NHL – Fantasy hockey – Top 250 rankings after free agency, expansion and the draft

NHL


There are a few chips left to fall, but not many. Following an exciting NHL offseason that included an expansion draft to go along with the usual bevy of additions via free agency, trading and the entry draft, the roster picture for NHL teams has been mostly settled.

There are still a few free agents lingering that could have some impact, but nothing earth shattering. Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek, Andrei Markov and — in the right situation — the likes of Jarome Iginla or Jiri Hudler could find their way into a fantasy-friendly role. But those changes will be easy enough to track as we go forward.

The point is that we have enough information now to clear the books and re-rank our fantasy assets heading into the season.

Rather than go through the risers and fallers specifically, we are going to take some extra time to track the new faces that are among the top 250 (or could be there before the season starts), as well as touch on some players who switched jerseys. We’ll also look at the goaltender carousel which took a few more turns than we get in most offseasons.


Introductions

Vadim Shipachyov, F, Vegas Golden Knights (enters ranks at No. 150): A shiny new addition for the Golden Knights, Shipachyov played for the powerhouse KHL squad SKA St. Petersburg for the past four seasons. This past season, he mostly played on a line away from Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, yet finished with 76 points. That was good for third in the league, just two points behind Kovalchuk (and in 10 fewer games). He can produce points, and will undoubtedly be given the role of No. 1 center out of the gate. Now 30 years old, Shipachyov is no rookie and has never played in the NHL before. His 26 goals and 50 assists in just 50 KHL games last season won’t translate directly, of course, but he has the profile of a 20-goal, 40-assist pivot in the NHL, with plenty of growing room.

Evgeny Dadonov, F, Florida Panthers (enters ranks at No. 169): A linemate of Shipachyov’s last season, Dadonov had 30 goals and 36 helpers in 53 games to finish fourth in KHL scoring. He’s also crossing the pond, but to rejoin his original NHL franchise in south Florida. Dadonov had 20 points in 55 games total during three NHL seasons before bolting for Russia in 2012. He’s smaller and speedy, and profiles to basically replace the role played by Jonathan Marchessault last season on the top line and top power-play unit. Marchessault had a great season playing with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, but still only finished 165th on the ESPN fantasy hockey Player Rater. Dadonov will have to show that his skills translate to the NHL to push higher. While Artemi Panarin is a great story of a KHL import finding his game immediately, there are cases such as Roman Cervenka, Jiri Sekac and Sergei Plotnikov that didn’t pan out well in recent seasons.

Nico Hischier, F, New Jersey Devils (enters ranks at No. 174): With nothing left to prove in junior, Hischier is a near lock to start in the NHL just as previous first overall picks Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. Oops … I shouldn’t have mentioned those names. Hischier is nowhere near the generational talent of Matthews or McDavid, and nothing of that sort should be expected from him. That said, he’s a talented two-way player with plenty of offense and acumen on the power play. The Devils could use him as their No. 1 center over Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac, and it’s unlikely anyone would bat an eye. He could also just as easily marinate on the Devils’ third line, however. There is some upside here, but not nearly as much as we’ve had from past couple rookie crops. He should be on a fantasy team, but as a late-stage, hopeful pick.

Nolan Patrick, F, Philadelphia Flyers (enters ranks at No. 183): He missed a ton of last season due to injuries, but was still a solid choice by the Flyers with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. He’s a surefire top-six forward, likely beginning this season. That said, he still sits behind Claude Giroux at center on the depth chart, so he’ll either have to play on the second line or switch to the wing. The Flyers’ offense is a bit more crowded than the Devils’ though, so Patrick will have to fight for time with the biscuit more than Hischier will. Therefore, he ranks slightly behind his draft counterpart for now.

Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins: (enters ranks at No. 229): A sterling playoff debut has McAvoy penciled in to play a significant role for the Bruins out of the gate this season. Good thing, too, as Zdeno Chara isn’t getting any younger. In fact, McAvoy could immediately replace Chara on the second power-play unit. He has plenty of offense to his game, as evidenced by above-average scoring in college and dominance at the World Juniors.

