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From the Pressbox: Top Lines & Pairings - Western Conference

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno

Paul is a 22-year veteran of the STATS INC reporter network, scoring play by play for the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. He is also the creator of the statistical platform which evolved into the NHL's Real Time Scoring System, which was unveiled in 1992. You can also hear him on XM Sirius and nextsportsstar.com, talking hockey and baseball.In addition to all of Toronto's teams, he is also a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

This week we continue 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 Western Conference. We'll also through in a note about each club's resident tough guy, for those pools that may reward penalty minutes or fights.

Central Division

Chicago - The defending champs will be a tough out once again because they have amassed depth at each position. Captain Jonathan Toews will anchor one of the NHL's most feared forward lines, between Patrick Kane and emerging power forward Bryan Bickell.  The second line will feature Marian Hossa and Patrick Shaw on the wings. The Hawks will give young Andrew Shaw (10 g. 17 a) a change to unseat Michal Handzus for that second center slot. Brandon Saad ((10 g, 7 a) is a quality young prospect who may push his way into top six minutes. The deep veteran defense returns intact, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook locked in as the top pair, with Nick Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya acting as a solid two-way supporting pair. Corey Crawford parlayed his strong playoff into a long multi-year deal, as he is primed to be a fixture in the Hawks' goal. Veteran Nikolai Khabibulin was signed to be the quality backup here.

Colorado - The Avs did not hesitate in selecting Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick in the 2013 Amateur Draft, despite their depth at center, as matt Duchene and Paul Stastny hold down the top two slots. Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog are locked into the top left wing spots, while Pierre Parenteau (18 g, 25 a) cemented his status as a quality front line right-winger. Veteran Alex Tanguay was brought in as a steadying influence and another quality points producer, as he was plucked from free agency this offseason. Erik Johnson, once a very high draft pick with plenty of upside had a dreadful 2012-2013 season and will be expected to rebound offensively this year. Jan Hejda will join Johnson on the power play, while Tyson Barrie will be charged with a top four, and offensive, role here as well. Semyon Varlamov (11-21-2, 3.02 gaa) needs to improve on those numbers and will continue to lean on J S Giguere for support. Cody McLeod, the resident tough guy, chipped in with some offense (8 g, 4 a) last year.

Dallas - The Stars made a big splash in acquiring enigmatic forward Tyler Seguin from the Bruins and he'd finally going to get a top line center role here. He needs to find a chemistry with Jamie Benn and we look for Alex Chiasson (6 g, 1 a, in a 13-game cameo last year, to get a shot at the coveted top right wing opening here. Ray Whitney, 41, will be asked to add another point per game season out of his long career, in pacing a second scoring line opposite fellow veteran Erik Cole. Shawn Horcoff, another off-season pickup will try to rediscover his offensive groove as the number two center. Sergei Gonchar was signed to come in and anchor the defensive attack opposite Alex Goligoski. Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas will complement these gunners with their robust defensive play. Kari Lehtonen is a consistent and durable number one goalie for Dallas. Antoine Roussel added scoring depth (7 g, 7 a, 86 PIMs) and a strong physical element.

Minnesota - The Wild hope to avoid the late-season injuries that derailed them last year. They did get good mileage out of Zach Parise (38 points in 48 games) but will want more from him this year as he again lines up with Miiko Koivu and Jason Pominville, all proven NHL scorers. In a strong contrast to that trio, the Wild is uniting three 21-year olds on a second scoring line made up of Mikael Granlund, between Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker. Former top draft pick, Nino Niederreiter will get a shot to show off his considerable offensive skills at some point. Dany Heatley needs a rebound performance to regain a top six role. Matt Cooke is one of the top super-pests, while Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka form parts of a fearsome fourth line. Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding provide high quality and depth in goal.

Nashville - Mike Fisher and David Legwand are going to hold down the top center spots, but neither is really a solid number one option. The Preds could use an upgrade there. After Patric Hornqvist, and possibly top prospect Filip Forsberg, the same can be said of the top wing options. Speedy Viktor Stalberg comes over from the Hawks to try to land one of those top roles. Returning veterans Colin Wilson and Nick Spalling will battle for a scoring role, too. Defense has long been the staple in Nashville and now you can add talented rookie Seth Jones to a quality group led by Shea Weber (9 g, 19 a) and the emerging Roman Josi. Kevin Klein and Ryan Ellis will excel in the defensive zone. Pekka Rinne is a top quality workhorse in goal. Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks will keep opposing heads looking up.

St. Louis - One of the few teams that can roll four quality lines at you, the Blues don't have a signature player up front. David Backes is a top power forward centering one scoring line, between T.J. Oshie (20 points in 30 games) and Patrick Berglund (17 g, 8 a). Alex Steen is a scorer who is also responsible defensively and will hope to work well with Chris Stewart (18, g, 18 a, 40 PIMS, +5) and late-season pickup Derek Roy. Vladimir was the league's top rookie forward for long stretches last year and fourth year pro, Magnus Paajarvi, hopes to ignite offensively after three ordinary years with Edmonton. Alex Pietrangelo will anchor the defense, joining Jay Bouwmeester as the top scoring options on defense.  Kevin Shattenkirk is a solid #3 (23 points in 48 games), while Jordan Leopold rounds out the top end of the blueline brigade. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will, once again share the workload in goal.

