It's the 11th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically - but switch starting points each year. This year I began with Anaheim and will finish up with Winnipeg in early September. Time to take a look at the Rangers and the Senators.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Gone - Matt Gilroy, Ryane Clowe, Christian Thomas, Kris Newbury, Coach John Tortorella
Incoming - Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, Dominic Moore, Danny Kristo, Justin Falk, Steve Eminger, Nick Palmieri, Michael Sauer, Coach Alain Vigneault
Ready for full time - We had expected Chris Kreider to be ready for his first pro campaign last year, but the budding power forward struggled at both the American League and National League levels. He managed a combined 26 points in 71 games to go with a minus-12 rating, showing little of the dominance displayed when he first made a splash for the Rangers early in the 2012 post-season. The 22-year-old was a better player when this year's playoffs kicked off in May, but he's still probably not at a level where he could be considered a 'shoe-in' for an NHL job. And regardless, poolies are very clear on one thing - he's not going to bring in fantasy-relevant points anytime soon.
J.T. Miller is another power forward who is probably closer to NHL-readiness than Kreider, but is unfortunately in a tougher spot because he is a centerman. While Kreider will take advantage of the (likely) early injury absences of Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan (shoulder for both), Miller has no such opening to slide into. But a full season in the AHL won’t hurt either. Consider Miller a “maybe” for this year and pencil him in for 2014-15. His progress, in terms of offense, will probably be slow as well.
Hulking defenseman Dylan McIlrath offers poolies thunderous checks and hard-nosed (read: PIM) style of play. The 10th overall pick in 2010 missed half of last season after dislocating his knee cap in prospects camp, but did not look out of place when he returned to AHL action. But the Rangers have nine defensemen with NHL experience under contract, so the going will be tough. Look for him to be a mid-season call-up if injuries take a toll.
A longer shot is winger Danny Kristo. The Rangers traded one of their better prospects in Christian Thomas to land one of Montreal's better prospects in Kristo. It was a deal that had me scratching my head. Did the Rangers see something in Kristo that Montreal didn't? Did Montreal see something in Thomas that the Rangers didn’t? Did one of the prospects request a trade? The point is, there is more here than meets the eye. So keep the name “Kristo” in the back of your mind and pay attention when you read that name in the future. He was an NCAA all-star last season and was the WCHA Rookie of the Year in 2009-10.
Fantasy Outlook - The Rangers have a good blend of everything at all positions, though from a fantasy hockey standpoint their prospect pool isn't as solid as many other teams. The goals will come - probably more now than they did under former coach John Tortorella. And look for the goals to be top-heavy. Alain Vigneault played the hell out of the Sedin twins in Vancouver and he'll do the same with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash in New York. So though the points won't be distributed evenly, there will be a handful of players who exceed expectations. Fantasy Grade: B+ (last year was C+)
Gone - Daniel Alfredsson, Andre Benoit, Guillaume Latendresse, Mike Lundin, Peter Regin, Jakob Silfverberg, Sergei Gonchar
Incoming - Bobby Ryan, Joe Corvo, Clarke MacArthur
Ready for full time - When injuries hit, the unlikely solution was found in Jean-Gabriel Pageau. It was unlikely because not only did he lack size (just 5-foot-9, 163 pounds) and experience in his rookie pro season, but also pedigree. Generally, middle-round picks aren't rushed into the NHL just after they turn 20. But he was recommended by his Binghamton coach Luke Richardson and did not look out of place. Then he caught the attention of poolies everywhere when he scored a hat trick during a playoff game against the Penguins Canadiens. After that happened, not even the return of Jason Spezza from injury could take Pageau out of the lineup - or even off the second power play unit. Pageau once again finds himself behind a lot of bodies up the middle (Spezza, Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad) and may have to move to the wing to make it work. But don't count him out and there is some immediate upside here.
With seven defensemen already penciled in for the 2013-14 campaign, it is unlikely that highly touted prospect Cody Ceci will make the squad. But his talent is tremendous and as such he shouldn't be completely written off the opening night roster yet. An injury to Ottawa's back end would open this door. But even so, points will be few and far between early in Ceci's NHL career.
Ceci won't be in the mix if there is an opening for a No. 8 defenseman. However, Mark Borowiecki fits that role and he'll see a lot of recalls in the season ahead. Potentially, he could play 65 or 70 games and easily top 200 penalty minutes, making him a nice dark horse for leagues that count that stat (or hits).
Fantasy Outlook – Ottawa will win hockey games, but poolies don't care about wins and losses (other than with their goaltenders, of course). We care about goals. Now that Spezza and Erik Karlsson are healthy and Ryan is on the team, the offense will improve tremendously. Perhaps we'll see three players above the 75-point mark. An underrated team…again. Fantasy Grade: B (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.