NHL Fantasy Hockey: Crucial training camp battles in Western Conference

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Crucial training camp battles in Western Conference

Dobber launched his fantasy hockey website DobberHockey back in 2005 and has been Puck Daddy's resident fantasy hockey enthusiast since 2009.

Anaheim Ducks - John Gibson vs. Frederik Andersen

Sure, a case could be made for the left winger on the Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry line, but we all know that Dany Heatley is going to come out of camp with that spot, then he'll blow it for a few games, then he'll lose the spot by late October. After that, the real competition will begin between the likes of Devante Smith-Pelley, Kyle Palmieri, Jakob Silfverberg and Patrick Maroon.

But the competition that will happen in training camp will be the (fantasy) impactful battle between the pipes. The rookie Gibson will take on the sophomore Andersen. Two very good goaltenders with high upside duking it out, with the winner getting 50-55 starts and the loser getting 30. The ancillary numbers for both goalies will be awesome, but getting the extra wins and total saves will mean a lot to their fantasy owners. I give the edge to Andersen in this one.

Arizona Coyotes - Wing Spot on Scoring Line

Lauri Korpikoski has a bit of upside, but he's best suited as a 35- to 40-point third liner. Martin Erat got bitten by the 'You Suck' bug at some point in the last two years (no other explanation for what we've seen out of him). So the door really is wide open for 19-year-old Max Domi. But he'll have to step through it in training camp. Any sign at all that he's not ready for the NHL and the Coyotes will suffer through settle for Erat and Korpikoski on scoring lines.

Calgary Flames - Forward Spots Up for Grabs

The only locks in Calgary's top six are Mikael Backlund, Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan. You could probably add Mason Raymond as well, even if he's not suited for such a role. So that leaves two openings in the top six and there is another opening on the checking line. While Curtis Glencross, David Jones, Joe Colborne, Devin Setoguchi and even youngsters Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett and Sven Bärtschi battle for the coach's favor in getting on a scoring line, there is a checking-line center job available as well. Unless the Flames sign another pivot, it's looking as though Max Reinhart and Sam Bennett will compete for it.

When all the dust settles, I think Bennett will be sent back to junior, Colborne and Glencross get second-line jobs (to start) and Gaudreau makes the team on the third line eager to work his way up. Four days into training camp that opinion could be completely upside down.

Chicago Blackhawks - Jeremy Morin vs. the World

The Blackhawks can squeeze Morin onto this team if they sit Peter Regin and cut Teuvo Teravainen. But that's just the first obstacle. He has the advantage in that one - he has to clear waivers to be sent down and he'd never make it through. The second clash will be between he and some of the secondary scorers on the team for a bigger chunk of the power-play pie. When the Blackhawks suffered from a bunch of injuries late last season, Morin stepped up. When given ice time and opportunity he produced (six points in the last six games). He'll have to rekindle some of that magic to grab some PP time from Kris Versteeg, Bryan Bickell and Brad Richards.

Colorado Avalanche - Maxim Noreau vs. Stefan Elliott

While Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie anchor the first power-play unit (which seems destined to be incredibly potent), the No.3 blueliner on the PP totem pole is up for grabs. This would seem to be down to Stefan Elliott and newcomer Maxim Noreau. Elliott at one time was arguably the top offensive prospect defenseman to own in fantasy hockey before regressing badly in 2012-13. He somewhat recovered last season but still has ground to make up. Noreau was a solid prospect in his own right, but just before possibly making the NHL full time with the Devils, he decided to play in Switzerland where he led all defensemen in points in 2012-13. That was the year Linus Omark and Damien Brunner dominated that league and the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Thornton and Tyler Seguin played.

Noreau was fourth in scoring among defensemen in 2013-14, but he missed 14 games. The long and the short of it is - the guy has hockey sense and he can move the puck. 

Dallas Stars - Jussi Rynnas vs. Anders Lindback

The battle for that second-line winger spot with Ales Hemsky and Jason Spezza (or, if Valeri Nichushkin plays there, then it's the battle for the first-line winger spot) will be one to watch as well. Erik Cole, Antoine Roussel and Colton Sceviour will vie for the right to get 40 points on that line. But I'm more interested in the backup goalie battle. On a strong team like Dallas, 15 wins for the backup is very doable. Especially when you consider that starter Kari Lehtonen tends to miss chunks of the season with an injury or two: Last year it was a concussion in March and a lower-body injury in October (eight games). The season before that it was his groin (eight games). Back in 2011-12 it was another 12 games with a groin injury. Lehtonen doesn't miss long stretches, but you can always count on two to four weeks when he will be sidelined. That's when owning Rynnas (or Lindback) will pay off for you. 

Edmonton Oilers - Second-Line Center

Mark Arcobello is on a one-way contract so he's on the Oilers this year. Don't forget that last season, when Sam Gagner was hurt, Arcobello kicked off the campaign with 10 points in 10 games. He also played AHL hockey with both Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall on his line and they showed pretty good chemistry. However, the Boy Wonder has arrived. Will Leon Draisaitl make the team? If so, it will be at the expense of Arcobello's numbers. 

