Some significant battles for roster spots will be taking place across the league over the next two weeks. The fantasy impact could mean the difference between 10 points and 60. Let's take a look at some of the key battles that I'll be watching – and why I'll be watching them.
Anaheim: Jakob Silfverberg vs. Kyle Palmieri vs. Dustin Penner – At this point, because he played with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf during his first tour of duty with the Ducks, Penner will be their linemate. But he has been so frustratingly bad these past three years that either Palmieri or Silfverberg could take the spot from him by mid-October. But I'll be watching for any trial runs on that line by the two youngsters during training camp. Both Palmieri and Silfverberg shoot right, but any hope of a scoring-line role will depend on their ability to man the left wing.
Calgary: Corban Knight vs. Max Reinhart vs. Sean Monahan – Knight was a star for North Dakota (WCHA) last season and the Flames specifically went after him in the summer, acquiring him from Florida and signing him. Reinhart played very well as a checking-line forward at the end of last season. Monahan was the sixth overall pick in June and in most other drafts he would have been one of the first five drafted. There may be room for two of them on the team, but likely just one and Reinhart has the edge. Of the three, Monahan has the potential for 45 points as a rookie if he sticks.
Chicago: Brandon Pirri vs. Michal Handzus vs. Andrew Shaw vs. Brandon Saad – The Blackhawks are flush with wingers, but are inclined to play Patrick Sharp on the wing. That means the No. 2 center spot (after Jonathan Toews) is wide open. Handzus was penciled in there, but he's injured and given his recent history, that will happen more often than not. Pirri is the reigning American League scoring champion and has nothing left to prove there. Will he get a fair shake? Shaw is out of his element in the top six. He's a great third-liner with decent scoring pop from there. The X-Factor here is Saad, who has never been a centerman, but is being tried there.
Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon vs. all comers – I just want to see where the top draft pick in 2013 plays and how he does. My instinct tells me his upside is higher than recent top picks Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but not as high as John Tavares. Early in camp he is lining up at center between Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie. But I wouldn't be surprised if injuries cause a lineup shuffle that would include MacKinnon making the move to the wing a la Tyler Seguin in his Boston days.
Columbus: Artem Anisimov vs. Mark Letestu vs. Brandon Dubinsky – This battle intrigues me because the top center will get to play with Marian Gaborik and the No. 2 center will get to play with the underrated Cam Atkinson. My instinct was Letestu would be the third-line center. Early on in camp, I look to be right on that count. But one thing that surprised me was the fact Atkinson is being tried at left wing – and that Anisimov and Gaborik are his linemates. That would leave a significant drop off in the upside of potential wingers who are left to play with Dubinsky.
Dallas: Rich Peverley vs. Erik Cole vs. Valeri Nichushkin vs. Alex Chiasson – With Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney already taking two of the four scoring-line winger spots, there are two spots left for these four. Right now, Peverley is sidelined with an issue with his heart that will cause him to miss training camp. The other three are all playing very well, with Nichushkin especially dazzling.
Detroit: Gustav Nyquist vs. making the team – The Red Wings had a full roster up front, with two players to spare. Then they signed Dan Cleary. So now they have 17 forwards who would be on NHL rosters in any other city. But the Wings can only play 13 of them and carry another two in the press box. Both Mikael Samuelsson and Darren Helm are healthy, but not in a place where their health is reliable. Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson are the only Wings forwards (of the 17) who can be sent down without going through waivers. Even though Nyquist (in my books) is in the top five in this group of forwards in terms of offensive talent, he may have to make way unless a trade or injury happens. GM Ken Holland said that Tatar will “probably” make the roster, so things are really going to get interesting here.
Edmonton: Linus Omark vs. Jesse Joensuu – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being sidelined for the first couple of weeks of the season makes this interesting. And Taylor Hall moving to center makes it even more so. But even with those changes there are only two spots available and Joensuu, Omark, Ben Eager, Anton Lander and Mark Arcobello are in the mix. Offensively, Omark has the most upside. From a contract and experience standpoint, Eager gets the edge – but his contract was buried in the minors last season. Lander is on a two-way deal and so is (reportedly) Omark. There are so many different ways this could go, but the fantasy relevant players here are Omark (potentially between zero and 45 points this year) and Joensuu (potentially 35 points and 100-plus PIM).
