Some more of my favorite positional battles that will be watched closely by fantasy hockey ownersÂ…
Vancouver Â– Who will win the right winger jobs on the two top lines?
Third- and fourth-line forwards in Vancouver are currently experiencing a modest bump in trade value Â– simply from the chance that one of them could line up on the right side with either Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund or with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Matt Cooke, a player who could generally be expected to produce points in the low-40s, is generating some interest. Why? Because his production could jump into the mid-60s with a sweet spot on one of the top two lines. Taylor Pyatt, a left winger brought over from Buffalo in a summer deal, could move over to the right side and assume Todd Bertuzzi's role on the Morrison-Naslund line. He held zero value in fantasy pools prior to the trade, but suddenly is seen as a dark horse. Jason King, Josef Balej and Jesse Schultz will all see time in one of the two spots in camp. The losers of this battle should not be drafted at all. The winners would make beautiful sleeper picks.
Atlanta Â– Who will center Ilya Kovalchuk?
This is another boom-or-bust situation. Steve Rucchin was brought in to fill the void left by Marc Savard's departure, but he's by no means a lock for that lucrative spot. Bobby Holik has shown he can play the role of scorer before (he led the New Jersey Devils in scoring in 1997-98 with 65 points) and he finished last season off with 18 points in 18 games. That being said, Rucchin is best suited for a second-line role and Holik a third-line role Â– neither fit neatly onto a first line at this point in their careers. Bryan Little, a first-round pick in 2006 (12th overall) is suited to center a first lineÂ…in about five years. However, this void is so big he may get a shot at filling it as an 18-year-old. Glen Metropolit, a 32-year-old former NHLer who found a scoring touch while playing in Finland and Switzerland, has an outside chance as well.
Carolina Â– Who will replace Cory Stillman on the top line?
Stillman's shoulder surgery will keep him out of about 20 games to start the season Â– the perfect opportunity for a young player such as Andrew Ladd to get some playing time with Eric Staal and showcase his offensive talent. It is also a good opportunity for a power forward who has thus far not realized his vast potential (hello Brad Isbister) to step in and put up some points. Maybe the Hurricanes try Scott Walker on the left side? Another option would be to bump Ray Whitney onto the first line and have one of the aforementioned players take Whitney's spot on the second line. The result of this battle will see the winner possibly double his normal offensive output.
Tampa Bay Â– Who will be the second winger on the Brad Richards line?
Assuming Vincent Lecavalier centers a line with Martin St-Louis and Vinny Prospal, there is an open spot on Richards' line (Ruslan Fedotenko will play on one of his wings). Candidates for the job include Ryan Craig, Nikita Alexeev, Radek Smolenak and even a career minor leaguer like Norm Milley or a hotshot youngster such as Stanislav Lascek. Looking at the 91 points Richards put up last season, it is easy to see the potential output for the winner of this clash.
Why do I always put myself out on a limb like this? These are some tough calls, but I believe that Pyatt will take one of the openings in Vancouver and either Cooke or Schultz the other spot. Schultz could sneak in there and have a Rene Bourque-type season (both he and Bourque of Chicago are late-bloomers who were never drafted).
For Atlanta's situation, my first instinct is the Thrashers will address this need via trade or free agency. Failing that, Holik should get to play with Kovalchuk and Rucchin will play with Marian Hossa Â– thus spreading around the offense.
The word out of Carolina is Isbister will get first crack at that spot. If the inconsistency that has plagued him throughout his career once again rears its ugly head, Ladd will get a golden opportunity to prove his worth.
In Tampa Bay, I can see Fedotenko moving to the right side and Alexeev getting the job on the left wing.
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