This is the 10th off-season for Fantasy Pool Look and for the 10th summer in a row I’ll provide an outlook for each team. I’ll have my fantasy hockey goggles on, of course. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. I began with Winnipeg and I will work my way to Anaheim. Contract information courtesy of capgeek.com. Time to take a look at the Panthers and the Oilers.
Gone – Wojtek Wolski, Krys Barch, Bill Thomas, Mikael Samuelsson, Jason Garrison, John Madden, Marco Sturm
Incoming – Casey Wellman, Peter Mueller, J-F Jacques, Filip Kuba, George Parros
Ready for full-time – Dazzling center/sometimes winger Jonathan Huberdeau is an early Calder Trophy favorite. After breaking his foot early last season, he returned to Quebec League action and made a mockery of the competition. His 72 points and plus-53 rating in just 37 games were jaw-dropping. His Memorial Cup MVP honor from 2010-11 was nearly repeated as his Saint John squad returned to the tournament again. Needless to say, if he makes the Panthers in the fall – and he should – he won’t anchor the checking line and penalty kill. In my Top 215 Keeper League Prospects list, Huberdeau enjoys a plum spot as the No. 2 guy to own.
The Panthers are deep up front, yet at the same time they have a ton of high-end prospects who will be knocking on the door within three years. Nick Bjugstad will return to Minnesota for another year of college hockey, but Drew Shore has left Denver (WCHA) to turn pro after three seasons. Shore was a second round pick (44th overall) in 2009 and is coming off of a campaign in which he tallied 53 points in 42 games. A couple of injuries to fragile players such as Jack Skille or Mueller and Huberdeau could be moved to the wing, which in turn creates a spot for the pivot Shore.
The tremendous depth up front will probably limit the opportunity for Quinton Howden and Casey Wellman to make this team. Howden can afford a season in the minors without hurting his development at all (in fact, it would help it). Wellman is a different case. He’ll be 25 in the fall and if he doesn’t make the NHL, it’s hard to see him becoming a full-timer as a 26-year-old. He’s a pure offensive player who thrives with ice time and strong linemates. He had seven points in 14 NHL games last year, but he had five points in the five games in which he saw at least 14 minutes of ice. To me, that screams, “give me a chance,” but there won’t be room if Mueller stays healthy.
Goaltender Jacob Markstrom is still considered the strongest prospect netminder in the world and he is just a serious Jose Theodore injury away from taking over for this team.
There is a spot open on defense and Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic have their eyes on it. Petrovic is an aggressive defender with good hockey sense and the ability to move the puck well. He could probably use a season or two in the American League. Robak, 22, has had those two AHL seasons. He’s knocking on the door. He’ll be brought on board slowly, likely as a 20-point depth defenseman as a rookie, gradually transitioning to a 35-point secondary power play option.
Fantasy Outlook – The NHL team is average, but there are several options up front who have a shot at 55 points. The prospect pipeline is far from average – it’s elite. If you are in a keeper league and you start stocking up on Florida players both present and future, you will enjoy long-term success. Fantasy Grade: B+ (last year was D+)
Gone – Taylor Chorney, Tom Renney (coach), Cam Barker
Incoming – Justin Schultz, Nail Yakupov, Ralph Krueger (coach)
Ready for full-time –Yakupov was the first overall pick this season and he’ll be the third consecutive first overall pick to make the Oilers out of training camp. With a top six that includes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Yakupov and Ales Hemsky, the Oilers now boast two lines of skill that can match up with virtually any team in the league. Yakupov is also a Calder favorite in what is shaping up to be a great crop.
Schultz was the most coveted young defenseman on the free agent market, as he was drafted in the second round in 2008 (43rd overall) and only got better from there. He was arguably the best puck-moving defenseman in college these past two seasons and now he joins a team stacked with forwards who can take advantage of that. If he’s NHL ready – and there is little to indicate that he’s not –he could surprise offensively. A lot will depend on the health of Ryan Whitney and the support the veteran can provide.
Winger Magnus Paajarvi had some bad bounces early in the season and it cost him ice time and opportunity. That, in turn, resulted in more bad bounces (it’s hard to turn your luck around with nine minutes of ice time on a line with Joe Plugger and Tommy Checker). The numbers game will keep him on the third line, but thanks to Yakupov that third line is looking much better now. Expectations are low and he should be able to rebound for a modest 30 points. That’s not that bad for a 21-year-old.
Oh boy, I really like Teemu Hartikainen. A hardworking player who is responsible in his own end, yet at the same time he can chip in with offense. A great third-line winger who makes the first two lines better just from the options he brings. Don’t be shocked at 15 goals and 30 points from this guy right away.
Fantasy Outlook – If you are a coach or GM, is there a better lottery win than taking over a team that’s on the cusp? Michel Therrien looked like a genius when he took over the Penguins from Ed Olczyk and made them an eighth-place team. Stan Bowman took over as GM of a Hawks team that Dale Tallon built and won a Stanley Cup, getting full accolades. Enter Ralph Krueger. His “coaching” could get this team its first playoff spot in years…Certainly not because they have three first overall draft picks in the lineup.
The Oilers are another year older, back to full health and they’ve added Yakupov and Schultz. Predict them to finish in the bottom three again if you want, but I’ll put them in the top 18. Don’t forget, the Penguins were 29th in 2006 and most summer magazines pegged them to finish there again. They finished 10th. When the Oilers get rolling, they’re not going to give you a heads-up. They’re going to surge into the playoffs just when things are at their grimmest. Fantasy Grade: A- (last year was B+)
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.