This week we get back to your fantasy pool preparations by looking at the top two lines and defense pairs, as well as the goalie situations for each team in the Eastern Conference. After we identify the same depth in the Western clubs, you will have a line on over 300 players on whom you should be focusing your attention prior to your draft. We'll also through in a note about each club's resident tough guy, for those pools that may reward penalty minutes or fights.
Boston - The Bruins will once again feature two scoring lines that are interchangeable, with all six forwards in line for power play time. David Krejci, hoping to take another step forward, hopes to parlay a strong 2013 playoff into a quality regular season between Milan Lucic (a top power forward) and newly acquired winger Loui Eriksson. The other line will feature the dynamic duo of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, joined on the right wing by veteran Jarome Iginla. Zdeno Chara, who will be joined by veterans Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, will again lead the defense. Young bucks Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton may move into the top four here if they can provide an offensive upgrade. Tuukka Rask signed a long-term contract and should be among the league leaders in goal. Shawn Thornton returns as the resident sheriff here.
Buffalo - Cody Hodgson finally gets a chance to be a number one center and should benefit from playing alongside Thomas Vanek. They will be joined by Ville Leino, who hopes to rebound from an injury-plagued season (six points and only eight games played.) Mikael Grigorenko hopes to slide into the second line center role, veteran Drew Stafford and the promising Marcus Foligno. Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers will be the top offensive members of this blueline brigade. Jamie McBain will be on the second unit with defensive types Mike Weber or veteran shutdown guy, Henrik Tallinder. If Ryan Miller stays with the Sabres, he'll be the starter in goal. Jhonas Enroth is knocking on that door, though. Hulking winger John Scott is one of the most feared scrappers in the NHL.
Detroit - It will be interesting to see how the reduction in travel miles helps the older players here. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will lead this attack once again. They will be playing with Daniel Alfredsson, who joined the Wings as a free agent this summer. Stephen Weiss was another free agent signed to anchor the second line and Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader should flank him. Nicklas Kronwall will lead the defense, which hopes to get an offensive boost from Danny DeKeyser. Otherwise, it will be up to Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl to chip in. Jimmy Howard is looked to a long-term deal and will start over 60 games in goal. The Wings don't really have a designated tough guy once again.
Florida - Shawn Matthias moves up to the number one center spot, flanked by super sophomore Jonathan Huberdeau and the speedy Kris Versteeg. Aleksander Barkov the Panthers top pick from the June 2013 Draft will get the chance to show that he's possibly the most NHL-ready rookie from this year's class. He will be the pivot for veteran wingers Tomas Fleishmann and Tomas Kopecky. On defense, the top two pairings should feature Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver. If he is healthy, Ed Jovanovski could move up here. Florida needs a breakout season from projected starter Jakob Markstrom in goal.
Montreal - Free agent Daniel Briere will join incumbents Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta on a talented, albeit physically (vertically?) challenged top line. Sniper Max Pacioretty will again work with playmaker David Desharnais and sophomore pest Brendan Gallagher on a second scoring line. Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk should also challenge for "top-six" minutes here. Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov are two of the best offensive-minded defensemen in the NHL. Rafael Diaz is a third option there. Look for Jared Tinordi to provide toughness back there. Carey Price will look for a rebound to top form in goal. George Parros hopes to push or join Brandon Prust for the "tough-guy" role here.
Ottawa - Jason Spezza is healthy to start this season as the number one center and will be joined by offseason pickup Bobby Ryan, a natural goal-scorer who hopes to blossom in Ottawa. Milan Michaluk is another veteran coming off an injury-plagued season. The second line should feature the maturing Kyle Turris at center, likely between free agent pickup Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher, who is hoping to build on a strong rookie year. Erik Karlsson should resume his perch near the top of the league's top scoring defensemen. Patrick Wiercioch may be another decent scoring option back there for the Sens. Eric Gryba and Marc Methot may also chip in from the blueline. Craig Anderson should be ready to rank among the top goalies after his own injury-plagued 2012-2013 season. Chris Neil will be the local cop, patrolling the ice in his usual third line, and sometimes power play, role.
Tampa - Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will once again pace the Lightning attack. One key note is that it looks like rookie playmaker Jonathan Drouin will get an early audition with those two stars. GM Steve Yzerman plucked Valtterri Filppula from the Wings to anchor a second scoring line. A rugged winger, Ryan Malone on one side, and a speedy winger, Teddy Purcell, on the other flank, will join him. Young Victor Hedman and much older Sami Salo will pace the blueline offense. Matt Carle should be in the mix for power play time, too. Goaltending figures to be split between the tallest tandem in the NHL, with Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback battling for control of the crease. B.J. Crombeen and Radko Gudas with handle any rough stuff.
Toronto - The Leafs have built a solid top two scoring lines with some clever moves in the last two years. The top line will feature Phil Kessel at right wing, with his close friend, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. This offseason, they added toughness and scoring with the signing of David Clarkson. He should fit in nicely with Joffrey Lupul, who emerged as a team leader last season (when he was healthy) and Nazem Kadri, who enjoyed a breakout season last year. Captain Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson are a good complement to each other on one defense pairing, while Mark Fraser and Cody Franson also worked well together. Fluid skating Jake Gardiner is poised to break through this year. Newly acquired Jonathan Bernier may have a slight edge on James reamer in the Leafs' goalie battle for playing time. Colton Orr and Fraser McLaren were the top fighting tandem in the league last year.
