This article is part of our DraftKings NHL series.
The second slate of the 2021 NHL season begins Thursday at 7:00 p.m. EST and features 10 games. Given the uncertainty surrounding a few players' status due to COVID-19 protocols, it's more important than ever to check your lineup before puck drop and ensure everyone is in their expected role. Below, you'll find an overview of the matchups and suggested options for crafting an effective Opening Night lineup.
Hurricanes players should be popular at all positions against a Red Wings team that finished last in the standings a season ago, picking up 23 fewer points than 30th-place Ottawa. That difference was greater than the 21 points separating Ottawa and Edmonton, which finished ninth league-wide. Even a substantial improvement would still leave Detroit as the league's worst team, as opponents outscored the Red Wings 3.73 to 2.00 on average in 2019-20. Given that context, it's no surprise Carolina is the slate's biggest favorite, but this game also has the night's highest over/under at 6.5, while all the others sit at 5.5 or 6.0. Detroit's not the only punching bag in action Wednesday, as the Sharks (at Arizona), Kings (vs. Minnesota), Ducks (at Vegas), Sabres (vs. Washington) and Devils (vs. Boston) were all also among the seven teams that languished near the bottom of the standings and weren't invited to the league's return to play.
Robin Lehner, VGK vs. ANH ($8,500): Lehner should be worth paying up for as this slate's priciest goaltender at home against the Ducks. He was outstanding after joining Vegas via trade last season, posting a 1.67 GAA and .940 save percentage in three regular-season games followed by 1.99 and .917 marks over 16 postseason contests. With a new five-year contract in hand, Lehner should start his 2021 season on a high note against a Ducks team that averaged 2.56 goals per game last season – third-fewest after the Red Wings and Kings.
Petr Mrazek, CAR at DET ($8,400): Mrazek should benefit from the massive disparity in skill between the team in front of him and the team he's facing. Detroit's struggles have already been touched upon in the slate preview, while Carolina ranked 11th in goals per game (3.19) and gave up the 11th-fewest (2.84) last season.
Cam Talbot, MIN at LA ($7,900): Talbot excelled in Calgary last season, posting a 2.63 GAA and .919 save percentage in 26 regular-season appearances before supplanting David Rittich as the starter in the playoffs. Now in Minnesota, the veteran netminder has a great opportunity to make a strong first impression against a Kings team that scored just 2.53 goals per game last season. He's a solid choice if you don't quite have the funds for either of the above options or want to diversify.
Joonas Korpisalo, CLS at NSH ($7,400): Korpisalo's an enticing bargain option in net playing behind coach John Tortorella's stout defensive system against the middling Nashville offense. In his first year as a starter last season, Korpisalo posted a 2.60 GAA and .911 save percentage over 37 regular-season contests to go with highly impressive 1.90 and .940 marks in the playoffs. If he can carry over his postseason form to the 2021 campaign, Korpisalo won't stay this affordable for long.
Kevin Fiala, MIN at LA ($6,500): In his last 22 games (18 regular season, four playoffs), Fiala has a 17-13-30 line. Those are superstar level numbers, but the 24-year-old winger isn't priced like a superstar at $6,500. Grab Fiala at this valuation and don't look back, especially against the lowly Kings.
Jack Studnicka, BOS at NJ ($3,500): Studnicka will get the first opportunity to fill in for the injured David Pastrnak (hip) on a Boston top line that was one of the best in the NHL last season. Playing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand should lead to plenty of opportunities, especially against a Devils team that tied for the third-most goals allowed last season at 3.25 per game.
Martin Necas, CAR at DET ($3,300): Necas finally took on a full-time role with the Hurricanes last season and produced a 16-20-36 line in 64 games. The 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft turns 22 on Friday and is ready to establish himself as a force in the team's top-six forward group in his second NHL season. This favorable matchup against the Red Wings provides the perfect opportunity for the affordable Necas to start his season off on the right foot.
