Southeast Division preview


Atlanta Thrashers

Additions: Andrew Ladd, LW (Blackhawks); Dustin Byfuglien, RW (Blackhawks); Brent Sopel, D (Blackhawks); Chris Mason, G (Blues)

Subtractions: Todd White, C (Rangers); Maxim Afinogenov, RW (KHL); Slava Kozlov, C/LW (Free Agent); Colby Armstrong, RW (Maple Leafs); Pavel Kubina, D (Lightning); Johan Hedberg, G (Devils)

Depth Chart

First line: Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Niclas Bergfors

Second line: Evander Kane, Rich Peverley, Bryan Little
Third line: Ben Eager, Jim Slater, Dustin Byfuglien
Fourth line: Eric Boulton, Jared Ross, Chris Thorburn

First pairing: Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom
Second pairing: Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya
Third pairing: Brent Sopel, Andrei Zubarev

Starting goalie: Chris Mason
Backup: Ondrej Pavelec

Just missed: Patrice Cormier, C; Akim Aliu, RW; Patrick Rissmiller, LW; Jason Krog, C; Angelo Esposito, C; Anthony Stewart, RW; Freddy Meyer, D; Boris Valabik, C; Noah Welch, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

The Thrashers are down four of the projected top six players they began last season with. That means the door for opportunities is wide open during the preseason, and some of the team's better prospects could play their way into a role. … Andrew Ladd looks like he has a clear path to not only top-six ice time but also minutes on the top line with Nik Antropov and Niclas Bergfors. Ladd has never had a full season to show off what he could do in a prime scoring role, but his pedigree and NHL experience as a depth forward suggests he could do well in the role. … Evander Kane, still just 19, will get all the ice time he needs to take three steps forward from his rookie season. However, unless he beats out Ladd for the top-line spot, there won't be many high-quality linemates to play alongside him. … Dustin Byfuglien might be a big-name player, but he didn't succeed in a top-six role with the Blackhawks. … The Thrashers are actually a fairly solid team from a defensive standpoint and should hang in there when it comes to preventing goals. The main trouble, however, with many players' plus/minus will be the lack of goals they will score.

Power Play

Between Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom, the Thrashers are set on the blue line for the power play. It's just a matter of finding the right combination of forwards. Antropov and Bergfors are once again no-brainers, but it's possible a different winger makes more sense for the man-advantage. This is where Byfuglien may shine. As a big body in front of opposing goaltenders, Byfuglien has had his best success in the NHL as a roadblock on the power play. Points tend to flow as a byproduct. … Kane needs to step up as a power-play producer. He had zero power-play points last season despite scoring at will with the man advantage in junior leagues.

Keep An Eye On

With the open door for opportunities in place during training camp and the preseason, any number of players could earn a role on the team's top six. Angelo Esposito has earned back a lot of his fallen stock from his draft year, Akim Aliu has been a major points producer in the OHL, Anthony Stewart might have picked up some hints from his brother Chris over the summer, and Patrice Cormier needs only to shake his label as being too aggressive. Any of these young players (or others) has a free shot at making the team. … Who knows what will happen in goal? Chris Mason is two years removed from being one of the best goalies in the NHL, while Ondrej Pavelec still has a lot to prove if he is to be a goaltender of the near- or long-term future. Playing time might simply be divided up based on who is hot. If you are going to gamble on a goalie, Mason is the better bet. But looking elsewhere might be the wise decision.

Carolina Hurricanes

Additions: Joe Corvo, D (Capitals); Bobby Sanguinetti, D (Rangers); Jared Staal, RW (Coyotes)

Subtractions: Ray Whitney, LW (Coyotes); Rod Brind'Amour, C (Hurricanes); Matt Cullen, C (Wild)

Depth Chart

First line: Tuomo Ruutu, Eric Staal, Erik Cole
Second line: Chad LaRose, Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen
Third line: Zach Boychuk, Patrick Dwyer, Tom Kostopoulos
Fourth line: Sergei Samsonov, Riley Nash, Jiri Tlusty

First pairing: Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo
Second pairing: Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain
Third pairing: Anton Babchuk, Jay Harrison

Starting goalie: Cam Ward
Backup: Justin Peters

Just missed: Zac Dalpe, C; Jared Staal, RW; Drayson Bowman, LW; Bobby Sanguinetti, D; Justin Pogge, G

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

The Hurricanes simply cannot afford to allow Jussi Jokinen to be their top player again. Jokinen led the team in goals last season and finished second to Eric Staal in points. That meant players that should have finished ahead of him, such as Tuomo Ruutu, Erik Cole and Ray Whitney were not doing their jobs. Ruutu and Cole are back and must produce at a rate consistent with Staal, their superstar center, if they don't want to be pushed out of the picture by Jokinen or others. … Brandon Sutter has had a nice progression into the NHL, and he showed that even with limited ice time last season, he could still score points. The retirement of Rod Brind'Amour means Sutter has the second-line center job without a fight. … While the defense might appear good in the eyes of a fantasy owner, there are some issues with the actual defensive qualities of many of the players. The reason the defensemen all appear to be "name" guys, the reason you know them, is for their offensive prowess and not their defensive ability. Look elsewhere for plus/minus help.

