Part two in a look at the players most likely to receive top minutes for Western teams this season.
Milan Lucic – Anze Kopitar – Marian Gaborik
I really like the potential of this line. Last season, Kopitar had an off year by his standards posting 64 points with a minus-two rating. Kopitar is in a contract year and his play in the early goings could very well determine his fate as the season wears on. Lucic should slot into this line which will be very interesting to say the least. I think Lucic will spark Kopitar and Gaborik with his energy and hard hitting mentality. And let's not forget Milan could also light the lamp and with one of the league's premier setup man beside him… Lucic can have a big year.
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
This trio had the only productive line for a small stretch of the season last year and a chemistry that any coach would be crazy to tinker with. I fully expect Pearson and Toffoli to set career highs this year and take that next step towards becoming elite NHL players. Carter should lead the way for secondary scoring as he has scored 25+ goals for three straight seasons now.
Other potential top-six forwards: Dustin Brown
Preseason Update: Lucic seems to be fitting in well with the Kings during preseason action. Coach Darryl Sutter expects good things from the aforementioned top line.
Zach Parise – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
The first line will star a tenacious scorer in Parise and a vet in Pominville. Granlund should center the two goal scoring wingers as he provides a much needed boost of youth to this line. Additionally, Granlund will be entering his fourth full NHL season and with added ice time alongside the top guns… he could breakout.
Jason Zucker – Mikko Koivu – Nino Niederreiter
Mikko Koivu's ice time last season was his lowest since 2006-07. There is no doubt that he is still a quality two-way player, however, his future production is worrisome. Furthermore, Koivu also had 0.60 points per game last season which was his lowest mark since his rookie season. I don't think Koivu will slide out of the top six but I do think Granlund will receive the lion's share of time on the top unit. Niederreiter is a blossoming young forward who is entering his fourth year in the NHL. Nino plays a power-type brand of hockey as he can both score and lay the body when needed. Thoughts are that in time Niederreiter will become an impact player and with more ice time he should generate more shots which means more goals. Zucker could complete this line as he had 21 goals in just 51 games last season… proving to be somewhat of a finisher. Many other skaters have a legitimate shot of snagging a top-six role including Thomas Vanek, Justin Fontaine, and Charlie Coyle. It is safe to say that aside from the top line, the rest of the top six will be up for grabs the entire season.
Other potential top-six forwards: Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle, Justin Fontaine
Preseason Update: The Parise-Granlund-Pominville line looks solid so far… Pominville especially looks ready to go as reported by Minnesota Wild beet writer Michael Russo. Furthermore, Coach Yeo said that this is Koivu’s best preseason ever.
James Neal – Mike Ribeiro – Filip Forsberg
This line should stay intact to begin the 2015-16 regular season. There is no reason to break it up as they played extremely well together and Forsberg was able to put up solid numbers with 63 points in his first full NHL season. Ribeiro signed a two-year deal with the Predators for $7 million earlier this summer. This is music to Forsberg owner’s ears as the two made a potent tandem last season. Now if Neal could just stay healthy… who knows what this line could do.
Colin Wilson – Mike Fisher – Craig Smith
Secondary scoring will be key for the Predators and both Wilson and Smith were productive for Nashville last season as they both eclipsed the 40 points mark. Fisher should find himself centering this line as he is the best option up the middle next after Ribeiro. Smith could be in line for a huge season as he just received a big contract and he will be entering his fifth season at the ripe age of 26.
Other potential top-six forwards: Calle Jarnkrok
Preseason Update: Jarnkrok has gotten sometime on the second line during preseason action. He could surprise and squeak his way into a top-six role… keep an eye on this situation. Steve Moses has also received a lot of buzz as he was a standout during training camp, however, Jarnkrok seems to be the more likely of the two to earn some top-six time.
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
These three have taken a lot of reps together during the preseason and thus should find themselves on the same line come season opener. I think Ward could stick on this line as he can provide some much needed energy and grind. Marleau and Couture can definitely snipe and Ward will take care of any loose garbage around the net.
Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
It's very difficult to pinpoint who will play where because of the abundance of centerman that the Sharks possess. This is my best guess for the second line. The Sharks believe Hertl is ready to take that next step this season… however, I’m not entirely sold. I think in order for Hertl to really breakout he will need consistent linemates and top-six ice time. The Sharks right now have way too much depth and competition for Hertl to get comfortable. I expect this line to open the season but there are many other forwards vying for a spot within the top six.
