- Sean Allen
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With the preseason well underway in the NHL, it's time to check in on some of the fantasy players who will sink or swim based on how they perform during exhibition play. Here's a team-by-team look at the Western Conference, and stay tuned for a look at the Eastern Conference on Friday.
Anaheim Ducks: Kyle Palmieri, a talented winger expected to make noise at camp, was one of the early exits to the AHL for the Ducks. Keep his name handy as he should be one of the first choices to call up when injuries strike. ... Andrew Cogliano is making a good first impression. With Teemu Selanne returning, Cogliano's potential for a good role is somewhat reduced, but with four points in three preseason games and seven shots on goal, the speedy forward is showing he could earn valuable ice time this season ... It's good to see Cam Fowler with three points in three exhibition games, but the minus-2 rating might be a bad omen. His minus-25 last season was a huge detriment to his overall value. ... Jonas Hiller managed a shutout in his preseason debut. The fact he showed no signs of the vertigo that cost him so much time last season should help him move a few spots up the rankings.
Dallas Stars: Jack Campbell looked great in his only preseason action, but the Stars goaltender of the future was returned to his OHL team for a victory lap. Kari Lehtonen owners can breathe a little easier. ... Jake Dowell has five assists in four preseason games, but his role will be that of the fourth-line center and he offers little for fantasy owners ... As hoped, Michael Ryder is not only taking a lot of shots for the Stars in the preseason, but he has three goals and an assist playing mostly beside his former linemate Mike Ribeiro. Ryder had one of his best seasons playing with Ribeiro in 2005-06, scoring 30 goals.
Los Angeles Kings: Viatcheslav Voyonov seems to have the inside track on keeping Drew Doughty's roster spot warm. With Doughty and the Kings still battling over contract negotiations, Voyonov has fired seven shots and has one goal in the preseason. Voyonov is an offensive defensemen, as evidenced by his 51 points in the AHL last season. ... If the preseason is any indication, Anze Kopitar with skate with Dustin Penner and Justin Williams to start the season. That puts Mike Richards with Dustin Brown and Simon Gagne. It was also encouraging to see Kopitar and Richards hit the ice together on the power play. ... Jonathan Quick: 2.42 goals-against average and .871 save percentage in two preseason starts. Jonathan Bernier: 1.71 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in two preseason starts. Just sayin'.
Phoenix Coyotes: It's time to start putting Patrick O'Sullivan back on your sleeper lists. After two straight seasons where O'Sullivan's stock dropped through the basement, he was an afterthought when the Coyotes signed him to a one-year two-way contract. But the 26-year-old is just killing it in the preseason. In four games, O'Sullivan has 14 shots, two goals and four assists to tie for the exhibition scoring lead. ... Daymond Langkow is making it easy for the Coyotes to keep their position in the contract dispute with young center Kyle Turris. Langkow has three assists in the preseason and is keeping up just fine as the pivot for Ray Whitney and Shane Doan.
San Jose Sharks: Is Logan Couture ready to explode this season? He appeared to have some pent up energy from the offseason when he fired 11 shots in two games to start the preseason. Playing with Ryane Clowe and Benn Ferriero, the trio had a total eight points together. Couture might be in for more than just a modest improvement in his sophomore campaign. ... If you are keeping track, it looks like Dan Boyle is with Douglas Murray and Brent Burns is with Marc-Edouard Vlasic at even strength. But Boyle and Burns are, of course, together on the power play.
Calgary Flames: It's only three preseason games, but seeing nine shots next to Jay Bouwmeester's name is encouraging. As a Flame, Bouwmeester's has trended around 15 points and 50 shots fewer than in his days with the Florida Panthers. It stands to reason that some of his production would return with an increase in shots on goal. Take note of the early trend. ... Lee Stempniak is trying to make a case for membership in the Flames top six with two goals in three preseason games. He was even taking some shifts on a line with Alex Tanguay. Stempniak has earned deep-league fantasy value in the past.
