Corey Abbott

In The Crease

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Southeast Division Preview

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Florida Panthers

Forwards


The Panthers will be hoping their top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss can continue to shoulder the load offensively after the team didn't get much in the way of secondary scoring from their other forwards last season.  The inclusion of top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau to the lineup for 2012-13 could help with this problem, as he is a dynamic offensive player who may get the nod to anchor the club's second line.  A healthier Scottie Upshall will also be looking for a rebound year after he was limited to 26 appearances last campaign. 

Defense


Florida received great contributions from the blueline last season, as Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison finished among the team's top scorers.  Unfortunately, Garrison left the team earlier this summer via free agency.  That should leave the door open for Dmitry Kulikov, who has plenty of upside, to take a more prevalent role offensively from the back end, and with a healthier showing the 21-year-old defender will likely post a career year.  The Panthers brought in Filip Kuba as a free agent to take Garrison's spot in the lineup and he should get ice time in a number of different situations. 

Goaltending


Roberto Luongo is believed to be in the crosshairs of the Panthers and the veteran netminder would love to return his former team.  However, Florida already has two capable keepers in Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen both under contract for next year, and they performed well for the organization during the 2011-12 campaign.  If Luongo isn't dealt to the Cats, the team is probably comfortable moving forward with what they have, while continuing to groom impressive goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom in the minors.        

Summer Roster Movement


As previously mentioned, the Panthers lost Jason Garrison to Vancouver in the free agent frenzy, but they did add Filip Kuba as a top-six replacement.  In another move, the team signed Peter Mueller to a low-risk one-year, $1.75 million contract.  Concussions have limited him to a mere 47 games over the last three seasons, but he will provide some much-needed secondary offense if he can remain in the lineup.  A healthy Mueller can easily fill the skates of departed forwards like Mikael Samuelsson and Wojtek Wolski.  The Panthers also bid farewell to depth players Krys Barch, Bracken Kearns and Jonathan Matsumoto.  Tough guy George Parros, Casey Wellman, Jean-Francois Jacques and Andre Deveaux were brought in to serve as their substitutions.  

Player to Watch


Huberdeau should be considered a major contender for the Calder Trophy, as the NHL's top rookie, because he is expected to land a permanent spot in Florida's top-six group going into the new season.  He will garner a great deal of attention at training camp and will probably stick in the big league because he has the faith of the team's management and it won't help his development to dominate in the junior ranks anymore.   

Washington Capitals


Forwards


Having top center Nicklas Backstrom absent for the majority of the 2011-12 campaign likely cost the Capitals the Southeast Division, won by Florida by just two points.  The talented playmaker skated in only 42 games due to a concussion, but he returned at the end of the regular season and performed well in the playoffs.  His presence in the lineup should help Alex Ovechkin bounce back from his worst statistical year as a pro.  The Great Eight finished with a career-low of 65 points, but his 38 goals showed that even when he struggles he still possesses the talent to light it up.  Marcus Johansson will look to build on his solid breakout season, while off-season acquisitions Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski will likely occupy spots in the team's top-six group.

Defense


The team's leading scorer from the blueline last year was Dennis Wideman and he won't be back in a Washington uniform in 2012-12 following a trade-and-sign move to Calgary.  The Capitals will lean on young rearguards John Carlson and Karl Alzner to help fill the void.  Carlson has plenty of offensive upside, but his power-play time tends to get shortened when Mike Green is active.  Green played in only 32 games last year and injuries have sidetracked him for the past two seasons, but he's confident he can rebound. 

Goaltending


Washington utilized three goalies over the course of the 2011-12 season, but a true number one never materialized between Tomas Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.  That changed during the postseason though. Holtby was given the opportunity to start, due to injuries to Vokoun and Neuvirth, and he didn't relinquish the position.  He probably has the inside track as the team's starter going into this campaign, with Vokoun now out of the picture and in Pittsburgh, but Neuvirth could challenge him for appearances.   

Summer Roster Movement


The biggest move the Capitals made this summer from a player perspective was acquiring Ribeiro from Dallas in exchange for Cody Eakin and a draft pick.  He gives the team a great number two center behind Backstrom, which should help Ovechkin when new head coach Adam Oates decides to move him around.  Oates was named the team's bench boss in late June and it is projected that his players will have more freedom to display their skills in the attacking zone than they did under former coach Dale Hunter.   Washington also added Wolski and Joey Crabb to their forward corps, while Ryan Stoa and Jack Hillen will supply the team with depth.  Aside from the aforementioned losses of Vokoun and Wideman, the Caps also allowed Alexander Semin to walk as an unrestricted free agent and he inked a deal with Carolina.  Jeff Halpern agreed to terms with the New York Rangers and Keith Aucoin signed with the Maple Leafs, but their departures won't hurt the team's bottom-six group.  Mike Knuble won't be back with the team either and he is yet to sign elsewhere. 

