2015-16 Metro Division fantasy preview

To get you ready for your fantasy hockey drafts this season, we’re going team by team with a look at what’s changed, along with a sleeper and a bust. Our group here is the eight teams of the Metro Division:


Carolina Hurricanes

What’s new

On paper, the rebuilding Hurricanes appear mildly improved over last season’s assembly. In a multiplayer deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Kris Versteeg brings Cup-winning experience and (hopefully) a scoring presence up front. Most would agree former Canuck Eddie Lack is an upgrade over last season’s backup, Anton Khudobin.

On defense, via Anaheim, James Wisniewski brings an experienced puck-moving presence to a team in need of it. Look for Wisniewski to anchor the Hurricanes’ secondary power play while Justin Faulk remains a fixture on the top unit. Boston College defensive prospect Noah Hanifin — still only 18 years old — isn’t a sure shot to make the NHL team out of camp, but remains a consideration in deep, dynasty leagues.

Sleeper

An inconsistent spark plug throughout his career, Versteeg will be awarded every opportunity to play a regular scoring role with the Hurricanes (unlike in talent-deep Chicago). A top-line gig with Eric Staal and Jordan Staal is reportedly the 29-year-old’s to lose. Playing in the final year of his contract also provides Versteeg with that added-value kick-in-the-pants. A 50-plus point season is well within reach.

Bust

For the better portion of the past decade, Cam Ward has been considered the acknowledged No. 1 goalie in Carolina. No more. Entirely unsatisfied with his latest backup role, the aforementioned Lack has pledged to fight for every single start. And for the most part, the coaching staff is expected to roll with the hotter hand. While we’re not keen on investing in either Hurricanes goalie to start 2015-16, of the two, Lack appears hungrier as the early underdog. (Note: Both Ward and Lack are in the final year of their respective contracts.)


Columbus Blue Jackets

What’s new

Brandon Saad barely had his new sweater over his head before taking a puck to the face in Blue Jackets practice, resulting in four root canals. Welcome to Ohio, Brandon! Fortunately, the former Blackhawk is expected to feel OK (enough) in time for the start of the regular season. And with those introductory (un)pleasantries out of the way, the 22-year-old can settle into a more prominent role than he enjoyed in Chicago. Via ESPN Insider Craig Custance:

“… [Saad’s] role with Columbus will expand. The expectation is that he’ll get plenty of time with Ryan Johansen on the top line, and his power play time should expand from the 2:11 he saw last season in Chicago. A 30-goal season is certainly a reasonable expectation for a guy who had a goals-per-60-minutes ratio of 1.05 last season — second behind only Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks …”

Sleeper

With last season’s nasty back injury well behind him, Boone Jenner faces heightened expectations in his third year with the Blue Jackets. The 22-year-old power forward is pegged to compete on a second line with center Brandon Dubinsky and benefit from serious minutes with the man-advantage. In only 31 games during his sophomore season, Jenner managed nine goals and eight assists. We’re wanting a 25-goal, 25-assist campaign from the former Oshawa General this time around.

Bust

With the addition of Saad, winger Cam Atkinson conceivably tumbles down the Jackets’ depth chart to a bottom-six role – where, if that’s how the cards fall, he isn’t of much fantasy use to most.


New Jersey Devils

What’s new

This past spring brought about striking changes to management and behind the bench, highlighted by the hiring of general manager Ray Shero and rookie coach John Hynes. Such changing of the guard marks the first step of what should be an extensive rebuilding process. In the here and now, however, your 2015-16 New Jersey Devils bear a conspicuous resemblance to the 2014-15 version, unless you consider the acquisition of Kyle Palmieri a game-changer.

Sleeper

That being said, Palmieri reeks of fantasy dark-horse potential, as the new big man (maybe) on Jersey campus. Unlike in Anaheim — where many prominent scoring forwards roam — the 24-year-old speedster will see significant minutes on one of the top two lines and with the No. 1 power play. He’s going to score goals. As many as 25, by our early estimation.

Bust

After a 20-year career in New Jersey, Patrik Elias will go down in the books as one of the greatest Devils of all time. However, coming off a substandard 34-point campaign (minus-20), and already nursing a nagging knee injury, the 39-year-old isn’t expected to make much of a scoring splash in what should be his final season.


New York Rangers

What’s new

After a successful 2014-15, the Rangers are generally committed to staying the course. Following the departure of Martin St. Louis (retirement), someone has to take over on the second scoring line alongside Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Winger Kevin Hayes appears to be the early favorite for that role.

Otherwise, depth additions of Viktor Stalberg, Emerson Etem, and Jarret Stoll provide the Rangers with extra bottom-six forward options, but carry little fantasy significance otherwise. And because we’re not anticipating another odd neck injury to befall Henrik Lundqvist, new backup Antti Raanta isn’t projected to see substantial playing time, as Cam Talbot did last season.

Sleeper

At his finest, Kreider is a fierce fantasy force with which to be reckoned. And we anticipate a greater number of fine performances from the 24-year-old as he continues to adapt and develop. A possible role with the top power play — in place of the retired St. Louis — only adds extra fantasy sparkle. We’re confident a 60-point/100 PIM campaign from Kreider is well within reach.

Bust

Make no mistake, Ryan McDonagh is a first-class NHL defenseman. However, he isn’t required to be the Rangers’ top offensive defenseman — not with Keith Yandle around from the start. Anticipate more Yandle and less McDonagh in the daily box score.


New York Islanders

What’s new

Well, home ice is certainly new. After 43 years of hosting the opposition at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders are tossing out the welcome mat at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. On the ice, changes are far less significant. The one-year signing of veteran defenseman Marek Zidlicky and the two-year deal securing goalie Thomas Greiss as backup headline an otherwise quiet offseason. Considering the wealth of young talent already within the organization, we’re not surprised GM Garth Snow kept the tinkering to a minimum.

