven defensemen. Ohlund may be done and that's one of the reasons that Yzerman signed so many free-agent defensemen this summer.
The first PP unit should feature Bergeron and Salo on the points with Carle and Hedman on the second unit. With the money that they gave Carle to sign, there may be some pressure to get him on the first PP unit. A dark horse to both make the Lightning roster and crack a power play unit is Mark Barberio. Barbeiro was named the top defenseman in the AHL last season after a campaign in which he scored 13 goals and 61 points in 74 games. A puck-moving defenseman who was prolific scorer in junior (43 goals and 151 points in his last 201 games), Barbeiro will probably need a few of the older guys (hello Ohlund and Salo) to fall prey to injury before he sees regular season action for the Bolts with Yzerman having loaded up on potential NHL D-men this summer. We haven't even mentioned Brendan Mikkelson or Keith Aulie, but they have no fantasy value nor are they likely to make the team.
Yzerman had a big decision to make regarding the team's goaltending situation. He decided to trade for former Nashville backup Anders Lindback. Lindback is a big goaltender (6-6, 203) who performed admirably as Pekka Rinne's backup the past two years in posting a 16-13-2 record with a 2.53 GAA and .914 SV % along with two shutouts. With so little NHL experience the 24-year-old Swede presents a gamble on draft day. One should take him only as a No. 3 roto goalie in standard 12-team leagues that start 2 goalies. Lindback won't have the 2010-11 Nashville defense in front of him this year, nor will he have the 2011-12 Nashville defense. While the Tampa Bay defense has improved both its depth and quality this offseason, it remains very much a work in progress. Yzerman has a suitable backup for Lindback in 34-year-old Mathieu Garon. Garon, who went 23-16-4 last season with a 2.85 GAA and .901 SV % in 2011-12, can be the No. 1 if needed but seems better suited for a backup role with only 323 starts in 12 seasons.
Departures: Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman, Tomas Vokoun, Cody Eakin
Additions: Mike Ribeiro, Wojtek Wolski
Knocking: Dmitri Orlov
Projected Top Three Lines:
Alex Ovechkin - Niklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Brooks Laich - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera/Wojtek Wolski - Matthieu Perreault - Joel Ward
Washington needed more experience up the middle in their top six and Ribeiro certainly fills the need, as he's averaged 68 points per season over the last six years. By adding Ribeiro the Caps may be able to keep both Marcus Johansson (14 goals/46 points) and Brooks Laich (16 goals/41 points) on the wings instead of at center. With the loss of Alexander Semin the Caps don't possess much scoring ability on the wing save for their captain. Now Johansson can play right wing on the first line with uber talents Ovechkin and Backstrom while Laich could see a career season in goals scored playing on the second line with playmaker Ribeiro setting him up and Brouwer usually screening the enemy net. The third line will feature grinders Jason Chimera (coming off a career season with 19 goals and 39 points) and Joel Ward. The third line center should be 24-year-old Mathieu Perreault. After putting up 135 points in 167 AHL games to start his pro career Perreault played his first full season in the NHL last year scoring 16 goals and 30 points in 64 games.
There is renewed optimism in fantasy circles over the direction of the team. The Caps were the darlings of the fantasy world with their high-octane offense and 70-point defenseman (Mike Green) back in 2008-09/2009-10. Two straight years of a reduction in scoring combined with an increased desire/insistence on playing more defensive hockey took the bloom off of the rose in Washington. The decision to hire Adam Oates as the new head coach has fans and pundits alike cautiously optimistic that they will free the reigns on the top offensive talent and let them be more aggressive like three years ago.
One final forward to mention here is Wojtek Wolski, the much traveled and often disappointing winger. Wolski scored 65 points in 80 games two seasons ago (2009-10) but has since played for three teams with increasingly poor results: 19 points in 37 games (PHO), 19 points in 39 games (NYR), and 9 points in 22 games (FLA). Washington signed Wolski for one year at just $600,000. It's a low-risk/low-cost gamble that the 26-year-old can get his once promising career back on track. If Wolski manages to crack the top nine, Ward would probably get dropped down to the fourth line, assuming no injuries.
Despite the loss of Dennis Wideman (their top scoring D-man last year) to free agency the Caps have several reasons to be excited about their defense this season: Mike Green's return to full health, the prospects of John Carlson erasing last season's sophomore slump, and the future of Dmitri Orlov. Green has gone through injury hell missing 83 of 162 games in the two seasons since his back-to-back 70-point campaigns but he's now at 100 percent and management felt secure enough about his health to sign him to a significant multi-year deal this summer - three years and $18.25 million. Carlson, 22, had a minor step back in his development last season seeing his points drop from 37 to 31 while finishing a minus-15. Still just 22 Carlson should bounce back with a career year if he can beat out Orlov for the first PP unit point spot across from Green. Orlov, who only turned 21 in July, played 60 games last season for Washington as a 20-year-old scoring 19 points. An excellent skater, well built (6-1, 210), and with a booming shot Orlov's upside is extremely high.
