Top-9 Early Look - Atlantic 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 are omitted.
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Loui Eriksson
Carl Soderberg - Chris Kelly - Reilly Smith/Ryan Spooner/Jordan Caron
The Bruins let Jaromir Jagr leave as a free agent. While he still has some skill, he was simply too slow to keep up with their top six forwards in the playoffs. Will Jarome Iginla be any quicker? Yes, most certainly. And at 36, Iggy's six years younger than the Czech native. While Iginla netted just 14 goals and 33 points in 44 games during last year's lockout-shortened season, he'd bagged 75 goals over the previous two seasons combined. Playing with Lucic and Krejci should rejuvenate him. With Lucic doing the tough guy role it leaves Iginla to enjoy the playmaking ability of Krejci and the freedom to be the second or third focus of enemy defenders.
Loui Eriksson is another talented goal scorer and he's still in his 20's, like his projected linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Prior to last season Eriksson had averaged 28 goals over his three previous seasons. While Eriksson is five seasons removed from his career-high of 36 goals in 2008-09, he is still very much in his prime. Moreover he has the speed and skill to make this line one of the more prolific second lines in hockey - after Pittsburgh but right there with Chicago, Toronto and San Jose while ahead of L.A., Detroit, Edmonton and maybe Philly (if Vinny pans out).
While the top six features a new right wing for each line, the third line will be almost entirely new. Chris Kelly is the only holdover from the last full season while Carl Soderberg joined the team during the playoffs last spring. Kelly and Soderberg are both natural centers so they could flip flop between center and left wing depending on which is better at face-offs and how quickly the Swedish newcomer can adapt to the North American version of ice hockey. The right wing on the third line remains uncertain, though it appears that Reilly Smith could get the first shot at the gig. Smith was acquired in the Tyler Seguin-Rich Peverley trade to Dallas. Smith was a highly productive winger in college, potting 58 goals and 102 points along with a plus-53 rating in 77 games in his last two seasons for Miami of Ohio, before turning pro last season. Smith split his first pro season between the AHL (14 goals/35 points in 45 games) and the NHL (three goals/nine points in 37 games). If Smith fails to impress in camp and exhibition play, the next in line could be Ryan Spooner. Spooner, a year younger than Smith at 21, was nearly a point-per-game player last season in the AHL (57 points in 59 games). Spooner, though, is a natural center. If neither Smith nor Spooner can earn the trust of coach Claude Julien, three-year AHL veteran Jordan Caron may get it by default. Caron, 22, is about the same age as the other two prospects but he's already played 123 AHL games (regular season and playoffs posting 68 points) and 90 NHL games (regular season and playoffs posting 25 points). Caron knows the system Julien likes to play and, at 6-2/202, he's noticeably bigger than the other two contenders for the right wing spot on L3.
Thomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Ville Leino
Steve Ott - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Marcus Foligno - Kevin Porter/Mikhail Grigorenko - Brian Flynn/Corey Tropp
The Sabres are thin up front in both talent and overall depth. On the top line Thomas Vanek is the easily the most decorated. Vanek's 20 goals in 38 games played last season- an average goals per game clip of 0.526 -- was his highest goals-per-game percentage since 2008-09 when he netted 40 goals in 73 games, an average of 0.548 gpg. The 23-year-old Cody Hodgson is the reigning No. 1 center and he's slowly coming into his own. Hodgson's 15 goals and 34 points in 48 games last year projects to 26 goals and 58 points over 82 games. The only way he hits those targets this season, however, is if Thomas Vanek doesn't get traded. Meanwhile the other projected first liner, massive bust and 2011 free agent addition Ville Leino, has to stay healthy before he can even begin to justify the $26 million contract he signed two years ago. Leino played just eight games last season for Buffalo due to injury. At least this season Leino will get a first line opportunity, unlike his first year with the Sabres where he played mostly bottom six minutes and deployment (15:55) with minimal No. 2 power play usage (1:03).
