OCT. 1 UPDATE: We enter the home stretch of fantasy hockey prep season, with the last league drafts happening this weekend or early next week. This edition of the rankings addresses some injury news, particularly the blow dealt to the Edmonton Oilers. Also, while I’ll make some tweaks based on the latest line combinations, be careful. Don’t get caught chasing coaches’ whiteboards. The minute Paul Stastny draws glowing reviews centering Vladimir Tarasenko, we get news Jori Lehtera’s recovery is ahead of schedule. Sure, you don’t want to reach for a young gun who winds up demoted next week. But, at this point, worry more about talent. Pick guys who are good at hockey, and they’ll find their way into opportunities.
This list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.
Did last year’s list steer you right? It helped me win both my pools, so hopefully that buys your trust. Remember, these rankings are about fantasy, not real life, so a few stars will be listed lower than you might expect. Enjoy, and feel free to debate the rankings – and let me know about any glaring omissions – in the comment section below.
2014-15 Record: 48-28-6 (102 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 2nd, Central Division
What To Expect: Within days of Chicago’s Stanley Cup victory in 2010, cap constraints forced GM Stan Bowman to ship out key pieces of his championship team. In 2015, the same circumstances arose, and the players knew what was coming. With $10.5-million cap hits kicking in for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s new deals, Bowman was under the gun to move dollars out the door.
When Brandon Saad’s contract demands escalated, Bowman sent him to Columbus in a seven-player deal. Coming back was Artem Anisimov, a big center who steps in for the departed Brad Richards, and Marko Dano, a productive 20-year-old who makes less than $1 million for two more years. Patrick Sharp was then dealt to the Stars for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt. Read more
2014-15 Record: 39-31-12 (90 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 7th, Central Division
What To Expect: The Avs sought to get deeper, tougher and better on the blueline, and their major off-season move addressed those needs. In moving Ryan O’Reilly, who was one year away from free agency, Colorado nabbed blue-chip blueliner Nikita Zadorov and towering pivot Mikhail Grigorenko. They polished off the retool by signing Carl Soderberg, who steps in as the No. 2 center, plus depth winger Blake Comeau and veteran D-man Francois Beauchemin as UFAs.
Off-season moves were bold and swift, and youngsters Zadorov and Grigorenko could fit in nicely with Colorado’s young talent. But if playoffs are the goal this season, the summer was a failure. O’Reilly’s departure will be felt at both ends of the rink. He was a possession driver and special teams staple. The Avs don’t come close to replacing one of the game’s most complete forwards by slotting in Soderberg. Read more
2014-15 Record: 42-35-5 (89 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 4th, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: The Jackets were struck by quantifiably bad luck in 2014-15: their 508 man-games lost were tops in the NHL. Core players who stayed healthy were productive, notably the tandem of Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, who each eclipsed 70 points. David Savard and Jack Johnson also enjoyed full seasons and posted healthy totals. But the top dogs couldn’t pull the sled alone, as Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray missed significant time.
Columbus, who ended the season 12-0-1, is due for better health and a playoff berth, especially with the acquisition of Brandon Saad. He showed glimpses of brilliance in the Hawks’ Cup run and looks to start on the top line. Saad bumps Scott Hartnell or Jenner down the lineup, creating a third threatening trio. Read more
2014-15 Record: 41-31-10 (92 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 4th, Central Division
What To Expect: Dallas’ identity last season was culturally fitting, as sharpshooters defined the club and paced the Stars to the league’s second-best offense. Jamie Benn won the scoring title, and Tyler Seguin wasn’t far behind. Center Jason Spezza worked out as planned, providing 60 points from the second line. John Klingberg emerged as a 40-point D-man in his rookie year. Yes, weapons were plentiful, but a playoff spot didn’t follow, as Dallas gave up far too many goals.
General manager Jim Nill prioritized goaltending, as his club’s save percentage was pitiful while possession numbers were solid. Nill inked Antti Niemi to split time with Kari Lehtonen. That should give the club decent netminding for 82 games. Read more
2014-15 Record: 43-25-14 (100 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 2nd, Atlantic Division
What To Expect: For the first time in a decade, the Wings have a new bench boss. Mike Babcock signed up to coach the Leafs for $50 million, giving Jeff Blashill the opportunity to make the jump from Grand Rapids to Detroit. The rookie coach adopts a veteran team with several youngsters he coached in the AHL, including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Petr Mrazek – all of whom Blashill led to a Calder Cup title in 2013.
Shepherding the skilled group of young forwards are Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll be aided by UFA signing Brad Richards, fresh off a Stanley Cup in Chicago. He steps in as the second-line center. Read more
2014-15 Record: 24-44-14 (62 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 5th, Pacific Division
What To Expect: Oilers ownership knew the moment the organization won the Connor McDavid lottery that their fortunes had changed overnight. Still, after trying for nine years to break the cycle of misery that saw Edmonton become a perennial lottery team, it was clear the franchise needed a new crop of decision makers to guide the McDavid era. Thus, the president of hockey operations, GM, coaches and scouts were swept aside to make way for new architects: CEO Bob Nicholson and GM-president Peter Chiarelli.
The first stabilizing move Chiarelli made was hiring coach Todd McLellan, who led the Sharks to the playoffs six out of seven seasons. Chiarelli then shored up the blueline, signing Andrej Sekera and dealing for Eric Gryba, and fortified the crease with Rangers backup Cam Talbot. His performance as the No. 1 this season will have as great a bearing on the club as McDavid’s — Edmonton’s goals against has been pitiful. Read more
The United States League begins action on Friday and it will be an interesting year for the junior circuit. While the top NHL draft prospects will mostly come from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (which plays a modified USHL schedule), there are a lot of NHL draft picks that will play for the other teams in the league as they hone their games for the NCAA. This will be a key development year for many of those raw kids taken in the middle of the draft.
Below you will find projected rankings for the teams, based off surveys I conducted scouts and writers who follow the USHL. You will also find a player or two to follow on each squad, with their NCAA commitment and NHL rights status included. Let’s get to it.