Jonathan Drouin was expected to get the plum spot next to Steven Stamkos, but he's been tried at center in the pre-season. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Some significant battles for roster spots are taking place all across the league. The fantasy impact could mean the difference between 10 points and 60. Let's take a look at some more of the key battles that I'll be watching - and why I'll be watching them. Last week we looked at the Western Conference, today we’ll look at the East.
Boston: Carl Soderberg vs. Jordan Caron vs. Reilly Smith - There is room for two of the three and the top player will flirt with 30 points this year. I give the nod to Soderberg, because he's not going to come all the way across the ocean at the age of 27 just so he can play in the American League.
Buffalo: Mikhail Grigorenko vs. Brian Flynn vs. Zemgus Girgensons vs. Johan Larsson vs. Joel Armia - The Sabres aren't going to add five rookies or near-rookies (Flynn doesn't qualify). Teams adding that many rookie forwards at once are pretty much committing NHL suicide. Besides, there isn't enough room. There is room for three of the six and these youngsters will show in camp which is ready right now. In some cases (Armia and Grigorenko), there is potentially an immediate 50-point player.
Carolina: Ryan Murphy vs. Andrej Sekera vs. Ron Hainsey - With the season-ending injury to Joni Pitkanen, there is a gaping hole open on the power play. Rookie Murphy was in tough to make the team, but now it's looking pretty promising. But will he get the PP ice time? Hainsey was used a lot on the power play several years ago, while Sekera has untapped offensive potential. There is a possible 35-point player here…we just don't know which one.
Columbus and Detroit: realignment in the NHL vs. realignment in my brain - I stuck a training camp battle for Detroit and Columbus in the Western Conference piece I wrote for Tuesday. Brain cramp? You'd think so. But then I had Winnipeg filled in as well. I'm just shaking my head, I really have no idea about that one. This is training camp for columnists, too. I think I'm cut.
Florida: Aleksander Barkov vs. Brad Boyes vs. Bobby Butler vs. Nick Bjugstad - It would seem that Barkov should make this team. He has no glaring weakness and is already one of Florida's best players. But then again, the Panthers invited Boyes to camp and there really isn't room for him in the top six as it is. And Boyes is definitely not a checker. Bjugstad was on the edge - it could have gone either way in terms of making the squad or being sent down. But his concussion suffered early on will pretty much wipe out his training camp and he'll probably see time in the AHL first. Butler, having signed a two-way deal, could be on the outside looking in come October. Any one of these players could find their way onto a fantasy roster at some point - and any one of these players could play zero NHL games this year. Lots of possibilities here.
Montreal: Brendan Gallagher vs. Daniel Briere - It's simple. Whoever gets to play with Max Pacioretty will enjoy a strong offensive season. Gallagher ended last year on that line (along with David Desharnais) and played extremely well. But now the Habs are trying newcomer Briere there. Not good for Gallagher owners, but then again - he'd play with Alex Galchenyuk which, by season's end may wind up being the better spot.
New Jersey: Damien Brunner vs. the other wingers - Brunner joined the Devils on a tryout, but the reality is he’s the second-best pure offensive forward on the team after Patrik Elias. He can score better than Michael Ryder and he can dish better than Travis Zajac or Jaromir Jagr (the 41-year-old version). If the Devils can afford Brunner and he lowers his contract expectations, his presence will hurt the likes of Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Dainius Zubrus, because a lot of PP time will be headed Brunner's way.
NY Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck vs. Kyle Okposo vs. Pierre-Marc Bouchard - I wrote Clutterbuck's name here Tuesday and decided to leave it in even after his injury (skate laceration - out for what would appear to be a few weeks or more). He was John Tavares' linemate when they were in Oshawa together (Ontario League). Now that he's sidelined, look for Bouchard and Okposo to get looks on the big line. Playing with Tavares will add at least 10 points to any player's projection.
NY Rangers: Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot vs. the clock - Brassard is really lighting the lamp early on and the more he does that during Derek Stepan's (contract) absence, the better it will be for his status when Stepan returns. In the cases of Zuccarello and Pouliot, they need to impress early and often before Ryan Callahan and/or Carl Hagelin return. If these three are scoring like gangbusters when everyone returns to the lineup, how do you take them off the power play?
Ottawa: J-G Pageau vs. the numbers game - Pageau has been outstanding in both camps this summer. He deserves to be on the team. But he's a center and there is no room for him there. Can he convert to the wing? Can he make it so coach Paul MacLean gets one of the other centermen to convert to the wing?
Philadelphia: Scott Hartnell vs. Matt Read - Since the Steve Mason vs. Ray Emery thing won't be solved before November, the battle I'm watching here is the Claude Giroux sweepstakes. Play with him, maybe get 65 points. Don't play with him and maybe get 45 points. Big difference. Right now Giroux is sidelined with that thumb injury he suffered playing golf, so the onus is on Read to make a splash offensively without him. Otherwise, the default linemate will be Hartnell.
Pittsburgh: Jussi Jokinen vs. Matt D'Agostini vs. Chuck Kobasew - The dream job of playing on the wing with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is already taken. All four winger spots are spoken for. So the battle here is to be the next guy to get the call in case of an injury. It may not amount to much, but any of these three players have the offensive potential to play on a big line.
Tampa Bay: Jonathan Drouin vs. Ryan Malone - So far, Drouin is actually being tried at center while Malone gets the sweet spot on the wing with Steven Stamkos. If the expectation is that Drouin will play center, then he's probably not going to make this team. And that will have more than a few poolies scribbling lines through their draft list. With Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson and Nate Thompson already down the middle, Drouin wouldn’t have much of a chance.
Toronto: Paul Ranger vs. T.J. Brennan vs. John-Michael Liles vs. Korbinian Holzer - With nine defensemen already NHL-caliber, Morgan Rielly doesn't have much of a chance to make this team. So that leaves these four guys playing for three spots (thanks to Cody Franson still working out a contract). Liles, Brennan and Ranger are each capable of posting 30-plus point seasons.
Washington: No battle to speak of - The Caps have their seven defensemen, their two goaltenders and 13 forwards, with Aaron Volpatti and Brandon Segal battling it out for 13th and 14th on that depth chart. The top line will be Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The second line will be Martin Erat, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer. That leaves Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault for the third line. Pretty straightforward, though prospect Tom Wilson could sneak into the mix with a huge camp.
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