10 notable positions up for grabs
Fantasy-relevant battles taking place in Vancouver, Anaheim, Colorado, Boston
After a flurry of trades and free-agent signings this summer, most roster spots are spoken for around the NHL. But competition will be tough for many jobs that have significant fantasy impact. Here's a look at 10 jobs up for grabs that bear watching through training camp:
Who will be the triplet with the Sedins?
Mikael Samuelsson, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings, signed as a free agent and could be handed the plum job on the right side of center Henrik Sedin and left wing Daniel Sedin. Samuelsson, 32, would surpass his totals of last season (19 goals, 40 points, even plus-minus) and likely blow away his career bests of 23 goals and 45 points from '05-06 because the Vancouver Canucks need a right-handed shot. The other contender for that spot is Alexandre Burrows, who had a breakout season of 28 goals, 51 points, plus-23 and 150 penalty minutes. Whichever winger ends up playing on the Sedins' line at the beginning of the season, just remember that it won't always last an entire season. Last season, right-handed shot Steve Bernier (15 goals, 32 points in 81 games) was expected to be the triplet but was quickly moved down the depth chart. Who knows, he might find some time back there if he can show improvement.
Nos. 2 and 3 Anaheim Ducks defensemen
Captain Scott Niedermayer is back for another season, but the Ducks said goodbye to Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin, leaving prime even-strength and power-play ice time open to competition. Ryan Whitney has inside track to be the second-best option among Anaheim blueliners, but James Wisniewski (three goals, 24 points, plus-9) is an underrated defenseman who can also handle the puck and had better numbers than Whitney (two goals, 23 points, minus-14) last season in the same number of games (48). Sophomore Luca Sbisa, 19, who came over from the Philadelphia Flyers in the Pronger trade, will be the long-term answer and should get some power-play time after notching four of his seven assists with the man advantage last season. Sheldon Brookbank, Brett Festerling and Nick Boynton aren't going to be counted on for much offense and won't see much power-play time.
Colorado Avalanche goalie
Incumbent goalie Peter Budaj didn't get much help, but his inconsistency, 20-29-5 record, 2.86 goals-against average and .899 save percentage are not good enough for fantasy owners to consider even as a backup. So the Avalanche brought in former Florida Panthers goalie Craig Anderson, who put up good numbers (15-7-5, 2.71 GAA, .924 save percentage) when No. 1 netminder Tomas Vokoun was hurt or struggling. It's doubtful that Anderson will help Colorado significantly improve its fifth-worst defense (3.08 goals allowed per game), but he'll be worth considering if he can deliver a similar save percentage.
Boston Bruins No. 2 center
This is David Krejci's job after a great 2008-09 (22 goals, 73 points), but his recovery from offseason hip surgery could affect his production, if not delay his return to as late as December. Patrice Bergeron will get first crack at Krejci's ice time, but if he can't improve his output from last season (eight goals, 39 points in 64 games in his comeback from a serious concussion), then it might open the door for 22-year-old Vladimir Sobotka or 21-year-old Zach Hamill, a 2007 first-round pick, to claim a roster spot because Steve Begin and Trent Whitfield aren't going to produce any offense.
Carolina Hurricanes No. 2 left wing
Ray Whitney and Sergei Samsonov were Nos. 1 and 2 last season. The return of Erik Cole at the trade deadline makes for great team depth, but fantasy owners don't want to get stuck with the No. 3 winger's decreased ice time and point production. Whitney led the Hurricanes in scoring last season with 77 points, so he's a safe bet. Samsonov has salvaged his career in Carolina and had a decent 16 goals and 48 points but minus-8 in 81 games last season. Cole was horrible in Edmonton (16 goals, 27 points in 63 games), but was back to top-six form upon his return to Carolina (two goals, 15 points in 17 games). Cole's style is better suited on the third line, but his arrival bumped Samsonov down and coincided with his ice time dropping while he notched just two power-play points (both assists) in the final 15 games (after he had three goals and 14 assists on the power play in the previous 66 games). Another wild card is 2008 first-round pick Zach Boychuk, who was good enough to make the team last year but was returned to juniors, where he had 28 goals and 57 points in 43 games with Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League.
Edmonton Oilers No. 1 center
Pat Quinn brings a clean slate as the new head coach of the Oilers, so third-year centerman Sam Gagner will be given every opportunity to push Shawn Horcoff for the No. 1 center job. Gagner struggled at the start of his sophomore season, but he was a point-per-game player in the final 20 games of the season. Few players work harder than Horcoff, but his 17 goals and 53 points are far short of what's expected from a top-line center. Trade-deadline acquisition Patrick O'Sullivan and youngster Gilbert Brule are long shots for the No. 1 center job but have a chance to move up if they work hard to impress Quinn.
New York Islanders goalies
Rick DiPietro's numerous injuries required GM Garth Snow to obtain some help in net, and he vastly improved the Islanders' goaltending depth by signing free-agent veterans Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. It's anybody's guess who will see the most minutes in the crease, and fantasy owners can't risk a high pick on DiPietro after his meager five appearances last season. These three should help New York cut down the NHL's third-worst goals-against average (3.34) last season, but the rebuilding team still doesn't promise many victories for their netminders.
Washington Capitals No. 2 center
Nicklas Backstrom is firmly entrenched as Alex Ovechkin's centerman, but the second-line pivot spot on the league's third-highest scoring team (3.27 goals per game) could go to Brooks Laich, Michael Nylander or Brendan Morrison. Based on last season, Laich deserves the job after notching 23 goals and 53 points, including nine power-play goals and 15 power-play assists. But Nylander has the talent to bounce back from an awful 2008-09 (nine goals, 33 points in 72 games) and Morrison showed flashes of a revival after he joined Dallas late last season (six goals and nine points in 19 games).
San Jose Sharks defensemen
San Jose's recent trade of defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver for prospects opens up opportunities for youngsters Derek Joslin, 22, and Nicholas Petrecki, 20, to crack the top six. Ehrhoff averaged just over three minutes per game on the power play, on which he scored 25 of his 45 points. San Jose ranked third with the man advantage (24.2 percent) last season, so there should be some fantasy upside for whoever earns the open blue-line spot on the second power-play unit behind Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Joslin's skill (11 goals, 30 points in 63 games for AHL Worcester last season) gives him the inside edge over Petrecki and veterans Douglas Murray and Kent Huskins.
New York Rangers top-line left winger and center
GM Glen Sather tried to address the team's anemic offense (third-worst 2.44 goals per game) by bringing in eight new veteran faces up front. Right winger Marian Gaborik will be freed from the defensive reins he had in Minnesota if -- that's always a big if -- he can stay healthy. His new linemates are nearly as uncertain as the possibility of Gaborik playing all 82 games. His center will be either Chris Drury or Brandon Dubinsky. Drury has proven he's not a true No. 1 center, despite his leadership and intangibles, as he's averaged just 57 points the past two seasons with the Blueshirts. Dubinsky, 23, is still developing but could be ready to break out from the past two 40- and 41-point seasons. On the left wing, Christopher Higgins is the best all-around option, but the agitating Sean Avery or big Ales Kotalik might be better fits.
Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and writer for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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