Other potential top-six forwards: Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi
Preseason Update: The Sharks are at a crossroads this season. They have a ton of depth up the middle and decisions must be made as to which centerman will make the shift to wing. Tomas Hertl has impressed at center during the preseason and this could potentially drop him out of the top six into a third line role. Donskoi has also turned heads during the preseason playing alongside Thornton and Pavelski. I think Joonas will earn a roster spot but eventually find his way into a bottom-six role. Karlsson continues to progress from injury and should be on the ice soon.
Alex Steen – Paul Stastny – Vladimir Tarasenko
I know the STL line was dynamite last season but I think it's time for Tarasenko to play with the big boys. This line has tremendous potential and with added ice time Tarasenko could breakout even further this season. IF Steen could stay healthy… and that’s a big if, this line will produce monster numbers.
Jaden Schwartz – Jori Lehtera – Dmitrij Jaskin
Schwartz and Lehtera will definitely play together as a tandem. The question is who will lineup with them. So far it seems as if Jaskin has the inside edge. Newly acquired Brouwer should battle for a spot in the top six and I believe he will eventually find his way onto this line.
Other potential top-six forwards: David Backes, Troy Brouwer
Preseason Update: There has been some buzz around the Steen-Stastny-Tarasenko line as they have looked solid during the preseason. Lou Korac who covers the Blues reported that this line could very well stick together as the season begins. If this is the case you could slide Stastny up on your draft board. Can Backes end up on the third line? Simply put, yes. However, Backes is on a contract year and he finished the season off hot potting 33 points in the last 40 games. I believe Backes will play a utility role this season anchoring the third line and playing big minutes on special teams. Keep an eye on the line combos for the remainder of the preseason.
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata
The Canucks are going to have a really tough year this season. They are definitely one of the weaker teams in the Western Conference and owning anyone in fantasy aside from the players on this line would be unfavourable. These three studs including Sutter are the only skaters who I definitely expect to be in the top six. This trio played well last season and should do the same this year as Vrbata is enjoying life with the twins. Radim set a career high in his first season with the Canucks posting 63 points last year. No reason to think that he can't improve on that total this season seeing how he now has a full season under his belt with the Twins.
Sven Baertschi – Brandon Sutter – Jake Virtanen
Sutter could find himself centering the second line as he was just recently acquired by the Canucks from the Pens. I love the way Brandon plays but I think his point total will remain in the 30 range this season even on the second line. As for the wingers, both Baertschi and Virtanen should find sometime in the top six. However, the second line could either see experienced vets or up-and-coming prospects. As mentioned, apart from the big line and Sutter… Vancouver doesn't have many solid options to fill the top six. Alex Burrows is one of those players that could challenge for a top 6 spot and more specifically alongside the twins. Desjardins will have to decide if he wants one potent line or balance it out more by swapping Burrows in for Vrbata. Bo Horvat could also challenge for some time in the top six but I feel he is not quite ready yet for that step and is better fit for that third line center role. Lastly, Sven Baertschi who was recently signed by the Canucks to a one-year deal has proven to be a force in the preseason. Baertschi could make some noise as he has tremendous speed and skill with the puck, however, he has only 30 points in 69 career games.
Other potential top-six forwards: Alex Burrows, Bo Horvat, Chris Higgins, Linden Vey, Jannik Hansen
Preseason Update: The Canucks are all over the place with their line combinations during the preseason. Vancouver has possibly the most unclear top 6 situation in the league. Chris Higgins has broken his foot in a preseason game and will be sidelined for 3 weeks before being re-evaluated. Linden Vey has also taken some reps on the second line during preseason.
Andrew Ladd – Bryan Little – Drew Stafford
The options are plentiful for the Jets at the forward position. You have to think that Ladd and Little will be utilized as a tandem. Either Stafford or Perreault can slot in to complete this line but I'd give the edge to Stafford whose points-per-game went from 0.48 in Buffalo to 0.73 with the Jets.
Mathieu Perreault – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Scheifele and Wheeler will also be used as a tandem on this second line. Perreault should complete this line with his playmaking and goal scoring ability. Perreault only had three points in his first 19 games as a Jet… but then went HAM is his next 42 games with 38 points. A key player to keep an eye on outside of the aforementioned top six is Nikolaj Ehlers. The young Dane was a first round pick in 2014 and has a promising future. He should receive sheltered minutes to start of the season but if he gets rolling… watch out as he could find his way into the top six.
Other potential top-six forwards: Alexander Burmistrov, Nikolaj Ehlers
Preseason Update: Mark Scheifele looks solid in training camp. Winnipeg Jets beet writer Wed Wyman reports that Scheifele was 175 pounds when he came to his first Jets training camp… he’s now up to 207”.
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