Ryan Dadoun

In The Crease

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Central Division Preview

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


There are still some noteworthy players looking for teams and we’re sure there will be more trades before the season starts, but for the most part, team rosters can be fairly accurately projected now.  This is as good a time as any to kick off our division previews.

 

We’ll start this week with the new Central Division and the defending Stanley Cup champions.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

 

Forwards

 

There’s no need for the Chicago Blackhawks to fix what clearly wasn’t broken last season.  Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa will continue to serve as the team’s top forwards.  At the same time, Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell should continue to play prominent roles after breaking out in 2013.  They also saved some cap space by trading some of their role players including Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, and Daniel Carcillo.  That will open the door to Andrew Shaw potentially serving as the team’s second-line center and Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, and Ben Smith earning regular roles on the team.

 

Defensemen

 

Duncan Keith, Nick Leddy, and Brent Seabrook all averaged between 2:20 to 2:48 minutes per game with the man advantage last season.  They’re all candidates to reach the 30-point mark in 2013-14, although Keith should lead the trio in terms of points.  Chicago also has seven defensemen inked to one-way deals that individually consume a minimum of $1.25 million in cap space, so there won’t be much room for roster battles among blueliners during the pre-season.

 

Goaltenders

 

Corey Crawford defied expectations by exceling in the regular season and largely staying strong in the playoffs.  After winning the Stanley Cup, there’s no question Crawford will enter the season as the team’s top netminder.  After Ray Emery left, the Blackhawks signed Nikolai Khabibulin to serve as Crawford’s understudy.  Khabibulin is 40 years old and isn’t a serious threat to claim a starting job at this point in his career.

 

Player To Watch

 

There aren’t many players on the Blackhawks that have the capacity to pleasantly surprise us, simply because they set the bar so high with their 2013 campaign.  That being said, Andrew Shaw is certainly in an appealing situation.  As mentioned above, the power forward could end up playing on one of the team’s top two lines.  He should average around a penalty minute per game and as a top-six forward, he might also flirt with the 50-point mark.

 

Colorado Avalanche

 

Forwards

 

The Colorado Avalanche are a unique case because new coach Patrick Roy has already shared his projected top three lines.  First overall pick in this June’s entry draft, Nathan MacKinnon, will center the third line and play alongside Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie.  Meanwhile, Ryan O’Reilly will shift from center to the left wing and skate alongside P.A. Parenteau and Matt Duchene.  The other scoring line will consist of Gabriel Landeskog, Alex Tanguay, and Paul Stastny.  Those are hardly the most imposing lines in the league, but there’s a fair amount of young and promising talent there.  Duchene, Landeskog, and MacKinnon should be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come.

 

Defensemen

 

Erik Johnson’s fall from grace over the last couple years has been dramatic, but the Avalanche have other young defensemen that might assume major roles with the team in the next few years.  Tyson Barrie is perhaps the most established at this point, but Duncan Siemens and Stefan Elliott also have a lot of potential.  That being said, the team is in a bit of a transition with six defensemen inked to one-way contracts and half of those deals expiring after 2013-14.  Consequently, only one of Barrie, Elliott, and Siemens are likely to make the squad and Barrie is the heavy favorite.

 

Goaltenders

 

Semyon Varlamov has struggled to find his footing as a starting goaltender, but he has no shortage of people to turn to for advice.  Backup goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, goaltending coach Francois Allaire, and of course, head coach Patrick Roy all bring a wealth of experience that Varlamov can benefit from.  If anyone can help the 25-year-old netminder reach his potential, they can.

 

Player To Watch

 

Nathan MacKinnon is the obvious choice and he’ll certainly get a lot of media attention next season, but I’m going to further highlight goaltender Semyon Varlamov instead.  The Colorado Avalanche took a big risk when they traded away their top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (which turned out to be Filip Forsberg) and a second round selection (Mike Winther) to get him.  It was a justifiable risk given Varlamov’s potential, but he hasn’t lived up to the team’s expectations.  Getting him on track will be one of Patrick Roy’s first big tasks.

 

Dallas Stars

 

Forwards

 

New GM Jim Nill made some major moves this summer to completely rework his team up the middle by adding Shawn Horcoff, Tyler Seguin, and Rich Peverley.  Those moves will allow Jamie Benn to shift to the left wing and he should play on the top line with Seguin.  That duo could lead the team for years to come, but they aren’t alone in the Stars’ youth movement.  Valeri Nichushkin could go straight from being taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft to playing on the team.  22-year-old Cody Eakin could still end up as the team’s second-line center and Alex Chiasson, 22, might enjoy his first season as an NHL regular.

