There are eight or nine situations around the league that have a pair of established star forwards on the first line and a spot up for grabs. Needless to say, if a player with any skill can grab a hold of that spot, he's in for a huge jump in production. Let's take a look.
First, let me preface this by making it clear that I do not draft or trade based on linemates under any circumstances. Linemates come and go – I may draft or trade a player because I know he'll see some time on a big line, but I will never do it assuming the spot is permanent. Line combinations rarely last, which is why it is so surprising to see the amount of emails/comments I get correcting me on preseason line combos. I use line combinations for two things – either a temporary pickup, or as I stated above just because the player will sometimes be there.
Now let's get to it.
Calgary – Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and ???
Candidates: Nigel Dawes, Curtis Glencross, Dustin Boyd, Rene Bourque, David Moss, Fredrik Sjostrom
So Far: Mikael Backlund was tried there, but he has since been cut. Sjostrom and Dawes have also been there. Dawes has had the most success so far.
In the long run: Players will come and players will go, with all of the above seeing time there. By the second half, the team will probably settle on Bourque or Dawes. In the end, none of the candidates will top 55 points. Poolies wish that these decisions get settled early and that the coach sticks with them for 82 games, but more often than not, that just isn't reality.
Edmonton – Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and ???
Candidates: Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano, Rob Schremp, J-F Jacques, Gilbert Brule
So Far: Horcoff and Hemsky haven't even been together. It's been Sam Gagner playing with Hemsky, while Horcoff mans the second line. Regardless – the player who plays with Hemsky and Horcoff/Gagner will flourish. So far we have seen Nilsson there the most, followed by Jacques and Brule.
In the long run: Nilsson will probably hang around there for the first month or two, before O'Sullivan eventually secures the spot. Penner will spot him whenever the team wants more size there.
New York – Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and ???
Candidates: Sean Avery, Chris Higgins, Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik, Enver Lisin, Chris Drury, Evgeni Grachev
So Far: I'm assuming Dubinsky hangs onto that center spot. I think it's a fairly safe call. Higgins has been the winner on the other wing.
In the long run: John Tortorella really likes Prospal at center, so I don't think we'll see him on the wing on the top line. That would mean t