The fourth Caps defenseman to receive power play time next season will be either Karl Alzner or Roman Hamrlik. Playing on the team's first defensive pairing with Carlson for much of the year Alzner finished with 17 points and a plus-12 defensive rating. Alzner, who turns 24 in September, spent half of his first two pro seasons in the AHL and became a full-time NHLer just two seasons ago. Since then he's recorded 29 points and a plus-26 rating in 164 games. Hamrlik had a disappointing first year offensively in Washington scoring just 13 points in 68 games, with none on the power play. This will likely be Hamrlik's final NHL season so maybe they'll give him a nice going away present - regular power play minutes, as the 38-year-old does have 637 points in 1,379 games.
Jeff Schultz is the other member of the Caps' top six. Schultz has gone plus-4 in two seasons combined since his astounding plus-50 in 2009-10. The seventh spot on defense will likely be decided in training camp/exhibition season with the candidates being John Erskine (a healthy scratch much of last season) and Jack Hillen (played 55 games for Nashville last season.
The Tomas Vokoun experiment ended ingloriously. After shutting out Montreal on Feb. 7, Vokoun played 75 minutes of hockey the rest of the season while missing the playoffs. The Caps' 24-year-old former No. 1 goalie Michal Neuvirth is No. 1 again. A hip flexor injury kept Neuvirth out for the last portion of the season but he's expected to be 100 percent when/if training camp opens in September. Neuvirth went 13-13-5 with a 2.82 GAA and .903 SV % in 33 appearances last season, a far cry from the 27-12-4 and 2.45 GAA of the season before. Neuvirth will be challenged by Braden Holtby, who went from No. 3 to No. 1 at the end of last season when Vokoun and Neuvirth were both hurt. Holtby went 4-2-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .922 SV % in the regular season then posted an impressive 7-7 record (with four overtime losses) in the playoffs with a 1.95 GAA and equally impressive .935 SV %. Holtby is a must-have handcuff for anyone drafting Neuvirth.
Departures: Chris Mason, Eric Fehr
Additions: Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky
Knocking: Carl Klingberg
Projected Top Three Lines:
Evander Kane - Olli Jokinen - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Kyle Wellwood
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Alex Burmistov - Nik Antropov
The Jets had a useful foray into free agency, especially for a small market team that was supposed to have trouble attracting free agents. Former Calgary No. 1 center Olli Jokinen signed up for two years to bring experience, skill, and depth up the middle. The 34-year-old Jokinen (23 goals and 64 points in 82 games) will take the pressure off of 24-year-old center Bryan Little (24 goals and 46 points in 74 games) and give the team two dependable scoring lines strengthened by the presence of three formidable power forwards - Kane, Ladd, and Wheeler. Kane, especially, is still getting better and Jokinen represents the best center he's ever played with. Jokinen (6-2/210) and Wheeler (6-5/210) should be able to create space for Kane. Meanwhile, little Kyle Wellwood had a career-high of 47 points last season and has always had great playmaking ability. A third scoring line could emerge with the former Russian bloc line of Ponikarovsky-Burmistov-Antropov. Ponikarovsky and Antropov know each other well from their many years in Toronto together. Their size could make room for the young and talented Burmistov, still just 20, to generate some offense with the big former Leaf wingers. The Jets' top nine has some size and a decent level of skill to go with it.
On defense the team brings back its top six from last season, including the dynamic duo of Byfuglien and Enstrom. The two first-unit PP QBs combined for 86 points in 128 games. Byfuglien should be one of the first five defensemen drafted in standard leagues while Enstrom is more of latter round pick, as he gets less PIMs, scores less goals, records fewer PP points, and takes far less shots than Buff. Zach Bogosian is another draft worthy D-man, even though he's limited to second power play duty when Byfuglien and Enstrom are healthy. Bogo registered 30 points in 65 games last season, with 71 PIMs, 150 shots and seven PP points. The fourth defenseman to receive power play time should be Ron Hainsey (10 points in 56 games) though last season late-addition Grant Clitsome does have nine goals and 39 points in 105 NHL games. This gives the Jets five puck moving defensemen that can help generate offense. The sixth defenseman is the bruising former Bruin 2003 first round pick Mark Stuart (98 PIMs, 198 hits). Derek Meech will probably serve as the seventh defenseman. Should injuries strike Paul Postma will be the first to get called up, and he brings some offensive ability - the 23-year-old potted 13 goals and 44 points in 56 AHL games last season.
Ondrej Pavelec, who signed a long term deal this summer, went 29-28-9 last season with a 2.91 GAA and .901 SV %. Those aren't great numbers and it would be unwise to expect him to produce as a No. 2 fantasy goalie in standard 12-team leagues that start two goalies, even if the Jets show improvement as we expect. Former Islander Al Montoya, the new backup for the Jets, has 48 career starts with a 2.76 GAA and .906 SV %.