This past offseason there was plenty of intrigue and surprises to go around for everyone; however, the biggest fantasy news and most intriguing of all surprises was Phil Kessel getting traded to Pittsburgh. The rich got richer, and the immediate benefactor of Toronto ridding itself of its “problem children” is the Penguins’ power play unit. It was only 8th in the NHL last season with a 19.3% conversion rate, but that was a down year in the Steel City after finishing in the top position the previous year. This could be a flashback from the 2000-01 Penguins team, which had five of the top 29 league scorers with Mario Lemieux at #29 tallying (76) points and (16) power play goals in 43 games. Go ahead and get 76 points in today’s game and you’ll get $8 million per season for your troubles. That first power play unit consisted of Mario, Jagr, Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang. While the thought of this year’s version has me at half mast already, the proof will be in the pudding or net. With all the options available to head coach Mike Johnston, he has to be tent pitching as well, while opposing coaches are having nightmares on trying to figure out how to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz and a healthy Kris Letang as a possible power play unit one, if they stay healthy for once. That was the Penguins’ Achilles Heal last year, man games lost, but a return of Pascal Dupris from blood clots, a healthy Patric Hornqvist and steady David Perron makes this one very skilled and very scary team. Anyway let’s get to the business of my 2015-16 Fantasy Hockey Top 12.
1) Sidney Crosby – Is the straw stirring this drink, and no I am not a die hard Penguins fan, but the best of the best are residing in the Steel City . . . and not that awful 80’s gymnastics movie that makes me sick just thinking of the 90 minutes of my childhood I lost watching that just once. Crosby is still the best around, but this season a healthy Malkin will shine just as bright. With a career points per game average of 1.36 Crosby will destroy most mortals if the concussion bug has finally been cleared out of his locker, which seems quite possible after playing 77 and 80 games the past two seasons. Crosby gets first line centering duties since God appointed him the savior of Pittsburgh and his right wing will have Phil Kessel and David Perron riding in the garden seat. Fantasy drafters would be wise to get as many pieces of the Penguins pie as possible, and they will not let you down. The Auction value on all the top-12 players is worth reaching for and overpaying, especially for Crosby and Malkin. The trophy battle will be played out in Pittsburgh with Sid and Geno going toe-to-toe for the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 43 G, 71 A, 114 PTS.
2) Evgeni Malkin – While Sid is the straw stirring the drink in Pittsburgh, Geno is the bartender (and not just because Russians love their vodka); he returns to dominate this year. Malkin is just too skilled to let anyone or anything stop him, and watching his game film when healthy seems to be moving in slow motion while chaos surrounds him. He will most likely center the second line with Chris Kunitz on his left and Patric Hornqvist on his right, but when power play time comes he’s gonna be top dog front and center. With the mentioned above first power play unit, Geno will vastly improve on his nine power plays tallies from last season of which he missed 13 games. His 1.01 points per games will also increase this season simply due to the fact of who he will be passing too. With leagues that count penalty minutes, Malkin also chipped 70 minutes’ worth there too, so he believes in filling your stat box across the board. I hope Geno cleared space in his trophy cabinet because I see an Art Ross Trophy returning to his case and a possible Hart Trophy as well. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 41 G, 72A, 113 PTS
3) Tyler Seguin – Had Seguin not missed 11 games last year, he would be polishing the Art Ross scoring championship trophy each day as opposed to his stud line-mate Jamie Benn. Also, pay attention students because a common theme in my top players is line-mates everywhere you look. Seguin’s second year in Dallas could not have gone better as a solid “screw you” to Boston for not having faith in him getting more mature as he gets older, like we all do Peter Chiarelli. Like I mentioned above, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn stick together like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The luckiest right wing in Dallas is young 3rd year player Valeri Nichushkin, forming one of the NHL’s top lines as the season starts. Additionally, bringing Patrick Sharp to the Lone-Star state will show these kids the dedication and practice ethics that make champions. Expect to see these two dance on power play unit one while Sharp lines up with Jason Spezza on line two at even strength. Seguin gets all the top power play time he wants after potting (13) goals in the PP last season and 29 Power Play points total and expect an increase this season if healthy as he is one of the league leaders in shots as well, with 290 last season. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 44 G, 50 A, 94 PTS.