The second line has a mix of size, skill, and grit. While Steve Ott isn't huge at 6-0/192, he plays big. Ott's abrasive physical style draws crowds thus creating space for his more offensively gifted linemates Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. Ennis, who is just four months older than No. 1 center Hodgson, had 10 goals and 31 points in 48 games last season while the right wing Stafford was outright terrible last year scoring a measly six goals in 48 games despite averaging over 17 minutes a game and two minutes of power play time. Stafford's goals per game peaked three seasons ago when he scored 31 goals in 62 games. That impressive 0.50 goals per game average dropped to 0.25 gpg (20 goals in 80 games) in 2011-12 before plummeting to 0.11 gpg this past year. Stafford needs to regain his 20-goal form for the offensively challenged Sabres.
Only two players on the projected third line have legitimate top-six potential, Marcus Foligno and Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigorenko, however, is still just 19 years old. The Sabres would surely benefit if Grigorenko can make a quantum leap from his rookie season. Grigorenko has both the size (6-3/202) and the skill to make an impact, if he can get decent power play time and play a full schedule. If Grigorenko sticks on the third line and the 22-year-old Foligno also shows growth, it could be an effective unit. Foligno struggled mightily last season, his first semi-full season, with only five goals and 13 points in 47 games. The spring before he had joined the team in the latter stages of the season from the AHL and scored 13 points in 14 games. He also saw his ice time drop from that first spring (15:49) to just 13:38 last year. At 6-3/226, it's pretty clear what Foligno needs to do to be effective: hit people on defense, cycle the puck, and go to the net. What is unclear is who will play as the third line right wing and whether he'll be a detriment to his linemates. Brian Flynn and Corey Tropp figure to fight for the assignment in camp and exhibition. Neither shows top-six potential. Flynn split his first pro season between Buffalo and their AHL affiliate in Rochester. Flynn had 16 goals and 32 points in 46 games for Rochester and he scored six goals and 11 points in 26 games for Buffalo. Tropp, 24, is a year younger than Flynn but he's already been a pro for three years. Tropp missed most of last season due to a knee injury. Tropp has 66 points in 109 AHL games but just eight points in 34 NHL games.
Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Justin Abdelkader
Johan Franzen - Stephen Weiss - Daniel Alfredsson
Gustav Nyquist - Joakim Andersson - Mikael Samuelsson/Dan Cleary
Johan Franzen (31 points in 41 games last year) stands to be the only player that could suffer as a result of the addition of Daniel Alfredsson, unless Alfredsson plays on the point on the first power play - a spot he has often frequented over his 17 seasons. While Alfredsson's addition has caused quite a stir in Ottawa, he clearly is no longer in his prime. Alfie only has a combined 111 points over his last three seasons covering 176 games, a 52-point pace. He had a modest 26 points in 47 games last season, 59 points in 75 games in 2011-12 and 31 points in 54 games in 2010-11. While he can show bursts of his former form, such as his 10 points in 10 playoff games last spring, he's going to be 40 years old this season and he'll be trying to play a full 82 game season instead of last year's 48 game season. That's 35 more games than the 47 games he played in last year. One could argue that fellow free agent addition Stephen Weiss should have a bigger impact on the team's regular season. Why? The addition of a legitimate No.2 center in the 30-year-old former Panther Weiss allows the Wings to put their best two players together in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Adding the imposing Abdelkader to the top unit should make things more stress free for the dynamic duo. A second line with Weiss along with Alfredsson and Franzen has the makings of a very effective unit. While Weiss had a forgettable injury plagued 2012-13 campaign he's been a 60-point player twice over the past four years with a 57-point average over the four-year period. Weiss is also responsible in his own end. Despite playing for a woeful Panthers squad for his entire 11-year and 654-game career, he's only a minus-17.