Power Play

The Hurricanes have a nice collection of four defensemen who are all above-average on the point for the power play. Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, Jamie McBain and Anton Babchuk will make a nice rotation on the back end. … Eric Staal is the key to the Canes' power play, and he'll help his linemates (whomever they turn out to be) too.

Keep An Eye On

Here we have a continuing theme in the Southeast Division, as offseason turnover for the Hurricanes means young players will jockey for position during the preseason. Zach Boychuk and Patrick Dwyer have an inside track, but Drayson Bowman and Zac Dalpe don't have much left to prove in the AHL. Dalpe in particular left Ohio State to join the Canes organization late in the year, and in his first nine games at the end of the AHL season, he potted seven points, then had six more in eight playoff games. … On defense, while Bobby Sanguinetti might be ready for a shot in the NHL, there are too many offensive-minded players making up the Hurricanes defense. The last thing they need is another defenseman who thinks of scoring more than preventing a goal.

Florida Panthers

Additions: Dennis Wideman, D (Bruins); Michael Grabner, RW (Canucks); Steve Bernier, RW (Canucks); Christopher Higgins, LW (Rangers)

Subtractions: Nathan Horton, RW (Bruins); Gregory Campbell, C (Bruins); Jordan Leopold, D (Sabres), Keith Ballard, D (Canucks)

Depth Chart

First line: David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Michael Frolik
Second line: Cory Stillman, Steve Reinprecht, Michael Grabner
Third line: Rostislav Olesz, Shawn Matthias, Radek Dvorak
Fourth line: Christopher Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Steve Bernier

First pairing: Dennis Wideman, Bryan McCabe
Second pairing: Dmitry Kulikov, Bryan Allen
Third pairing: Erik Gudbranson, Mike Weaver

Starting goalie: Tomas Vokoun
Backup: Scott Clemmensen

Just missed: Mike Duco, LW; Kenndal McArdle, LW; Andrew Peters, RW; Byron Bitz, RW; Nathan Paetsch, D; Keaton Ellerby, D; Jacob Markstrom, G

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

The Panthers need a lot to go right this season to justify their offseason trade of Nathan Horton, the face of the team's offense. Without a proven commodity to step into his shoes, the club is hoping Michael Frolik can make good on his offensive promise and hoping David Booth can stay healthy. … Booth's recovery really is the key for the Panthers because he is the only proven goal-scorer the team has for the time being. A concussion limited him to 28 games last season, and even though it looked like he had cobwebs in February when he returned, Booth looked promising, with 11 points in 12 March games. … If all goes well -- Frolik steps up his offense, Booth stays healthy -- things could go pretty well for Stephen Weiss. If things don't go as planned, Weiss' value is in flux. Given the instability, he shouldn't be a top pick at center.

Power Play

It will be a matter of finding out who fits together best as the Panthers decide between three eligible defensemen for two spots on the power-play blue line. Bryan McCabe has been a mainstay for the club for several seasons, Dennis Wideman was a monster producer two seasons ago with the Boston Bruins, and Dmitry Kulikov made some big strides as a rookie last season. In the end, the better even-strength defensive pairing likely will stick together for the power play as well.

Keep An Eye On

Neither of them are sexy upside picks, but Steve Reinprecht and Cory Stillman will quietly produce for your fantasy roster if they are healthy. You can do a lot worse than a chance for 50 points toward the end of your draft. … Michael Grabner is the speedy winger who was hindered by injuries last season for the Vancouver Canucks. Now with the Panthers, he might have the inside track for a role in the top six. His speed to the puck and nose for the net will go a long way with the right linemates. … Shawn Matthias took a step back last season, but his goal-scoring instincts suggest we can expect better. Perhaps a renewed sense of urgency will inspire Matthias to seize a top six role from Reinprecht.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Additions: Simon Gagne, LW (Flyers); Dominic Moore, C (Canadiens); Sean Bergenheim, RW (Islanders); Marc Pouliot, RW (Oilers); Pavel Kubina, D (Thrashers); Dan Ellis, G (Predators)

Subtractions: Alex Tanguay, LW (Flames); Andrej Meszaros, D (Flyers); Kurtis Foster, D (Oilers); Antero Niittymaki, G (Sharks)