4) John Tavares – Tavares is the king of the up and coming Islanders squad that finished last season with 101 points, which was a 22 point gain from the 2013-14 disaster. Tavares is fortunate enough to play with Kyle Okposso who finished 35 points behind JT last season after missing 22 games. With these two in tow as the lead dogs of this pack the Islanders the have a bright future ahead of themselves and if the after mentioned Jamie Benn not scored four points in the last game of the season a year ago, Tavares would have the Art Ross trophy. The Isles just need to find the third wheel for this first line date, and not just throw me out there on the left wing! Just like Ricky Bobby, John Tavares wakes up in the mornings and pisses excellence, and this could get even scarier for opposing defensemen if young guns like Ryan Strome and Josh Bailey keep getting better as they mature. It’s scary to think what his ceiling would be if he had the likes of a Phil Kessel or Tyler Seguin on his line, but Tavares makes due with what he has, and without a doubt JT will be in the running for all the major individual hardware this season, Art Ross, Hart and Rocket Richard trophies are all within his grasps this season and the next ten to come, but the Isles would like nothing more than having him bring Lord Stanley back to Long Island since it left after the dynasty of the 80’s was over. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 47 G, 47 A, 94 PTS.
5) Steven Stamkos – I’m not one to believe in I told you so’s but something tells me Stamkos is going to remind everyone quite often that he is still the premiere goal scorer in the NHL after last seasons Stanley Cups Finals zero goal performance. Also to make matters even more intriguing he is the top Unrestricted Free Agent for next summers class if GM Steve Yzerman doesn’t lock him down soon, and anyone who follows sports knows how great players play in contract years. With Stamkos leading one of the youngest and most potent teams in the NHL I’d expect nothing short of spectacular from him and Auction Drafter’s be wise and don’t tuck you wallet away when his name is called, in fact over pay for him and fill in the pieces after, there is plenty of lesser humans out there. With goals (43) and assists (29) last year I still see him getting upwards of 90 points this season easily after playing all 82 games last year. Now Stamkos will be again centering Alex Kilorn and Valtteri Filppula and they may become the Lightning’s 2nd Line, with the Triplets being the new top line (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikata Kucherov) when this season opens. None of that should impact his power play time or partners though, he is still the Alpha Dog in Tampa. Polkadamas is calling his shot right now with a Rocket Richard Trophy coming back Stamkos way at seasons end and a possible Stanley Cup. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 52 G, 41 A, 93 PTS.
6) Alex Ovechkin – Speaking of Rocket Richard here is our reigning champion and contender every year. 53 goals last season with a possible repeat this season and only 25 goals shy of 500 already for the soon to be 30 year old. While Ovechkin’s age would look like he is on his way down from prime, I beg to differ with Nicklas Backstrom centering Ovi, 50 goals is the target every year until he retires, and the lighting quick release, booming cannon shot and Tasmanian devil hustle Ovi is as potent at 30 as he was at 23. Possibly even more now that Head Coach Barry Trotz has him believing in the defense first system that according to me has the Caps in the Stanley Cup Finals this year for the first time since 1998. The key additions of Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams from Los Angeles through free agency, and the trade for T.J. Oshie from St. Louis will also carry huge benefits for the best shot this side of Rock Ridge. I can easily see Alex Ovechkin getting drafted at number one and no later than five, he is just to good to pass on, and think I got him 9th in a 20 team league I drafted in last year. With 25 power play goals last year and 395 shots he is the Well Known Gun and all should beware. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 51 G, 42 A, 93 PTS.