The Wings should have a quick and relatively dangerous third line, possibly comprised of a trio of Swedish nationals. Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson are locks for the third line, but the third Swede Mikael Samuelsson is no sure thing with his injury issues. Once believed to be a compliance buyout candidate, Samuelsson missed most of last season appearing in just four games. While he's scored 14 goals or bettering six of the previous seven seasons before his lost lockout year, Samuelsson will be 37 in December and carries a $3 million cap hit. Dan Cleary is the more compelling option at right wing but the team has no cap room to re-sign him currently. If they can unload either Jordan Tootoo and/or Cory Emmerton, they'd have the cap room to bring back Cleary. Reports out of Detroit continue to insist that Cleary will be re-signed. The other way to clear cap space is by putting Samuelsson or Todd Bertuzzi and/or Darren Helm on the long-term-injury reserve list. While Cleary managed only nine goals in a truncated 48-game season last year, he'd averaged 18 goals per season over the previous six full regular seasons. Moreover, Cleary was Detroit's second leading scorer in last spring's playoffs with 10 points in 14 games. At left wing, Gustav Nyquist has paid his dues in the AHL and established himself as a point-per-player there while the young center Joakim Andersson has size (6-2/206) and decent speed.
Tomas Fleischmann - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Jonathan Huberdeau - Drew Shore/Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Kopecky
Sean Bergenheim - Nick Bjugstad/Marcel Goc - Scottie Upshall
Tomas Fleischmann remains Florida's best forward and Kris Versteeg is on their first line. That doesn't bode well for the team. The Panthers didn't do much of anything in free agency (Scott Gomez?), so they are counting on more of their young players emerging this season. Jonathan Huberdeau is already good but has lots of room to improve. His ceiling has certainly not been approached. He anchors the second line along with Tomas Kopecky. Prospects Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad will likely compete for the No. 2 center spot this season, as Marcel Goc and Gomez are not top-six talents. The third line wingers will be Sean Bergenheim and Scottie Upshall, arguably Florida GM Dale Tallon's two least of his successful additions in his summer of '01 roster overhaul that saw them also add Feischmann, Versteeg, Goc and oft-injured defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Bergenheim missed all of last season due to a groin surgery. Moreover, there's no guarantee that he'll be 100 percent when training camp opens in September. If Bergenheim's injury persists into the season either Shore or Bjugstad, whoever isn't playing second line center, could see wing deployment early on. Injuries have limited Upshall to playing in just 53 games out of a possible 130 games since he signed with Florida two summers ago.
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Daniel Briere
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk - Lars Eller - Brian Gionta
The left wings on the top two lines - Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque - will have to do the heavy lifting, as the remaining four forwards among the top six are lacking in size. While Dany Briere and Brendan Gallagher are both fearless and unafraid to enter the dangerous zones offensively, they are not power forwards. Meanwhile top line center David Desharnais is looking to bounce back from a dismal 2012-13 season in which he amassed just 23 points in 41 games and the addition of Briere could be just the right tonic. Bourque also suffered through a mediocre 2012-13 season and must use his large frame more often to create room for his linemates. Gallagher had an excellent rookie season and further growth is certainly a reasonable assumption.
The Habs have some talent on the third line, more than many teams. While some observers feel that 19-year-old Alex Galchenyuk would be best served playing center, the Habs brain trust has decided to keep him at wing for his second pro season. This decision by GM Marc Bergevin all but assures that Lars Eller will be third line center. Eller's 30 points in 46 games last year projects to a 53-point season, pretty heady numbers for a No. 3 center playing just his third NHL season. Captain Brian Gionta drops down to third line right wing with the addition of Briere. Gionta scored 14 goals and 26 points in 48 games last season. This should be one of the better third lines in the league. When injuries hit the top six, team leader Brandon Prust will move up from the fourth line to either line 2 or 3. While Montreal lacks size in its top nine, it enjoys a good amount of depth and overall team speed.
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Bobby Ryan
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone/Mika Zibanejad
Colin Greening/Cory Conacher - Zibanejad/Stephane Da Costa - Erik Condra
The addition of Bobby Ryan should help Jason Spezza return to the 70-80 point player he's been in five of the past seven full regular seasons. Despite often losing first power play minutes to Teemu Selanne, Ryan has still scored 31 or more goals in the last four seasons in which he's played at least 50 games. Moreover, Ryan has averaged an impressive 26 even-strength goals per season over his past full three normal (aka 82-game) regular seasons. This season he'll be on a Sens' first power play unit that will also feature Spezza and all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson. The rest of the unit is likely to comprise Patrick Weircoch at the other point and Milan Michalek up front.
