Here we go!
It's difficult to temper the excitement offered by a full-slate NHL campaign after what we went through last season and the pre-emptive halt to the season prior.
COVID still lingers as a threat, but not nearly to the extent that it shadowed the 2020-21 season.
For the most part, everyone is expecting a relatively normal NHL campaign to unfold.
And so the forecaster returns -- with an extra row in tow. The Seattle Kraken are ready to take part in the glory that is the fantasy hockey game. It's both exciting and, as the Vegas Golden Knights have proven since the last expansion, unpredictable.
The forecaster uses past stats to drive the game projections. This is always a bit more unreliable at the beginning of the season due to offseason changes, but the Kraken add another wrench in the gears. In lieu of better options, the Kraken's statistics for projection here are simply last season's league average. Will that be accurate? Probably not. On paper, this offense could struggle to put up points and the defense could be above average. But until we get some real box scores, anything would be pure speculation.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 12 to Oct. 17
It's a light schedule to get things going, with many teams only appearing in one contest during the opening week. An important reminder will be to not overreact and cut loose any players from these teams that you truly believe in. While you will definitely need to make roster space for some early surprises off the waiver wire, don't make it at the expense of researched draft picks you invested in confidently.
The Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks are the teams that will only take to the ice once in Week 1, so you should be cautious with dropping any of them that you drafted to your squad.
At the other end of the spectrum, we'll get to see the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Seattle Kraken, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks a total of three times each. Definitely react to early achievers, just not by cutting bait on those without enough appearances to render proper judgement.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
Fantasy managers have been just as frustrated as Predators fans the past couple of seasons when it comes to Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. But they've been dashing enough in the preseason to perhaps give them one more chance. Playing together on a line with Filip Forsberg, perhaps they can bounce back together. Both Johansen and Duchene are, naturally, widely available in ESPN leagues.
Dallas Stars: Three road games to start the campaign should give us a good look at the Stars.
It's admittedly confusing that an NHL team has four goaltenders, but fantasy managers are drafting the wrong two. Ben Bishop and Jake Oettinger will likely be on the IR and in the AHL, respectively, when the season starts. Braden Holtby, who is on a one-year bounceback contract, is the one you want to consider. Anton Khudobin should back him up. And let's be clear: It may very well be worth considering Holtby here -- the Stars defense looks next level and the offense can win games.
Alexander Radulov appears healthy through the preseason. That means you should scoop him up. Radulov should not be available in 82% of ESPN leagues just on the chance he's healthy and ready to go. When he was on the ice last season, he was an absolute beast for fantasy points.
Montreal Canadiens: Three games, including a back-to-back road set, will give us a good picture of how Jake Allen can hold up with no Carey Price to start the season. Allen should be added to rosters everywhere. He has the chops to be a starting goaltender in the NHL and should get a workhorse load with Price out of the picture for an indefinite amount of time.
Tyler Toffoli is not rostered in enough places. He was the Habs leading scorer last season and will begin the campaign on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Toffoli is available in 50% of ESPN leagues.
San Jose Sharks: They only play once, but the lineup card will be very interesting for the Sharks. On the downside, there are so many holes in this Sharks offense, it's painful to see them lose a player as skilled as Evander Kane for the unforeseeable future. On the upside, that Swiss-cheese depth chart provides plenty of opportunity. William Eklund could be in the best position of any 2021 draft pick from a fantasy perspective; top-six minutes out of the gate are a real possibility. Jonathan Dahlen could be even more productive though, as the 23-year-old has previous AHL experience before he returned to Sweden and led the equivalent second-tier league there in scoring. He looks to crack the lineup with Logan Couture and Timo Meier on the top line.
Tyler Johnson, C, Chicago Blackhawks: The wrong Blackhawks center ended up on fantasy rosters -- at least to start the season. Tyler Johnson will begin the campaign playing in the middle for Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, not youngster Kirby Dach. Johnson has played the role of fantasy star in the past with the Lightning and is available in 94% of ESPN leagues.
Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Minnesota Wild: Don't sleep anymore on Joel Eriksson Ek. While he didn't play with Kirill Kaprizov last season, Eriksson Ek is the top-line center this season. He'll skate between the dynamic Kaprizov and veteran Mats Zuccarello. Eriksson Ek is still available in almost 30% of ESPN leagues.
Keith Yandle, D, Philadelphia Flyers: In no uncertain terms, Keith Yandle was a poor fantasy asset last season despite having the best of possible circumstances. He led the NHL in total power-play time on a team that has the fourth-best conversion rate in the league for the past three seasons. So why should he be of interest a year older and now on the team 19th for conversion for the past three seasons? He's a specialist on the man advantage, and this Flyers offense is better than it is on paper. It looks like he'll get the chance on the power play, and if Yandle takes that chance and runs with it, there will be fantasy dividends.
Jakub Voracek, W, Columbus Blue Jackets: Jakub Voracek should be a target for fantasy managers, as he is currently orbiting the Blue Jackets' equivalent of the sun: Patrik Laine. While their center has been rotated in the preseason, Laine and Voracek are a combo deal. As for that center, Alexandre Texier, rookie Cole Sillinger and Boone Jenner have all had reps there, and the winner of the job will be worth watching. In other Blue Jackets fantasy news, Max Domi could be ready for the season opener -- months ahead of schedule for his surgery rehab. Depending on how he's deployed, he could be of interest.
Viktor Arvidsson, W, Los Angeles Kings: Viktor Arvidsson is primed for a fantastic opportunity as a winger for Anze Kopitar to open the season. Arvidsson is coming off a couple of rough seasons with the Predators, but don't forget he averaged 31 goals in the three seasons prior to 2019-20. In fact, his 2018-19 was particularly impressive, with 34 goals in only 58 healthy games. He's available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues.
Shallower fantasy leagues should check their free-agent pool for Evgeny Kuznetsov. With Nicklas Backstrom out to start the campaign, Kuznetsov is the de facto top center -- even if he hasn't played that way in recent seasons. He's available in 38% of ESPN leagues.
Tony DeAngelo is quickly getting scooped up (80% availability has slipped to 70%), but there is still a window. Act now before it becomes more widely known that he's quarterbacking last season's second-best power play.
It's hard to sort out the Coyotes offense at this stage. Because of that, I can't help but be drawn to Andrew Ladd. On a Bill Masterton trophy-esque mission to return to league after playing just 30 games since 2017-18, Ladd is a natural leader for this rebuilding offense and could find his way to a scoring-line role if his body can hold up.
Arizona Coyotes vs. Vegas Golden Knights: Full Highlights
The combination of a dynamic preseason and an injury to Jakub Vrana has made Lucas Raymond a legitimate threat to start the season with the Red Wings on a scoring line. He's a future NHL star, no doubt, but Raymond could get an early start on his production with this opportunity. Deeper leagues should try to stash him now, while others can just pay attention to the start of the campaign. Just getting quality ice time with the Red Wings hasn't been enough in recent seasons, so there is some risk that mediocrity still prevails.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been toying with Corey Perry on a scoring line with Steven Stamkos. If this combination holds true, and Perry also finds some power-play time, it could be enough to push the former Ducks star into a fantasy role.
Linus Ullmark is being drafted as the presumptive starter for the Boston Bruins, but I'd rather have Jeremy Swayman on my team. He's likely to get the initial nod as the 1A starter and had significant success last season.
Though they are buried on the third line on paper to start the season, keep a close eye on Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov. They have been getting power-play chances in the preseason and capitalizing on them with the likes of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
The Oilers played Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on a line together in their latest preseason action on Thursday. While we shouldn't expect that overpowered combo to stay for the regular season, it should serve as a reminder to add Jesse Puljujarvi to your roster. He'll be attached to McDavid in the lineup and is poised to finally realize some of the potential that came with his draft pedigree. He's available in 76% of ESPN leagues.
If you are a believer in Jack Hughes potential breakout this season, there is no reason not to double down and also have Tomas Tatar on your roster. Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich look like Hughes' linemates, but Tatar is also a lock to join him on the power play (now bolstered by Dougie Hamilton on the point).