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog is on track to make the team with eight shots and two points in three preseason games, but he has been skating on what would be the Avs third line with Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik. If he is not going to open the season in the top six, expectations need to be tempered. ... Peter Mueller has 10 shots in three exhibition games, adding some tangible evidence to the idea that he is fully recovered from the concussion that cost him all of 2010-11. ... Don't put too much stock into Jean-Sebastien Giguere's shutout against the Dallas Stars. He only faced 16 shots from a Stars roster devoid of its likely top six forwards.
Edmonton Oilers: I'd hate to be "that guy" that blows preseason statistics out of proportion, but it is seriously exciting to see Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all on a line together. The trio has combined for 15 points in three four preseason games with Nugent-Hopkins leading the charge with six points. Nugent-Hopkins has acted as set up man with five assists, while Eberle has 10 shots and Hall has 15 for three goals each. With that kind of production you have to think the combination is going to stick. ... Devan Dubnyk has been arguably one of the best goaltenders of the preseason. He still isn't going to be a No. 1 goaltender this season, but if you gambled on him as your No. 2 it is encouraging to know he's stopped 68 out of 70 shots so far.
Minnesota Wild: The combination of Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi is proving to be just as deadly on the ice as it is on paper. Heatley has five points while Koivu and Setoguchi each have four in just two preseason games. If you had any doubts about the trio and a bounce-back season from Heatley, let go of them. ... Despite Matt Cullen being a power-play specialist in seasons past, it is Pierre-Marc Bouchard acting as the fourth forward on the power play with the top line of Heatley, Setoguchi and Koivu. ... In other power play news, Jared Spurgeon is getting some looks as the quarterback for the second unit behind Marek Zidlicky. Spurgeon had modest offensive numbers in his rookie season split between the AHL and NHL last season, but he has an offensive-defenseman's pedigree from the WHL.
Vancouver Canucks: With the Sedin twins staying out of the way so far in the preseason, some younger and older players are getting a chance to show their quality. Jordan Schroeder, a 2009 first-rounder, and 2011 first-rounder Nicklas Jensen each have three points playing on a line together. The Canucks have a couple openings on offense with Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler likely to miss at least the first month of hockey, so the door is open. ... You don't have to worry about NHL re-treads Owen Nolan or Niko Dimitrakos. Despite having two points each, the Canucks released them from their training camp tryouts. ... Eddie Lack has performed well in goal for the Canucks exhibition games and might be a name to keep an eye on if Cory Schneider is ever shipped out to start for another NHL team. Lack finished top-10 in his rookie AHL season in both goals-against average and save percentage.
Chicago Blackhawks: Alexander Salak is destroying Ray Emery in the battle to backup Corey Crawford. Salak is sporting a 1.94 goals-against average in three appearances to Emery's 6.10 GAA. ... In the fight to win the fourth-line center role (only interesting because of the potential of players involved), Brandon Pirri has the lead on Marcus Kruger. Both project as scoring-line centers in their career, which makes the winner of the battle interesting given the Hawks current depth chart situation. With only Jonathan Toews as a true centermen in the top six, the Hawks have even been experimenting with Patrick Kane at pivot this preseason. As the season progresses, Pirri or Kruger could get looks on the second line if they play well on the fourth. ... Nick Leddy is getting looks on the power play during the preseason. While he will be blocked by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjarlmasson on the depth chart initially, his offensive upside is equal to all three players. It might not be this season, but Leddy has fantasy potential. ... Brandon Saad is catching attention for his strong play in exhibition. The 2011 second-round pick has notched a pair of points on a line with Toews. The 18-year-old had a solid showing in his rookie OHL season with 55 points in 59 games last year. He needs only to unseat Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik to earn a top six roster spot. ... Power forward prospect Kyle Beach was sent down to start the year as an AHL sophomore, but keep an eye on him getting called up this season. He has a tantalizing mix of points and penalty minutes in the mold of Steve Downie.