7) Jamie Benn – He’s the NHL’s leading scorer from last season, and we should expect nothing different from him down in Dallas. Possibly another Art Ross Trophy with even more points, and a healthy Tyler Seguin make that all possible as these line mates march to the beat of their own drum and continue to be one of the top tandems in the NHL. Dallas was 2nd in the league last season even strength with 3.13 goals per game, but the power play was just above average with a 19.0% conversion rate. This season’s power play should fair better with the additions of Patrick Sharp from Chicago via trade and the maturation of 2nd year defenseman John Klingberg who revived the team with his mid-season call up. Benn played all 82 games again last season and should be close to that number again this season, while his goals (35), assists (52), points (87) from last season should serve as the floor for the offensive left winger this year. Jamie Benn also led the Stars forwards in ice time as well last year with 19:56 per game, and his 10 power play markers were 2nd on the team. Benn is also one of the Stars better penalty killers with two short-handed markers and six game winning goals, making him an absolute must own taken in the late first round or early second round. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 42 G, 48 A, 90 PTS
8) Carey Price – When it comes to the NHL top net minder’s Carey Price is it, and the gap is widening even further coming into this season. While the Bleu Blanc Rouge did very little in adding to offensive potential, unless you still consider Alexander Semin fantasy relevant, The Canadians are the same team from last year. The team that had the 1st ranked team defense in the NHL where Price served as it’s overall best player. Once again this season he will be leaned on very heavily to keep the Habs in playoff contention, but the bright side is that they are really good. After finishing last season with 110 points they should be considered to repeat last years numbers, and the team in front of Price plays very well defensively, the problem is that they had 20th ranked overall offense, 23rd power play, but a great 9-2 overtime record with a 7-5 record in the shoot-out. Montreal’s star is hitched to Price’s wagon, and if you’re serious about winning your league your star should be too. Price’s 44 wins last season to 16 loses and 6 shut-outs will be almost identical again this season, and not to mention a 1.96 GAA and .933 save% makes Carey Price your top target when drafting goalies. Do not wait too long because he will not make it back to you in serpentine drafts, and again as with all these top players, in Auction Drafts do not shy away from a stud goaltender. It will be way harder in the long run to try and replace his numbers than your 4th or 5th forward. He will be occasionally spelled by most likely Dustin Tokarski or Mike Condon from the Habs AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 45 W, 15 L, 8 SO, 1.98 GAA, .935 SAVE%
9) Vladimir Tarasenko – The Blues finally have a superstar in their midst with Tarasenko, and with his iceberg just beginning to show last season something makes me think we’ll be drafting this young Russian in the first 12 picks for the next ten years or so. Vlad just became the newest millionaire in St. Louis with his 8 year 80 million dollar contract, so he has a lot to live up too after basically only dominating one season. Last season Vlad lead the Blues notes in goals (37), assists (36), points (73), plus/minus +27 and shots with 264, he also plays on the top line centered by Hulk-Boy David Backes and sniper Alexander Steen playing the left side forming one of the best lines in the NHL. Vlad’s ice time was only 17:37 per game last season, and as he matures this year I can easily see a two minute jump there to match Steen’s 19:58 per game. I watched at least 12 Blues games last season, and every game Vlad did something that made me notice him at the 23 year olds raw skill set. While the rest of the Blues struggled to score in the playoffs last year with only 18 team goals, Vlad was responsible for six of those during their early round exit to the Minnesota Wild. This is a very deep team in St. Louis, one of the battleships out west and will continue to be, with the leagues 5th overall offense last year and fourth rated power play 22.3% conversion rate. Vladimir Tarasenko will again this season be the offensive leader for a Blues team looking to play hockey well into the month of May, and is well worth your Auction Draft dollar. Serpentine Drafters should be taking him at the end of round one or in the turn of early round two and no later. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 44 G, 44 A, 88 PTS
