Last week we began our preparations for the upcoming fantasy hockey season with a look at players who have moved on to new teams, or others who will play more prominent roles with Eastern Conference teams this year. This week we complete the same exercise in the Western Conference.
Chicago - The defending Stanley Cup champs will have a new look at center ice this season as Brandon Pirri, as their second-round draft pick from 2009, looks to take hold of the second line role behind captain Jonathan Toews. Pirri has made three brief appearances with the Hawks, but he has shown steady improvement with their Rockford (AHL) affiliate and should be ready to take the next step in his pro career. Brandon Saad will get the chance to build on a solid rookie campaign (10 g, 17 a in 46 games) if he can make the jump into the top two forward lines. He hopes to challenge playoff hero Bryan Bickell for playing time on the left wing. Veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin will be the backup goalie to playoff MVP Corey Crawford.
Colorado - First overall draft pick, Nathan MacKinnon will start the season as the number 3 center behind Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, while another good scoring center, Ryan O'Reilly may be moved to a wing position in the early going. Alex Tanguay returns for a second stint in Colorado after spending the last six years between Calgary, Tampa and Montreal. He will provide valuable experience and secondary scoring help, possibly competing for a top six forward role on this young roster. Tyson Barrie is smallish defenseman (5'10”, 190 lbs) but he has been targeted as an offensive talent on the blue line here. He had 2 goals and 13 points in 32 games with the Avs last season, but also tallied 29 points in 38 games with Lake Erie (AHL) last year.
Dallas - The Stars picked up Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, who both ended last season on Boston's bottom two forward lines. Seguin, a former 2nd overall draft in 2010, will finally get a shot at a center ice posting on the top line and spending much of his first three pro seasons as a winger. Peverley will also move up as a scoring option on the second line in this revamped lineup. Antoine Roussel and Cody Eakin are two youngsters who each scored seven goals last year and are both poised to move up to scoring line duties this season as well. Veteran power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar signed a big contract with the Stars and should invigorate his likely complement Alex Goligoski in the Stars' blue line attack.
Minnesota - The Wild season took a tough downturn due to injuries late last year but they are optimistic that a full healthy season from Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley will solidify their offense this season. Kyle Brodziak needs to rebound from a dreadful campaign (8 goals, -18 rating) if he wants to hold on to a second line center role. He will be challenged by second-year pro, Mikael Granlund (2 g, 6 a, in 26 games last year). Minnesota acquired former first round pick Nino Niederreiter from the Isles and want to give him a scoring line role to see if he can rediscover the form he showed to merit the fifth overall pick in the 2010 Draft. The Wild also need more offense from the blueline behind Ryan Suter and hope that Jonas Brodin (2 g, 9 a, in 45 games) can build off of a decent rookie season.
Nashville - The Predators traded for Filip Forsberg (the 11th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, by Washington), to address the need for more offense from the center position. He will be given the chance to challenge Mike Fisher for a second line role. Viktor Stalberg comes over from the Hawks to provide speed and depth at a wing position. The defense rich Predators didn't hesitate to draft highly touted blueliner Seth Jones (fourth overall in the 2013 Draft) as many observers had him pegged as the top player in Major Junior hockey last year. This kid has it all, size, two-way skills and toughness that should give him a long prosperous NHL career. Patric Hornqvist is back to start the season after splitting his time in the Swedish Elite League last year. He will resume his front line right wing role with the Predators.
St. Louis - The free agent signing of Derek Roy gives the Blues a fourth offensively capable center to further bolster this deep offense. Inexperienced talent dots the wings here. Jaden Schwartz (10th overall draft in 2010) had seven goals and six assists in 45 games last year and Magnus Paajarvi scored nine goals and seven assists (for Edmonton) before being dealt to St Louis in the off-season. Both will challenge for scoring line duty. Jay Bouwmeester resigned a long-term deal with the Blues and will hopefully soon be rejoined by Alex Pietrangelo (currently an RFA) to anchor a deep and talented defense corps.