Prospects worth watching include winger Michael Dal Colle, who might get a limited taste of NHL action before rejoining the OHL Oshawa Generals for one last go-around. Promising defenseman Ryan Pulock probably had a better chance at earning a full-time gig with the Isles before the Zidlicky signing. Now Pulock — and his rifle of a shot — are likely stuck in the AHL until injury strikes the Isles’ defense.

Another factor worth gauging is how Kyle Okposo responds to playing through the final year of his current contract. At 27, Okposo is competing for a long-term deal — likely to be the richest of his career. That additional incentive will only further inspire the high-end fantasy.

Sleeper

From our view, of all the youthful talent up front, Ryan Strome sports the highest upside. To date, we’ve only caught a glimpse of what this 22-year-old versatile forward is capable. Favored to skate on a top power play with John Tavares, Strome may also line up with the Islanders’ captain at even-strength.

Bust

After he benefited from Okposo’s lengthy absence by often skating with Tavares, we double-dog-dare Anders Lee to repeat last season’s output of 25 goals and 17 assists, particularly because Lee is hardly a shoo-in for a top-line role to start 2015-16.


Philadelphia Flyers

What’s new

Under the direction of GM Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol is wooed over from the long-term comfort of coaching at the University of North Dakota to lead his first NHL squad. It will be interesting to see how Hakstol transitions from college to the pros.

As for player personnel, versatile forward Sam Gagner leads a short list of noteworthy newbies for the Flyers. Jetting over from the KHL, veteran defenseman Yevgeni Medvedev is pegged to provide more of a defensive presence. And freshly signed backup goalie Michal Neuvirth is fantasy-relevant only if starter Steve Mason is hurt (or unexpectedly inept).

Sleeper

As touched on above, we’re optimistic about Gagner carving out a productive role with his new squad. Capable of serving as the center or on either wing, the 26-year-old stands a super chance of carving out a prominent scoring role at even-strength and on the power play. When surrounded by the appropriate cast mates — like oft-injured Martin Hanzal in Arizona last season — Gagner has put up impressive numbers.

Bust

Whoever skates regularly alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek should score plenty. And that somebody could be forward Michael Raffl, as was occasionally the case last season. But that fortunate figure could also be Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Gagner, etc. And Raffl doesn’t carry much fantasy value away from the Flyers’ top line.


Pittsburgh Penguins

What’s new

Phil Kessel is certainly new. Throwing several bits and bobs Toronto’s way, the Penguins traded for the elite right wing as a prospective playing partner for center Sidney Crosby. So far, so good, to that end, as the dangerous duo seems to be forging decent chemistry in preseason play. If that continues, and Kessel should have little issue with finally smashing through the 40-goal ceiling.

Another new body is KHL-export Sergei Plotnikov. At the urging of Evgeni Malkin, the 25-year-old Russian forward has signed a one-year, “let’s-see-how-it-goes” deal in Pittsburgh. Although recognized as a tough, two-way forward, Plotnikov could quickly develop into a sneaky fantasy asset. More on that below.

GM Jim Rutherford also bolstered his team’s depth up front by snagging forwards Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr. Of the three, Bonino has the greatest fantasy potential as the Pens’ third-line center. And by greatest, we mean in comparison to Cullen and Fehr, which is not all that great, really.

On the injury front, defenseman Kris Letang appears no worse for wear after suffering a concussion late last March. “I’m in great shape,” Letang said in early August. “I got on the ice last week, so I’m following the same program I follow every summer. There was no delay in that sense … I’d say it’s been one of my best summers in terms of training and how I feel.” A near-complete season — which we haven’t seen from Letang in a while — would almost certainly result in a return to superior numbers. Fingers crossed his health luck is finally about to change for the better.

Sleeper

In preseason competition, Plotnikov is making a solid first impression with his play on a second line with Malkin. Keep an eye on whether that combo endures.

Bust

We’ve got Chris Kunitz working to keep a firm grip on his spot alongside Crosby, Plotnikov battling for a regular gig on the left side of Malkin, and Beau Bennett aspiring to sneak his way onto the first or second forward line. On the left wing depth chart, that leaves David Perron firmly in the bottom-six. Plus, the former Oiler was only so-so after joining the Pens last season.


Washington Capitals

What’s new

GM Brian MacLellan refreshed his top-six in early July by signing Justin Williams and snatching fellow winger T.J. Oshie in a deal with the St. Louis Blues. One of those two acquisitions is expected to fill in on the right side of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (the early money is on Oshie), while the other should land on a second line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The offseason loss of Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings) only further cements John Carlson‘s role with the Capitals’ top power play. Matt Niskanen remains a distant second-fantasy-fiddle to Carlson, particularly as applies to minutes with the man-advantage.

Sleeper

Not only does Kuznetsov stand to benefit from playing the bulk of the season with an experienced veteran like Williams, but he may start off on the top line with Ovechkin. Still recovering from offseason hip surgery, Backstrom may not feel fit until mid- to late-October. And, goodness knows, the Caps won’t take any unnecessary risks with their top center.

Bust

With two new experienced players up front in Williams and Oshie, we’re not sure where sophomore Andre Burakovsky best fits. Unless he muscles away a second-line role from Marcus Johansson — which isn’t entirely out of the question — the 20-year-old left wing seems destined for a bottom-six role.

Article source: http://espn.go.com/fantasy/hockey/story/_/id/13772860/previewing-metro-division-including-sleeper-bust-team-fantasy-hockey-2015-16

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