Player to Watch


A prevalent theme for the Capitals this season will be redemption and rebounds.  Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green are key players who need to get back on track for Washington.  Still, the most intriguing story from a fantasy point of view is arguably goaltender Braden Holtby.  Can he carry his success from the playoffs into the regular season and how will he will look over a full NHL season?  Holtby has played well in brief appearances at the NHL level over the last two years and he was spectacular in the postseason.  There's reason to believe he could be a strong fantasy option in 2012-13.        

Tampa Bay Lightning
 

Forwards


The Lightning have the best pure goal scorer in the league, Steve Stamkos leading the charge for their organization.  The 22-year-old phenom led the NHL with 60 markers in 2011-12 and he has netted 156 goals in 246 games the past three years.  Veterans Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier can still put up productive campaigns, while Teddy Purcell is quickly emerging as a reliable scorer as well.  The Bolts also have Brett Connolly, who may get a larger role as an NHL sophomore, and Cory Conacher, who was the AHL's most valuable player and rookie of the year last season. These are players who may get a chance to crack the team's top two lines. 

Defense


Tampa Bay saw the need to address their defense corps this off-season, so they lured free agents Matt Carle, Sami Salo and Matt Taormina into the fold.  Carle was one of the better blueliners available in this year's open market crop, so he got a six-year, $33 million contract.  He can contribute at both ends of the ice and should be regarded as the team's top defenseman going into 2012-13.  The Lightning will be hoping that the oft-injured Salo can stay healthy and lend his big shot to the team's power play, while Taormina will likely occupy a depth role.  Carle and Salo will join Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer in the team's top four, which is an improvement over what they iced a year ago. 

Goaltending


As much as the defense needed changes at the end of 2011-12, the goaltending in Tampa Bay was the team's biggest area of concern.  Dwayne Roloson struggled mightily last year and Mathieu Garon wasn't much better.  The Bolts traded for Anders Lindback out of Nashville as a possible remedy to this situation.  They dealt Sebastien Caron, a pair of second-round picks, and a third-round selection for Kyle Wilson, a seventh-round draft pick and Lindback.  The 24-year-old netminder has appeared in 38 contests the past two seasons while serving as Pekka Rinne's understudy on the Predators.  Now he'll get the opportunity to be a starter in Tampa with Garon as his backup. 

Summer Roster Movement


As previously mentioned, the Lightning made moves over the off-season to improve their defense corps and goaltending with the additions of Carle, Salo and Lindback.  Up front, they brought in Benoit Pouliot, who played in Boston last year, and former St. Louis tough guy B.J. Crombeen.  Both of them should complement the team's bottom two lines.  The Bolts lost Bruno Gervais to Philadelphia in free agency and Roloson is still looking for a new team. 

Player to Watch


Cory Conacher played well for the Lightning during last year's training camp and nearly won a job for the opening of the regular season as an undrafted invitee.  He enjoyed a tremendous rookie season in the AHL with Norfolk, where he tallied 39 goals and 80 points in 75 games with 114 penalty minutes.  His efforts won him the league's MVP award and top rookie honor, in addition to an AHL championship.  Conacher is an undersized winger, which may hinder his big league chances, but he does possess plenty of skill and is worth keeping an eye on during camp. 

Winnipeg Jets


Forwards


The Jets are still trying to lock up restricted free agent Evander Kane to a new deal, but the 21-year-old winger is projected to be the team's top offensive player for years to come.  He reached the 30-goal mark last season and will be counted on to accomplish that feat again in 2012-13.  Blake Wheeler also took positive strides last campaign despite his sluggish start.  He led all Winnipeg skaters with 67 points.  Team captain Andrew Ladd is another player who will be a key contributor to the team's offensive picture.  As far as new additions go, Olli Jokinen is expected to be the team's top center ahead of Bryan Little, and Alexei Ponikarovsky will probably line up next to former Toronto teammate Nik Antropov in a depth capacity.  The organization's seventh overall pick in 2011, Mark Scheifele, is also a serious contender to land a roster spot out of training camp after he played in seven NHL games last season.     