Winnipeg - The Jets added Devin Setoguchi (13 g, 14 a in Minnesota last year) to give the Jets solid left wing depth, along with Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd. They also added Michael Frolik, who had been a depth player with Chicago last year (3 g. 7 a) but he also has 2-20-goal seasons in his early years with Florida on his NHL resume. The Jets defense will look much improved if they can keep Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian healthy this year. They missed a combined 41 games played last season, leaving a huge hole in the depth on the Jets blueline.
Anaheim - 25-year old Nick Bonino will get the chance to play on a scoring line in the hopes of building on the 13 points he scored in 267 games played last year. The Ducks acquired Jakob Silfverberg from Ottawa in the offseason Booby Ryan trade, expecting the second-year NHLer to move up to the top line and improve on his 10 goals and nine assists in 48 games played last year. The ageless Teemu Selanne (24 points in 46 games) will decide later this week if he will return for another season. If Selanne doesn't return, look for Kyle Palmieri (21 points in 42 games) and former first-round draft pick (in 2010) Emerson Etem to battle for second line minutes.
Calgary - After splitting time between Calgary and the Swedish Elite League last year, Mikael Backlund begins this season as the Flames #1 center. He has only scored 62 points in 170 NHL games, so that's looking like a tall order. Sven Baertschi (3 g and 7 a, in 20 games) hopes to continue develop as the Flames hoped when they chose him with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 Draft. The Flames are going to take a long look at goalie Karri Ramo, who spent the last five years in the KHL, to see if he is a worthy successor to Miikka Kiprusoff, who was rumored to retire this summer but hasn't yet filed his official retirement papers.
Edmonton - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a former first overall draft pick in 2011, needs to be much better than the guy who scored only four goals (and 20 assists) last year. Sam Gagner was re-signed to a three-year deal as the Oilers continue to hope for the former first round pick (6th overall in 2007) to make a significant breakthrough. He had 38 points in 48 games last season. David Perron was brought in to boost the offense (25 points in 48 games with St. Louis last year). He will get a scoring line role here. The Oilers signed Andrew Ference early in the free agency period this summer in the hopes of solidifying the rearguard with a quality shutdown defenseman.
Los Angeles - The depth of the Kings was evident as they only tinkered around the edges of their roster this offseason. An offseason trade saw them parlay the departure of their backup goalie last season, (Jonathan Bernier) into the addition of a depth scorer in Matt Frattin and a new backup goalie (Ben Scrivens). In addition, they have added more toughness in the veteran presence of the rugged Daniel Carcillo. After a decent regular season (16 points in 45 games) and a strong playoff, Jake Muzzin may be ready to join Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, in leading a high scoring group on defense.
Phoenix - Mike Ribeiro (49 points in 48 games last year) signed up as a free agent an immediately slides into the first line center role for the Coyotes this season. That's pretty much it for new faces in the desert. But who's kidding who? The big story here is off-ice stability ushered in by a new NHL ownership. We will soon know if hockey will survive here. The Coyotes generated a buzz at the NHL Draft by using their first pick 12th overall) to select Max Domi, who was highlight-reel scorer in Junior with London (OHL) last year.
San Jose - In a potentially important development for fantasy players, Brent Burns will play as a winger this season as opposed to his usual defense position. He may even get a shot at a role on the top two scoring lines. The spillover from that change means that the trio of Jason Demers, Justin Braun and Matt Irwin will be competing for more ice time on the top two defense pairings. Raffi Torres, who's been a frequent visitor to the league's disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan, may find himself in a more prominent on-ice role as he is expected to get second line minutes to start the year.
Vancouver - In the biggest surprise of the summer, Roberto Luongo is now slated to be the number one goalie here, once again as the Canucks dealt Corey Schneider to the Devils for the ninth pick in the 2013 Draft, selecting skilled forward Bo Horvat. The intrigue around Luongo has continued because the line of communication between him and team management has been damaged by the year-long rumors of his impending departure. He may not be happy to be returning to Vancouver after all the nonsense. The other big change will be behind the bench where John Tortorella begins his tenure here after a volatile time in New York City. On the ice, the biggest intrigue surrounds the first line right wing slot. Will Zack Kassian win the role or does it revert back to Alexandre Burrows? It will likely be training camp decision which will have significant implications in your fantasy pool.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).