It's back! The Fantasy Forecaster is your one-stop shop for the week ahead in the fantasy hockey world.
Sometimes it's not about what you know as much as it is about who you know. It's a statement that can be used to emphasize the importance of linemates, depth chart and position battles as we kick off the 2013-14 NHL season. There were a few surprises who weren't on many fantasy radars a month ago who deserve a quick look before we get into the meat of the Fantasy Forecaster.
Erik Cole, RW, Dallas Stars: The thought was that it would be veteran Ray Whitney and his passing prowess who would be the natural linemate for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on the Stars' top unit. Not so, as the Stars opted for the tougher forechecking option in Cole. With experience as a top-line player, and an ability to mix points, plus/minus and penalty minutes, Cole could be a nice pickup ahead of the season. Whitney loses a lot of his appeal if this depth chart stands.
David Perron, LW, Edmonton Oilers: With the injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner to begin the season, Perron gets a chance to play up a little higher on the depth chart than he would have normally. Until the team gets its two centers back healthy, Perron will play with Jordan Eberle and get time on the Oilers' top power-play unit. An absolutely dynamic puck handler, Perron never did get a chance to express his skills fully as a member of the St. Louis Blues. This talented, creative Oilers offense is just what the doctor ordered. Also watch Mark Arcobello in deeper leagues. He will center Perron and Eberle at even strength.
Michal Handzus, C, Chicago Blackhawks: Coach Joel Quenneville wants a real centerman to play on his second line, and is willing to bypass some talented young players to get one. After Brandon Pirri and Brandon Saad didn't show what they needed to show in training camp, Handzus was selected to play the second-line center role between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. There is some upside for Handzus in this role, as he did score 11 points in 23 playoff games in the same spot last season. But the upside is limited, as he won't participate on the power play. Grab him in very deep leagues, and consider watching the line's dynamic early.
Brad Boyes, RW, Florida Panthers: The Panthers inked Boyes to a contract after training camp, as he looked good playing on a line with rookie Aleksander Barkov. Both Boyes and Barkov are tough to encourage as a pickup in shallow leagues, but it is worth keeping a close eye on them as the season opens. Barkov's extreme skill combined with Boyes' veteran scoring ability could be a good combination.
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus Blue Jackets: Locked in as the starting linemate for Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky, there is very big upside for Jenner in this situation. The young man comes with a proven ability to go hard into the corners, set up his linemates and score. Playing with Gaborik has its obvious upside, and Dubinsky is already a proven linemate of Gabby's from their time with the Rangers. Jenner's ability to complement Gaborik and Dubinsky was obvious as the trio combined for 18 points in the preseason. Jenner chipped in three goals and a helper.
Matt Frattin, RW, Los Angeles Kings: Frattin wasn't an obvious choice for the Kings' top six, especially with the way Tyler Toffoli finished strong last season. But so far, it appears as though Frattin will have every chance to stay on a line with two-time teammates Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. The former Philadelphia Flyers pair proved to be a great combination with the Kings last season, even though they had a revolving door on the other wing. Frattin picked up six points playing with them in the preseason, and will have a chance to prove himself there in the regular season this week. Overall, Frattin's numbers don't look too noteworthy from last season, but remember that he had 10 points in 10 games before getting hurt.
Looking for offense
Washington Capitals: Looking for some extra scoring, then look no further than the Caps. Coach Adam Oates had his squad scoring at will late last season, and that trend continued during the preseason. Obviously, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are already owned universally, but fantasy owners have tended to shy away from the Capitals' depth chart beyond the top line this season. It's an understandable move, because it isn't clear exactly who will make up the second line, or whether it will be potent enough to score. At a glance, the team will likely have to decide between some combination of Troy Brouwer, Mikhail Grabovski, Martin Erat and Eric Fehr. The 28-year-old Fehr is forcing himself into the conversation by leading (as of Sunday) all players with five goals this preseason, and eight points. The oft-injured Fehr had a strong scoring résumé in the WHL, and if he can stay healthy, could be a source of production that the Capitals need behind the top line. But even if Fehr is really only a good recommendation for deep leagues at this point, the Caps still boast Grabovski and Marcus Johansson, both of whom are available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues. Johansson's value is obvious playing on the top line with Ovechkin, while Grabovski has had a stellar preseason and will anchor the second line in the place of the departed Mike Ribeiro.
Toronto Maple Leafs: It's probably not a coincidence that both Flyers netminders have a preseason goals-against average worse than 3.00. It's also notable that Craig Anderson (more so) and Carey Price (less so) haven't been up to their usual standards in the preseason, either. The Maple Leafs get all three opponents this week to open the NHL season. There are two easy choices for fantasy assistance when the Leafs have a good schedule. Right now, those two players are Tyler Bozak and Mason Raymond. Bozak is only owned in 15 percent of ESPN leagues, but has the plum job of skating on the top line with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. When Kessel gets hot, so does Bozak. Raymond, who was trying out for the team after not signing a free agent contact during the summer, basically earned his job the second David Clarkson jumped off the bench during a fight with the Buffalo Sabres. Clarkson's suspension means Raymond has 10 games to get into a groove and earn a role in the top six.
