Training camps this preseason have been a bit anticlimactic. While every team is filled with hope, most seem fairly set in their decisions. And that was before camp even opened. Is this a sign of the future, or simply a weird year? If we knew that answer, we'd probably also know the answer to life. But we don't. Top-line competition buzz has been quieter than a single cicada.
So let's turn up the volume on a few situations that might impact your Fantasy rosters. Some are interesting and might make you pause. A few are red flags to things that might lie ahead. By the way, these aren't in any ranked order. Each one could be at the top of your list (or bottom, for that matter), depending on your needs and league settings.
LW1 in Montreal
Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are locks on the top line, but the left side is wide open. The Canadiens need Sean Monahan and Kirby Dach at center, so they won't reprise their wingman roles on the top line. Emil Heineman has shown well in that spot early in camp. He lacks NHL experience, but he does have great speed and a strong shot – he tallied seven goals and two helpers in 11 AHL games after his arrival from Sweden last year. Rafael Harvey-Pinard could get a look. Juraj Slafkovsky might, too. But they're all shoot-first wingers and the ideal candidate needs to put the puck on Caufield's tape. Enter Alex Newhook. He has pedigree and finally has real opportunity that he didn't find in Colorado. Just beware of the plus-minus factor – this team is bad.
PP2 QB in LA
This is a no-lose situation for Fantasy managers. Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence are both talented offensive defenders. Clarke is a blue chip prospect despite skating a little like a baby giraffe. Spence is a high-end prospect with speed, skill and smarts. He has strong AHL production under his belt (87 points in 102 games). Experience matters, so Spence likely has a leg up based on his pro success.
Goal in New Jersey
Vitek Vanecek is the starter, but Akira Schmid may be the better netminder. Schmid certainly was when Vanecek wobbled late last season and in the playoffs. The real question is the game split. Will it be 55-27 or 45-38? The Devils are going to be among the NHL's best this season and will need their goaltending to be the same. Schmid could be key to that and needs to be rostered. The platoon split may even flip in Schmid's favor in the second half.
RW1 in Edmonton
Zach Hyman excelled alongside Connor McDavid last season, but Connor Brown arrived over the summer. Brown skated with McDavid in Erie (OHL) in his last junior season (2013-14) and put up 128 points, including 83 assists, in 68 games. Hyman will slip to Leon Draisaitl's line and stay on PP1. It's not really much of a battle – Hyman is happy to do what the team needs. That will likely mean rotating between RW1 and RW2 all season long. Brown should get even-strength points, but his power-play production will be thin.
RW overall in Madison Square
The starboard side of the Rangers lineup has talent, but who will emerge in spots 1-2-3? Alexis Lafreniere has shifted to his off-wing to move into the top six. Kaapo Kakko is a strong two-way player. Blake Wheeler is doing a Patrick Kane-like trip around the sun. This trio could shift up and down the right side all season long. Expect Wheeler, who continues to be one of the league's best power-play playmakers, to get the PP1 gig and the most points. But your format will dictate who you pick. New coach Peter Laviolette is raving about Kakko because he can hold off guys in the cycle and suffocate opponents on the forecheck. And he's experimenting with him as a net-front guy on PP2. Lafreniere has the draft pedigree and loves to hit. None of these guys are bad selections, but none are great, either.
Backup goalie in Calgary
Dan Vladar won't give up this gig without a fight, and so far this preseason, he's been better than up-and-comer Dustin Wolf. But the sample size is small. The Flames still want to trade Vladar, so Wolf will start in the AHL if Vladar is still in town. But there's little to prove for Wolf in the minors, as he was the AHL MVP, Goalie of the Year, First-Team All Star and President's Award winner last year. Yes, Wolf is that good. He's going to be the alpha of the Calgary goalie pack soon. Maybe even this season. And especially if Jacob Markstrom fails to bounce back from last season's malaise. Trade winds could blow for both Vladar and Markstrom. Wolf is a risky stash in leagues with short benches, but a necessary one in many others.
Any goalie on the Strip
Adin HIll or Logan Thompson? Logan Thompson or Adin Hill? Here's the thing. Vegas doesn't care. The Golden Knights used five netminders in the regular season last year, and they'll do it this year if they have to, too. The crest on the front matters, not the name on the back. And the hottest hand wins. Yes, that sounds harsh, but it's real. Adin Hill emerged in the postseason and became the hero of Vegas's Cup win. But he started the playoffs behind career journeyman Laurent Brossoit. Thompson was on a Calder trophy path in the first half last season and was an All-Star before he got hurt in February. The glow of the Cup will give Hill an early advantage, but Thompson's talent will rise to the top soon enough.
Three-headed goalie monster in Carolina
This situation is tough, especially for Fantasy managers. The Hurricanes have Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov all on one-way contracts. And like last season, all will see significant time (each played more than 20 games last year). The Canes lack of an AHL affiliate complicates this further – they don't have a team to send their netminders on so-called conditioning assignments. So, the three men could end up in a pure rotation. That might keep Andersen and Raanta healthier. Or not. Kochetkov is the guy who could become the top dog coming out of the All-Star break. Fantasy managers would be wise to stay far away from this trio heading into the season.
Sway time soon in Boston?
Linus Ullmark has the crease after delivering 40 wins and a Vezina in 48 starts last season. But Jeremy Swayman has all the markings of an elite goaltender, and Ullmark has a history of lower-body injuries. The NHL's best city for hockey fans is ready to embrace Sway as the next Tuukka Rask. Ullmark has two seasons left on his deal, but he and Swayman were in a platoon when the latter was a rookie. And that was just two seasons ago. May the best, most talented and healthiest man win.
Coronato time in Calgary
Can Matthew Coronato pull a Matthew Knies and make an instant top-six impact in Calgary? Coronato has a world-class shot, and he's a Harvard grad, so hockey sense and overall smarts are among his best attributes. And Coronato has impressed in preseason action. Yegor Sharangovich is slotted beside Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm, but Coronato could shine there if he can play his off-wing, especially with Jakob Pelletier (shoulder) on the shelf for a couple months. Keep an eye on this one.
Zach Benson for the Calder
Wow, this kid is good. Benson is smart and slippery, which are essential traits for smaller players. And at 18, he's stating his case to not only stick with the Sabres but to stay in the top six. It's hard to think a guy this small and young will stay longer than nine games, but stranger things have happened. He might be a top-five prospect overall already and maybe a Calder candidate, which might give Buffalo two if Devon Levi does what we think he can do.