It’s time for the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different. Let’s review the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. So you knew it wouldn’t be long before I tackled the Alberta teams. It just so happens that they finished 27th and 28th in the league in 2013-14, so here we go…
Pending UFAs – Ryan Smyth (retired), Ryan Jones, Mark Fraser, Anton Belov (signed with KHL team), Denis Grebeshkov, Ben Eager, Taylor Fedun
Pending RFAs – Roman Horak, Richard Bachman, Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander, Justin Schultz, Philip Larsen, Jeff Petry, Luke Gazdic
Looking to add – The Oilers are in desperate need of size and character up front, as well as size and grit on the blue line. They could also use some experience between the pipes, but it’s looking as if they will roll with the tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. It’s an underrated tandem that could surprise, but Fasth has struggled with injuries over the past year and if his proneness to injury remains, the Oilers will be in trouble.
The biggest and/or toughest players available on the market this summer include Rangers’ forward Brian Boyle and Penguins’ rearguard Brooks Orpik. Other players who fit the mold include: future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, as well as Ryan Callahan, Dustin Penner, Steve Downie, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Shawn Thornton. I’d be shocked if they stuck it to their rivals by landing Iginla, and nearly as shocked if they for some reason bring back Penner, but any of the other players are viable options.
Ready for full-time – I doubt the Oilers graduate any forwards to the big club, given the youth that is already there. But Mark Arcobello signed a one-way contract for next season so he has the inside track. He could be very fantasy relevant if Sam Gagner is either traded or (once again) injured. Arcobello had 10 points in the first 10 games of last season when Gagner was sidelined.
On defense there are several candidates. Martin Marincin is already on the team – after all, he played the last 44 games for the Oilers and looked good in most of them. But 24-year-old Philip Larsen was up and down all season long and still managed nine assists in 30 games for the big club. His upside is that he’s a second-pairing/second power play unit defenseman. As a restricted free agent he’ll be looking for a one-way deal that the Oilers may not give him.
The gem of the Oilers’ prospects is 6-foot-4 defenseman Darnell Nurse. Last year’s seventh overall pick is everything this team needs on the back end – but the Oilers have (hopefully) learned a lesson on rushing prospects and may elect to keep Nurse out of the NHL for another year. Still, he’ll get a long look in training camp and may not give them a choice.
Fantasy Outlook - Edmonton has been a team that has excited poolies for the better part of four years now. The problem is, they’ve been “almost there” for the last two, and fantasy owners aren’t exactly legendary for their patience. If the potential studs on this team ever reach said potential, the demand for Oilers players will soar. But in the meantime, poolies are slipping off the bandwagon. Fantasy Grade: B- (last year was A)
Pending UFAs – Mike Cammalleri, Kevin Westgarth, Chris Butler, Joey MacDonald, Chris Breen, Derek Smith, Blair Jones
Pending RFAs – Joni Ortio, Olivier Roy, Ben Hanowski, Mark Cundari, Chad Billins, Paul Byron, Joe Colborne, Lance Bouma, T.J. Galiardi
Looking to add – The Flames need help everywhere, though they seem to be okay in terms of puck-moving defensemen. And goaltender Karri Ramo finished the season very strong, serving notice that he can be a capable starting goaltender for this team in 2014-15. But just how good will the team in front of him be? A lot will depend on replacing Cammalleri with a player Cammalleri should have been – a healthy 35-goal scorer. Since 2007, Cammalleri played more than 70 games in a season just once.
Players fitting the bill on the free agent market include: Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny and – if you stretch the definition of a 35-goal scorer – Jarome Iginla and Radim Vrbata.
Ready for full-time – Tyler Wotherspoon, a defenseman drafted in the second round (57th overall) in 2011, is probably ready. His offensive upside is modest and we won’t likely see such upside until 2018 at the earliest.
There are a few potential stars that are within two years of becoming full-time NHLers. The first is Johnny Gaudreau, a smallish (5-foot-9) pivot who started for both Team USA at the world juniors and for Hockey East’s Boston College. Gaudreau was Hockey East’s player of the year in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, and took home the Hobey Baker Award recently as the top college player in the nation. His size would indicate that he’ll need a couple of years to develop, but he did score in his first NHL game, which was Calgary’s last of the season. Gaudreau has a lot of upside and if he can stay healthy he has a good chance of becoming a ‘must own’ in fantasy hockey in several years.
The other potential star is Sven Baertschi, who was probably rushed into the NHL last season when it turns out that he needed more seasoning at the American League level. Baertschi eventually found his game in the AHL, but he still tends to lose confidence when things don’t go well, leading to prolonged slumps. He reminds me of Jiri Tlusty in that sense – dominant in the AHL one day and disappearing the next.
Gaudreau’s college linemate Bill Arnold is not as close to NHL readiness and certainly doesn’t have the same upside. However, there are rumors swirling that Chicago prospect Kevin Hayes will elect not to sign with the team and explore free agency. He was the third member of the best line in college hockey and if he were to choose to sign with the Flames then Arnold’s upside gets a whole lot higher. The situation will be a very interesting one, though I doubt we see it play out in the 2014-15 season.
Fantasy Outlook – We can probably expect more of the same next season from this young team. We may see flashes of hope and potential from players such as Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. But the Flames are in full-on rebuild mode and so fantasy owners are in full-on waiting mode when it comes to this team. Unlike a year ago, there are several really great prospects on the way. Fantasy Grade: C- (last year was D+)
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.