This article is part of our DraftKings NHL series.
The puck drops on the 2021 NHL season Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. EST with a five-game slate. Below, you'll find an overview of the matchups and suggested options for crafting an effective Opening Night lineup.
Blackhawks-Lightning and Canadiens-Maple Leafs are tied for this slate's highest over/under at 6.5, and Tampa Bay is the night's biggest favorite in its first action since capturing the Stanley Cup. Blues-Avalanche features no shortage of talent, but open ice will be hard to come by in this battle of elite teams, which is why this game has the lowest/under at 5.5. The other two games feature some of the league's biggest stars, as the Penguins visit the Flyers and the Oilers host the Canucks.
Montreal peppers the net with pucks but lacks highly skilled finishers, which is a great combination for opposing netminders. The Canadiens ranked second in shots per game (34.1) but just 19th in goals per game (2.93) last season, and they were outscored by every other team in action Wednesday. Backed by an offense that ranked third with 3.39 goals per game last season, Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen ($8,100) is primed to take advantage of this favorable matchup, as he's in position to open the season with a high save total and a win.
Andrei Vasilevskiy ($8,400) is a reliable option for the favored Lightning, but playing up to his lofty valuation will be difficult in a game that Tampa Bay's expected to win with offense rather than defense. He's a safe choice if you have the funds left over, but you' ll likely find better bang for the buck in net elsewhere.
Tristan Jarry ($7,300) wrestled the starting job in Pittsburgh's net away from Matt Murray last season with a sparkling 2.43 GAA and .921 save percentage. With Murray now in Ottawa, Jarry is the clear-cut starter heading into the season. If he can keep up his stellar form from last year, the affordable Jarry's primed to provide excellent value against the rival Flyers.
Steven Stamkos ($7,400) barely contributed during the Lightning's run to the Cup due to injuries, but he's healthy now and ready to lead the team with Nikita Kucherov (hip) out for the entire regular season. Stamkos has more points than games played in each of the past four seasons, and he has lit the lamp 74 times in 139 games over the last two. He should start off hot at home against a Chicago team that's expected to be among the league's worst defensively.
Joe Thornton ($3,600) will open the season playing wing on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who combined for 147 points in 129 games last season. The 41-year-old veteran makes up for a lack of speed with an elite combination of size and skill, and Toronto's willingness to use him on the top line suggests last year's decline in production (31 points in 70 games) with the Sharks was the result of injuries decimating Thornton's linemate options rather than a loss of ability from Jumbo Joe. At just $3,600, he's a low-risk, high-reward option given his deployment.
Nick Suzuki ($4,200) likely won't stay this affordable for long, as the Montreal center is a second-year breakout candidate. He scored 41 points over 71 games in his rookie regular season to go with a 4-3-7 line in 10 playoff contests, and Suzuki's expected to center the top power-play unit in addition to the second line. Suzuki should make the most of his prominent role in what's expected to be a fast-paced battle with a Toronto team that allowed 3.17 goals per game last season – sixth-most in the league and the most among teams in action Wednesday.
Alex DeBrincat ($4,200) is an enticing against-the-grain option for the Blackhawks against the defending champs. He potted 41 goals in 2018-19 but regressed to just 18 last season due to an 8.7 shooting percentage, which represented nearly a 50 percent drop from DeBrincat's 17.2 percent mark over his first two seasons. The 23-year-old winger can expect a bump in shooting luck this season, and he features on the top line and top power-play unit alongside Patrick Kane, so buy low on DeBrincat while you can.
If you're looking to fit in a few of this slate's most expensive stars, you'll need to balance your lineup out with affordable options like Robert Thomas ($3,000). After bouncing around the lineup last year, the 21-year-old pivot is expected to take on a consistent role as the Blues' No. 2 center in his third season, and Thomas will also feature on the team's second power-play unit. He mustered a 10-32-42 line last year despite spending a chunk of the season in the bottom six, so a more developed Thomas in a more prominent role should have no problem eclipsing last year's per-game production. Even in a tough Opening Night matchup against Colorado, he's a bargain at just $3,000.
