Fantasy Hockey managers are scrambling to prepare for the NHL regular season, which is less than two weeks away. We picked the brain of DobberHockey.com's Jeff Angus to get a handle on some of the more challenging issues leading up fantasy draft time.
1) Many fantasy hockey fans may not have been following what NHL players were doing overseas or in the AHL during the lockout. Who has impressed you over the last few months as potentially undervalued fantasy draft prospects based on their play?
The obvious one is Justin Schultz, but most hockey fans are aware of his AHL domination during the lockout. There have also been some lesser-known prospects who have had very solid AHL seasons through early January. In no particular order, here are a few to keep in mind on draft day: Jakob Silfverberg (Ottawa), Sven Bartschi (Calgary), Nino Niederreiter (Long Island), and Cody Eakin (Dallas). Niederreiter had a very poor rookie season last year with the Islanders, but he has really turned his game around with a strong performance in Bridgeport in 2012-13.
2) Probably the biggest trade over the summer was the Rick Nash deal, so we'll make this a two-parter. First, as Nash joins the Rangers, which of his teammates stands to gain, and who stands to lose out, as he takes a top spot in the lineup?
The player(s) that stand to gain the most are going to be the ones who line up with Nash. At even strength, that will either be Brad Richards or Derek Stepan at center. I doubt the Rangers put Nash and Gaborik together - both players are puck carriers (and Richards is as well, for that matter). On the power play, the Rangers have a ton of options suddenly available to them as well. I'll go with a hunch that Stepan sticks with Nash and call him the major winner of the trade (outside of Nash, at least).
3) Secondly, the Columbus Blue Jackets seem to be starting over from scratch, but somebody still needs to lead the way offensively. Who do you see prospering there from a fantasy hockey perspective?
Columbus has two young players that really intrigue me - Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen. They are very different players - Johansen is very big and strong at 6-3 and close to 220 pounds, while Atkinson is a bit undersized but very crafty. Atkinson has been among the AHL scoring leaders all season, and he didn't look out of place in the NHL last season with Columbus.
I profiled Atkinson last summer in this post, and took a look at some advanced measures to get a better idea of Atkinson's level of play in Columbus in 2011-12.
"Two things make Atkinson stand out. One, he had a very solid debut last season for the Blue Jackets (seven goals in 27 games). He scored an impressive 29 goals in only 51 games with Springfield of the AHL as well. Simply put, he proved he was ready for the professional game. And two, he plays a position (right wing) that is wide open on the Columbus depth chart. Atkinson could very likely find himself on the top offensive unit this fall. The question as to who his linemates will be is still wide open, as Columbus has a glut of second and third line forwards."
Johansen had a stellar junior career with the Portland Winterhawks, and he has the look of a future top line center, too. He won't be there just yet, but having some additional developmental time in the AHL will serve him well in both the short and long term.
4) The Red Wings are going through major changes with the retirement of Nick Lidstrom and the replacement of Brad Stuart with Carlo Colaiacovo. Do those adjustments on the blueline affect your assessment of their forwards?
The DobberHockey crew is very high on Brendan Smith, and we feel that he can step in right away and be a major contributor in Detroit. Jakub Kindl is a solid young defenseman, too. However, replacing Lidstrom will be impossible for Detroit, and losing Stuart only complicates things further.
Detroit should be expected to take a step back without Lidstrom, but how big of a step that is depends on the play of their young players. Smith and Kindl are solid young defensemen, and Detroit has a really intriguing young forward ready for top six action in Gustav Nyqvist. He may not start off in a scoring role, but he will find a way to end up there in short order. The Red Wings also have superstars in Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and they have Zetterberg's buddy from Switzerland, Damian Brunner, coming over to North America too.
One player that will suffer is Ian White - in 12 games without Lidstrom (his defensive partner) last season, White had only three points.
5) With the Jordan Staal trade and Alexander Semin signing as a free agent, Carolina may be the most intriguing team in the Eastern Conference. How do you rate some of the top Hurricanes as fantasy hockey prospects?
I like several of Carolina's players from a fantasy perspective. Eric Staal is as consistent as they come, and he has the best supporting crew around him since the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup back in 2007. On the back end, Justin Faulk is one of the best defensemen no one has heard about. He played top pairing minutes as a teenager last season. Jamie McBain is another talented young defenseman, but he is further down on the offensive depth chart (behind veterans like Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo).
Jordan Staal will love having more offensive responsibilities centering Carolina's second line, and he will have either Jeff Skinner or Semin as a primary passing target.
The Tuomo Ruutu injury news also opens up a top six spot for one of Carolina's young forwards - likely Jiri Tlusty, Zach Boychuk, or Drayson Bowman. Boychuk and Bowman haven't developed as hoped over the past few years,but they have each had very solid 2012-13 campaigns down in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers.
The key with Carolina from a fantasy perspective is figuring out their top six wingers. Staal and Staal are both great centers.
The DobberHockey 2013 Fantasy Guide is fully updated - we have been working night and day on it since news of the lockout ending came down early Sunday morning. Unlike the other guides that were released last summer, the DobberHockey Guide is completely updated with everything that has occurred during the lockout. This is also the first year we included advanced statistics in some of our analysis, too.
All projections are based on a 48 game schedule. Injuries need to be considered, prospect performance in the AHL, older players playing better in a shortened year (or worse), etc. Dobber has spent the days leading up to ratification going through each player with a fine-tooth comb. All projections, sleeper notes, rookie charts, injuries will be based on the shortened season and the latest information. Almost every single page of the Guide that was released on August 1st has been changed.
I can tell you that Dobber's Fantasy Hockey Guide is an essential part of my own planning for fantasy drafts. You won't find more comprehensive, detailed coverage anywhere else, and the online tools (like Frozen Pool) take your ability to analyze the NHL game to an entirely new level. Are you ready for draft time yet?