With training camps just a couple of weeks away, fantasy owners will be watching several battles to identify winners Â– and losers. How things play out could mean the difference between drafting a player in the second round and not drafting him at all. Here are some of the more intriguing questions:
There are a handful of candidates for these four spots on the wing. Nils Ekman and Colby Armstrong are my picks for Crosby's line and Mark Recchi will play either left or right wing with Malkin. Armstrong and Ekman will get between 70 and 80 points on the first line, but if they don't get slotted on one of the top two we'll see them drop to as little as 40. The other candidates include John LeClair, Ryan Malone, Michel Ouellet and Libor Pivko as the long shot.
Washington Â– Who will play with Alex Ovechkin?
While, in this writer's humble opinion, Dainius Zubrus is a lock for the spot as Ovechkin's center, rookie Tomas Fleischmann and youngster Kris Beech will have something to say about that. They are extreme dark horses though. The spot that is really wide open is on the right wing. Alexander Semin is a left winger, but could possibly be moved to the right side (he likely will for the power play at least). Richard Zednik is also a prime candidate, as is Chris Clark (who played there last season) and rookie Eric Fehr. Needless to say, whoever wins the battle will be worth a high pick, whereas the losers may not be worth picking at all in one-year pools.
Nashville Â– Who will play right wing on one of the top lines?
Tuesday's signing of J-P Dumont made a seemingly clear picture much more murky. Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan are the left wingers on the first and second lines, while Jason Arnott and David Legwand are the top two pivots. The arrival of Dumont puts him as the right winger on one of those two lines. That leaves one spot left on what will be a great scoring line. Will it be blue-chipper Alexander Radulov? If he doesn't win the spot, he will be sent to the American League for a year of seasoning. Either Martin Erat or Scott Hartnell could steal the position from him. The winner will take a run at 60-65 points. The loser? Possibly just 40 points, or, in Radulov's case, banishment to the minors.
Three left wingers will vie for this coveted spot that could mean a 70-point season. Chris Kunitz is the incumbent, having played there in the latter half of last season. However, rookie Dustin Penner spent some time there in the playoffs and could have something to say about it in camp. Stanislav Chistov, the third competitor, would love nothing more than return from Russia to play on the first line.
Malone will center a third line with LeClair and Ouellet will take the right wing with Malkin.
Zubrus will win the top center job easily, while Zednik and Clark will continue to fight for the right wing job well into the season (thanks to Zednik's notorious inconsistency and injury problems).
Erat and Radulov are a complete toss up for the big job in Nashville: My crystal ball is too murky to make a call at this point, but I don't feel Hartnell will get in there.
Finally, Penner will win the job on McDonald's left wing. After all, how do you say no to a 6-foot-4, 240-pound giant?
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