Alexis Lafreniere, NYR vs. NYI ($3,700): Lafreniere's NHL debut comes against a stingy defensive team in the crosstown rival Islanders, but the first overall pick in the 2020 draft still has tremendous upside relative to his $3,700 valuation. He's the most highly regarded prospect since Auston Matthews went first overall in 2016, and all Matthews did in his first NHL game was score four goals.
Anthony Beauvillier, NYI at NYR ($5,400): Beauvillier broke out in the playoffs last season with a team-high nine goals in 22 games during the Islanders' Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The 2015 first-round pick has potted at least 18 goals in each of the past three seasons, but he's looking to take the next step as a scorer this year. Beauvillier will have a nice opportunity to build on his momentum from the postseason against a Rangers team that allowed 3.14 goals per game last season.
FORWARD LINE STACKS
Hurricanes vs. Red Wings
Carolina's top line should dominate against Detroit. Aho led the team with 38 goals last year, tying for sixth league-wide in the category. Teravainen's more of a setup man, as he dished 48 helpers en route to 63 points last season, falling three points shy of Aho's team-high total. Niederreiter's spot on this line was filled by Andrei Svechnikov last season, but Svechnikov has been moved to the second line in an effort to bring more balance to Carolina's forward corps. The affordable winger has the sniping ability to capitalize on the chances created by this line, as Niederreiter has reached the 20-goal mark in four of the past six seasons.
Capitals at Sabres
Washington's shaking up its line combinations this year, and the newly formed second line will be a handful to deal with while drawing easier matchups than the top trio headlined by Alex Ovechkin. Kuznetsov's coming off a down year in which he had a 19-33-52 line, but the Russian pivot is capable of much more, as he played at a point-per-game pace in 155 games over the previous two campaigns. Vrana has increased his goal and point totals in each of his first four seasons, and he's looking to keep that trend going after posting a 25-27-52 line in 69 games last year. Wilson's known more for his physicality but has topped the 20-goal and 40-point marks in each of the past two seasons. Kuznetsov also features on Washington's top power-play unit, while Vrana and Wilson headline the second unit, and their roles with the extra man could prove critical against a Sabres penalty kill that ranked second-worst in 2019-20 at 74.6 percent.
Sabres vs. Capitals
If you're looking to go against the grain, Buffalo's newly formed is capable of an electric debut on home ice. Eichel has never been given much help before, yet he still found a way to rack up a 36-42-78 line in 68 games last season. Hall should be the best linemate Eichel has ever had, as the 2018 Hart Trophy winner has 182 points in 174 games played over the past three seasons. Like Eichel, Hall put up those gaudy numbers while carrying inferior supporting casts. Thompson surprisingly earned the third spot on this line and will be a strong value play by virtue of skating alongside two of the league's premier offensive talents.
Dougie Hamilton, CAR at DET ($7,000): If you're hopping all aboard the Hurricane train, don't forget to include Hamilton. He posted a 14-26-40 line in just 47 games last year, and Hamilton is a consistent presence near the top of the leaderboard for shots among defensemen.
Zach Werenski, CLS at NSH ($4,800): Werenski led all defensemen with 20 goals last season, five of which came on the power play. He'll man the point on Columbus' top unit with the extra man against a Predators penalty kill that ranked 29th in the league last year at 76.1 percent.
Matt Grzelcyk, BOS at NJ ($3,300): Like Studnicka, Grzelcyk will benefit from taking on an increased role, though Grzelcyk's move to the top power-play unit could be permanent with Torey Krug now plying his trade in St. Louis. Boston's power play ranked second at 25.2 percent last season, so Grzelcyk's spot on the top unit makes him an enticing value play at just $3,300.
Alex Pietrangelo, VGK at ANH ($6,000): Pietrangelo will be eager to impress his new teammates after signing a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with Vegas this offseason. He'll likely be locked in a tight scoring race with fellow Vegas blueliner Shea Theodore ($6,400) all season, but Pietrangelo has the higher floor due to his tremendous all-around skill set, which should be on full display against the lowly Ducks.