Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs is Puck Daddy’s resident fantasy hockey expert. Dobber can be criticized and ridiculed over at his own site, too. Follow him on Twitter (@DobberHockey), but only if you like cool tidbits on player trends.
The best thing to do after writing team-by-team stuff on the Eastern Conference is to follow it up with one about the West. That's just logic.
The battle: Kyle Palmieri vs. himself
The stakes: A top six spot
The lowdown: Palmieri did not look out of place during a couple of NHL stints, for the most part. As what happens to most prospects prior to making the jump full time, he was plagued by inconsistency. Even in the AHL this year he started off with 11 points in nine games before managing just five in his next 12 (and a minus-11 rating). He's lining up with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in training camp.
My call: He'll stick with the club, but will bounce in and out of the top six, ending with a middling 20 points that includes a couple of hot six-game runs.
The battle: Roman Cervenka vs. Sven Bärtschi vs. Jiri Hudler vs. Mikael Backlund vs. Curtis Glencross
The stakes: Three scoring-line spots
The lowdown: Cervenka and Hudler were the much-hyped acquisitions of the summer, targeted for the very reason that they can contribute on the second - or even the first - line. But Cervenka has been sidelined with a blood clot and Hudler has missed camp because his father unfortunately passed away this week. Bärtschi is coming off a great start to his pro career, though he kind of fizzled a little at the end with six points in 11 games for Abbotsford. Backlund put on a strong performance over in Sweden and has continued with that in training camp. And finally, Glencross is Glencross no matter the camp - a point every two games whether he plays with Tim Jackman or Jarome Iginla.
There are three spots open, not necessarily an entire second line as this team will mix and match. But if you assume Cervenka and Hudler have two of the three open spots, then the winner out of the other three could conceivably flirt with 30 points while the other two will be lucky to hit 20.
My call: Backlund is due.
The battle: Viktor Stalberg vs. Brandon Saad vs. Michael Frolik
The stakes: A top six spot
The lowdown: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are in the top six. Indisputable. Dave Bolland is also being tried out as the second-line center and it looks like that will remain the situation for the near future. That leaves one spot for potential rookie sensation Saad, 24-year-old former 21-goal scorer Frolik, and Stalberg, who is coming off a 22-goal season himself. Stalberg is already seeing plenty of power-play practice time.
My call: Stalberg wins and, if healthy, scores 15 goals in 45 games. The only way Frolik gains fantasy relevance is if he is traded to a team that actually puts him on their power play. Amazingly, Frolik saw just 11 minutes of power-play time - total - all last season.
The battle: Mark Guy vs. Greg Sherman
The stakes: Ryan O'Reilly playing for the Avs this year.
The lowdown: I originally had a Stefan Elliott vs. Tyson Barrie penciled in here, but that was over before it started. Elliott has struggled in the AHL so far, while Barrie has flourished.
O'Reilly is coming off of a 55-point sophomore campaign. And while the Avs are trying to convince him that he's worth slightly less than what he is asking for, New Jersey hands Travis Zajac an eight-year contract worth $46 million and spoils everything. But one thing poolies need to keep in mind - when Matt Duchene was out of the lineup, O'Reilly had 19 points in 23 games (0.83). With Duchene in the lineup, O'Reilly had 36 in 58 (0.62). Duchene is healthy now, so do not overrate O'Reilly.
My call: The deal gets done in time for O'Reilly to get into the second game of the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The battle: David Savard vs. Tim Erixon vs. John Moore
The stakes: Secondary PP time
The lowdown: Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski run the first power-play unit from the blue line. There are three youngsters, rather unproven, who will do battle for PP apprenticeship. Moore didn't see any last season, his first in the NHL. Erixon was part of the team's return from the Rick Nash trade, while Savard saw 2:18 per game on average over the 31 games he played for the Jackets in 2011-12. Erixon (24 points) outscored Savard (22) and Moore (9) in AHL action after 34 games for Springfield.
My call: I think Moore makes the team as a defensive blueliner, while Savard wins the job. But Erixon will see several recalls throughout the campaign and have many chances to usurp Savard later.
The battle: Richard Bachman vs. Cristopher Nihlstorp
The stakes: Backup goalie job
The lowdown: Bachman was impressive last year, stealing Andrew Raycroft's job and at times even outplaying Kari Lehtonen. The Stars rewarded him by signing the most hyped European goaltender in Nihlstorp, who is 28 years old and thus didn't come all the way over to North America to get into AHL games. Nihlstorp has been fabulous in AHL action and equally impressive in training camp. Lehtonen is injured every season, be it for three weeks (like last year) or three months (as in 2007-2010), so the winner could see a nice chunk of games.
My call: The Stars will take the easy way out and keep three goalies. If Lehtonen stays healthy, this situation could get hairy by the end of February.
Detroit Red Wings
The battle: Damien Brunner vs. history
The stakes: A first-line spot
The lowdown: After Jiri Dopita, Janne Pesonen, Fabien Brunnstrom and Ville Leino, we now have Damien Brunner, a late-blooming European superstar. The difference this time is that Brunner got to play on a line with the superstar of the team he is joining, before he joined them. Henrik Zetterberg and Brunner created magic in the Swiss League - a league in which Brunner led in scoring for the third straight year. In camp he is already seeing action with Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. If this works out, he'll be an instant star. But of the above four examples, only Leino turned into anything and it took him two years to do it. So history tells us that Brunner will need time, at the very least.
My call: He makes for a great dark horse - I picked him myself late in one of my drafts. It's a tough call, but I lean towards the side of success. I'm buying into the hype.
