The Stanley Cup playoffs are still going on, but it’s never too early to get a head start on your research for next fantasy hockey season.
To get you started, here’s a look at the biggest unresolved, fantasy-relevant question for all 30 current NHL teams. (We’ll get to the Vegas Golden Knights once they have more than one player on the roster).
Anaheim Ducks: Bursting with blue-line talent, the Ducks are expected to lose either Cam Fowler or Sami Vatanen this summer, either via trade or Vegas expansion. In one scenario, the club chooses to protect forward Jakub Silfverberg, leaving Vatanen unshielded from Golden Knights GM George McPhee. In another, the organization exposes Silfverberg instead of Vatanen, bringing about Fowler’s expendability on the trade market. However it shakes out, rising stars Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore should be on all fantasy watch lists, along with Hampus Lindholm, as Anaheim’s blue line is re-calibrated next fall.
Arizona Coyotes: As it stands, a couple of plum assignments down the middle are up for grabs in the desert, beginning next fall. With little veteran presence remaining at center — allowing for potential offseason moves, of course — the likes of Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome will be encouraged to compete for spots within the Coyotes’ top six. And while the squad remains a project in development, all three promising youngsters merit immediate attention in dynasty leagues and potentially even redraft leagues.
Boston Bruins: Forward Ryan Spooner will likely sport a different sweater beginning next autumn. Most often relegated to a third-line role in 2016-17, Spooner underwhelmed with only 11 goals and 28 assists — short of his perceived 50-point-plus potential. A change of scenery would do the 25-year-old restricted free agent some good.
Buffalo Sabres: One year separated from free agency, forward Evander Kane may not be long for the Sabres. Unless the sniper assures management he’s dedicated to re-signing in Buffalo, you can likely bank on a trade between this offseason and next season’s trade deadline. Failing to score a single goal before Dec. 3, Kane snapped out of his funk and finished with 28 tallies in 70 games. His personal fantasy value could inflate further, depending on club and role.
Calgary Flames: Assuming both sides can settle on a new contract, Brian Elliott projects to be the Flames’ regular starting netminder next season. Postseason success — or lack thereof — aside, the 32-year-old goalie eventually established himself as Glen Gulutzan’s undisputed go-to by performing in outstanding fashion through February and March. As streaky as they come, Elliott is up there with the best when he’s in form. Also armed with an expiring deal, backup Chad Johnson is pegged to sign elsewhere. Whether the 30-year-old is worthy of much fantasy consideration depends on which particular elsewhere that is.
Carolina Hurricanes: Following his single season with the Hurricanes, veteran forward Lee Stempniak — a perceived club favorite for exposure to the expansion draft — is projected to join his 11th NHL team this summer. If so, the 34-year-old fantasy enigma could be worth investment in deeper leagues, depending on where he slots into Vegas’ lineup. Keep an eye.
Chicago Blackhawks: Targeting a winger to skate on the left side of Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks will likely explore the trade or free agent market this offseason. If not, sophomore Nick Schmaltz could be in for a doozy of a campaign if planted in that position for most of 2017-18. Ensure the former first-round draft selection (2014) is on your radar. Altogether, assuming RFA-to-be Richard Panik is re-upped without issue, the 2017-18 corps of forwards might not look that much different from this season’s version.
Colorado Avalanche: As repeated in this space all season long, Matt Duchene will almost certainly be playing for a team other than the Avalanche next season. The subject of season-long trade rumors, Duchene remains on course to be dealt this summer. Captain Gabriel Landeskog could also be on the move, vacating an additional top-six spot for the rebuilding squad. Let this fresh hockey era in Denver — headed by youngsters Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher — begin.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois is one to watch closely in Columbus, beginning next fall. After a sluggish start to his final (we’re supposing) junior campaign, last year’s third-overall draft selection erupted for 15 goals and 22 assists in 28 games following his trade from Cape Breton to Blainville-Boisbriand. Patient keeper-league owners might consider snagging this not-yet 19-year-old as a long-term investment; just don’t expect many fantasy fireworks from the gifted two-way forward right away.
Dallas Stars: The Kari Lehtonen–Antti Niemi era is likely over in Dallas. Following two seasons of sub-mediocre, tandem-steered goaltending, at least one of Lehtonen or Niemi is expected to be bought out this summer. Both have a single year left on their respective contracts. Whoever is kept onboard — our guess is Lehtonen — will likely be relegated to the backup role behind a new body acquired through free agency or trade.
