This is always a fun and crazy time of year for the NHL. A lot of preseason expectations have fizzled out, with surprises taking their place. We must, as fantasy managers, adjust on the fly and be willing to let go of what we “thought would happen” in order to embrace what “is happening.”
The puck officially drops on the NHL season on Wednesday night. As teams begin play — some as late as Saturday — it’s probably not an exaggeration to suggest there will be a fantasy-relevant surprise from each and every team over the coming week. After all, a lot has happened in a very short period of time from when the preseason started to now.
Each team played a flurry of games in order to trim their oversized rosters down to NHL requirements. Those exhibition games helped the coaches, but reading anything into them for fantasy purposes has to be done with extreme caution. While many things from the preseason will carry over into the regular season, many others will not.
That said, the NHL isn’t going to sit down and issue the fantasy world a press release with every team’s expected line combinations before the puck drops on Wednesday, so we have to start somewhere.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 3-7
It’s a short week with a Wednesday start, but it still counts as a singular scoring period in ESPN leagues. You’ll need to take a closer look at the Forecaster, as there is definitely a significant schedule imbalance to start the season.
The following teams don’t play until Saturday and only have the one game this week: Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning. Yes, your No. 1-overall draft pick only gets to play one game for you this week. Don’t sweat it. Connor McDavid will pay off in the long haul.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense) and “D” (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, but this space will also include players below 10 percent whenever possible to try and cater to deeper formats.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The contract stand-off with William Nylander is the wart on what would otherwise be a blemish-free start to the season for the Maple Leafs. Nylander’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the Leafs’ top six and somewhat subdues the hope we have for Auston Matthews‘ line. Matthews will start the season with a couple of veterans — Patrick Marleau and Tyler Ennis, who replaces Nylander.
Matthews has enough talent, and John Tavares‘ line will draw enough looks, that we aren’t concerned. Ennis should be an early-season contributor for as long as Nylander remains unsigned. As for Nylander, hopefully you got a “holdout discount” at the draft table and now you just have to sit tight and wait. There’s no point in trading him now.
Toronto is one of four teams with three games on tap, so make sure you have Ennis active as a sneaky path to early points. There are also strong odds we’ll get to see Curtis McElhinney in net against the visiting Ottawa Senators on Saturday, which could be a cheap win.
New York Rangers: I don’t know much about David Quinn’s coaching tendencies yet, which throws a whole extra layer on the mess that is the Rangers’ scoring lines. I suspect Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are at the top of the depth chart. I also suspect both are undervalued in fantasy leagues as they hover on under 60 percent of rosters.
If Pavel Buchnevich gets a top-line role, this is the week to pick him up. He’s currently available in over 75 percent of leagues and the three-game week could accelerate how quickly the fantasy community gets on board with him. Just keep in mind that this offense is loaded with potential short-term values and will be very much driven by coaching decisions as to who plays with who, along with the makeup of the power play.
Chicago Blackhawks: With Dylan Sikura having been sent to the AHL, a lot of preseason depth charts were thrown off. After all, he had been penciled in as Chicago’s sixth forward. Instead, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat have been spending a lot of ice time alongside German import Dominik Kahun. (He was never drafted and it’s been five years since he had a brief career in the OHL, so don’t be embarrassed if you, like me, had to look him up.) Kahun had hinted about returning to Germany if he didn’t make the NHL roster, so the team may throw him into the mix right away, if only to see what they have. Anyone playing on the Blackhawks’ top two lines should be on your radar, even if Kahun is not yet in the ESPN game. Stay tuned.
On Monday, Corey Crawford practiced for the first time since last year, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him this first week. Cam Ward should get two starts and Anton Forsberg will probably appear in one of the back-to-back games. With Ward turning 35 this season and looking sluggish in the preseason, I’m not so sure he is the best fantasy option for Crawford’s fantasy managers to use in an attempt to bridge the gap.
Carolina Hurricanes: Warren Foegele has been getting the longest look at completing a top line that will include Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Foegele worked his way onto the roster this preseason and just might open the season alongside the Hurricanes’ dynamic duo. As an AHL rookie last season, Foegele managed to score 28 goals. He’s certainly in the mix for a key role, but first-round pick Andrei Svechnikov will be hanging around at the start of the season, too. It would take massive struggles by the rookie for him to not be a part of the Hurricanes plans this season, but he is still eligible for more junior hockey. Even if he has a reduced role to start the season, you should still stash him in redraft leagues.
Petr Mrazek had a better preseason than Scott Darling and, quite frankly, has a much higher ceiling in the Hurricanes net this season. Darling left Sunday’s exhibition game with a lower-body injury and that’s more than enough to make Mrazek a great addition to your squad to start the campaign. He’s available in 96 percent of ESPN leagues.
Ty Rattie/Kailer Yamamoto, W, Edmonton Oilers: I know they only play one game this week, so it probably won’t help you with your team’s early returns, but this might be the last chance to jump on a pair of Oilers wingers that led the preseason in points. Rattie finished last season on McDavid’s wing and looks to begin this season there again. Yamamoto skated much of the preseason with Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic on the Edmonton second line. Both players have high ceilings based on their surroundings, but absolutely must be in the top six to have any value at all.
Ryan Pulock, D, New York Islanders: If Pulock lets me down this season, I promise I will finally stop talking about him. His “all-world” slapshot has yet to be unleashed with regularity from the point in an NHL season. Luckily, it appears as though coach Barry Trotz is also a fan of Pulock’s release. In five preseason games, Pulock scored five goals — three of them on the power play.
Troy Terry, W, Anaheim Ducks: With Corey Perry out for the bulk of the season, Ryan Kesler unable to get his hip working, Patrick Eaves sidelined with a shoulder injury and Nick Ritchie still at an impasse with the Ducks over a contract, there is a top-six role up for grabs with the Ducks. Terry played with Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell on the top line in recent outings, so he seems to be a likely choice to continue there when the puck drops on Wednesday.
Buffalo Sabres newcomer Jeff Skinner was almost inseparable from Jack Eichel throughout the preseason. This bodes very well for Skinner’s fantasy value this season and he’s still available in 20 percent of leagues.
Detroit Red Wings rookie Filip Zadina was sent to the AHL, and not back to juniors. That means Detroit maintains the ability to call upon him later this season. He could still work his way back to the Red Wings.
Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek led the preseason in shots on what should be a very good third line, with Charlie Coyle and Jordan Greenway. If any of the veteran (older) players in front of him get hurt, Eriksson Ek could have a breakout season.
Montreal Canadiens rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi is sticking around to start the season. His success will depend on how well this lineup meshes, as the Canadiens don’t stack up against most other NHL clubs on paper. I want to see something from him, though, before I buy in.
Ottawa rookie Brady Tkachuk, however, may be deserving of a pre-emptive pickup. The Tkachuk style of play was successful for Matthew’s rookie debut a few seasons ago, and the Senators have plenty of ice time to offer.
St. Louis Blues winger Patrick Maroon is the king of finding himself in the mix with star players. Previously carving out big seasons alongside the Getzlaf/Perry duo (and then later with McDavid), Maroon has found himself with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly this preseason. If that combination sticks, look for Maroon to do his “star by association” routine again. Keep in mind, it’s his penalty minutes that make him most valuable.