Carolina - Alexander Semin (13 g, 31 a, +14) had a fine year in his Carolina debut last year. He will again be paired with Captain Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty (23 g 15 a, +15), who also put together an excellent 2012-2013 season. Jordan Staal returns to anchor the second line, paired with dynamic Jeff Skinner and Patrick Dwyer. Justin Faulk and Joni Pitkanen are penciled in as the top veterans who will chip in offense from the defense. The Hurricanes also have hopes that Ryan Murphy, a top scorer in Junior hockey, will be ready to make the jump to a full time role after completing a fourth campaign with Kitchener (OHL). Cam Ward is ready to take on a big workload in goal after injuries shortened his 2012-2013 season. Kevin Westgarth is one of the league's underrated tough guys-an excellent scrapper.
Columbus - Aretem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky are expected to claim the top two center slots and will both have talent and experience on their right wings as Marian Gaborik and free agent Nathan Horton, two top snipers will claim those spots. Left wingers Nick Foligno and R J Umberger aren't quite so potent offensively, but they will provide grit and a physical component on these units. They will get their fair share of points in this support role. Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin are quality offensive blueliners who will anchor the power play here. James Wisniewski is another experienced blueliner who will chip in offensively. Ryan Murray (2nd overall Draft in 2012 may also get a long look. He's got great offensive upside. Sergei Bobrovsky emerged with a breakout campaign to earn the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie in his first full year in Columbus. Jared Boll is a tough guy who has a bit of a scoring touch and will play a regular shift.
NY Rangers - The arrival of Alain Vigneault as the new head coach is supposed to signal a change to a more balanced and potent attack. Rick Nash is the top gun here and the club hopes that current holdout Derek Stepan (18 g, 26 a) signs soon to work as Nash's centerman. Speedy Carl Hagelin joins them on the left side in his third NHL season. Brad Richards hopes to rebound from being in the doghouse last year. He will center the second scoring unit, flanked by Ryan Callahan and either Benoit Poulliot (8g, 12 a) or Chris Kreider. If Richards falters or Stepan does hold out, watch for Derek Brassard to get a bigger offensive role. The Rangers blueline boasts a formidable quartet of players who are adept at both ends of the ice. Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonough, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal anchor one of the NHL's top defenses. Having all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist does not hurt the cause at all. Aaron Asham and Derek Dorsett can both mix it up when necessary.
NY Islanders - Newly minted Captain John Tavares has become an elite player and left winger Matt Moulson has enjoyed great chemistry with him over the last few years. They will be joined by power forward Kyle Okposo, who should be ready to break out this year, on this potent line combination. Frans Nielsen (29 points last year) centers the second line again, joined by Pierre Bouchard on the right wing and Michael Grabner on the left side. Josh Bailey is another offensive winger who should push for top-six minutes here. Veteran Lubomir Viznovsky and rugged Travis Hamonic should pace the offensive from the defense corps. Andrew MacDonald and Brian Strait round out the top four. Matt Carkner is a willing pugilist for the Isles. Evgeni Nabokov signed another one- year deal and spilt time in goal with the promising Kevin Poulin in a nice mentor-student pairing.
New Jersey Devils - After being stunned by the defection of Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils surprised many when they traded for goalie Corey Schneider at the NHL Draft. He will split time with future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Travis Zajac will only retain the top center role if he improves on an ordinary 2012-2013 campaign (20 points in 48 games). Patrick Elias and free agent Michael Ryder ensure good quality on the first line wing positions. Third year pivot Adam Henrique needs to bounce back from the sophomore jinx (16 points in 42 games last year). He will be complemented and should learn a lot in playing with free agents Ryan Clowe and Jaromir Jagr. Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene will man the points on the power play. Defensive defenders Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador will carry on that traditional posture for the Devils. Krystopher Barch is as tough as his name sounds.
Philadelphia - Captain Claude Giroux leads the always-fiesty Flyers into battle this season flaked by the prototypical power forward Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek (46 points in 48 games). A big and tough second line is built around free agent Vincent Lecavalier, who will be joined by Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Sean Couturier and Matt Read could fill in or push for top-six minutes. Newly acquired Mark Streit and incumbent Kimmo Timonen will provide lots of offense from the blueline group. Brayden Coburn and Luke Schenn will add toughness and steady defensive play in a shutdown role. Ray Emery and Steve Mason will engage in a battle for the top goalie role. Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill are the primary heavyweights that will go into battle at the drop of a glove.
Pittsburgh - With the fact that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are among the very best offensive centers in the game, the wing positions in Pittsburgh are highly coveted. Kris Kunitz and the defensively responsible Pascal Dupuis will again join Crosby and should post solid numbers across the board. James Neal was a good partner for Malkin and got lots of power play time last year. Look for sophomore Beau Bennett to get the early shot to join them. If he falters, veteran Jussi Jokinen is ready to step up. Kris Letang is a premier offensive defenseman and Paul Martin is a solid secondary option. Matt Niskanen is probably the best of the rest. Rob Scuderi returns to Pittsburgh to fill a shut down role. Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass will try to protect this talented group. Marc Andre Fleury hopes to rediscover his form in goal. Otherwise, Tomas Vokoun is there as an insurance policy.
Washington - The explosive tandem of Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will led the Caps offense once again. Troy Brouwer spent a lot of time with them on left wing and had a strong playoff as well. Marcus Johansson will challenge him for that plum assignment. Mikael Grabovski should thrive as the number two center here and will benefit from working with a responsible two-way player in Martin Erat. Brooks Laich will fit in the top-six at some point this year (once again). Mike Green and john Carlson are proven scoring commodities on this defense. Karl Alzner and John Erskine are steady complements on the defensive side of the puck. Braden Holtby emerged as one of top young goalies in the league last year. Joel Ward is a solid depth power forward and Aaron Volpatti will be a policeman here.
These are most of the names you will need to know from the Eastern Conference as you look ahead to your fantasy drafts.
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).