By Jim Wilkie
Before the puck drops on opening night (in North America, anyway) let's have a look at some notable news and notes around the NHL and the impact they will have on fantasy hockey.
Stars' Zubov hurting again
The Stars' long-term injury claim on Sergei Zubov was accepted by the NHL, which means the star defenseman won't be back earlier than Oct. 31. Zubov was placed on injured reserve because of a hip surgery performed on Sept. 19 that was expected to see the defenseman miss four to eight weeks.
As long as Dallas doesn't fall flat on its face in the first month, Zubov won't be rushed back in November because of the team's tight cap space. Zubov, 38, had an impressive 35 points in 46 games last season, but he didn't play another regular season game after injuring his foot in a game Jan. 17. He returned to play 11 playoff games, but notched only a goal and five assists and was minus-four.
In the meantime, Philippe Boucher, who suffered through shoulder and "lower body" injuries all through last season and the playoffs, will be counted on to provide offense from the blue line and to man the point on the power play. But ultimately, Boucher's value will only be helped when both he and Zubov are healthy at the same time. Boucher's best season came in 2006-07 when he scored 19 goals and added 32 assists while Zubov chipped in 12 goals and 42 assists of his own.
On Tuesday, the Kings finally re-signed winger Patrick O'Sullivan to a three-year deal that averages $2.925 million per season. Although Los Angeles doesn't open its season until Saturday, it's unclear whether O'Sullivan will be in the lineup.
After missing training camp and the entire preseason, O'Sullivan has a lot of work to do to get game-ready. Every Kings player is going to be a drag on your plus-minus, so don't take a chance on O'Sullivan this early. Keep an eye on him, but it will probably take at least a month or longer to regain the chemistry he had on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. O'Sullivan, 23, will have a hard time surpassing the 22 goals and 31 assists he had last season.
Gerber hangs onto No. 1 job, by a hair
Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg is saying there is no goalie controversy, but the Senators' first two games against the Penguins in Sweden were enough for fantasy owners to be skeptical of Martin Gerber and to prepare themselves to pick up Alex Auld. Gerber allowed three goals he should have stopped, including the winner in overtime, in Pittsburgh's 4-3 victory on Saturday. Senators backup Alex Auld followed that up with 30 saves in a 3-1 victory over the Pens the next day to help Ottawa earn a split.
In supporting his No. 1 goalie and not adding more fuel to the media frenzy in the Canadian capital, Hartsburg understandably declared Gerber the starter for Saturday's home opener against Detroit. But more performances like last week's can't be tolerated for very long. Gerber had a strong start last season to reclaim the No. 1 job and finished with 30 wins, a 2.72 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, but he was inconsistent from January onward, recording just 11 of his victories in the 2008 leg of the season.
Auld might not be a long-term solution, and has his own consistency issues, but he put up good numbers last season for the Bruins when that team had some goaltending problems. Auld went 9-7-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 23 games after he was picked up from the Coyotes at midseason.
Hansen adds MMMbop to checking line
Most third-liners aren't worth considering in most fantasy leagues, but if you're in a deep league, keep your eye on Vancouver's shut-down line of Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Jannik Hansen. Kesler and Burrows clicked last season as two irritating checkers who could chip in a few goals, as well; Kesler had 21 goals and 37 points while Burrows had 12 goals and 31 points. This season, they are joined by Danish rookie Jannik Hansen, 22, whose speed fits in perfectly with the swift and gritty Burrows and Kesler to form a unit that will irritate opponents and can create a dangerous counter-attack against their top lines.
Hansen, 22, scored five points in five preseason games. While he won't continue that pace into the regular season, he figures to stay with Kesler and Burrows for a little while because he honed his two-way game in the AHL for the past two years, scoring 21 goals and 43 points in 50 games with Manitoba in his most recent campaign.
Although preseason success doesn't always translate into the regular season, here's one guarantee for Vancouver's season-opening home-and-home series with Northwest Division rival Calgary: Kesler will be getting under the skin of Flames superstar Jarome Iginla, as he always does when the teams meet. Iginla and center man Daymond Langkow are still getting acquainted with winger Todd Bertuzzi, who has never been known to be much help in his own end of the ice. Consider picking up Kesler if you want some early penalty minutes that shouldn't hurt your plus-minus and come complete with the potential for some points.
Hub City's big Wheeler
Speaking of third lines, 6-foot-4 rookie Blake Wheeler, 22, made the Bruins and will combine with center David Krejci and right wing Chuck Kobasew to form a unit with scoring potential.
Krejci, 22, finished strong last season but moves down because of Patrice Bergeron's return from a serious concussion. Kobasew, 26, had a career-high 22 goals and 39 points last season. Wheeler, who was the fifth overall pick in 2004 by the Coyotes, had teammates and management raving about his performance in camp and the preseason.
"I never saw a guy move that fast," Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward told the Boston Herald. "You can work with a player to hone his skills and make him understand how to be a better team player, but speed is a natural talent that you just don't foster."
Wheeler had 15 goals, 35 points and 72 penalty minutes in 44 games for the University of Minnesota last season.
An amazing nine players taken in the first round of the June draft are on rosters to start the season. Even more incredible is that five of them are defensemen.
Los Angeles' Drew Doughty (No. 2 overall), Atlanta's Zach Bogosian (No. 3), St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo (No. 4), Toronto's Luke Schenn (No. 5) and Philadelphia's Luca Sbisa (No. 19) all made their teams' opening night rosters playing a position that typically takes en extended period to learn at the professional level.
The higher picks are, naturally, playing for weaker teams, which should make fantasy owners proceed with caution. But Doughty, Bogosian and Pietrangelo put up impressive numbers in junior last season, and Doughty and Bogosian have the potential to make an impact similar to the one Dion Phaneuf had when he was a rookie.
The first-round picks at forward are first-overall pick Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, Mikkel Boedker (No. 8) and Viktor Tikhonov (No. 28) of the Coyotes, and Josh Bailey (No. 9) of the Islanders.
Columbus sent Nikita Filatov (No. 6 overall) down to the AHL, but he could be back soon. He was slowed in training camp by a hairline fracture, but he scored a goal in regulation plus the shootout winner in the Blue Jackets' 5-4 preseason victory over the Maple Leafs on Sunday.
Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor/writer for ESPN.com.