Los Angeles: No battle – What's interesting about Los Angeles is that there is nothing interesting about Los Angeles. The top line is Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. The rookie Tyler Toffoli will make this team and there is room for him in the top six. Newcomer Matt Frattin slides in seamlessly on the third line. Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty will quarterback the power play, with Jake Muzzin as the next option. And Jonathan Quick is the clear-cut starter. The closest training camp battles here are Mathieu Garon, a camp invitee, and Ben Scrivens battling for the backup job (which Scrivens will win); and maybe Frattin vs. Toffoli for a second-line spot (which Toffoli will win, whether it's right out of camp or in mid-November).
Minnesota: Jason Zucker vs. Charlie Coyle – Coyle is the hot shot prospect who played his way into the lineup last season because he was capable of playing any role on the wing, be it offensive or defensive. Zucker is the hot shot prospect who was a force at both the AHL and NHL levels and seemed to be a threat to score each time he touched the puck. Only one of them can play on the second line. At this point, the second line is Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley and Coyle. So Zucker is behind the eight ball early on.
Nashville: Craig Smith vs. PP time – As far as offensive potential goes, Smith's is as high as anyone's among the Nashville forwards. But after last year's debacle in which it took him 11 games to get his first point and 17 games to score his first goal, he's on a short leash. If he's used on the first power play unit and on the second line, there is hope for this guy to get up over the 50-point mark. But he'll need to take advantage of his opportunities.
Phoenix: The Defensemen – Not only is there a battle just to make the team, but there are so many defensemen here with puck-moving ability that finding out who gets which role will be interesting. If you don't include Brandon Gormley, who is one of the best prospect defensemen in the world, you still have nine defensemen. And of those nine – Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone, David Rundblad and David Schlemko can move the puck. Yandle and OEL are obviously one-two here, but all five are on one-way contracts.
San Jose: Martin Havlat vs. his groin – Havlat had abdominal surgery in May and two weeks ago his agent Allan Walsh told me that he was “100 percent and flying around the ice.” But GM Doug Wilson has other ideas. The company line is this – they will keep Havlat sidelined until he's 100 percent and then they will keep him sidelined even longer just to be sure.
St. Louis: PP units – Last year coach Ken Hitchcock rolled three forward units for the power play. The result was a whopping one player with a pro-rated 50-point season (Chris Stewart). Will Hitchcock do that again? The retirement of Andy McDonald and the trading of David Perron could change this dynamic.
Vancouver 1: Zack Kassian vs. Alex Burrows vs. Jannik Hansen – The annual Sedin Twin Derby is underway, with Burrows starting as the default answer. But Hansen saw a few games there last season and Kassian saw even more. In fact, if Kassian could take that next step, he would be the one team brass would prefer to see, as his game is power-based. It would work well with the finesse of the Sedins.
Vancouver 2: Prospect forwards – There is a lot of room all of a sudden in Vancouver when it comes to the forward group. There are probably two spots for prospects and battling for them will be Jordan Schroeder, Nicklas Jensen, Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce. On the right line, any one of those youngsters could post a 40-point season. I wouldn't count on that, however. A safer bet would be closer to 30, with the other two prospects getting a few NHL games later in the year (unless it's Horvat, who would return to junior for the duration).
Winnipeg: Devin Setoguchi vs. Michael Frolik – The winner of this matchup will get to stay in the top six, while the loser will be a key cog on the third line. The difference could mean an extra 10 points by the end of the season. So far, Frolik is being tried on the left wing (he's usually a right winger) with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. Setoguchi is getting time on a line with Evander Kane. If both of them work out, this wouldn't bode well for Andrew Ladd. But if one falters, that player will go back to the third line.
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