Dylan Strome, F, Arizona Coyotes (up five spots to No. 232): This isn’t our first introduction to Strome, but the Coyotes can’t keep him out of the NHL this season. After getting a cup of coffee with the Desert Dogs last season, Strome went back to the OHL to prevent his entry-level deal from kicking in. He promptly scored at better than a two-points-per-game pace for the 35 games he played with the Erie Otters in the regular season, had 10 points in seven games at the World Juniors, 34 points in 22 playoff games and 11 points in five games at the Memorial Cup. In other words, he made everyone else in junior hockey look silly. He’ll be a top-six center for the Coyotes and, if his teammates are up to the task this season, the could very well translate into some solid fantasy production.


Familiar faces, new places

Artemi Panarin, F, Columbus Blue Jackets (down 12 spots to No. 35): Only six players have more points than Panarin during the past two NHL seasons, his first two seasons in the NHL. But how much of that production has come from his elite-level chemistry on the ice with superstar forward Patrick Kane? There’s no doubt that Panarin brought a ton to the table for the partnership, but there’s no denying Kane’s all-world talent, either. The Blue Jackets’ other top-line winger is slated to be one of Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson or Nick Foligno. Atkinson had a terrific 2016-17 season, but he’s no Patrick Kane.

Alexander Radulov, F, Dallas Stars (up 15 spots to No. 55): With 54 points in 76 games, Radulov had a good — not great — return to the NHL last season with the Canadiens. Boy, oh, boy did he sign in the right place for this coming season. Radulov is penciled in to fill the revolving door that has been next to Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the Stars’ top line for the past couple seasons. This is an exciting combination — especially on the power play — that could drive Radulov up to the 30-goal mark for the first time in the NHL.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers (down four spots to No. 65): When you’re a bona fide superstar NHL defenseman, there isn’t much wiggle room to find a huge increase in value just by changing jerseys. Shattenkirk’s job won’t change much now that he’s with the Rangers. The overall talent in front of him may be just a hair less than what he had in St. Louis with Vladimir Tarasenko leading the charge, but the Rangers have plenty of offense, too. Still in his prime years at 28, Shattenkirk has the potential to be a No. 1 fantasy defenseman that gets looked at more like a No. 2 during drafts.

Jordan Eberle, F, New York Islanders (up 69 spots to No. 84): From a position where he would likely be lingering down the depth charts on a talent-packed Oilers roster, Eberle lands in a position where he could see the ice whenever John Tavares does. That’s a very good thing. Still only 27 years old and with plenty of offensive prowess on his résumé, Eberle could be the scoring linemate Tavares lacked last season.

Patrick Marleau, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 78 spots to No. 92): Very probably slated for work on the top line with Auston Matthews (who should be getting more ice time and responsibilities), Marleau could be in for a renaissance season at the age of 38 (in September). While his assists have been down with the Sharks in recent seasons, Marleau has 52 total goals during the past two campaigns. Playing with a talent like Matthews — or, for that matter, any of the Leafs’ other young guns — should have Marleau feeling young again, too.

James Neal, F, Vegas Golden Knights (down four spots to No. 120): Neal was passed by several Predators players for playing time and responsibility last season, ending up with the lowest relatively healthy season totals of his career. But there is no one to compete with him for all the prime ice time with the Golden Knights. Neal is the team’s primary goal scorer, and it’s not really even a competition. Still, until we see something from him and his new teammates, we don’t know if Neal will give us one if his injury-riddled fantasy headache campaigns or one his sniper-based fantasy gold campaigns.

