This is the first column of the season, and given the year has just started with only a handful of games, this will be a somewhat truncated article. Leave any suggestions, criticisms, etc., in the comments or email email@example.com.
This week's article includes a new No. 1 center in Florida, Supa-Trouba in Winnipeg, the top-two centers sidelined by injuries in Edmonton and the third overall pick somewhat surprisingly sent back to juniors.
First Liners (Risers)
Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA - Barkov began the season on the Panthers' top line between Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes. The second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft will get every opportunity to showcase his talent playing between the reigning Calder Trophy winner (Huberdeau) and Boyes. While this trio will not be the most defensively responsible unit in the league, it will be fun to watch and should provide the Panthers some much-needed offense. Barkov notched a goal in his debut Thursday.
Brandon Dubinsky, C, CMB - Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards confirmed this week that Dubinsky would center the Marian Gaborik line to begin the regular season, with rookie Boone Jenner manning the other wing. The trio racked up a combined six goals and 18 points in the preseason, with Dubinsky contributing a goal and six assists along with a plus-5 rating and 17 shots on goal. Gaborik's elite skill combined with Dubinsky and Jenner's feistiness and competion level could prove to be a very dangerous unit in the regular season as well. While it's unlikely they'll stay together all year, Dubinsky, who suffered through back-to-back nightmarish campaigns the last two seasons, should get bumped up on your cheat sheets due to the possibility of a quick start - but be ready to move on if he doesn't.
Marco Arcobello, RW, EDM - Who? After ripping off 68 points in the AHL last year -- as well as 12 goals and 20 points in 17 playoff games -- the undrafted Arcobello earned a spot on the Oilers out of training camp. Granted, that spot opened due to injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, but Arcobello made the most of that opportunity this preseason. Arcobello, usually a right wing, skated 14:54 at center and picked up an assist in his second NHL game Tuesday as the Oilers took a season-opening loss against Winnipeg. Nugent-Hopkins is expected to make his debut Monday, and it remains to be seen just how that will impact Arcobello.
Ryan O'Reilly, LW, COL - O'Reilly had a goal and an assist in Colorado's 6-1 Opening Night win over Anaheim on Wednesday. The experiment of playing O'Reilly at wing due to the depth at center for the Avalanche after they drafted Nathan MacKinnon is off to a good start. After posting 20 points in 29 games last season, he could be in line for a big campaign if he can stay healthy
Jason Garrison, D, VAN - Garrison is practicing on the Canucks' top power-play unit. Garrison was mysteriously kept off the team's top unit for large chunks of last season, but a new coach could help make things right. His booming shot produced 16 goals as a Panther in the 2011-2012 campaign, and he followed that with just eight tallies for Vancouver in 47 games last year's lockout-shortened season. The Canucks' power-play is deadly, so Garrison should see a boost to his numbers if he stays with the top unit this season. He got off to a good start, notching a PPG on Thursday.
Jacob Trouba, D, WPG - Trouba, making his NHL debut Tuesday against Edmonton, skated a game-high 25:02, totaling a goal, an assist and a plus-2 rating in the season-opening win. That's right -- he saw more time on the ice than Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, the Jets' star defensemen. Although it was considered a foregone conclusion that he'd be minors-bound after a few games, his productivity could change those plans very quickly. Monitor his ice time and scoring the next couple games, as he could be a fine fantasy pickup if he sticks around. The ninth overall pick in 2012 has legitimate offensive upside, having notched 29 points in 37 games for the University of Michigan as an 18-year-old last year.
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL - Varlamov saved 33 of 34 shots in the Avalanche's Opening Night win over the Ducks on Wednesday. Varlamov had his shutout bid ruined by Jakob Silfverberg in the waning seconds of the third period, but that shouldn't do much to discount the stellar performance he put on Wednesday. If the Avs can continue to score anywhere close to Wednesday's level, Varlamov will win a lot more games than most people expected coming into the season.
Others include Mikhail Grabovski (second-line center in nation's capital), Artem Anisimov (top-line PP duty), Sean Monahan (opens year in Calgary), MacKinnon (first overall pick this year notches two assists in season debut), Tomas Hertl (top-line duty in San Jose), Jason Pominville (signed a five-year, $28 million extension Thursday and skates on a line with Zach Parise), Jakob Silfverberg (should see a lot of ice time in Anaheim), Zemgus Girgensons (with Buffalo in a rebuilding role, he should a lot of ice time), Brad Boyes (top-six minutes in Florida), Brad Richards (moves from center to LW alongside Stepan and Nash), Paul Martin (a lot of PP TOI with Kris Letang out), Justin Faulk (benefits from Pitkanen's absence), Marc Staal (close to 100 percent after scary eye injury, slated to see top PP duty and notched a goal on man-advantage Thursday), Tim Thomas (came out of retirement, earned top goalie spot in Florida) and Marc-Andre Fleury (silenced the critics for at least one night by notching his 24th shutout and 250th career win in Pittsburgh's 3-0 win over the Devils on Thursday).
