Nearly there. With preseason play shelved for another year, we’re only hours away from when it all starts to count. Here’s one last, quick post-camp tour of the league with a view to fantasy competition.
Trevor Zegras is playing as advertised to launch 2021-22. Paired with Max Comtois up front, the 20-year-old rookie put a bow on training camp with three points over the Kings for a grand total of seven through five contests. The ninth overall draft pick (2019) is ready to rock. From a fantasy view, there isn’t a ton to appreciate about the Ducks up front, but the Zegras/Comtois combo holds genuine appeal. A mandatory keeper/dynasty asset, the former BU skater has worth in most redraft leagues as well.
Veteran Phil Kessel shouldn’t be long for the desert. Laying in wait for a trade, and nursing a not-that-serious foot injury, the 34-year-old is seeking a move to a contender in the final year of his current contract. This shouldn’t take too long. While the former point-plus/game player hasn’t been his most productive self with Arizona – he still led the team with 20 goals and 23 helpers this past season – a shift to a playoff-bound squad will help. Plus, there’s the extra incentive of playing for his next deal. I like Kessel a lot as a sneaky late fantasy pick in most conventional drafts.
Don’t sleep on Jeremy Swayman this season. Picking up where he left off last spring, the rookie netminder has been formidable this early autumn. Better than Linus Ullmark. I don’t care how much more the Bruins are paying their new No. 1, coach Bruce Cassidy will eventually side with the goalie that gives his club the greater chance to win. That could be Swayman, soon. Keep a close fantasy view.
What a difference a matter of months can make. With Jack Eichel awaiting a trade ticket to elsewhere, Casey Mittelstadt is your new top fantasy center in Buffalo (with a stick tap to rookie Dylan Cozens). Don’t expect any real fireworks, but skating on a top line with Victor Olofsson, Mittelstadt will put up a respectable tally this season. More than he ever has before. The eight-overall draft pick (2017) is worth investment in deeper leagues that don’t treasure plus/minus.
Shifted to the wing in Carolina, Jesperi Kotkaniemi should enjoy a new scoring lease on life outside of Montreal. If he sticks in the top-six with center Vincent Trocheck, as was the case in preseason, the former Canadien will be in for his finest campaign by far. Please don’t disregard this still-only 21-year-old as a quiet fantasy contender in deeper leagues. Again, if he remains linemates with one of the most unheralded centers in hockey.
Once the one-game suspension is behind him, Blake Coleman could be a richer fantasy asset than usual if he holds his own in Calgary’s top six. The former Lightning/Devils skater accrued a couple of assists from that position in two preseason contests. Usually good for a few hits and penalty minutes here and there, Coleman could be worth consideration in fantasy leagues that reward the rougher stuff along with production.
As discussed in my recent preseason impressions piece, Tyler Johnson – not Kirby Dach – is serving as the Blackhawks’ top center between Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, at least to start. That’s a nice position to hold. Johnson once scored 70-plus points for his former club in Tampa. If he keeps a grip on this new gig in Chicago, then flirting with that formidable figure once more isn’t out of the question.
The Blue Jackets’ new top line looks good. Combining for 17 points through four contests, Jakub Voracek, Patrik Laine, and Boone Jenner seem to have figured it out together early on. While there isn’t a plentifulness of fantasy-rich characters in Columbus, that No. 1 unit – especially the two wingers – should help invested managers in most conventional leagues. Voracek, in particular, isn’t earning a lot of draft love in these early stages.
Patrik Laine stick handles through the entire Detroit defense to score a beautiful power-play goal.
Forward Nazem Kadri appears inspired after an altogether ho-hum 2020-21 that concluded with a costly suspension in the playoffs. Fast-forward a few months, and Colorado’s productive pest has six points and 14 penalty minutes to show for three preseason games. Not bad. Alongside Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin, Kadri is fully capable of a 60-point/90-PIM campaign, while earning a fair number of minutes on the power play.
Versatile forward Jamie Benn was a star in camp, in both the third-line center slot and on the wing. In productive decline in recent years, the 32-year-old appeared his old dominant self in potting three goals and a pair of assists through four games. With so much attention focused on Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, and a healthy Tyler Seguin – and deservedly so – Benn almost feels like a fantasy afterthought in Dallas. He shouldn’t be.