FORWARD LINE STACKS
Oilers vs. Canucks
McDavid's 97 points in 64 games last season ranked him second in the league behind teammate Leon Draisaitl's 110 points in 71 games, but McDavid is still the consensus pick as the league's best player. He should remind everyone why he holds that mantle in his first action of 2021 against a Canucks team that let starting goalie Jacob Markstrom walk in free agency and replaced him with Braden Holtby, who had a 3.11 GAA and .897 save percentage for Washington last season. Nugent-Hopkins is Edmonton's clear-cut third-best forward, as he ranked third on the team with 61 points in 65 games last year and no other teammate scored more than 34. Kassian has experience playing with McDavid, and the rugged winger has proven capable of getting open and finishing McDavid's feeds off at a decent rate. He racked up a 15-19-34 line in 59 games last season, and Kassian was especially effective at the start of the year while defenses were still a step slow in matching up with Edmonton's top line. Kassian started last season on a three-game goal streak and will look to get off to another hot start in 2021.
Lightning vs. Blackhawks
There should be plenty of offense to go around for the Lightning against a defensively deficient Blackhawks team that allowed a league-high 35.1 shots on goal per game last season and downgraded in net this offseason. While the top line may need some time to gel without Kucherov, this affordable second line should be ready to hit the ground running. Cirelli's already one of the league's most reliable defensive forwards, and he's still expanding his offensive game at age 23 after posting a 16-28-44 line in 68 games last season. Killorn's career-high 26 goals and 49 points last season were due in part to an unsustainably lucky 20.0 shooting percentage, but he's quite affordable given his prominent role and established scoring touch coupled with the favorable matchup. Joseph looks like he'll get the first opportunity to be the third member of this line, and he won't remain as cheap as $2,500 much longer if he sticks. The natural center played sparingly last season after scoring 26 points in 70 games as a rookie the year before, but he showcased promising scoring touch with 21 points in 29 AHL games, and Joseph's elite speed should help him generate opportunities against the lackluster Chicago defense.
Canucks at Oilers
Vancouver's top line is a bit cheaper than most first lines in this slate, but it packs just as much punch offensively. The 22-year-old Pettersson is expected to take a step forward into elite territory in his third season after back-to-back 66-point campaigns. Miller had never previously been used in a first-line role before coming over to the Canucks last season, and he proved more than up to the task, scoring a team-high 72 points while tying Pettersson for the team lead with 27 goals. Boeser is yet to put together an injury-free campaign, but he has a promising 75-86-161 line through 197 games (that's a 31-goal, 67-point pace over 82 games), so he offers plenty of upside at his middling $4,600 valuation.
Edmonton led the league with a 29.5 percent conversion rate on the power play last season, and Tyson Barrie's ($4,400) expected to work as the point man on the team's top unit. He had a down year in Toronto last year but logged top-five finishes in power-play points among defensemen in each of the previous two campaigns, totaling 55 in his last two seasons with Colorado. The last change of scenery was forced upon Barrie via trade while he chose this one in free agency, so Barrie should show a higher comfort level with his new club and will be motivated to make a strong first impression on home ice.
If you're stacking Lightning players against Chicago, make sure to include Victor Hedman ($6,200). His 55 points last season ranked fourth on the team behind Kucherov, Stamkos and Brayden Point. Only John Carlson and Roman Josi scored more points than Hedman among defensemen, and the hulking Swede's also a reliable source of supporting stats like shots and blocks, giving him a high floor outside of his scoring.
It may not be long until Cale Makar ($6,000) turns into the most expensive defenseman in every slate regardless of opponent, but he's just the third-priciest blueliner in this slate. He played just 57 games as a rookie last year but still posted a 12-38-50 line for a rate of 0.88 points per game that landed him between Josi and Hedman. Playing on a stacked Avalanche team, Makar could establish himself as the league's premier fantasy option on the blue line as soon as this season.
Ivan Provorov ($4,900) does it all for the Flyers. He's Philadelphia's most reliable defender and also tied for the team lead with seven power-play goals last year en route to a 13-23-36 line. Opening Night coincides with Provorov's 25th birthday, so he's in his prime and ready to give himself a wonderful birthday present with a strong performance against the rival Penguins.
Jeff Petry ($4,500) outscored Shea Weber ($5,900) 40 points to 36 last season, but he comes in $1,400 cheaper than his fellow Montreal blueliner. Weber is the better all-around player, but Petry's ability to get on the scoresheet has him in position to deliver better bang for the buck against Toronto.