Winnipeg - While Bryan Little's goal-scoring tailed off last season (only 7 goals in 48 games, he was a solid playmaker (25 assists) benefitting a sniper like Andrew Ladd (18 goals) and the imposing Blake wheeler (19 goals). Olli Jokinen needs to do a lot better than 14 points and a (-19) from last season. He'll hope to benefit from the continued development of Evander Kane. They would also benefit from Michael Frolik rediscovering his offensive game from his Florida days. The quartet of Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Grant Clitsome form a deep and talented offensive-minded rearguard. Jacob Trouba is a promising prospect back there as well. Ondrej Pavelec (2.80 gaa in 44 games) was a workhorse in goal. Chris Thorburn is the tough guy in residence here.

Pacific Division

Anaheim - Dustin Penner hopes that re-signing with the team he broke in with in 2005 will reignite his career after slumping to a career low 14 points with the Kings last year. He is going to get a great shot at the top line left wing slot, playing with team leaders Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Teemu Selanne has re-signed for one final season after proving once again he had a lot left to give last season (24 points in 46 games). He formed a nice partnership with fellow veteran Saku Koivu on a responsible second line. Jakob Silfverberg, acquired from Ottawa, and Andrew Cogliano will also be in the mix for second line playing time. On defense, a serious knee injury may cause Francois Beauchemin to have a tentative start this season and Sheldon Souray is expected to miss a large part of the season as well. That means some of the load needs to be carried by Cam Fowler (11 points in 37 games last year) needs to have "bounce back" year. Luca Sbisa and Ben Lovejoy will also move up in the pecking order. The Ducks will lean heavily on Jonas Hiller and sophomore Viktor Fasth in goal. Matt Beleskey will look at the physical defense of his mates.

Calgary - The rebuild is on here. Mike Cammalleri (32 points last year) and Curtis Glencross (28 points) will hope to support the development of Mikael Backlund (16 points) as his wingers on the top line. Matt Stajan is a capable number two center, who will likely work with speedy Lee Stempniak and either recently acquired winger David Jones or Jiri Hudler. Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano give the Flames plenty of offensive skill on the blueline. Kris Russell is better than he showed last season (7 pts. in 33 games) and T.J. Brodie is a shut down defender on the second pairing. Karri Ramo hopes to make a triumphant return to the NHL, replacing the recently retired Miikka Kiprusoff, in the Flames' net. Defenseman Shane O'Brien is a very physical battler, as is winger Tim Jackman.

Edmonton - New coach Dallas Eakins hopes to speed up the maturation of a host of talented young stars here. Three of those players are projected first liners Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (24 points), flanked by Taylor Hall (50 points) and Jordan Eberle (37 points). They are all primed for a real breakthrough opportunity this year. Sam Gagner hopes to build on the confidence he gained last season and will be aided by Alex Hemsky and Nail Yakupov on another speedy unit. Former Blues winger David Perron will push for top six minutes. Jeff Petry will carry the mail in a defense pairing with the conscientious Ladislav Smid. Similarly Justin Shultz will handle the offensive push alongside stable veteran Andrew Ference. Devan Dubnyk (2.57 gaa, .920 save pct. in 39 games) needs to build on a solid 2012-2013 season. Mike Brown brings energy and up-tempo agitation to every shift.

Los Angeles - The Kings have lots of quality on their top two scoring lines. Anze Kopitar (42 points) will again be flanked by team captain Dustin Brown (29 points) and speedy Justin Williams (33 points). Matt Frattin, acquired from Toronto, has the offensive skill to fit in alongside center Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Drew Doughty, who can also be a physical force, and emerging star Slava Voynov are two very good offensive defensemen. Defensive stalwarts Robin Regehr and Willie Mitchell will insulate them. Jake Muzzin (16 points, +16) hopes to parlay a strong 2012-2013 season into a larger role on this blueline.

Phoenix - Playmaking center Mike Ribeiro was signed as a free agent and will move onto the top line between Mikkel Boedker (26 points last year: 2008 first round pick) and Radim Vrbata (28 points), two players with an abundance of offensive skill. Martin Hanzal (23 points) and Antoine Vermette (21 points) will battle for the second line center role. Captain Shane Doan will be on the right wing, opposite Lauri Korpikoski on that second line. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle represent quality offensive options on this defense. Zbinek Michalek, Derek Morris and Rostislav Klesla also provide a wealth of experience and depth. Mike Smith has evolved into a very dependable workhorse in goal.

San Jose - The Sharks will lean on veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to pace this offense once again. The plan is to split them up, with Thornton will the truculent winger Raffi Torres and the fleet Tommy Wingels. Marleau will play next to dynamic center Logan Couture and converted offensive defenseman Brent Burns. Dan Boyle is the lynchpin of this defense and is aided in the puck-moving department by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Matt Irwin's fine rookie campaign paved the way for Burns' conversion. Brad Stuart and Scot Hannan provide a steadying influence on the back end. Antti Niemi was able to carry a heavy load and must rank among the league's top goalies after a great 2012-2013 season (43 gp, 2.18 gaa, .924 save pct.). Andrew Desjardins is the top scrapper here.

Vancouver - The big news here is that Roberto Luongo is once again the uncontested number one goalie for the Canucks. The question is whether he really wants to be their guy after last season. He is expected to put his best foot forward. Up front, the Sedin twins will be reunited with speedy winger Alex Burrows on the top line. Zack Kassian may challenge for that plum assignment, but more than likely will start alongside Ryan Kesler and David Booth, both veterans who are hoping to rebound from injury=plagued seasons last year. Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, and Jason Garrison represent a tough, talented and experienced defensive core of this team on the blueline. Dale Weise will be a physical presence on the fourth line.

These are the names you will need to know from the Western 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).