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2015-16 Pacific Division fantasy preview

Aaron Poole/NHLI/Getty Images

To get you ready for your fantasy hockey drafts this season, we're going team by team with a look at what's changed, along with a sleeper and a bust. Our group here is the seven teams of the Pacific Division:


Anaheim Ducks

What's new?

Clearly unsatisfied with almost making the Stanley Cup final this past spring, GM Bob Murray exchanged a gaggle of supporting-cast members for a fresh flock, including defenseman Kevin Bieksa, forwards Carl Hagelin, Chris Stewart, Mike Santorelli, and goalie Anton Khudobin.

Of the lot, Hagelin has the most obvious fantasy potential. If he sticks on a scoring line, flanking Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg, the 27-year-old speedster could sniff the 50-point mark by season's end. He was never consistently awarded such a rich opportunity with the Rangers.

Otherwise, Stewart seems like a long shot worth monitoring. Signing a one-year deal with the Ducks, the 27-year-old leaves a trail of disenchanted former teams in his wake. The former first-rounder has the physical stature and tools to be a very good power forward. Keep an eye on him, especially in the early stages of 2015-16.

Sleeper

As long as he continues to play on a No. 1 line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Maroon remains an underappreciated fantasy commodity in most leagues.

Bust

Don't bother with John Gibson in re-draft leagues this season. With Frederik Andersen and Anton Khudobin slated No. 1 and No. 2, the talented 22-year-old -- and his two-way contract -- is fated for one last season in the AHL.


Arizona Coyotes

What's new?

It's all about the kids in the desert this season. Drafted 13th overall in 2013, Max Domi is projected to make his NHL debut on what could be a dangerous scoring line for the Coyotes.

Pegged to play with sizable center Martin Hanzal, Domi is also bound to reunite with former IIHF World Junior Championship teammate Anthony Duclair. These two were something else while playing on the same forward line last winter. And you can bet that chemistry inspired GM Don Maloney to insist on Duclair's inclusion in a trade package that sent elite D-man Keith Yandle to the Big Apple. Even if the former Ranger doesn't make the Coyotes straight out of camp, it's only a matter of time. In any case, the immediate combination of Hanzal's physical presence with Domi's speed and skill should be dynamite.

Even if Hanzal suffers some variety of injury -- as has been his habit of late -- all is not lost. New-again center Antoine Vermette is back for another tour after winning a Stanley Cup in Chicago.

Although not new, another young forward worth some fantasy attention is Tobias Rieder. The 22-year-old winger is looking to build on his solid 13-goal, eight-assist rookie campaign (72 games). Keep him on your radar.

Sleeper

Goalie Mike Smith isn't anywhere near as awful as last season's numbers (14-42, 3.16 goals-against average) would suggest. Plus, Coyotes management has made a concerted effort to bulk up their defense, and Smith is reportedly excited about reuniting with longtime goalie coach Jon Elkin. We don't propose you draft the Arizona starter as your own No. 1 netminder, but he's worth consideration in later rounds.

Bust

As much as we admire his commitment and competitive spirit, the aging body of Shane Doan isn't cooperating with his positive attitude. After collecting only 14 goals and 22 helpers this past season (and generating a minus-29 plus/minus), the nearly 39-year-old captain is already banged up this fall. And we haven't really started yet.


Calgary Flames

What's new?

As smitten as we all are with Calgary's top trio, Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, and Sean Monahan can't again be expected to do all the productive heavy lifting. Not if the Flames hope to take another step forward. Which brings us to what GM Brad Treliving hopes will be a dynamic second scoring line.

If it all clicks, the offseason signing of speedy Michael Frolik will nicely complement center Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett (assuming the rookie isn't moved to center). Sure, it's only training camp, but Frolik and Bennett have already made a positive impression. If kept intact, this unit could evolve into something special.

As for blue-line additions, armed with a defensive corps that already includes the likes of Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie, and a reborn Kris Russell, the Flames chose to make another upgrade by trading for Dougie Hamilton. Look for the former Bruin to see top-four minutes and anchor the Flames' No. 2 power play. An injury-free season could result in 45-plus points for the 22-year-old.

Sleeper

We're calling it here: Backlund will enjoy a breakout campaign in 2015-16. (Caveat: If he can stay healthy, that is).

Bust

Once Brodie's broken finger heals up (mid- to late October), Russell takes a step down the fantasy depth chart. There are only so many power-play gigs to go around, and with Giordano, Wideman, Hamilton and Brodie available, Russell appears to be the odd man out.


Edmonton Oilers

What's new?

Good glory, as if we even need to ask. Now, beyond the dawning of the Connor McDavid era, the Oilers are also entering 2015-16 with a couple of fresh, experienced faces between the pipes and on the blue line. Let's first quickly check those boxes.

After a marvelous, if unanticipated, performance in relief of an injured Henrik Lundqvist this past season, Cam Talbot is expected to challenge Ben Scrivens for starts in Edmonton. While we wouldn't pull the trigger on either goalie to launch 2015-16, the battle is worth gauging in case the Oilers end up being better than estimated.

Signed to a six-year deal, defenseman Andrej Sekera is pegged to fill an offensive role, if mostly out of necessity. Since the Oilers aren't exactly bursting with puck-moving talent on the blue line, Sekera will likely see a fair chunk of minutes with the man advantage.

