Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be wearing an Oilers jersey when the puck drops on the 2011-12 NHL season? (Getty Images)
Training camp is upon us and once again there will be fantasy-notable jockeying for position on almost every team’s depth chart. I’ll be going back to the regular THN.com schedule starting this week (FPL on Tuesdays and Saturdays; the Fantasy Mailbag every second Wednesday), so on Tuesday look for the breakdown of the Eastern Conference.
ANAHEIM – THE ENTIRE SECOND LINE
It remains to be seen whether or not Bobby Ryan is a left winger on the first line, a left winger on the second line or a center on the second line. Regardless, Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are in the top six. So is Teemu Selanne with his recent return. That leaves two spots for seven candidates.
My picks: two out of Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri, Brandon McMillan
Maybe: Dan Sexton, Saku Koivu, Matt Beleskey
On the outs: Jason Blake
Storyline: I’m sure all season long these parts will be interchangeable and in the end there will be five or six of these players in that 40- to 50-point range. But if a young player such as Palmieri really makes a dent in the pre-season, he could be a fixture. That would boost him above that range.
CALGARY – THE ENTIRE SECOND LINE
As with Anaheim, this team has a number of candidates for very few spots. Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Rene Bourque are entrenched. That leaves two spots for eight players.
My picks: Paul Byron, Lee Stempniak
Maybe: David Moss, Mikael Backlund
On the outs: Niklas Hagman, Curtis Glencross, Brendan Morrison, Matt Stajan
Storyline: Morrison (torn ACL) won’t start the season and when he returns Byron or Backlund will already have a top-six spot seized...Hagman is picked by many to rebound, but I’m not one of them...Glencross is coming off the big contract year and now he just has the big contract...Stajan had his chance.
CHICAGO – THREE SPOTS ON THE WINGS IN THE TOP NINE
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, David Bolland and Michael Frolik are in the top nine. That leaves three spots open on the wings for four players – five if Jeremy Morin steals a spot with a huge camp.
My picks: Andrew Brunette, Bryan Bickell, Rostislav Olesz
Maybe: Viktor Stalberg
On the outs: Morin
Storyline: A spot could open up quickly, since Olesz is a Band-Aid Boy and Brunette is on the decline...Both Stalberg and Bickell get their share of injuries, so we’ll see Morin sooner rather than later.
Another Chicago battle to watch: Alexander Salak vs. Ray Emery for the backup goaltending job.
COLORADO – TWO WINGERS IN THE TOP SIX
Two players will be in the top six with Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and Peter Mueller. The difference between the haves and the have-nots will mean the difference between 55 points and 30 points. There are five candidates.
My picks: David Jones, Gabriel Landeskog
Maybe: T.J. Galiardi
On the outs: Ryan Stoa, Joakim Lindstrom
Storyline: Jones was relatively healthy last year, but he had been fragile until then...If Mueller has a concussion relapse, then another spot opens up, but the line quality goes down dramatically...Chuck Kobasew, Kevin Porter and Brandon Yip are long shots, but could get looks.
Another battle to watch: the fantastic rookie Stefan Elliott vs. Kyle ‘two-way contract’ Cumiskey for that final spot on ‘D.’
COLUMBUS – FIRST-LINE LEFT WINGER
Jeff Carter, Rick Nash and...Antoine Vermette? After the top-two scorers this season, the No. 3 guy (not necessarily Vermette, just making a point) could sit just 25 points behind Carter and Nash. So the ramifications between playing on the line with them versus not are huge. This is also assuming Carter and Nash, both shoot-first players, can co-exist on a line.
My pick: Derick Brassard
Maybe: Vaclav Prospal, Matt Calvert, R.J. Umberger
Long shot: Ryan Johansen
Storyline: Brassard was horrible at the faceoff dot (46.6 percent), so converting him to the wing may be the right move. He also has the set-up mentality needed to keep up with this line...If nobody seizes hold of this spot, Kristian Huselius will as soon as he returns from his injury (torn pectoral, still months away).
Another battle to watch: Defensemen David Savard vs. Kris Russell vs. Grant Clitsome to see who gets to line up beside James Wisniewski on the power play.
DETROIT – TOMAS TATAR VS. ANY UNDERACHIEVER ON THE RED WINGS
Ahem, Jiri Hudler, ahem. The Wings will be integrating Jan Mursak this year thanks to his one-way contract and may also be welcoming Cory Emmerton thanks to his waiver status. So there really isn’t any room for a third rookie. But try telling that to Tatar, who put forth two very strong camps and a couple of very impressive call-ups.
My picks: Hudler continues to get his chances and that won’t change. But the first time a player gets injured and Tatar gets recalled, coach Mike Babcock will have a hard time sending him back down. Eventually that could lead to Hudler in the press box.
Maybe: Hudler finds his game. In that case Tatar will need to rely on injuries. But with Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary on this team, that’s not a big stretch.
EDMONTON - RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS VS. ONE OF ERIC BELANGER OR SAM GAGNER
Many say the 2011 first overall pick is not ready for the NHL this year. He needs to add bulk to his six-foot, 171-pound frame.
My pick: I’m 51/49 he sticks. After all, when was the last time the top pick, when a forward, did not stay with the big club? (The answer, by the way, is Mats Sundin in 1989-90, assuming you don’t include Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t play in 2004-05) due to the lockout)
Storyline: Nugent-Hopkins will play at least nine games. Who knows what could happen in that time? If a player such as Shawn Horcoff gets hurt, he’s in.
Another battle to watch – Cam Barker vs. Jeff Petry for significant power play time
NASHVILLE – NO. 1 CENTER
There are three candidates for this one.
My pick: Mike Fisher
Maybe: David Legwand
On the outs: Cal O’Reilly
Storyline: My favorite here is actually O’Reilly, but there’s a reason he’s third among the three. He has the hockey sense and crisp passing ability the other two lack. He was also leading the Predators in scoring last year just a few days before his season was ended with a broken leg. However, he lacks the “proven” and the “prestige” (not to mention the contract) that often lead to opportunity. So, barring a miracle, he’s out.
PHOENIX – KYLE TURRIS VS. MANAGEMENT
At this point, you have to believe this off-ice battle will continue through camp. It already led team brass to go out and acquire Daymond Langkow. Now Turris is looking at the No. 3 center spot if and when he signs.
My pick: The battle lingers until the season opener before something gets done. This leads to a sluggish start from Turris and then we get to sing this song again next summer.
Maybe: Management moves him. There are other problem contracts in this league, so if there are other pieces added by one side or the other, two teams could swap problems.
Storyline: Thankfully for Turris owners, both Martin Hanzal and Langkow are high injury risks. When one or both go down the ice time will roll in for Turris and the points will come.
ST. LOUIS - BEN BISHOP VS. BRIAN ELLIOTT
The winner here gets to back up Jaroslav Halak - the same Halak who was injured enough to give up 25 starts last year.
My pick: Bishop
Storyline: Nothing against Elliott, but Bishop has the loyalty of the team that developed him. And as with all backups, he’s an injury to the starter away from becoming fantasy relevant.
VANCOUVER – INJURY REPLACEMENTS
Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond aren’t going to be ready for the regular season and that leaves two gaping holes in the top six on one of the best teams in the league.
My picks: Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson
Maybe: Marco Sturm, Manny Malhotra
Long shots: Mark Mancari, Chris Higgins, Jordan Schroeder, Andrew Ebbett
Storyline: Hanging onto a job like this for nearly two months could mean as much as 10 more points when it’s all said and done. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of Hodgson, who has had a lot of injury trouble himself.
That’s it for the West. Come on back Tuesday for the breakdown of the East.
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.