 

Defensemen

 

Alex Goligoski is coming off of a solid season in which he scored three goals and 27 points, but after him, the Stars’ defensemen didn’t do a lot offensively in 2013.  With that in mind, Dallas inked Sergei Gonchar to a two-year, $10 million contract.  Even at the age of 39, Gonchar should be a leader with the man advantage.

 

Goaltenders

 

The Dallas Stars will once again put their trust in Kari Lehtonen.  He has a lengthy injury history, but managed to play in 36 games during the shortened season and finished with a 2.66 GAA and .916 save percentage.  Dan Ellis will serve as the team’s backup goaltender and he’s not much of a threat to Lehtonen.

 

Player To Watch

 

There will be a lot of people focused on Tyler Seguin because of the questions that have been raised about the 21-year-old’s level of maturity, but we’re listing him here for another reason.  Seguin is incredibly talented and already has a 67-point season under his belt, but he was never able to consistently get top-line minutes in Boston.  He averaged 17:01 minutes in 2013, but that could balloon to over 20 minutes next season.  That should push him over the 70-point mark next season and he might end up besting his career high by a significant margin.

 

Minnesota Wild

 

Forwards

 

After Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, the Minnesota Wild are filled with question marks offensively.  Can Dany Heatley stay healthy and bounce back or will he continue his slow decline over the last few years?  Is Mikael Granlund ready to step up and maybe even establish himself as a top-six forward?  Is a change of scenery and an opportunity all that Nino Niederreiter needs at this point?  The Minnesota Wild aren’t particularly deep offensively, so they need some of their younger prospects to step up if they want to get beyond the first round in 2013-14.

 

Defensemen

 

The Minnesota Wild leaned heavily on Ryan Suter last season, asking him to log 27:16 minutes per game.  Suter should continue to get an obscene amount of playing time with the Wild, but he might not be the only Minnesota defenseman to have fantasy value in standard leagues.  Perhaps the most noteworthy example is Keith Ballard.  He wasn’t used as a top-four defenseman in his three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and his offensive production fell dramatically as a result.  He’ll have a new opportunity in Minnesota though and might bounce back by flirting with the 30-point mark.

 

Goaltenders

 

Once again, the Minnesota Wild will be going with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.  Backstrom will start the season as the Wild’s top netminder and should do an adequate job in that role.  Meanwhile, Harding missed big chunks of the 2013 campaign due to complications related to multiple sclerosis, but he also had some great showings when he was healthy.  Harding is an above average backup, as evidenced by his 2011-12 campaign, during which he posted a 2.62 GAA and .917 save percentage in 34 games.

 

Player To Watch

 

There are plenty on the Wild, but Nino Niederreiter is one of the more interesting ones.  He’s got a lot of offensive upside, but the New York Islanders limited his role in his NHL stints.  He has just three points in 64 NHL games, but he also has averaged just 10:36 minutes in those contests.  With that in mind, it will be very interesting to see what he can do if the Wild give him a chance to play in a larger role.

 

Nashville Predators

 

Forwards

 

The Nashville Predators were one of the worst teams offensively last season and while they didn’t make a big splash, they did make some noteworthy moves over the summer.  Nashville signed Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg to help bolster their anemic offensive.  Both of those forwards are likely to get a boost in playing time compared to 2013 and that’s especially true for Stalberg after he averaged just 14:07 minutes with Chicago last season.  Both of those players might have some fantasy value this season and Stalberg, in particular, could reach the 60-point mark if Nashville leans on him enough. Fresh off a five-game trial last season, Filip Forsberg has plenty of offensive upside and while he might experience some growing pains in 2013-14, he’s probably the best keeper candidate in the Predators’ system as far as forwards go.

 

Defensemen

 

If the Predators forwards don’t excite you, their defense will.  Shea Weber has already established himself as one of the best in the business while rising star Roman Josi has committed to a seven-year, $28 million contract.  On top of that, they have two other young and potential star blueliners in Ryan Ellis and 2013 fourth overall draft pick Seth Jones.  The Ryan Suter era in Nashville might be well behind them now, but their defense certainly isn’t their weak point.

 

Goaltenders

 

Pekka Rinne is coming off of a bit of a rough season, at least by his standards.  He had a 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage in 43 games in 2013.  That decline might have been partially due to a hip injury that he had surgery for over the summer.  Rinne should bounce back and be among the league-leaders in starts.  The Nashville Predators don’t have a clear-cut backup goaltender, but Carter Hutton looks like the frontrunner for that gig.