10) Patrick Kane – He’s the sickest fella in the NHL with the puck on his stick replacing Pavel Datsyuk as the new Magic Man, but dude cannot stay out of the trouble. Is there a black cloud we can’t see through the glow of all the Stanley Cups? If it’s thumping a cab driver for a $1.25 to the alleged rape case that’s plagued the news since mid summer, my best advice is for Kane to move into the locker room in United Center and never leave! Guy needs to use more common sense and not allow yourself to be put into these situations, but enough chastising. Patrick Kane is the premiere offensive force on the defending Stanley Cup champs, and continues to be Robin to Jonathan Toews – Batman. These two studs will forever be linked as the players that resurrected the once dead Blackhawks franchise, and put NHL hockey back on the map in the greatest city in America. No not Grand Rapids, Chicago, where at one time the AHL Chicago Wolves used to outdraw the Blackhawks when old man Wirtz wouldn’t have a TV contract. Those days are as dead as he is now and Kane is in the prime of his career at the age of 27. The Hawks had only a marginal league offense last year at 17%, but the 2nd best team defense with a 2.27 GAA, but the biggest concern for me was the 20th ranked power play at 17.6%. Even though everyone and their mom will be gunning for the three time champs, they will still break your heart every chance they get and are too skilled to let those paltry numbers deny them another June parade up Michigan Ave. Patrick Kane missed 21 games last season and that makes three straight seasons with at least 12 missed games, which would be the only problem with drafting him this early. I see no problem at all taking Kane at the end of the first, early second round in snake drafts. He plays on the top line centered by the after mentioned Toews, gets top power play time and stays out of the penalty box. Pending any extended legal troubles and extended injuries I see Kane playing 75-80 games this season. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 40 G, 44 A, 84 PTS
11) Corey Perry – I HATE YOU! But have a man crush on your skill set and best buddy Ryan Getzlaf passer extraordinaire! Perry missed another 15 games last year and seems to go on one year off the other, so here’s to praying this is the on year for him. When playing a full 82 games he’s a possible 100 point scorer, while filling up every stat for fantasy players. The Ducks had 109 points last season, but the power play blew last year with a 15.7% conversion good for 28th in league, and that is not a misprint from the Coyotes home page. The Ducks brought in former Ottawa Senator Head Coach Paul MacLean to turn things around there, and looking at his past successes with the Sens and Red Wings power play units there should be a great turn around in Anaheim this fall. Even missing 15 games last year Perry still put up 55 points with 33 goals. He is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice at any moment, which is what makes him so scary on a line with Getzlaf and Patrick Maroon. This years Ducks team will again challenge for the President’s Trophy and a deep run in the playoffs. Perry gets 20 plus minutes a game and almost three minutes per game on the power play, so there is no reason not to expect a return to greatness for this big cry baby. Most definitely worth a mid to late first round pick in snake drafts and a good sum in Auction Drafts based on your Salary Caps. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 48 G, 35 A, 83 PTS.
12) Phil Kessel – Regularly plays a full season and scores more often then George Clooney at the Playboy Mansion. This season though Kessel will smash his previous season high in goals (37) and previous points high of 82 will be within reach. Playing top line minutes with Sidney Crosby, and top power play minutes with one of the most lethal offenses in the league means only great things for ol’ one-nut this year. Like I mentioned at the top this team has me all excited to watch them destroy lesser teams penalty kill units. Kessel was always pegged as a lethargic non-team guy in Toronto, last guy into practice and first to leave, but he was always there for his teammates and spoke up for them when the press ran them through the ringer for being so awful last year. But speaking up for bums like Joffrey Lupul won’t win you any fantasy hardware, so in Pittsburgh his actions will have to speak louder then his words and Crosby and crew won’t accept anything but his best. Kessel will be lining up on Crosby’s right side and will be blessed all year to have guys with so much skill around him, and he doesn’t have to be the center of the Toronto media circus this year and should succeed like never before in his career. A late first round, early second pick is easily justified for Phil Kessel, and all the stat fillers will make him very valuable to own everywhere. These guys want another deep Cup run and on paper nobody can stop this offense, but we all know games are played on ice and not paper. 2015-16 PROJECTIONS: 50 G 33 A, 83 PTS.