The dawn of preseason hockey has come, and it spells one thing for hockey fans: the impending start to the NHL season. This NHL season comes loaded with storylines, as last year’s new playoff format brought more drama to the playoffs in the wake of the 2012-2013 NHL lockout. The tops of each division will be crowded based on the new format and the bottoms will likely be pretty thick as well, as this season also determines the lottery for the Connor MacDavid sweepstakes (Buffalo’s fingers are crossed). The start of the hockey season also brings the start of the fantasy hockey season, and with the puck dropping on Oct. 8th, fantasy drafts will be happening sporadically over the next several weeks.
Beyond the obvious guys as the top of the league, the Crosby’s, the Getzlaf’s, the Stamkos’s here’s a handful of guys that may, or may not, be on your radar as guys to watch for a breakout season.
Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin had a huge breakout season last year, and most assuredly is on your radar as a guy to watch. He should be. Seguin finished near the top of the league in scoring last season and I fully expect for him to take the jump this year to the elite level. He has the skill set to be at the top of the league and he will produce at a top 5 level in fantasy this season, especially as the core in Dallas matures around him.
John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks
There’s no doubt hockey fans recall Gibson’s electric debut in the playoffs for Anaheim. It took many casual fans by surprise but was no shock to fans who follow USA hockey. Gibson has been a horse for the USA junior teams over the last five years and is fully expected to be the heir to Jonathan Quick as the American goalie for future Olympics. Gibson is the guy in Anaheim now with Jonas Hiller in Calgary, and with a strong team in front him, should turn in goalie numbers near the top 10 in the league in his rookie campaign.
Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins
Hamilton was the Bruins 1st round pick in 2011, as the final piece in the Phil Kessel deal, and has been projected as the Bruins defenseman heir apparent to Zdeno Chara. Thus far, Hamilton has looked more boy than man, and has been overwhelmed at times by the NHL competition. This year Hamilton must make a big step, and with aging veteran defensive core, Hamilton will be called on to have a bigger role, especially at the quarterbacking point on the powerplay. Hamilton has the strength of a good team and great goalie on his side which should only serve to aid him in becoming a true Top 4 NHL defenseman.
Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Fans of Boston College hockey don’t need to be told about Johnny Gaudreau’s talent. The small but electric winger was a force at the college level, winning about every accolade possible at that level, including a National Championship and the Hobey Baker Award. Gaudreau scored a goal in his only NHL appearance last season, and will likely be the most exciting thing on the ice in Calgary. Gaudreau is my early favorite for the Calder, as I expect the rookie to produce at the next level with a heavy workload in Calgary.
Ryan Strome, C/LW, New York Islanders
Strome got his first opportunity with the NHL club last season in the wake of John Tavares’ injury. The young centreman has been a highly touted prospect but delivered just 18 points in 37 games last season. Strome is certainly a candidate for a breakout year if he can find a spot on the roster. The Islanders are surprisingly deep at the center position, with John Tavares and Mikhail Grabovski locked into the top two slots. Frans Neilsen, Brock Nelson, Strome, and Casey Cizikas are all competing for the remaining two slots, with Neilsen and Cizikas tentatively penciled into the bottom two slots. However this shakes out, Strome presents high upside at the bottom of fantasy drafts, especially considering he may end up playing off-wing with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the first line, a place where he could produce points at a high rate, and an idea which has Islanders fans salivating about the potential.
Mark Giordano, D, Calgary Flames
Advanced metrics are catching on in the NHL and one that’s been used to evaluate defenseman is RelCF%, or relative Corsi For percentage. This stat essentially equates the difference one player makes in the shot differential between his team and the opponent, comparing when he’s on the ice, to when he’s off it. Last season, Mark Giordano led the league in this stat, and while it is more indicative of his teammates’ ineptitude than his proficiency, Giordano is the proverbial diamond in the rough in Calgary. I’ve already told you about the upside for winger Johnny Gaudreau, but the addition of G Jonas Hiller and a maturing Flames roster should only serve to better Giordano’s numbers this coming season.
Bryan Little, C/RW, Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets ended last season just outside the playoff picture in a strong Western Conference. While the West seems to be even stronger this season, the Jets haven’t gone anywhere. The fantasy value of guys like Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien is clear. However, if the Jets are going to push for a coveted playoff spot in the West, it is going to come with better, more consistent play from Bryan Little. Little has moved around the Winnipeg lineup a bit the last few years, but this versatility only serves to enhance his value as a fantasy player. Further, trade rumors swirling around Evander Kane adds extra intrigue to Little, who would become a much a larger piece of the offense should Kane be dealt away for help defensively.
Using these tips, it will be possible to extract some extra value out of your fantasy hockey draft. There is a lot of information available, and the best strategy going into a draft is always to be prepared and know which players you like, and which players you don’t.