It's almost time for the puck to drop!
With the NHL regular season for 2023-24 ready to go, let's take one last spin through training camps to see what decisions will have an impact on fantasy hockey.
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Leo Carlsson was hurt in practice this past weekend, which is a mighty shame considering he looked pretty darn good on a top line with Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry. Certainly Alex Killorn's multiple-week injury leaves some room for the Ducks to give Carlsson a try in the top six. We'll have to wait and see how severe the injury is for Carlsson.
With Dylan Guenther sent down to start the season, there is a little less competition for the top six in Arizona. Logan Cooley appears a lock for the No. 2 center spot, with Jason Zucker likely to be one of his wingers. But we'll have to see how high-ceilinged sophomore Matias Maccelli fits into the ranks.
Keep an eye on 19-year-old Matthew Poitras early in the season. He seems to have won the other scoring-line center role opposite Pavel Zacha, which likely means ice time with Brad Marchand on a regular basis. Poitras has an assist-heavy portfolio in the OHL.
It looks like rookie Zach Benson, the 13th overall pick, is sticking around to try the NHL as an 18-year-old. The Sabres have a lot of young talent, and a few injured players that may supplant Benson before long (Jack Quinn, Matt Savoie), but Benson will be worth a watch to see what he can do. It's likely the Sabres, at the very least, will watch for that 10-game threshold for when his entry-level deal kicks in -- but it's questionable that he would stick around if he's playing on the third or fourth line by then.
The sniping by Matt Coronato has been a preseason storyline for the Flames, and some hype is justified given how much flexibility remains in the top six here. Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm and Nazem Kadri are locks, but arguments can be made for at least six other players to fill out the final three spots. Coronato has as good a shot -- both figuratively and literally -- as any of them.
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His minutes might not be mighty overall, but Tony DeAngelo may get some fantasy attention with the current arrangement suggesting two defenders on the Canes top power play. With DeAngelo playing his specialist role as puck distributor and Brent Burns cranking out blasts from the blue line, this could be a beneficial combo for both players.
Kevin Korchinski, a future top-pairing defender with offensive chops, will start the campaign with the Hawks as a 19-year-old. He'll be hard-pressed to pass Seth Jones on the depth chart, but there is a world where perhaps both of them end up on the advantage together with Connor Bedard, Taylor Hall and another forward. And don't sleep on Ryan Donato in deeper leagues, as he looks to have earned the spot next to Hall and Bedard on the top line.
Perhaps getting the best opportunity of his career since he was a rookie with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jonathan Drouin is poised to either go off like dynamite or fizzle into bottom-six permanence. The 28-year-old is skating next to two of the top-15 skaters in the world in Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Furthermore, if the chemistry is just right, that could eventually parlay into power-play opportunities as well.
An underrated offseason move is Patrik Laine moving 15 feet from the wing to lineup at center. This gives the Jackets a projected top line of Laine, Johnny Gaudreau and sniper Kirill Marchenko, rather than bumping up Boone Jenner or forcing rookie Adam Fantilli into the frying pan. This won't be the best defensive unit in the NHL (sarcasm drips), but there could be something here if Laine can mature his game defensively.
Injuries to Roope Hintz and Wyatt Johnston mean we might not get the opening lineup we expect from the Stars. With everyone healthy, it appears Matt Duchene and Tyler Seguin would be a combo on the second line, but Seguin moves up if Hintz isn't ready to go. Johnston is also important as the third line with Jamie Benn and Evgenii Dadonov is supposed to outmatch other bottom-six combos. It also looks like Benn is keeping his top power-play specialist spot for the time being, which means fantasy value.
Michael Rasmussen has been getting looks in the Red Wings top six all preseason. He posted a subtle 29 points in just 56 games last season and hasn't really been given looks on a scoring line before. In his age-24 campaign, a top-six role could include a breakout for Rasmussen, who was a top-10 pick by the Wings back in 2017.
Jack Campbell was a shining star in the preseason. That doesn't mean he'll rebound in the regular season and it doesn't mean Stuart Skinner will move aside, but it does give an indication that Campbell could be a value fantasy pick this season. Also note that the Connor Brown reunion with Connor McDavid went swimmingly in exhibition and Brown should be rostered universally.
A couple names that maybe weren't expected to be there are key components of the Panthers' power play to start the season. Oliver Ekman-Larsson's redemption arc will begin with him quarterbacking the advantage to start the season, and Evan Rodrigues has looked like a mainstay on the top unit over other options like Carter Verhaeghe.
Brandt Clarke is coming out of the preseason with a trip to the AHL, but the future remains bright for the dominant blue-liner. The final spot in the top six is still up for grabs too, as Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kevin Fiala need another winger for opening night. It might have been Arthur Kaliyev had he not been suspended for throwing knees.
A couple under-rostered players reside here. Ryan Hartman, fresh off a payday, will be in prime position to better replicate 2021-22 (76th overall for fantasy) than last season's write-off, as he's back atop the depth chart with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. The power play is also due for some better luck, so Calen Addison isn't a horrible stash as the team's quarterback on the advantage in hopes he has taken some steps forward this season.
If Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are the focal point of the offense, then Josh Anderson deserves some intertest to start the season. It looks like he'll be the third member of the line, spreading a Kirby Dach of offense to the second line with Alex Newhook and Juraj Slafkovsky. When the magic clicked for Anderson in the 2020-21 season, he still only finished 170th overall for fantasy, so the ceiling isn't high here.