Depth Chart

First line: Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie
Second line: Simon Gagne, Vincent Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell
Third line: Ryan Malone, Dominic Moore, Marc Pouliot
Fourth line: James Wright, Paul Szczechura, Brett Connolly

First pairing: Mattias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina
Second pairing: Victor Hedman, Mike Lundin
Third pairing: Brett Clark, Randy Jones

Starting goalie: Dan Ellis
Backup: Mike Smith

Just missed: Dana Tyrell, LW; Blair Jones, LW; Niklas Persson, C; Paul Ranger, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Another year, more significant turnover for the Lightning. That said, the returning top line, centered by one of the best young fantasy studs in the game, will go a long way. Steven Stamkos made huge strides in his sophomore season with diminutive winger Martin St. Louis on one side and bruiser Steve Downie on the other. Look for more good things, as the trio will reunite for a second act. … While things were going swimmingly for the top line last season, Vincent Lecavalier was wallowing all alone on the second line. A fresh set of wingers should go a long way to curing what ails him, though. Simon Gagne, if healthy, offers the streak-to-the-net quality that someone with Lecavalier's hockey sense should be able to take advantage of. On the other side, Teddy Purcell likely will get the first crack to show he deserves an NHL roster spot, but others such as Marc Pouliot and Brett Connolly are waiting in the wings. … If new coach Guy Boucher can steer the ship in the right direction, the Lightning certainly do have a team, on paper, that can be better than many opponents. A lot of it will come down to coaching, so plus/minus prediction is a wait-and-see game.

Power Play

The good news for Lecavalier is that he continually found his way into the mix with Downie and St. Louis on the man advantage. He should still collect plenty of points when the team opts for a stacked power play. … Pavel Kubina will have to act as the savior on defense, as the power play will be missing Kurtis Foster's presence from last year. That should be no problem, though. In fact, Kubina might even outperform Foster overall. Whether the team goes with four forwards on the man advantage will mostly be up to Victor Hedman. The sophomore will need to prove he has made some serious improvements before he earns power-play minutes.

Keep An Eye On

Choosing between Dan Ellis and Mike Smith is like flipping a coin -- if the coin has no relative value, that is. Ellis and Smith should be good enough to help the Lightning win games, but not good enough for fantasy purposes. … Marc Pouliot has been stuck in prospect purgatory (also known as the Edmonton Oilers organization) for some time now, and this move to the Bolts is his first opportunity to shake his bust label. Pouliot put up huge points in his final season of junior hockey as Sidney Crosby's linemate. As we've seen from the Pittsburgh Penguins' struggle to find a winger for Crosby, that has to be worth something.

Washington Capitals

Additions: No notable additions

Subtractions: Joe Corvo, D (Hurricanes); Jose Theodore, G (Free Agent)

Depth Chart

First line: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin
Second line: Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble
Third line: Eric Fehr, Dave Steckel, Jason Chimera
Fourth line: D.J. King, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley

First pairing: Mike Green, Jeff Schultz
Second pairing: John Carlson, Tom Poti
Third pairing: Karl Alzner, John Erskine

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov
Backup: Michal Neuvirth

Just missed: Keith Aucoin, C; Brian Willsie, RW; Mathieu Perreault, C; Marcus Johansson, C; Tyler Sloan, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

With Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on the Capitals' top line, there is little that can stop them. They could finish with a plus-80 if everything plays out like it can. The nice part is that the opposing defense is so caught up in fighting the top line, the second line can perform well too, thanks to the trickle down. This is an all-around scary team on offense, and there is plus/minus to be found around every corner.

Power Play

On paper, the Caps have the best power play in the NHL, because even with Mike Green out on the blue line, the team usually has what could be considered five forwards on the ice. Green's offensive tendencies make him a defenseman only in name. He, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Brooks Laich will be too much for the opposition to handle. Of the five, only Semin failed to reach double-digit power-play goals, while only Laich failed to reach double-digit power-play assists.

Keep An Eye On

Luckily for Semyon Varlamov, the job requirements to be the Capitals' goaltender aren't as extensive as other goaltender jobs around the league. All Varlamov must do for the win is allow fewer than the league-leading 3.75 goals per game the Caps scored last season. Keep in mind, however, that Varlamov is not much more proven than his understudy, Michal Neuvirth, so it might not take much for a shakeup. … The biggest position battle to watch is Tomas Fleischmann's speed against Eric Fehr's strength and size. Fleischmann has first dibs on the second-line winger role, but Fehr finally lived up to his billing as one of the best per-minute players in the league on the Caps' third line. The winner will be treated to significant spoils; the drop-off from the Capitals' second line to their third line is significant.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here