Teen Lucas Raymond is going to be a lot of fun. Drafted fourth overall last year, the former Frolunda skater is making it exceptionally difficult on the Red Wings brass to exclude him from full-time NHL play. Not only because he scored six points in six preseason contests while averaging more than 17 minutes of ice-time. A must-grab keeper/dynasty asset, Raymond could even pay out instant fantasy dividends on a top-six line with Dylan Larkin.
Goalie Mike Smith appears to be picking up where he left off last regular season in putting in quality performances between the pipes. While the veteran hasn’t played a lot this autumn, allowing only two goals on 57 shots is still impressive. For what it’s worth, the 39-year-old is also pleased about the Oilers acquiring blueliners Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci. If he can stay healthy, Smith projects as one of the league’s better No. 2 fantasy netminders.
It bears repeating, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett are big, vocal fans of competing with sophomore Owen Tippett. But unlike Huberdeau and Bennett, the 22-year-old is likely to be available in later rounds of your fantasy draft. Serving in a plum top-six role, Tippett scored three goals and three assists in five preseason games for the Panthers. Don’t sleep on this kid.
As anticipated, Viktor Arvidsson will launch 2021-22 on the top line with his new squad in Los Angeles. Competing alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, the 28-year-old should revisit his plumper production numbers from days of old (2018-19). This isn’t a point/game player, and likely never will be, but 60? Sure. You could do worse than Arvidsson as far as depth assets go in deeper leagues.
Perennially underrated in the fantasy forum, Mats Zuccarello is coming off a strong camp in which he accumulated seven assists in four games. Competing on a top line with Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, the diminutive winger is capable of a near 70-point campaign. He quietly collected 35 in 42 contents only a year ago. He should be spoken for in all but the shallowest of fantasy leagues.
Recovering from injury, Mike Hoffman shouldn’t be too long for making his debut with the bleu, blanc, et rouge. Prized for his power-play production, the 31-year-old is bound to settle in on the Habs’ top unit once fit and ready. While the newest Canadiens’ spot in the lineup at even-strength is more difficult to suss out – on the third line with Brendan Gallagher? – his special teams’ play is what sparkles in leagues that treasure scoring with the extra skater. It’s a mistake to bypass Hoffman just because he’s still healing.
Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood recently suggested he’s leaning toward getting the COVID-19 vaccine in the near future. This matters, since the move will afford the 24-year-old netminder the clearance to play in locations with strict vaccination mandates. However, Blackwood was the 35th ranked goalie in 2021, averaging 1.3 fantasy points/contest. And there’s no reason to expect a big leap in that column this turn.
If there was any question Juuse Saros would be tapped to play opening night, and most Predators games thereafter, the goalie’s preseason performance put those doubts to rest. The club’s undisputed go-to shouldered a .952 SV% and 1.47 GAA through three camp contests, winning two of them. David Rittich didn’t fare nearly as well. Saros is a legit No. 1 fantasy netminder with few equals outside of Tampa.
Anchoring the Islanders’ top power play, Noah Dobson is on course to break out with some big numbers his third NHL season. Tooling around at even-strength paired with Zdeno Chara won’t hurt the young defender’s development either. This 21-year-old is gong to serve as a fierce fantasy force for years and years. Invest in him before everyone else figures that out.
Third-year forward Kaapo Kakko seems ready to bust out in a big way. Artemi Panarin is one of the best wingers in the league. This could all add up to center Ryan Strome averaging a point/game for the first time in his career. Or, with such strong supporting castmates, even more. Strome accrued 49 points in 56 contests this past winter/spring.
At the time of this writing, Brady Tkachuk remains an unsigned no-show without a hint of resolution on the horizon. This doesn’t bode well for either Tkachuk’s fantasy managers or those invested in other members of the Senators (ie. Josh Norris and Drake Batherson). As it stands, outside of teen forward Tim Stutzle and defenseman Thomas Chabot, few Ottawa assets boast much fantasy appeal. Still, go on and draft Tkachuk in leagues that reward both production and physical play, throw him in an IR spot if possible, and hope that pen is put to paper soon.
Josh Norris’ shootout goal is the difference in the Senators’ 5-4 win vs. the Canadians.
Small sample size, sure, but goalie Carter Hart appears ready to rebound with a vengeance. Two goals allowed through two camp appearances on 43 shots isn’t half bad. Hart had a rough go of it this past COVID-shortened, protocol-riddled campaign – amplified all the more by his converse stand-out showing as the guy the season previous. I strongly believe the 2019-20 version of this still-young goalie is the more accurate representation of his real form. His limited, but strong, preseason play this past week only backs that up.