At the tail end of the preseason, the Preds had one of those third-line-on-paper-but-really-the-second-line situations, with Thomas Novak, Philip Tomasino and Luke Evangelista playing together behind a second line with Cody Glass, Kiefer Sherwood and Gustav Nyquist. But Juuso Parssinen is the one to watch, having seemingly earned the role next to Ryan O'Reilly and Filip Forsberg on the top line.
After teasing the idea last season, the Devils never really committed to giving Alexander Holtz a top-six look. But it sure looks like he'll start there this season after spending the entire preseason with Nico Hischier and Timo Meier. Holtz has an NHL-ready shot and this role in the lineup is a very good one.
While largely untested, the Bo Horvat-Mathew Barzal connection that is the focus of the Islanders' offensive attack is a fantastic duo on paper. Simon Holmstrom has seemingly earned first crack at making that duo into a line. There could be some fantasy value coming Holmstrom's way if he can stick with these stars -- both through virtue of expanded ice time and scoring by virtue of vicinity.
Kaapo Kakko had an inspired enough preseason to open the season on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. If things go well in the regular season, he could carry that role forward onto the top power-play unit, too, eventually replacing Vincent Trocheck there.
What seemed like an easy issue headed into the season has become messy with the realization that Josh Norris is not in fact ready for the regular season. It's a strange one, as the issues were brushed off by the club at the start of camp and they seemed genuinely surprised through most reporting that Norris wouldn't be ready -- he missed most of last season with shoulder issues. It does make a mess with Shane Pinto still unsigned as a restricted free agent. Ridly Greig for No. 2 center anyone?
The Flyers never used the same scoring line twice in the preseason, so it's increasingly hard to gauge how some of the pieces fit. But with Sean Couturier back, the focus will be who he plays with to start. To that end, Joel Farabee should be a focus as he stuck fairly close with Couturier in a couple of games. And don't forget Cam York looks like he's earned power-play duties on the blue line.
Though Jake Guentzel might not be out too much longer, as he's making progress to ward a return, there is one additional spot that offers a newcomer room in this top six. And Reilly Smith could have a bigger fantasy campaign than usual if he continues clicking with Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell on the second line. In the meantime, Drew O'Connor likely squeezes in a couple of games with Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust before Guentzel returns to replace him.
We never did end up seeing Logan Couture in the preseason, limiting the immediately-fantasy-relevant players to just Tomas Hertl. Still, the Sharks will score some goals inevitably (right?), so there will be fringe fantasy assets to watch develop. William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau have made the opening day roster, while Henry Thrun is making a case to be the offense from the blue line the Sharks lost with the Erik Karlsson trade. The Sharks don't play until Thursday, so we'll wait and see what their final roster moves are.
With much of the same balanced lineup returning for another go, there weren't many training camp battles to watch here. Shane Wright didn't make the squad and will start in the AHL. Ryker Evans, who raised eyebrows with his exhibition play on the blue line, is headed there too.
It looks like Kasperi Kapanen, Brayden Schenn and Brandon Saad will round out the Blues top six to start. That leaves Kevin Hayes and Jakub Vrana on the outside looking in for potential fantasy-relevant ice time.
No surprise that the focus here is on Andrei Vasilevskiy being out for at least two months. The preseason is just the preseason, but it would have been easy for Jonas Johansson to fold under pressure of filling Vasilevskiy's skates. But he made some big saves and likely has his team's confidence to start the season for them. There is some massive upside here if the largely untested Johansson can stay cool playing behind a quality team.
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Despite lots of preseason juggling, it looks like the Leafs will open with the top-six depth chart that was predicted the moment they signed Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi. Bertuzzi gets to play alongside superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, while Domi gets a shot with John Tavares and William Nylander. Bertuzzi has been rostered in more than 80% of ESPN leagues, but Domi hasn't cracked 70% ... yet.
Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko are a locked combination, but who joins them atop the Canucks depth chart? Anthony Beauvillier did well there at the end of last season and spent some preseason games there, but was sick for the tail end of exhibition play. Conor Garland is a coach Rick Tocchet favorite going back to Arizona, and he filled in for Beauvillier in the last preseason games. But Ilya Mikheyev may be the sleeper. He missed all the preseason recovering from an ACL injury last season, but slipped in a full practice at the end.
Not a lot of questions circle the defending cup champs. It looks like Adin Hill gets first crack in the crease, but this could be a strict rotation with Logan Thompson still. Brett Howden might see some interest in deeper leagues if he stays with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson on the second line. Honestly, not much to see here from training camp battles -- which is a good thing for the defending champs to be able to say.
With not a lot of exciting battles in training camp and the preseason, perhaps the biggest focus here is that Nicklas Backstrom looks like he's turned back the clock and fully recovered from his hip problems. If that's the case, he's a free agent in more than 95% of ESPN leagues and currently tied to the hip of Alex Ovechkin.
If the Jets do go with Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Gabriel Vilardi at the top of the depth chart, it's likely trouble for Nikolaj Ehlers to try and regain the form that saw him finish top-100 for fantasy in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. But it's even more fuel for Vilardi to truly have a breakout campaign.