Time to look at a few fantasy-relevant situations in the East. Sometimes all it takes is for the right opportunity to come along for a certain player to have a breakout season. There is a big difference between lining up with established scoring-line players instead of playing defensive minutes on a checking line, just as there is a big difference between receiving first-unit power-play time compared to skating with the second unit.
Opportunity: Top-six winger in Buffalo
Contenders: Jochen Hecht, Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur, Nate Gerbe, and Dan Paille
Two of the above players will be playing in Buffalo’s top six, as the other four spots are firmly held by Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Tim Connolly. Stafford is the safest bet, as he has proven he can be a valuable offensive player. However, he is still unsigned. Hecht has thrived at times in a scoring role, but is equally effective in a checking role and Buffalo may want to add some scoring to their shutdown unit. Gerbe is an offensive wizard and has a great shot at making the Sabres. He is the prototypical player who is small in stature but not in work ethic. MacArthur and Paille are very different players in real hockey, but their fantasy numbers should be similar. Paille is better defensively, so the Sabres will probably want to put him into a checking role. Long-term, Gerbe is definitely the best bet to be a valuable offensive contributor. MacArthur is still way too one-dimensional, and Paille and Hecht have limited offensive upsides. Assuming Stafford signs…
Odds: Hecht – 30 percent, MacArthur – 25 percent, Paille 25 – percent, Gerbe – 20 percent.
Opportunity: Top-six winger in New Jersey
Contenders: Nicklas Bergfors, Brendan Shanahan, David Clarkson, and Danius Zubrus
The Devils top line will most likely be the proven trio of Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Brian Rolston, who will make a move back to the center ice position, will anchor the second unit. Patrick Elias will be the left wing, and the right wing position is completely wide open. David Clarkson showed he has some scoring touch last season, and the Devils also have a few veteran options in Danius Zubrus, and Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan doesn’t have the legs to play consistent top-six minutes (he will see some power play time with this line, however), but Zubrus has proven that he can be a strong complementary player in an offensive role (although it can also be said he simply was riding shotgun with Alex Ovechkin in Washington). The Devils also feel it is make-or-break time for Nicklas Bergfors, who they selected with their 1st round pick in 2006. He has a lot of skill but has shown zilch at the NHL level so far. He will most likely be on the Devils but will have to work for his ice time.
Odds: Zubrus – 45 percent, Clarkson – 30 percent, Bergfors – 20 percent, Shanahan – five percent.
Opportunity: Top-six winger in Tampa Bay
Contenders: Martins Karsums, Steve Downie, Stephane Veilleux, and Dana Tyrell
The Bolts made a great move bringing in Alex Tanguay for one season. The veteran winger is a great playmaker and will work well on the top line with Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone, two shoot-first players. The second line will consist of the potentially dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Both are elite offensive talents, so keep a close eye to see who wins the third spot on this line out of camp. Veilleux left Minnesota because he was told he would have a real opportunity to play consistent top-six minutes. He is a solid complementary player but has yet to show the consistency required to be a scoring-line winger. Karsums is a big body with some talent, but the real gem here to watch is Downie. Everyone knows how feisty he is, but he is a really, really good playmaker. He sees the ice well offensively, and clicked with Stamkos last season down the stretch. Tyrell plays a similar game to Downie (less dirty, but also less skilled), but the Bolts won’t want to rush him in to a scoring role. Downie may not win the spot out of camp, but I think he’ll be the permanent second line right wing in Tampa at some point in 2009-10.
Odds: Steve Downie – 50 percent, Stephane Veilleux – 25 percent, Martins Karsums, 15 – percent, Dana Tyrell – 10 percent.