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Boston College alum and Hobey Baker Award finalist Cam Atkinson is getting a lot of looks in camp on lines with the Rick Nash-Jeff Carter and Derick Brassard-Antoine Vermette connections. After finishing his college career last season, Atkinson had five points in five games in a late-season AHL debut. ... Fighting Atkinson for a start in the NHL is super-prospect Ryan Johansen. The 2010 fourth-overall draft pick has a pair of goals in three preseason games. ... Alexandre Giroux is also making some noise in the preseason with four points and 12 shots in four games. While Giroux is a superstar in the AHL, his skills have never translated to the NHL in several trials. ... Major point of concern: Brassard is minus-6 in four preseason games. The reason it is a major concern is that no one else on the team is worse than minus-2. ... Minor point of concern: Nash has 11 shots in three games while Carter has seven. On paper, Nash needs to bring more playmaking to the table to be successful with the trigger-happy Carter as a linemate and taking more shots than Carter is a bad first indicator. ... Just in case you didn't hear, James Wisniewski is going to miss the first eight games of the season with a suspension. Feel free to factor that into your decision-making. Also realize that is why Fedor Tyutin's preseason numbers are bloated.
Detroit Red Wings: It looks like Valtteri Filppula will have the opportunity to center Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen on what may end up being the Red Wings No. 1 scoring line. The trio combined for nine points in two preseason games so far where they also acted as the top power-play unit. ... Pavel Datsyuk, meantime, has been consistently paired with Danny Cleary. Tomas Holmstrom amd Patrick Eaves have each made an audition as the third member of the line with no clear frontrunner yet. ... Fabian Brunnstrom and Cory Emmerton are each trying to make a case to be included in the bottom six and have been producing on a line together. Both have offensive upside if they make it. ... What's the best way to fall backward into a fantasy friendly roster spot? Get paired with Mr. Norris Trophy himself, Nicklas Lidstrom. Ian White has been skating consistently with Lidstrom both on and off the power play. It may be value by association, but it's value nonetheless.
Nashville Predators: If the preseason is any indication (which it isn't always), Colin Wilson is looking to finally make good on his pedigree. The 2008 first-round pick has had flashes of brilliance in two NHL seasons, but hadn't even established himself as a lock for the Preds top six. In the preseason, he is skating on a line with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist and has managed five points in three games. Still only 21 years old when the season starts, Wilson still projects as a consistent scoring forward. Consider him as a sleeper in deep leagues for now. ... It looks like the Predators other top line will consist of Sergei Kostitsyn, Martin Erat and Cal O'Reilly. It will be worth watching O'Reilly since Kostitsyn and Erat tied for the Preds point lead last season. ... Blake Geoffrion had two points in his preseason debut. He has the acumen of a scoring winger and is worth watching at the start of the season to see if his play can earn him movement p the depth chart. ... Through four preseason games, Ryan Ellis hasn't made the impact he will need to by the end of the exhibition season to make the team (zero points and three shots). Ellis has more offensive upside than most defensemen in the NHL, but he'll need to show it to beat out others like Jonathon Blum, Jack Hillen and Teemu Laakso.
St. Louis Blues: The early line combinations for the Blues highlight a couple of potential sleepers. Evgeny Grachev is a big, offensively-talented forward who didn't quite catch on in the New York Rangers organization. He lit up the scoresheet on a line with Jamie Langenbrunner and David Backes for three goals and two assists in four preseason games. The line combination didn't stick, but it showcased Grachev's potential as a power forward. It says something that he stuck around while Jonathan Cheechoo and T.J. Hensick were sent packing to the AHL. ... It looks like Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart are a combination that will stick together. The pair has seven points in three exhibition games while working with a number of different linemates. ... Carlo Colaiacovo is getting an extended look as Alex Pietrangelo's defensive partner both on and off the power play. Colaiacovo has fired a team-leading 11 shots in three preseason games.
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.