But really, the pressing questions are will McDavid perform to expectation, and who else stands to benefit from competing with this generation's gift to the game of hockey? Our answers are "probably," and "Taylor Hall." Otherwise, we're not sure. Teddy Purcell is believed to be an option at wing alongside McDavid and Hall. So is rookie Leon Draisaitl. We'd like to see Nail Yakupov get a shot at the position. But we're in wait-and-see mode until the regular season gets well underway.

Sleeper

Anchoring a top power-play unit including McDavid, Hall and whoever else impresses coach Todd McLellan should prove fruitful for Justin Schultz. After a couple of solid learning campaigns, Schultz regressed last season. We expect a bounce-back showing from the offensive-oriented defenseman in 2015-16.

Bust

Forward Jordan Eberle is projected to miss four to six weeks with a shoulder injury. Draft the 25-year-old winger knowing you might not see him in action until late November. Eberle led the Oilers in scoring last season with 24 goals and 39 assists.


Los Angeles Kings

What's new?

After falling short of a playoff spot -- and after a summer of cutting ties with various players for a variety of reasons -- the Kings are hoping a little Looch goes a long way. Frankly, we're fairly jazzed about what Milan Lucic will bring to the Kings' top line -- alongside center Anze Kopitar and right wing Marian Gaborik -- once the former Bruin gets comfortable. All three could enjoy exceptionally productive campaigns, it the stars align.

The Kings are also looking forward to having a healthy Tanner Pearson back. A prominent piece of a second line including Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, Pearson scored 12 goals in 42 games in what should've been his first full season in the NHL. Target the 23-year-old in later rounds as a fantasy sleeper with plenty of upside.

In goal, Jhonas Enroth takes over for a departed Martin Jones as the Kings' backup. But unless Jonathan Quick gets seriously hurt, we shouldn't see much of Enroth.

Sleeper

Gaborik is poised to enjoy his most productive season since 2011-12, when the then-Ranger scored 41 goals and 35 assists. Playing with Lucic should afford the speedy sniper that extra bit of space to find the back of the net more often.

Bust

Don't draft Dustin Brown to your fantasy team. We don't care that he consistently collected between 50 and 60 points, six seasons running, up until two years ago. We don't care that he captained the Kings to two Stanley Cups in the past four years. We don't care that his wife is often the voice of reason in that "reality" program about the trials and tribulations of marrying an NHL player. Don't draft Brown. Just don't.


San Jose Sharks

What's new?

Bidding adieu to Antti Niemi (traded to the Dallas Stars), the Sharks are putting their faith in a talented, if unproven, starting netminder. After playing second banana to Quick, Martin Jones is poised to prove himself able (or not, perhaps) to compete with the cream of the NHL's goaltending crop. The concern is that Jones has yet to start 20 games in a season. But the 25-year-old has been impressive when given the chance. Depending on league size, Jones suits the gutsier fantasy owner as a second starter.

The Sharks' only other significant offseason acquisition -- at least from a fantasy perspective -- is the signing of former Capital Joel Ward. There's talk the veteran winger could see time on a line with center Logan Couture. If so, Ward would threaten to break the 50-point barrier for the first time in his career.

Sleeper

Two years ago ago, Tomas Hertl wowed us all by collecting 15 goals and 10 assists in a 37-game campaign, cut short by injury. Then last season -- when healthy through 82 contests -- the 21-year-old proved to be a disappointment, with only 31 points. Fast-forward to this fall, and we've got a determined, leaner, stronger Hertl battling for a top-six role in camp. And there's word he'll see significant minutes on a scoring line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Bust

Not only is forward Melker Karlsson hurt (undisclosed injury) to start 2015-16, he's in danger of demotion to the AHL once healthy. After he often held his own on a line with Thornton and Pavelski last winter, this is a step backward for the second-year winger.


Vancouver Canucks

What's new?

Opting for the minimalist approach in fiddling with his team this summer, GM Jim Benning is hoping a new second-line center is all that's needed to forge a potent scoring unit, beyond what Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Radim Vrbata bring to the ice. Enter Brandon Sutter, ex-Pittsburgh Penguin.

Calling Sutter a foundation piece in comments to reporters, Benning is banking on the 26-year-old blossoming now that he's out from under the shadow cast by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If that isn't how the cookie crumbles, you can bet your last buck Bo Horvat will do his darndest to prove he's right for the top-six job. Watch the drama unfold through training camp -- and probably the first couple of months of 2015-16.

In net, Eddie Lack's departure (traded to the Carolina Hurricanes) means the backup gig now belongs to Jacob Markstrom alone. Which, unless Ryan Miller gets hurt, should only net the big Swede around 25 or so appearances.

On the prospect watch, forward Jake Virtanen has a shot to make the NHL squad out of camp, but has limited fantasy value in the near future. For leagues that count penalty minutes, it's worth mentioning that pugilist Brandon Prust was added this offseason.

Sleeper

If he jells in a top-six role, Sven Baertschi has dark-horse fantasy potential. The former first-round draft pick (No. 13 overall, 2011) scored a couple of goals in a three-game taste with the Canucks last season. While Baertschi fell out of favor with his former NHL squad, the Flames, it's worth keeping in mind he's still quite young (he turns 23 on Oct. 5).

Bust

Hey, maybe playing on a second line with Baertschi and Sutter might inspire Alex Burrows to revisit his old ways of netting 50-plus points and more than 100 penalty infraction minutes. But probably not.