With the start of the 2015-16 season just around the corner, and most fantasy hockey drafts taking place in the next several days, we take a look at some high-profile players that switched teams this offseason, and what we should expect out of them in fantasy this season. First up is a dozen players that found new homes in the Eastern Conference.
From 24-karat star on a tear-down project to just another great hockey player with a Stanley Cup contender, the former Leaf might be the happiest skater in all of pro hockey. Free of the leaden cloak of too-lofty expectations knit together by Toronto's fervent media and perpetually dissatisfied fans, Kessel joins a Penguins team already peppered with high-end talent. Oh, and he's skating on a line with Sidney Crosby. Not a bad gig for a winger who likes to score a lot of goals.
Plus, the just-turned 28-year-old is rumored to be in the clichéd best shape of his career. Working with fitness/nutrition taskmaster Gary Roberts this summer, Kessel has reportedly lost some extra cargo. Roberts himself expects great things from his client: "I truly believe he's in a good place. He'll have a small adjustment period, but he's such a highly skilled, powerful athlete, I think he's going to have a great year here."
We think so, too. Kessel has yet to score 40 goals in an NHL season. That changes in 2015-16.
Some are predicting a dip in personal production now that Saad has left the comfort of his Stanley Cup-winning club for what remains an ever-improving work-in-progress in Columbus. Not us. While the 22-year-old has a couple of rings from playing with some of the best in the biz, he's now tapped to fill a starring role on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Have you seen this trio in preseason action? If they're anywhere near as dynamic when it counts, Saad will blow his career best numbers (23 goals, 29 assists) right out of the water.
On paper, Kane joined the Sabres last February in a deal that netted Winnipeg defenseman Tyler Myers and forward Drew Stafford. But that was after the skilled sniper fell out with the Jets, and opted to miss the rest of 2014-15 for season-ending shoulder surgery. Embarking on a fresh start in Buffalo, Kane is expected to shine on a new top unit with fellow import O'Reilly and winger Tyler Ennis. While the Sabres are nowhere near finished with their multi-year rebuild, we expect serious production from this trio immediately.
Up front, the Capitals look mighty different on the right side to start this season. Coach Barry Trotz now has the option of skating Oshie or Williams alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (once the center recovers from a hip issue). The other should slide in alongside promising youngster Evgeny Kuznetsov. We'll get a better sense of how it all shakes out once the regular campaign gets going, but count on increased production from whoever lands on that top line. And both right-wing imports should see their fair share of minutes with Ovechkin on the power play.
While a power play including Alex Ovechkin has a slight edge over one without him, Green falls into a decent gig as anchor of the top crew in Detroit. Of course, his lower-body health is a nagging concern. With the regular season not even yet underway, the 29-year-old offensive defenseman is already dealing with a groin issue -- as he has too often in the past. A 50-point campaign is foreseeable if Green can stay healthy. If not, look for longtime Wings defender Niklas Kronwall to reclaim a role on the top power-play unit.
After playing a supporting role with the Blackhawks, more will be asked of Versteeg in his new Carolina digs. A top-six spot is essentially assured, alongside the likes of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and/or Jeff Skinner. From 2008-09 until 2011-12, Versteeg enjoyed four straight 20-plus goal seasons. Another such campaign -- along with 30 or so assists -- is achievable under current circumstances. He should serve as a depth winger in larger fantasy leagues.
If Lack gets his way, there will be a changing of the goaltending guard in Carolina this season. Offered the opportunity to battle Cam Ward for the starting gig, the big Swede is determined to take over. And since the long-time Hurricanes' No. 1 has been only so-so these past few seasons, we like Lack's chances. Now, whether it's in your best fantasy interest to have anything to do with whoever is starting for what has been a defensively porous squad of late is another matter. They're supposed to be improved this season. We'll see how much improved soon enough.
With Milan Lucic traded to the Kings, Beleskey is expected to flank center David Krejci at even strength and with the extra skater. The 27-year-old potted 22 goals on 145 shots in only 65 games this past season. Could we see 30 this season from the former Duck?
As with Beleskey, Palmieri morphs from small to large fish, moving away from the greater pool of scoring talent in Anaheim. The Devils aren't deep at right wing; they'll need Palmieri to play a top-six role, and they'll need him to score. Again, as is the case with Beleskey in Boston, Palmieri appears poised to enjoy his most productive season to date, as long as he can deliver on this expanded opportunity. A 50-point campaign, maybe? Much will depend on how effectively new head coach John Hynes can kick-start Jersey's offense.
Don't look now, but Alexander Semin could be fantasy-relevant this season. Post-Carolina buyout, the Canadiens are taking a flier on the 31-year-old. Semin could be in for a renaissance in Montreal, especially if he develops decent chemistry with top-six center Alex Galchenyuk. We all know the raw talent is there; whether the fallen star is determined enough to make it work is the $1.1 million question. As a fantasy asset, Semin is high risk with a whole lotta upside.
Others of note
Brad Boyes (more likely), Michael Grabner or P.A. Parenteau (less likely) should secure a fairly prominent top-six role with the Maple Leafs. If you can stomach the inevitably ugly plus/minus, whoever settles in on a line with James van Riemsdyk should put up decent stats.
Like Lack and Versteeg, defenseman James Wisniewski is determined to earn a prominent gig with the Hurricanes. Tapped to anchor the secondary power-play unit, the 31-year-old former Duck has been a feisty, productive presence in the past.
Michal Neuvirth (most recently with the New York Islanders) is pegged to step up as the Philadelphia Flyers' new backup, and has shown to be a productive player when taking over for an injured starter in the past.