Los Angeles Kings - Brayden McNabb and Andy Andreoff vs. Roles in the Organization

This is the one team in the league that has every round peg already slid neatly into a round hole. Here are your 12 forwards, here is your 13th forward, here are your six defensemen and here is your seventh defenseman, these are your line combos - voila. The easiest depth chart to put together. McNabb is on a one-way contract now and seems to be earmarked for that No.7 spot on defense. And historically, as with Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez, the Kings transition the blueliners onto the roster slowly. But the 23-year-old McNabb has always been a strong puck mover at other levels and will battle in training camp for more respect.

Another player on the cusp, without the one-way contract though, is Andreoff. He could be the next Daniel Carcillo, Zac Rinaldo or Sean Avery. Camp will determine if he's the 14th forward (i.e. first call-up). And with an early injury in the lineup he could give roto-leaguers a PIM boost. And interestingly enough - Avery, Andreoff and myself - all hail from Pickering, Ontario. Something in the air here that breeds agitating, annoying pricks…

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Minnesota Wild - Erik Haula vs. Michael Keranen

Erik Haula earned himself a permanent NHL spot late last season. Despite never really getting the respect he deserves (i.e. drafted late, never being considered a 'top prospect' the way Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle or even Zack Phillips were), Haula has over-achieved at every level. And even when he finally carved himself a spot on the team and forced them to keep him up, he was still used in a checking capacity. Despite that, he worked his way up to a scoring role in the postseason and tallied seven points in 13 games. All things being equal, he's your third-line center now and could spot start on a scoring line. But there is a wrench in those plans and his name is Keranen. One of the most coveted European free agents elected to sign with the Wild in June after exploding for a point per game in the Finnish League. How these two perform in camp will determine who is the third-line center and who is the 13th forward. Or perhaps one will be shifted to the wing.

In my Fantasy Hockey Guide, I have Haula for 33 points this season and Keranen for 22. 

Nashville Predators - Calle Jarnkrok for an NHL Job

That Jarnkrok wants to be in the NHL goes without saying. Who doesn't? But I get the impression that Jarnkrok really really wants to be in the NHL. Rumors floating around the Internet had Jarnkrok suggesting a return to Europe if the Red Wings didn't give him an NHL roster shot soon. So the Wings traded him to Nashville and he got that shot. Clearly driven, Jarnkrok tallied nine points in six games with Nashville affiliate Milwaukee, and then when he was called up to Nashville he picked up nine points in 12 games (and plus-7). All signs point to the young centerman being ready for the NHL. So the Preds reward him by signing Mike Ribeiro. And Olli Jokinen. And Derek Roy. 

Suddenly, Jarnkrok is the seventh-line center? Sixth-line if you move Roy to the wing, and with the Mike Fisher injury you can move Jarnkrok up to fifth. But still…it's clear that nothing will be handed to him and in fact the odds are stacked against him even making the team.

San Jose Sharks - Pecking Order for the Young Wingers

The Wonder Rookie from a year ago, Tomas Hertl, certainly made a splash early last season. Rooster jokes aside, he's probably carved himself a top-six spot and a likelihood of 50 points this season. But during his absence from the lineup after a mid-season knee injury, Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto made impacts as well. How they will be used in terms of linemates and power-play time will be determined early, with Wingels likely being on the outside of that top six due to his checking skills.

St. Louis Blues - Battle of the Newcomers

The Blues are deep and talented team, with potentially 11 players who would got shots on Buffalo's first line if they played there. So the question is - where will Peter Mueller, Joakim Lindstrom, Jori Lehtera and Dmitrij Jaskin fit? At this point, Jaskin is probably AHL bound. But which of the other three can carve themselves spots in the top nine? All three of Mueller, Lindstrom and Lehtera enjoyed tremendous success in Europe last season. I actually have all three of them with at least 23 points this season, with Lehtera leading the way at 32 points. But throughout training camp I'm almost certain I'll be tweaking all of their numbers up and down.

Vancouver Canucks - The Winger on the Sedin Line

We all pretty much have Radim Vrbata pencilled in on this line and if there is chemistry he will enjoy a career season, while the twins Daniel and Henrik will bounce back from a horrific 2013-14. But what if the chemistry isn't there? Would training camp determine that? And if so, who gets that spot? Candidates include Zack Kassian, Linden Vey, Chris Higgins and of course the old standby Alex Burrows. A dark horse would be Nicklas Jensen, who enjoyed some success with Henrik last season when Daniel was sidelined.

Of secondary interest will be the battle for the backup job. It's Eddie Lack's to lose, but Jacob Markstrom at one time was the best prospect in all of hockey and this year he has to clear waivers to be sent down.

Winnipeg Jets - Michael Frolik vs. Big Buff

It's a slam dunk that Dustin Byfuglien is on the first power-play unit and Frolik is not. But what about in five-on-five situations? Last season, Frolik was enjoying fantastic chemistry on a line with Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele before the latter got hurt and was out for the season. If that line is reunited, then that pretty much leaves Byfuglien on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and TJ Galiardi. Does that make sense? This is one competition that won't be settled in a matter of a couple of weeks. For what it's worth I have Frolik for 45 points and Byfuglien for 53. 

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