Training camps have opened! Once again, there will be fantasy-notable jockeying for position on pretty much every team’s depth chart. I’m back on the regular THN.com schedule starting this week (including the Mailbag every other Wednesday), so if you missed the West on Saturday, you can find it here.
Also please note: I’m not picking a battle for each team in the NHL. I’m just trying to grab the most interesting or fantasy-relevant battles.
BUFFALO – THE ENTIRE SECOND LINE
The only certainty is that Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Ville Leino will be in the top six – possibly forming the first line. The other three members of the top six are not as clear, with plenty of long shot and favored candidates.
My picks: Drew Stafford, Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis
Maybe: Jason Pominville
Long shots: Nathan Gerbe, Luke Adam, Ales Kotalik, Jochen Hecht
Storyline: Gerbe’s development points to him eventually becoming a fixture in the top six and frankly I think he’ll take a spot from somebody by mid-season, barring injury. Boyes is slowly playing his way into the doghouse again, so though the job is his to lose, he probably will lose it by December. Pominville relies on the power play for his points and those often come from the blueline. But now, for the first time in years, the Sabres boast a plethora of offensive rearguards, pushing Pominville out of the mix.
CAROLINA – SECOND-LINE CENTER
This is an interesting one because, as things stand now, Jeff Skinner plays the wing, Tuomo Ruutu is seeing time at center and Brandon Sutter is the next guy on the depth chart. The Hurricanes have also gone with Jussi Jokinen down the middle. But all the talk has centered on rookie Zac Dalpe. If he can adequately fill the second-line center role the likes of Ruutu, Skinner and Jokinen can fill needs on the wing.
My pick: Dalpe
Maybe: Sutter, Skinner
Long shots: Ruutu, Jokinen
Storyline: Sutter is a potential third-liner who would be terribly miscast on the second line. I don’t see his long-term potential reaching 70 points and you just can’t have that on the second line.
MONTREAL – SECOND-LINE WINGER
I am assuming newcomer Erik Cole gets a spot, which leaves just one for either Max Pacioretty or the enigma that is Andrei Kostitsyn. Pacioretty needs to show he’s healthy and ready to pick up where he left off before the big hit from Zdeno Chara last season. Kostitsyn needs to show he can play to his potential for more than five consecutive games.
My pick: Pacioretty
Storyline: It’s easy to bet against the streaky, frustrating player and put your money on the young up-and-comer.
NEW JERSEY – POWER PLAY QUARTERBACK
There are four players gunning for this role and at this point I’m not sure if coach Peter DeBoer will go with two defensemen on the PP or just one.
My picks: Andy Greene and Adam Larsson
Maybe: Anton Stralman and Matt Taormina
Storyline: Stralman is a training-camp invite and if he doesn’t catch on with the club it’s probably his last shot at the NHL. He has a ton of untapped offensive potential, but he’s getting closer to realizing it and New Jersey needs a proven puck-mover. Greene hasn’t been that player and Larsson may be too wet behind the ears to shoulder such responsibility. Taormina looked good early last season before an injury knocked him out of the campaign.
Also watch how Jacob Josefson handles playing with Ilya Kovalchuk while Travis Zajac is sidelined (Achilles tendon).
NY ISLANDERS – SECOND-LINE WINGER
Can ‘El Nino’ show he belongs? He certainly came close to making the team last year. The only thing standing in Nino Niederreiter’s way is a hungry former American Leaguer as well as a desperate (but inconsistent) 46-point player who badly needs that spot.
My picks: Niederreiter
Maybe: P-A Parenteau, Blake Comeau
Long shot: Rhett Rakhshani, Josh Bailey (who would have to move to the wing)
Storyline: I don’t have a lot of faith in Parenteau. Clearly he can produce 50 points, but organizations tend to favor homegrown talent, which puts him behind the eight ball.
Another battle to watch is for the backup goaltender gig. With Rick DiPietro as the starter the backup will likely be thrust into the No. 1 role early. Al Montoya impressed in a big way last season, but now he has to beat out Evgeni Nabokov, a stud veteran.
NY RANGERS – THE GABORIK/RICHARDS LINEMATE SWEEPSTAKES
Several players are in the mix for this one and don’t necessarily count out a player who would have to convert to left wing. If someone can mesh with sniper Marian Gaborik and set-up pivot Brad Richards his production will skyrocket.
My pick: Brandon Dubinsky
Maybe: Wojtek Wolski is getting the first look in this spot and is doing fairly well. Ruslan Fedotenko played with Richards briefly in Tampa Bay.
Long shots: Mats Zuccarello, Erik Christensen, Sean Avery
Storyline: The Rangers could also split Gaborik and Richards to share the wealth, in which case Ryan Callahan would be in the mix to play with Richards and Derek Stepan with Gaborik.
OTTAWA – BATTLE OF THE ROOKIE PIVOTS
I’m sure the team will only go with one of these two. And the winner will be the second-line center.
My pick: Mika Zibanejad
Maybe: Stephane Da Costa
Storyline: I tend to lean towards Da Costa being brought along the same way Bobby Butler was a year ago. That is to say, a cup of coffee and then a mid-season call up for good. Both youngsters have looked great so far.
PITTSBURGH – SIDNEY CROSBY VS. HIS HEAD
To date, the best fantasy hockey player in the world has missed eight months with concussion symptoms. He had a press conference two weeks ago that really told us nothing and left fantasy owners pessimistic about him playing even half a season. Then he went out and practised hard for three consecutive days this week without any ill effects.
My pick: He starts taking contact in about two weeks and returns after missing five or six regular season games.
Maybe: He misses as many as 10 or 15 games.
Storyline: I recently went over two opposite outcomes for Crosby and how they would impact his teammates. Either way it’s significant.
OTHER TRAINING CAMP NOTES (EAST AND WEST)
These are more “questions” than “battles.”
Los Angeles – Will the Drew Doughty situation open up a window of opportunity for Slava Voynov? And if so, will he take advantage?
Toronto – Is Nazem Kadri ready for a permanent top-nine spot on the wing?
Washington – Can Troy Brouwer land (and flourish) on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom?
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.