Training Room (Injuries)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins/Sam Gagner, C, EDM - RNH, who underwent shoulder surgery in late-April, will make his season debut Monday. He wasn't expected to return to action until Nov. 1, so this is a good sign for the Oilers who are woefully short at center with both Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins sidelined. Gagner has lost five pounds since breaking his jaw via a high stick by Zack Kassian and is still unable to eat solid food. He hopes to start skating by Friday, return to practice soon after and beat the November timeline projected for him rejoining the Oilers.
James Neal, RW, PIT - Neal left Thursday's game in the first period after suffering an apparent aggravation of his upper body injury. Neal was a game-time decision heading into Thursday's opener and lasted only 3:49 of ice time before exiting with the injury. Coach Dan Bylsma said Neal would be evaluated Friday, at which point the team should have a better indication of how much time he might miss due to the injury.
Ryan Callahan, RW, NYR - While Callahan continues to make progress each day in his recovery from left shoulder surgery and has returned to contact drills, the team determined he still needs more practice time leading up to Thursday's opener against the Coyotes. Coach Alain Vigneault suggested the Rangers' second game Oct. 7 against the Kings could be a realistic return date for Callahan, so fantasy owners who may be alarmed by the captain's "DL" tag should refrain from acting hastily.
Kris Letang, D, PIT – The Penguins placed Letang (lower-body) on the seven-day IR, meaning he'll be eligible to return Oct. 8. The fact that the team did not place him on long-term IR means that his injury is not thought to be too serious. Letang, who signed a seven-year, $58 million extension, missed 13 games last year due to injuries, so look for the team to be cautious with his return.
Others include Ville Leino (cracked rib, indefinite), Cal Clutterbuck (expected to miss the first four or more weeks of the season with a leg laceration suffered in the preseason), Carl Hagelin (landed on LTIR due to the recovery for his shoulder surgery), Filip Forsberg (LBI, out first two games), Joni Pitkanen (heel, LTIR), Fedor Tyutin (LBI, out for two games) and Tomas Vokoun (surgery to remove blood clot in pelvis, out 3-to-6 months).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Patrik Berglund, C, STL - The Blues' signing of Derek Roy moved Berglund from second- to third-line center. St. Louis signed Berglund to a one-year, $3.25 million deal after he recorded 17 goals and eight assists while playing all 48 games for the Blues during the 2013 regular season. Unless Roy or David Backes suffer an injury or struggle mightily, Berglund won't put up big numbers this year.
Jonathan Drouin, LW, TB - The Lightning sent Drouin back to his junior-level team just before the end of training camp. While Drouin came on late in camp, the Bolts thought that he still needed more work refining his game. For those who had early drafts, this is a pretty big setback as he was expected to open the year in the NHL. Drouin has it all - agility, vision, skill, hockey smarts, competitiveness, soft hands and more. Add in patience and he already has elite puck possession skills, so all this does is delay his ascension to fantasy relevance and future domination.
Roman Josi, D, NAS - Josi, who re-signed with the Predators, notching a seven-year deal reportedly worth $28 million, saw his fantasy relevance take a major hit after he notched the contract. Seth Jones slid to four, enabling Nashville to take and possibly pair him with Shea Weber. While Josi should continue the growth he showed late last year, his overall value is depressed slightly by the presence of Jones, who broke camp with the team.
Viktor Fasth/Jonas Hiller (ANA), Ray Emery/Steve Mason (PHI) and Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer (TOR), G - Three examples of goalie platoons and three cases whereby if you choose the wrong one, your fantasy team starts off behind the eight-ball. It looked like Hiller would regain his goalie, but Fasth started Game 1, though he allowed six goals. Emery went 17-14 last season in Chicago and signed a one-year deal to come back to Philly, but Mason, who was a reclamation project last year, got the nod Game 1. The Maple Leafs acquired Bernier from L.A. but Reimer, who was so good last year overall and late in the opening playoffs against Boston before collapsing, got the nod in Game 1 though Bernier started and won Game 2 with an excellent effort. Three platoons still to be decided and three chances for you fantasy team to take a material hit.
Others include Scott Laughton (assigned to OHL Oshawa by the Flyers on Thursday), Brandon Pirri (sent down to the AHL), Jakub Voracek (skated on line with Sean Couturier in Flyers' season-opener, which is a far cry from being paired with Claude Giroux as we all expected. Between this move and Varlamov losing his shutout with seven seconds to go, it's not been a good start for my teams), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (not expected to play on one of the top two lines on the Island), John-Michael Liles (placed on waivers by Toronto), Jacob Markstrom (saw starting role go up in smoke when Florida signed Thomas) and Braden Holtby (gave up five goals on Tuesday and was pulled after allowing three Thursday).