Defense


Dustin Byfuglien is the team's offensive catalyst from the point and Tobias Enstrom is a great point producer in his own right.  The team's top tandem should continue to make their presences felt on the scoresheet in 2012-13.  After them the Jets have Zach Bogosian, who posted a personal best 30 points in an injury-shortened campaign and Paul Postma is another offensive blueliner Winnipeg has in the pipeline, who is close to making the jump to NHL competition. 

Goaltending


It was speculated that restricted free agent Ondrej Pavelec may bolt for Russia's KHL if he didn't get the contract he wanted from the Jets.  Fortunately for the team they inked their number one goalie to a five-year, $19.5 million contract extension.  Pavlec’s backup from last year, Chris Mason, signed on to return to the Nashville Predators, so the Jets brought in Al Montoya and Mark Dekanich to compete for the position.  Montoya probably has the inside track to win the role though, as he is the more experienced of the two. 

Summer Roster Movement


The Jets' brass was thrilled to add the big bodies of Jokinen and Ponikarovsky to their forward group.  Winnipeg also re-signed Kyle Wellwood, but Tanner Glass and Tim Stapleton were permitted to walk as free agents. They ended up in Pittsburgh and the KHL, respectively.

Player to Watch


Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was heralded as one of the team's better players in 2011-12, but his statistics didn't endear him to fantasy owners.  He is only 24 years of age and is signed for the next five seasons, so he'll get to prove his worth to a team that needs him to elevate his game and live up to his potential.  Pavelec isn't one of the safer goalie options going into 2012-13, but his play is improving so in a couple of years that could change. 

Carolina Hurricanes


Forwards


The Hurricanes promised to add impact forwards to complement their first two lines this off-season and they accomplished that on the first day of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by acquiring Jordan Staal from Pittsburgh in a blockbuster deal that sent Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick to the Penguins.  Jordan is slated to play alongside brother Eric, who will play on the wing, in an experiment at training camp.  Carolina also signed Alexander Semin to a one-year, $7 million contract from division rival Washington.  Although his numbers have dropped off significantly the past two seasons, Semin is skilled enough to return to the 30-goal plateau and playing with either or both of the Staal brothers should help him get back on track.  The Canes should also see secondary support from Jeff Skinner, who will be looking to bounce back from a sub-par sophomore campaign, as well as Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and an improving Jiri Tlusty

Defense


Justin Faulk cracked Carolina's roster as a 19-year-old last season and he looked comfortable logging big minutes.  He is primed to take another step forward in 2012-13 after his offensive game blossomed further while representing the United States at the World Championships.  Joni Pitkanen endured an injury-plagued 2011-12, but he should return as the team's workhorse defender next season.  Joe Corvo is back with the Canes after stops in Washington and Boston.  He'll probably see power-play time this coming year, but it's hard to imagine that it will come at the expense of Faulk.  Still, it is something to consider and watch carefully at camp.  Ryan Murphy, the Canes’ 2011 first round pick, is projected to compete for a roster spot as well after he made the team last year but didn't get to suit up in a game.       

Goaltending


Cam Ward went through a rocky year in 2011-12, but he did get much better when the Hurricanes started to play better hockey.  Now that the team is improved, Ward should return to his past form and reliability in 2012-13.  His backup, Brian Boucher, had to undergo shoulder surgery in late June and is expected to miss the beginning of the year, so Justin Peters is penciled in to start as the team's number two goaltender. 

Summer Roster Movement


The big moves that landed Carolina Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin vastly improved the team's chances of challenging for a playoff spot.  In a pair of minor moves, the team also added forward Tim Wallace and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani for depth purposes.  Shot blocker and defensive-minded blueliner Bryan Allen left via free agency to Anaheim and Derek Joslin signed a one-year, two-way pact with Vancouver. 

Player to Watch
The Hurricanes have a number of players who are worth keeping an eye on, but the potential breakout of Jordan Staal is the most intriguing.  He played behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during his days with Pittsburgh, which gave him a reduced role but with Carolina he will be the team's top pivot if Eric remains on the wing.  The younger Staal registered 25 goals and 25 assists in 62 games with the Penguins last season and if he can shake his injury woes from his past two seasons, he's likely to put up new personal highs offensively in 2012-13 with the Hurricanes.             


Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
Email :Corey Abbott



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