The second line is lead by Kyle Turris, who slides back to No. 2 center. Turris is better suited for a second line role and he'll have some talent to play with. Clarke MacArthur is one probable winger along with one of Mark Stone, Cory Conacher or Mike Zibanejad. Stone, just 21, spent his first pro season in the AHL scoring 15 goals and 38 points in 54 games. Stone has good size at 6-3, 200, and scored 41 and 123 points in 66 games during his last year in junior hockey. Zibanejad, a natural center, scored 20 points in 42 games for Ottawa last season. The Senators would prefer to keep him at center on the third line but it will depend on how well Stone performs in camp and exhibition play.
The third line should feature Colin Greening at left wing and likely Zibanejad at center along with Erik Condra at right wing. Cory Conacher is clearly a player with top-six ability - he had 29 points in 47 games last year, split between Tampa Bay and Ottawa - but finding a regular spot in the lineup this season could prove difficult. One option, if Stone isn't ready for top-six duty, would be to switch MacArthur to right wing on the second line and deploy Conacher at left wing. Ottawa will have several options in their top nine.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Alexander Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Jonathan Drouin/Ryan Malone - Valtteri Filppula - Teddy Purcell
Malone/Richard Panik - Tyler Johnson - Panik/Brett Connolly
While the loss of longtime captain Vincent Lecavalier stings, the Lightning's offense may not suffer much, if at all. A lot will depend on free-agent addition Valtteri Filppula, who vastly underperformed last season for Detroit with just nine goals and 17 points in 41 games. Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman showed a tremendous amount of faith in Filpulla's talent when he overpaid him to the tune of five years for $25 million. Filpulla will have Teddy Purcell on his right wing and either 2013 first-round pick (2nd overall) Jonathan Drouin or veteran power forward Ryan Malone on his left flank.
The superb top line combo of Steven Stamkos (29 goals, 57 points in 48 games) and Marty St. Louis (17 goals, 60 points in 48 games) is expected to draw in Alexander Killorn at left wing. Killorn, 23, played his first pro season last year after four years at Harvard. He was nearly a point-per-game player for Tampa's AHL affiliate (16 goals, 38 points in 44 games) before moving up to the big club where he potted seven goals and 19 points in 38 games. The third line should ice some good young talent with this duo - Richard Panik (22) and Brett Connolly (21) - likely competing for one spot alongside Tyler Johnson (23) at center and likely Malone at left wing.
Toronto Maple Leafs
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson
Joe Colborne - Dave Bolland - Nikolai Kulemin
The Leafs will ice their best and deepest top nine in some 20 years this coming season. It all starts with what Toronto did in free agency. First, they re-signed their No. 1 center in Tyler Bozak. Secondly, they signed David Clarkson. This was huge because it means that the Buds will have a power forward on each of their first two lines, with James van Riemsdyk (JVR) the power forward on the first line. It also means that Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri have some protection when they're on the ice. Third, they signed hometown product Dave Bolland, a gritty top-six talent who won two Stanley Cups with Chicago.
The Leafs' Phil Kessel is playing for a new contract, as good a motivation as there is in pro sports. Kessel and Bozak have good chemistry together with JVR. The trio combined for 50 goals and 112 points in 142 combined games last season. They represented three of the team's top five point producers. The second line could be equally as good, as Kadri and Lupul combined for 29 goals and 62 points in 64 games. Clarkson has scored 45 goals and 70 points in 128 games over the past two seasons. This is as good a top six as any in the league.
The third line will be centered by Bolland with former top six forward Nikolai Kulemin at right wing and likely Joe Colborne at left wing. Kulemin's production has nosedived since he scored 30 goals and 57 points in 2010-11. Since then the Russian native has managed to score just 14 goals and 51 points in 118 games. Still, if an injury strikes the top two lines at wing, Kulemin would be the first guy moved up. Colborne, drafted 16th overall by Boston in '08, is a huge body (6-5,215) who's played most of the last two seasons in the AHL (30 goals, 81 points in 130 games).