Anaheim Ducks: A road trip through Colorado, Minnesota and Manitoba makes for a favorable schedule for the Ducks to open the season, and the Forecaster expects big things in the scoring department for the team. Where should we look for the points outside of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf? Well, how about two young players who could very well begin the season on a scoring line. Kyle Palmieri, who showed his scoring ability late in the season and into the playoffs, is a likely candidate to start on the top line with Perry and Getzlaf. Now that the Dustin Penner experiment from early in camp seems to be over, Palmieri has the inside track on that opportunity. Nick Bonino is another option for fantasy owners as the team's likely second-line center. Assuming Saku Koivu is finally demoted from the role, Bonino would anchor a scoring line with Teemu Selanne and Jakob Silfverberg, which isn't too shabby.
Looking for goaltending
Tim Thomas, G, Florida Panthers: Officially signed and expected to start the season opener, Thomas fits the bill for this section of the column (where we desperately seek available goaltending help). Deeper leagues will not have a shot at Thomas, but he is owned in only 36 percent of ESPN leagues, so there is some availability left out there. The Panthers open the season against the Dallas Stars and then battle the defense-first St. Louis Blues. The Stars do look like a tough matchup based on the preseason, but the team doesn't have a lot of scoring depth. The bigger question is whether Thomas can be sharp out of the gate. Through a game and a half of preseason work, Thomas certainly looks ready to carry the workload in net to start the season. It might not be the ideal situation that Thomas once had with the Boston Bruins, but he will have some value starting for the Panthers.
Viktor Fasth, G, Anaheim Ducks: Jonas Hiller is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues while Fasth is owned in just 30 percent. Fasth had the better numbers last season and in the preseason. While Hiller may get called on for the first game, the leash will be short and there could already be a timeshare arrangement ready. The Ducks have three games in the first week, and two of them are back-to-back. Fasth will get at least one start in.
• Another spot to watch is the wing next to Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. With Jonathan Drouin headed down for a full season of junior hockey there is an opening on the top line. Brett Connolly, Ryan Malone and Alex Killorn are all candidates and could (obviously) benefit from the role.
• Their roles might not be significant, but it looks like 2013 first-round picks Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Elias Lindholm of the Carolina Hurricanes will get a trial in the NHL to show their stuff. As always with top prospects, monitor the early returns.
Each week, the Fantasy Forecaster will also include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary cap game that allows you free rein over your fantasy hockey decisions within a $100 million fantasy budget. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
The reason we analyze the Hockey Challenge here in the Forecaster is that the biggest key to weekly decisions in the Hockey Challenge stems from the schedule. Who is the better fantasy asset, Rick Nash or Bryan Little? Easy question without any other variables. Now, who is the better fantasy asset, Rick Nash with one game or Bryan Little with three games? It becomes a little more difficult to decide at this point. One more: Who is the better fantasy asset, Rick Nash with one game at a cost of $8.1M or Bryan Little with three games at a cost of $5.4M? Now the answer is easy again, except it's the opposite of what we said the first time. Little at a low price for three games is more likely to produce more points, and his lower salary also frees up money for other roster spots.
The above example, by the way, completely stands for the coming week. The New York Rangers should be left out of all your plans as they play only one game. The rest of the league is split between two and three games. Three-game schedules that appear favorable to offense belong to: the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals. There are some pretty potent pairings in those clubs to choose from, including Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf, Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin (in fact, that is exactly how I arranged my forwards). But there are other top offensive stars, including Phil Kessel and Claude Giroux.
Overall, you should not find yourself too constrained in selecting a roster at this point. The salaries are all low enough that you can pretty much have your pick of the litter. Remember to pick goaltenders who both play and have a chance to win. In selecting Braden Holtby, I noted that the Capitals have three games evenly spaced on the schedule, giving him an opportunity to start all three. The same is true of selecting Red Wings workhorse Jimmy Howard, who can comfortably play in back-to-back contests.
It doesn't hurt to go with a sleeper or two, but remember that you can afford to stack your lineup right now, so don't go selecting three sleepers and leaving $10M in salary on the table.
My roster for next week:
Braden Holtby, G, WSH - $11M
Jimmy Howard, G, DET - $11.3M
Mike Green, D, WSH - $7.0M
Alex Pietrangelo, D, STL - $6.9M
Sergei Gonchar, D, DAL - $6.8M
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI - $6.3M
Alex Ovechkin, F, WSH - $8.7M
Nicklas Backstrom, F, WSH - $8.1M
Corey Perry, F, ANA - $8.6M
Ryan Getzlaf, F, ANA - $8.2M
Pavel Datsyuk, F, DET - $8.4M
Claude Giroux, F, PHI - $8.6M