Quick hits: Brayden Schenn moves from one crowded depth chart with the Flyers to another with the St. Louis Blues. It’s the same situation for him, as his value is tied to his role on the depth chart. … Derek Stepan makes a relatively lateral move to the Coyotes. His game isn’t as tied to his linemates as others in the league. He’s a solid, puck-moving center with a nose around the net. Expect his value to stay the same, with the provision that he could be in for a breakout if some of the young Coyotes exceed expectations around him. … Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp give the Chicago Blackhawks two prodigal sons returning to the fold. Do they immediately return to their familiar lofty status among the top six? Or have contributions from Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik given coach Joel Quenneville the confidence to spread out his attack? … Jonathan Drouin still has a lot to prove in the NHL, but his attitude should improve now that he’s in Montreal. He had a solid campaign with Steven Stamkos out last season, but don’t forget his demotions and suspensions for not reporting to the AHL the season prior. We’ve seen flashes of his potential, including the 2016 postseason when he had 14 points in 17 games, but we’ve seen a lot of inconsistency, too. He’s still only 22, so the change in jerseys could be what helps him break out.


Goaltender carousel

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars (up 74 spots to No. 67): The Stars have made some major improvements, not the least of which is adding stalwart defender Marc Methot on the blue line. Bishop brings a lot more poise and consistency to the table than Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi ever did. This combination should bring Bishop back to elite status among fantasy goaltenders.

Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers (down 16 spots to No. 116): Elliott hit his stride late in the season for the Flames, but it wasn’t enough to wash away the sour taste of his first half. He’ll get a chance to hit the reset button as the No. 1 in Philadelphia. The Flyers have a lot to offer in the way of protection and two-way play, but they have a young defensive group and some inexperienced forwards peppered in the ranks. This could go extremely well or extremely poorly for Elliott. But, fantasy owners are more than prepared for the wild swings Elliott will offer.

Mike Smith, Calgary Flames (up 88 spots to No. 137): Clearing their crease from any memories of last season, the Flames have passed their goaltending reins to Smith. He’s put up some very solid numbers (considering his situation) for the past few seasons with the Coyotes. Calgary boasts one of the best one through six defensive ranks in the NHL, so this is an intriguing combination for fantasy owners. Smith should definitely be drafted as a No. 2 goaltender.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights (down four spots to No. 166): While he escapes from the shadow of Matt Murray to be an unquestioned No. 1 goalie again, the Golden Knights don’t exactly look like contenders on paper. Fleury can win games by himself, and this team will likely trend toward tight defense with a lack of pop up front, but how many games can we expect him to win?

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (up 32 spots to No. 176): While the Coyotes are probably still a year away from offering a chance at 40 wins for a goaltender, they could surprise if all the prospects click. Raanta looked the part of a future starter while filling in for a spiraling Henrik Lundqvist last season. There is a lot of upside here.

Scott Darling, Carolina Hurricanes (up 53 spots to No. 187): Similar to Raanta, Darling gets his first crack at a starting gig with a rising young team. That said, the Canes don’t look ready to be a top contender (on paper) and Cam Ward is still waiting in the wings. Darling is better served on your team as a No. 3 goaltender that can either patch holes or be trade bait if he exceeds expectations.

Quick hits: Steve Mason will test Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck more than his predecessors did. In fact, he could test him so much that he wins the No. 1 goaltending job. This is looking like a potential timeshare fantasy nightmare. … Jonathan Bernier showed he still has the potential skills of a No. 1 NHL goaltender while filling in for John Gibson late last season. If Semyon Varlamov looks anything like Varlamov from 2016-17, Bernier will get another chance pretty quickly. Unfortunately, he could find defending twine for the Avs is a lot different than the Ducks. … Ryan Miller takes Bernier’s role behind Gibson in Anaheim. While Miller’s birthday cakes are getting pretty crowded with candles, Anaheim is a lot safer place to play net than Vancouver, and Miller could shine if he’s called upon for any reason. … The same could be said for both Antti Niemi and Ondrej Pavelec, who join the Penguins and Rangers, respectively. Niemi was in goaltending hell with Dallas, while Pavelec was in purgatory with the Jets. Backing up Murray and Lundqvist could be comfortable for both veterans. We may end up seeing them more than expected, too, as Murray has a checkered injury history and Lundqvist has been declining for two consecutive seasons.


Top 250 rankings

Here’s my midsummer update of the top 250, including where each player ranks at his position. The “last week” column has been replaced by a reference to where each player was ranked in my update posted after the regular season.

Note: Sean Allen’s top 250 players are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies.



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