 

Player To Watch

 

The 2013 NHL Entry Draft was loaded with talent, but it’s still hard to believe that Seth Jones slipped into Nashville’s lap.  He’s a superb prospect and is NHL ready.  The only question is if Jones will get much playing time with the man advantage, especially given the presence of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis.  Jones might not have a particularly exciting rookie season from a fantasy perspective, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on and taking in keeper leagues.

 

St. Louis Blues

 

Forwards

 

The St. Louis Blues made a low-risk, high-reward gamble by inking Derek Roy to a one-year, $4 million extension this summer.  They also traded away David Perron in order to acquire 22-year-old Magnus Paajarvi.  You might look at the Blues forwards and not pick out any players you would consider stars, but they have enough talent there to potentially roll out three fairly balanced scoring lines.  Youngsters Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are both capable of stepping up next season after acclimatizing themselves to the NHL in the shortened campaign.

 

Defensemen

 

The Blues might be deep in terms of forwards, but it’s their defense that’s their main strength.  They have two of the best young offensive defensemen in the NHL in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.  Both of them are capable of recording at least 40 points in 2013-14.  The rest of their blueliners aren’t as appealing from a fantasy perspective, but Barret Jackman, Jay Bouwmeester, and Jordan Leopold are all great defensemen in their own right.  Throw in Ian Cole or Roman Polak on the team’s third pairing and an argument could be made that St. Louis has one of the best defenses in the NHL.

 

Goaltenders

 

This is where things get a little messy.  The St. Louis Blues will potentially enter the season with three goaltenders, including Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, and Jake Allen.  It’s not clear which of those three will end up winning the starting job, although it wouldn’t be surprising if Halak, despite his injury problems and struggles last season, gets the first shot at it.  Either way, if the Blues enter the season with three goaltenders, it will be a nightmare for any fantasy owners who took one of them.

 

Player To Watch

 

There are a few great forwards to keep an eye on, but the most interesting player on the Blues has to be goaltender Brian Elliott.  Depending on the day, he’s anywhere from the best goaltender in the league to a guy who should be sent down to the AHL.  His hot and cold streaks are extreme, but if he can ever find his groove and keep it, he’ll be the type of netminder who can carry a team.

 

Winnipeg Jets

 

Forwards

 

The Winnipeg Jets suffered a blow when Alexander Burmistrov decided to sign a two-year KHL contract.  Although Burmistrov struggled to make his mark with the Jets, he was still just 21 years old and the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.  The Jets will retain his rights, but it remains to be seen if they’ll get any further use out of him.  On the plus side, the Jets did add Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik this offseason.  Setoguchi should get an opportunity to serve as a top-six forward this season after averaging 14:26 minutes with Minnesota in 2013.  However, this is a bigger chance for Frolik, who was used principally as a bottom-six forward during his two-plus season stint with the Chicago Blackhawks.  He might go from 10 points in 45 games last season to 40 to 50 with Winnipeg.

 

Defensemen

 

The Winnipeg Jets have two defensemen fantasy owners will want to scoop up: Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom.  Byfuglien’s weight has often been brought up as a concern, but for three straight seasons he’s put up great numbers from an offensive standpoint.  Byfuglien recorded 53 points in each of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns and he’s likely to put up similar numbers next season.  Meanwhile, Enstrom has been limited by injuries over the last few seasons. If he can stay healthy, he could end up with about as many points as Byfuglien.

 

Goaltenders

 

Goaltending is perhaps the biggest question mark for Winnipeg.  They made a five-year, $19.5 million commitment to Ondrej Pavelec, but he’s struggled with the Jets.  Still, he shouldn’t feel particularly threatened by backup Al Montoya, so how the Jets do this season will probably largely depend on whether Pavelec is able to step up at the age of 26 (which he’ll be by the time the season begins).

 

Player To Watch

 

There’s a decent chance Mark Scheifele will make the Winnipeg Jets’ opening game roster after his very successful OHL campaign.  He had 39 goals and 79 points in 45 contests in 2012-13 and was just as effective in the playoffs.  Scheifele has an uphill battle ahead of him to secure a top-six spot with the Jets, but if he does start the season in such a role, he could be in for a strong rookie season.

 

Click here for the latest NHL player news, and follow @RyanDadoun and @Rotoworld_HK if you're on Twitter.

 



Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.
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