The winners and losers coming out of training camp in the Eastern Conference.
Every summer a lot of time is invested in figuring out how things will play out throughout the NHL in the upcoming season. This is important for fall drafts that kick off one-year leagues as we try to get our player priority lists figured out. It is also important for keeper leagues as we decide who to retain and who to drop.
Of course, every year we are hit with many curveballs and our previewed outcome turns on its head. Injuries are always a factor but training camp performances have a major impact on fantasy values for the coming year and beyond. For example, a player not expected to be in the NHL for a few years can make his team and make an immediate splash in fantasy circles. The opposite is also true as there are many unexpected instances of players with significant fantasy worth that end up on waivers and become dead assets if unclaimed. This is also the first chance teams get to assemble their lines and try to find working combinations. On every team there are many winners and losers.
Today we will look at five Eastern Conference teams with players having their fantasy value altered, for better or for worse, during training camp. Also, the implications on other players in the lineup will be examined. Finally, there will be talk about the outcome of a few backup goalies battles.
Disclaimer: It is important to keep events from training camp and early in the year in perspective. The current situation merely represents how things look on day one of the regular season. Everything can change quickly. While the developments outlined here are significant in fantasy circles, try not to take them too seriously. More importantly, do not abandon your player too quickly if he is not in an ideal situation on opening night.
Detroit Red Wings
Top prospect Dylan Larkin will start the year with the Red Wings as a result of injuries to Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm. The 19-year-old has a great opportunity as he is expected to open the year on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. This could change if the Wings get back healthy as the team is notorious for having their young players spend a lot of time in the minors. But given Larkin’s rapid development and his early deployment on a top line, he could be in Detroit to stay especially if he makes his mark early as a rookie. This would hurt many of the other Detroit forwards as there would be fewer favorable opportunities available for guys like Johan Franzen, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen.
This has been an eventful week for the Canadiens starting with the signing of veteran Tomas Fleischmann who had been in on a training camp tryout. Fleischmann immediately developed chemistry with David Desharnais, who has been demoted to the third line after Alex Galchenyuk moved to center, and Dale Weise. In recent years Fleischmann fell out of favor due to failing to meet the expectations of a large contract. He will earn $750,000 which makes it less of a problem for him to act as a secondary scorer.
Meanwhile, forward Zack Kassian has entered the substance abuse program after being injured in an accident. While Fleischmann’s signing would have initially pushed Devante Smith-Pelly out of the lineup, Kassian’s setback will get him back in regularly. For Kassian this is a major blow to his hockey career as there were already red flags around him both on and off the ice.
New Jersey Devils
This should not be a surprise to anyone but the Devils recently signed wingers Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak to one-year deals. As one of the weaker teams in the league, the Devils are seen as a team that will provide opportunities for young players to emerge. For example, the signings played a role in training camp standout Joseph Blaindisi being demoted and could push first round pick Pavel Zacha to junior for the year. They could also result in Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau seeing fewer minutes. However, the duo will help the team’s centers, namely Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson, post better numbers. The latter has a nice opportunity to cement his spot as a top-six forward with Patrik Elias on the sidelines due to injury.
As of right now it appears Mike Hoffman will get the coveted left wing spot next to Kyle Turris and Mark Stone to start the season. If he holds a spot on that unit and finds chemistry he should be able to surpass the 48 points he posted as a rookie. Curtis Lazar could also be in for a boost if he is able to play significant stretches in the top-six. The real loser here is Milan Michalek who is currently on the outside looking in. He will get looks on the scoring lines but this will no doubt affect his ability to produce quality numbers. He may be better off as a waiver wire addition in your league whenever he starts to catch fire.
Despite playing well during the preseason, Sam Gagner will be a healthy scratch for the Flyers’ opening game on Thursday. Obviously this is not a good start for Gagner who is hoping to rebound after a rough end to his tenures in Edmonton and Arizona. While this makes him either bench fodder or not worth owning at the moment, not all is lost. The Flyers are still trying to find themselves after missing the playoffs last year and there will be opportunities for Gagner to make his mark. Depending on the play of Michael Raffl Gagner could even find himself on the top line at times if the team needs a spark.
To the surprise of many, the Penguins cut top prospect Derrick Pouliot after a poor showing at training camp. His loss is Adam Clendening’s gain as the 22-year-old blueliner will start the year in Pittsburgh. For Clendenig this is a chance finally reward fantasy owners who have been waiting patiently after he potted 59 points in the AHL back in 2013-14. He should be able to post modest numbers as long as he sees some time on the power play. Meanwhile Pouliot should be able to find his way back to the NHL before long as the Penguins are bound to run into injury trouble at some point. In particular, their top two defensemen – Kris Letand and Olli Maatta – are both notable band-aid boys.
With Nicklas Backstrom not ready to start the season, Evgeny Kuznetsov has stepped up and found chemistry centering Alexander Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. Depending on Kuznetsov’s play early this could be a year-long match as Backstrom could be used to boost the second line. This makes Kuznetsov an interesting asset to own as a career-best stretch could make him a great sell-high candidate come November. Meanwhile wingers like Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson could be nice buy-low options when Backstrom’s return approaches as the Capitals will be due for improved overall depth at center.
Boston – Jonas Gustavsson, in Boston on a training camp on a tryout, won the backup gig and will spend the 2015-16 campaign backing up Tuukka Rask. Unfortunately, Gustavsson’s fantasy appeal is limited. Last year Niklas Svedberg did a solid job in the backup role and Rask still played in 70 games. Unless the Bruins fall out of the playoff race early Gustavsson will be spending a lot of time on the bench. His fantasy value is limited to being a handcuff or injury replacement should something happen to Rask.
Montreal – Mike Condon won the backup job behind Carey Price mainly due to poor play from Dustin Tokarski, last year’s backup. Like Gustavsson, Condon’s fantasy value will be very limited due to lack of playing time barring an injury to the team’s starter. This development does a lot of harm to Tokarski’s stock as he may still be on some people’s roster in keeper leagues hoping for a better situation down the road. He has trended down significantly since his impact performance in the 2013-14 Eastern Conference final. With so many capable potential backups out there it will be very difficult for Tokarski to get back to the NHL.
Tampa Bay – This situation is not yet finalized but it appears Kevin Poulin will begin the year as the backup behind Ben Bishop. Unfortunately, this situation will change in a few months when prized prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy returns from a blood clot. In the meantime, look for Bishop to be used heavily with Poulin getting very little action. When Vasilevskiy returns it will be difficult for him to pick up enough momentum to cut into Bishop’s status as the team’s number-one goalie in the remaining games.
Washington – As expected, youngster Philipp Grubauer won the backup job as Justin Peters has hit the waiver wire. Peters fell out of favor after a poor showing last year as Braden Holtby’s sidekick. Grubauer has already fared well when called upon at the NHL level and should provide better support for Holtby this year. As a result, we may see Holtby get a few extra nights off this year as the team will not be forced to lean as heavily on its workhorse.
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