There's a changing of the guard in the NHL. Some former have-nots, like the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs, are becoming haves.
The rise of new contenders has dramatically altered both the NHL and fantasy hockey landscapes. With that in mind, let's recalibrate our outlook on the league's players and teams heading into the 2018-19 draft season.
Here are five NHL teams to target in fantasy:
Note: We considered only standard-league categories (goals, assists, plus/minus, power-play points, penalty minutes, shots on goal) for this exercise.
The Jets have both the firepower and depth to make fantasy owners drool. Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien are surefire premier producers. And Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Mathieu Perreault, Jack Roslovic, Bryan Little, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers range from borderline must-acquires to admirable roster fillers. Most notably flying under the radar in Manitoba are Ehlers, a 30-goal threat, and Connor, who quietly recorded 57 rookie points during the 2017-18 season. Really, any forward owning a spot on the Jets' top three lines is worth consideration. In goal, Connor Hellebuyck is a safe bet for 35-plus wins and, at minimum, a league-average save percentage. When in doubt, pick up a Jet.
The Leafs’ fantasy value is best explained by tiers. The first features John Tavares and Auston Matthews, elite centers who will be top-15 picks in most drafts. Next is the top-50 tier, which includes goalie Frederik Andersen and potential 80-point winger Mitch Marner. As for the third tier, there are strong arguments to be made for William Nylander, Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Morgan Rielly as top-150 fantasy players. Nylander, in particular, can usually be counted on for at least 20 goals, 40 assists, and 185 shots. Rounding out Toronto’s embarrassment of riches are wingers Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Zach Hyman, and Connor Brown, whose fantasy stocks are linked to minutes played alongside Matthews, Tavares, and/or Kadri.
From a competitive standpoint, the Lightning are probably the NHL’s best team. In fantasy land, they’re also not far off thanks to a top-three performer in Nikita Kucherov, top-10 stud Steven Stamkos, and several secondary options. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a lock to rank high in goalie categories, while defensemen Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev, as well as forwards Brayden Point, J.T. Miller, and Yanni Gourde, provide solid value, too. Don't treat Gourde, 26, as a typical sophomore, since he's firmly in the prime of his career and could eclipse 70 points. Tampa, a team that hasn't altered its roster this summer, led the NHL in goal differential in 2017-18, so expect excellent plus-minus ratings from all of the above.
Dreaded Stanley Cup hangover aside, a squad headlined by reigning goal-scoring champ Alex Ovechkin, burgeoning star center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and power-play quarterback John Carlson deserves your fantasy attention. Braden Holtby, who should be motivated following an off year between the pipes, is the fourth key piece on the Capitals. Then there’s veteran playmaker Nicklas Backstrom, perennial 50-point winger T.J. Oshie, breakout candidate Jakub Vrana, and penalty-loving Tom Wilson. Washington offers a ton of fantasy versatility. Oh, and don't sleep on 23-year-old Andre Burakovsky.
The Bruins sneak up on you. Their No. 1 line includes Brad Marchand, who produces in all categories, 35-goal scorer David Pastrnak, and the ever-reliable Patrice Bergeron. Goalie Tuukka Rask is still effective, Jake DeBrusk should explode in 2018-19, a healthy David Krejci tends to hover around 50 points, and sophomores Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato are smart late-round sleeper picks. Plus, the blue line features likely future Norris Trophy contender Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug's booming shot. Boston's roster has a high ceiling, though past that first line you’re betting on best-case scenarios.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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