Detroit Red Wings: Despite watching their team fall short of a playoff spot for the first time in seemingly forever, fans of the Red Wings still have much to anticipate. For one, prospect Evgeny Svechnikov should turn some heads, following his first season of pro hockey in the AHL. Offered a two-game taste at the NHL level this spring, the 20-year-old prospect cobbled together 20 goals and 31 assists with the Grand Rapids Griffins this past season. A high-end talent with an exceptionally bright future, Svechnikov is expected to make the jump full-time next fall. All fantasy owners should keep the former first-rounder (2015) in view.
Edmonton Oilers: Unlike his World Juniors Finnish linemates Patrick Laine and Sebastien Aho, Jesse Puljujarvi isn’t reflecting on a terribly successful rookie campaign in the NHL. After scoring one goal and seven assists in 28 contests with the Oilers, the fourth-overall draft selection was shipped to the minors, where he performed decently enough without turning heads. No guarantee Puljujarvi — still only 18 years old — plays a prominent role in the big leagues next season, either. Keep watch on how he handles himself through camp.
Florida Panthers: While the door isn’t slammed shut on Jaromir Jagr returning to the Panthers, it doesn’t appear to be wide open, either. There hasn’t been any “we just need to work out the details” talk from GM Dale Tallon ahead of sitting down with the 45-year-old. Fact is, Jagr is intent on extending his pro career somewhere; if he gets a better deal outside of Florida, he’ll play elsewhere. In that case, look for Johnathan Marchessault to earn a shot on the right side of top center Aleksander Barkov and winger Jonathan Huberdeau. Marchessault collected 30 goals and 21 assists in 75 games this season — often skating on the left side of Barkov and Jagr for the injured Huberdeau.
Los Angeles Kings: Considering Darryl Sutter’s notorious defensive approach to the game, the recent coaching change in Los Angeles should result in a bump in production for the club’s struggling offensive stars, including Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik, Tanner Pearson, defenseman Drew Doughty etc. Outside of Jeff Carter, no one put up numbers worth bragging about in 2016-17. That should change under whoever follows up as bench boss. Keep that in mind when drafting your redraft league squads in the fall.
Montreal Canadiens: Failing to consistently impress both head coaches — first Michel Therrien, then Claude Julien — this campaign, Alex Galchenyuk is facing an uncertain future in Montreal. Relegated to the fourth line to begin the 2016-17 postseason, the former third-overall draft pick (2012) has clearly fallen out of favor. Following his two-year bridge deal, Galchenyuk was in line to ink his first mega-moolah, long-term contract this summer if he’d taken the next step in his development. But we can’t imagine the Canadiens are willing to throw bags of cash at the 23-year-old now. Given the uncertainty with the pending RFA Galchenyuk, Phillip Danault remains poised to further solidify his role as top-line center.
Minnesota Wild: Similarly to the Ducks, the Wild are blessed with too many capable defensemen. As such — presuming Chuck Fletcher and Co. shelter Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and youngster Matt Dumba from Vegas’ drafting grasp — Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella would be left unprotected. So, Brodin then. Who could very well end up the Golden Knights’ No. 1 defenseman to launch 2017-18.
Nashville Predators: Forward Craig Smith is likely Vegas-bound, the odd-man out amongst the Predators’ projected corps of protected forwards. Mind you, the 27-year-old might not mind the move so much, as a top-six spot likely awaits him as an inaugural Golden Knight — not the case for some time in Nashville. Remember, Smith notched 24 goals and 28 assists in 79 games with the Preds in 2013-14. Presented with a fresh start, he may become fantasy-relevant once again.
New Jersey Devils: This past season may have felt rather grim, but the future appears reasonably bright for the Devils, featuring former first-rounders Pavel Zacha (2015) and Michael McLeod (2016). While Zacha made a positive impression in his first full NHL season, McLeod dominated in what will likely be his final junior campaign. I’d like to see Jersey’s coaching staff experiment with this promising forward pairing straight from camp. Stay tuned.
New York Islanders: Generating a stir in Brooklyn and around the league in his fat five weeks of play at the tail-end of 2016-17, Josh Ho-Sang offered more than a glimpse of the impactful player he’ll be for years to come. A spot on the right side of top center John Tavares to start 2017-18 isn’t out of the question. At minimum, Ho-Sang is anticipated to nail down a scoring line with the Islanders, straight out of the gates — assuming the 21-year-old’s prior ‘behavioral’ issues don’t rematerialize. Hopefully not, because he’s an exciting talent and potential fantasy gem.
New York Rangers: If the Rangers don’t swing a side deal to protect their valuable backup, Antti Raanta may very well be headed for Vegas in the expansion draft. Goal-scoring speedster Michael Grabner is also in danger of migration. And while Grabner might further flourish in a prominent role up front for the Golden Knights, Raanta’s fantasy stock is projected to tumble as netminder for a newly cobbled-together club. It could be especially messy to start.