The battle: Ryan Whitney vs. his ankle
The stakes: A return to form
The lowdown: After missing 88 games over the last two seasons with ankle and foot problems, Whitney got extra time to rest and heal up thanks to the lockout. He once had 59 points and 77 penalty minutes (2006-07). He repeated those numbers, pro-rated, when he first arrived with the Oilers, notching 27 points and 33 PIM in just 35 games (2009-10). The Oilers now have an embarrassment of young offensive talent, as well as a great puck-moving defense partner for the power play in Justin Schultz.
My call: The ankle holds up and Whitney rebounds. One of my favorite sleeper picks.
Los Angeles Kings
The battle: Dustin Penner vs. Simon Gagne vs. Andrei Loktionov
The stakes: A top six spot
The lowdown: Penner improved his game come playoff time, showing that he could be a second line player after all - something we doubted after watching him play the last two years. Gagne is a former first-line talent who has spent nearly as much time in the injury ward as Rick DiPietro. It's hard to stay razor-sharp when you're only playing one out of every three games. Loktionov is a skilled young player who needs extended time on an NHL scoring line, but up until this point just gets short trials there.
My call: Penner gets first dibs, as the Kings like size on that second line and Gagne adds a nice dimension to the third line. Loktionov will get another short look on a scoring line thanks to the Anze Kopitar injury, but it won't last long enough for him to prove anything.
The battle: Pierre-Marc Bouchard vs. his concussion woes
The stakes: Reaching his NHL potential.
The lowdown: Bouchard is a talented player hit by concussion after concussion. Injuries started taking a toll right after his career high of 63 points in 2007-08. He was still trending upward at the time. Still only 28, he can still recapture his top six skills, but needs to catch a break. His training camp has been, by all accounts, very impressive. A full season could see him notch 40 points on this re-vamped Minnesota lineup.
My call: All we can do is hope, but I would feel comfortable with him playing at least 30 games and helping out a rotisserie team.
The battle: Roman Josi vs. Ryan Ellis for ...
The stakes: Playing time with Shea Weber
The other battle: Colin Wilson vs. Craig Smith
The other stakes: A second-line spot
The lowdown: Josi impressed last season with his poise and smarts, while Ellis was no slouch either. Ellis has the greater upside offensively, but Josi may be the closer Ryan Sutter clone. Playing with Weber will mean upwards of 25 points.
Wilson has improved with every season and on a lot of teams he would already be on the second line. Smith made a huge splash in 2011-12 as a rookie, but fizzled in the second half as he was unused to the 82-game schedule. The winner here will hit 30 points.
My call: Josi plays with Weber at even strength, Ellis will play with him on the PP. I know I waffled on that one…Smith takes the second-line job and hits 30 points.
The battle: Michael Stone vs. David Rundblad vs. David Schlemko vs. Chris Summers
The stakes: The No. 6 spot on the blue line
The lowdown: The Coyotes have one of the deepest systems in the league when it comes to the blue line. Rundblad has the most upside, but struggled in his first year in North America. However, he's come on strong this season. Meanwhile, Stone and Summers are NHL ready, having impressed in stints in 2011-12. Schlemko has been on the NHL roster for over a year now, but injuries and the numbers game have kept him from getting regular duty.
My call: Stone will be No.6 and Schlemko No.7, pushing Rundblad to the minors. Summers may be kept up as a No.8. Something has to give here and I'm confident a trade will happen sooner rather than later. Until that happens, none of these players are draftable.
San Jose Sharks
The battle: James Sheppard vs. tough luck
The stakes: His career
The lowdown: James Sheppard was Gilbert Bruled into the NHL by the Wild. He was brought in too soon and his immense talent was quickly eroded by lack of confidence and ice time. And then he got beat up by an ATV and hasn't played a lot of hockey over the past two years. It's hard to believe, but Sheppard is only 24 years old. That's younger than Damien Brunner and the same age that Gustav Nyquist will be next year when he finally makes the jump to the Red Wings for good. Sheppard was understandably rusty to start the year for Worcester, managing just eight points in 18 games. But he's found his groove, posting 15 points in 16 games and has the inside track on an NHL job.
My call: Sheppard makes the Sharks on a depth line and remains healthy enough to work his way up to the third line, with spot duty in the top six.
St. Louis Blues
The battle: Nine forwards compete for PP time
The stakes: Obviously a spot on the power play pretty much bumps your production significantly.
The lowdown: Word out of St. Louis is that the team is going to roll with three power-play units. This is probably just the forwards, as the team will rotate Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Russell and Kevin Shattenkirk as much as they can. Alex Steen will also see time on the point. But the forwards will, by the sounds of it, each average about two minutes of PP time per game.
My call: It may take a dozen games or so, but someone will step up and show that he deserves more PP time than the others. My guess is rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, as he has the most raw talent. Provided Ken Hitchcock doesn't look at him and see Nikita Filatov.
The battle: Jordan Schroeder vs. Zach Kassian
The stakes: Top six and power-play time.
The lowdown: Ryan Kesler is sidelined for at least another six weeks, maybe longer. David Booth is sidelined for about six weeks as well. That leaves two very gaping holes up front. Kassian is the Canucks' prize acquisition (for Cody Hodgson) and they would love nothing more than for him to become their next Todd Bertuzzi. Schroeder has taken longer than expected to develop, but seems to be close to NHL-ready.
My call: Kassian will contribute, but not points. So he'll eventually find himself on the third line. Schroeder will surprise with a hot start, but won't be able to keep it up beyond the 10th game, leaving Canucks fans restless for Kesler's return.
Pick up my Fantasy Hockey Guide here - all are based on the 48-game season and frequently updated with injury notes.