With Evgeni Malkin on the injured shelf, Jeff Carter is the Penguins’ No. 2 center to begin 2021-22, once Sidney Crosby returns to action (soon). Skating with Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen, the veteran is bound to put up solid stats through the first half of the season. A fair number of power-play points should also be in the offing. Carter collected nine goals and two assists in only 14 games with the Penguins this past season. He’s one of my favorite under-radar fantasy assets in the East.
Defenseman Vince Dunn scored half as many goals in preseason play with his new Kraken club than he did all of last year (six in 43 games). The 24-year-old is just getting started. An offensive-defenseman in a crowd of (mostly) staunch defenders, Dunn will be counted on to provide some scoring punch for a side that’ll need as much. Don’t be surprised if he takes over the top power-play job from Mark Giordano before the season is through. There’s 50 point potential here, with a healthy portion counting with the extra skater.
No one enjoyed a better camp with San Jose than rookie William Eklund. The Sharks could still opt to limit him to a handful of games instead of burning a contract year, but the 18-year-old more than earned his shot at filling a top-six role in the big leagues. Selected seventhover all just this July, this dynasty/keeper dynamo is going to be a star.
A newly signed James Neal is worth keeping in view in deeper leagues, especially straight out of the gates. The goal-scoring veteran has a well-earned reputation for making a particularly productive first impression. He won’t score 40 again (see: 2011-12) but, alongside one the Blues’ skilled centers, the well-travelled sniper could serve as an under-radar fantasy gem, especially in the season’s early stages.
In his 17th year, Corey Perry appears fresh as a fantasy daisy in his new Tampa digs. Four goals and two assists to the good – including three points with the extra skater – the 36-year-old is seamlessly slipping into his fresh role on the Lightning’s third line and secondary power play. After losing some key depth performers this offseason, the Stanley Cup champs need as much from the former Hart Trophy winner. Perry is worth acquiring in deeper leagues that prize both points and penalty minutes.
The unfortunate injury suffered by Ilya Mikheyev over the weekend opens the door for Toronto newbie Michael Bunting to make even more noise. A formidable power-play presence in preseason play with four goals (three with the man-advantage), Bunting seemingly moves into the top-six wing role alongside John Tavares and William Nylander for the foreseeable future. The Leafs anticipate Mikheyev will be out a while. A relative fantasy outlier, Bunting now has the wherewithal to put up precious points at even-strength along with on the power play.
Coach Travis Green suggests Brock Boeser could be ready for Wednesday’s opener versus the Oilers. The Vancouver winger took a cautious seat after the team’s first match-up this preseason. After losing a fair number of games to injury in 2019-20, he played a full slate this past campaign, registering 23 goals and 26 assists in 56 contests. Projected to line up alongside a healthy Elias Pettersson and Arizona export Conor Garland, Boeser projects for another solid fantasy haul. Throw him in your lineup.
Former Flyer Nolan Patrick is in position to put up some points with the extra skater this season. Skating on Vegas’ top unit with the likes of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, the 23-year-old collected a power-play assist in preseason play. Patrick, who needs this change of scenery after a rollercoaster of a four-year, concussion-interrupted ride in Philly, should put up a few more points at even-strength as third-line center to winger Evgenii Dadonov. He’s useful in deeper leagues that reward power-play scoring.
Defenseman Josh Morrissey appears more himself following last year’s letdown of a campaign. Partnered with new Winnipeg blueliner Nate Schmidt – a fortuitous pairing for Morrissey – at even strength and on the power play, the 26-year-old potted two goals and one assist in three preseason games while averaging more on-ice minutes than any other Jet. And he looked good doing it. A bounce-back fantasy campaign for the 13th overall draft selection (2013) could be well in order.
The lower-body injury that knocked Alex Ovechkin out of Wednesday’s preseason tilt with the Flyers isn’t as bad as all that. Listed as day-to-day, the Capitals forward might even be fit enough to suit up for Wednesday’s opener versus the Rangers. “It’s not a long-term thing,” according to coach Peter Laviolette. Rookie Connor McMichael practiced in Ovechkin’s spot on Washington’s top line alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson on Sunday. The Caps host New York Wednesday, then the Lightning Saturday.