Ottawa Senators: Signed to an entry-level deal, and getting a five-game taste of pro action (AHL/NHL) this spring, top prospect Colin White (in stride with fellow forward Logan Brown and defenseman Thomas Chabot) sits only months away from fighting for a full-time NHL role. And perhaps unlike Brown, the former first-round draft selection (2015) is heavily favored to nail down such a gig this fall. In fact, a top-six spot could be offered to the Boston College skater, as the Senators are projected to lose one of their current wingers to Vegas. Have a look at how it all shuffles out five months from now.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ net remains a mysterious zone ahead of this pending offseason. Maybe the club decides to re-sign free agent Steve Mason (probably not). Perhaps Michal Neuvirth ends up Vegas-bound. However it shakes out, rookie Anthony Stolarz is projected to fill one of two roles with the Flyers for the duration of 2017-18. Pegged to start off as a backup, the 23-year-old won’t be denied the opportunity to steal the bulk of playing time down the stretch. It’ll be up to him.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Whether or not he helps win his club another Stanley Cup this spring, Marc-Andre Fleury is still likely seeing his tenure in Pittsburgh come to an end. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the 32-year-old. With two years left on his current contract, and armed with a modified no-movement clause, Fleury will have some say in where he’s dealt to this offseason. After falling a step behind Matt Murray with the Penguins, the veteran goalie will undoubtedly gun for a gig carrying the promise of No. 1 stature. And, goodness knows, there’s a handful of otherwise strong sides in need of improved netminding out there.
San Jose Sharks: Unless their relationship takes a severely sour turn — or the veteran forward demands much too much — I anticipate the Sharks will re-sign UFA-to-be Joe Thornton this summer. If not, pencil in 23-year-old Tomas Hertl as the top center alongside Joe Pavelski to start 2017-18. And make note of this prospective promotion in your own fantasy crib sheet.
St. Louis Blues: He’s big, he’s strong, and he can score. After splitting a hectic rookie season between the Capitals, Blues and AHL Hersey Bears, Zach Sanford is ready for a full-time job with the Blues. Dynasty owners fond of sizable wingers with a nose for the net should track this 22-year-old closely on draft day, especially if he lays claim to a top-six/power-play role with the Blues.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning face a tough task in re-signing three key free agents this summer in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. With an eye to the salary cap, there’s perceptible doubt the club will be able to secure all three. Of the trio, Johnson might be considered most superfluous, in light of the emergence of young center Brayden Point. If that’s how it plays out, and Johnson is moved, look for Point to potentially line up behind a healthy Steven Stamkos as the club’s No. 2 center. The 21-year-old rookie collected 40 points — including 18 goals — in 68 games this campaign.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Following up eight games to conclude the regular season, Kasperi Kapanen has already made a positive impact with his NHL club in the playoffs. No real surprise there; after losing significant time to a lower-body injury, Sami’s kid averaged a point per game with the AHL Marlies this season. Don’t lose sight of the 20-year-old, as he secures a regular roster spot with the Leafs next fall, perhaps even bumping another young talent — Connor Brown? — from a prominent scoring line.
Vancouver Canucks: There appears to be a changing of the guard in Vancouver. Speaking with the press post-regular season, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin suggested they weren’t the de facto top forward pairing any longer. Not a jarring assessment altogether, considering 22-year-old center Bo Horvat led the team with 20 goals and 52 points this season. Regardless of whether the Sedins stick with the Canucks beyond 2017-18 — final year on their current deal — Daniel and Henrik already appear at peace with taking a backseat to Horvat and the likes of a young Sven Baertschi. Fans and fantasy owners should settle in with this transition as well.
Washington Capitals: Trade deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk is believed to be in Washington for a good time, not a long time. (Ideally, a great time that incorporates winning a Stanley Cup, but we’ve a ways to go). Once summer hits, the unrestricted free agent is expected to listen to offers from all over, including his club of choice, the Rangers. As long as the offensive-defenseman lands somewhere outside of Washington, John Carlson — relegated to second banana since Shattenkirk’s arrival — should reclaim top fantasy billing on the Capitals’ blue line.
Winnipeg Jets: Unsurprisingly, the Jets are pursuing a new netminder this offseason. Whether GM Kevin Cheveldayoff snags a competent sort from the pool of free agents, or brokers a trade, the import should be easily favored to muscle either Michael Hutchinson or Connor Hellebuyck — whomever remains — out from the starter’s crease.