ESPN is bringing you quick-hitting team previews ahead of the 2016-17 fantasy season, with a spin through each division. We'll look at what's new, upward and downward trending players, and the goaltending situation for all 30 teams.
The goaltender index is a rating from one to 10, with one being your workhorse starters that face no threat whatsoever to their expected workload of 60-plus games, and 10 being a situation that is already a full-blown timeshare between two goalies.
What's new: Entering their first October without Eric Staal in more than a decade, the Hurricanes are turning their roster over to a new batch of on-ice regulars, and have plenty of opportunity for youngsters to find their footing. Tuevo Teravainen and Sebastien Aho are the newcomers, with Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask already on the right path. The team boasts the right mix of veterans, such as Lee Stempniak and Jordan Staal, to help stabilize the offense and give the kids a chance.
The defense is similar in its unrealized potential, with a franchise defenseman in Justin Faulk and a mix of youth and vets behind him. Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy remain the most skilled offensively behind Faulk, but are doubtful to find the opportunities for value.
Trending up: Jeff Skinner, W: With some mercurial results throughout his career, Skinner was back to approaching 30 goals again last season, finishing with 28 tallies and 51 points. He found chemistry with Rask, and the two both parlayed the results to the top of the team's internal scoring race. He finished 121st on the ESPN Player Rater and should be in line for continued improvement as more offensive weapons are added to the fold.
Trending down: Jordan Staal, C: Rask plays center with Skinner. Teravainen, Aho and Lindholm are all able to play center. Staal has had his most valuable seasons (to his NHL team) as a third-line center. One has to think the eventual plan is to push Staal down the depth chart, which would take him off the table as a low-end fantasy option. If things click for the young Canes, this could happen sooner than expected.
Goaltender index: 5. Cam Ward is back and he easily outplayed Eddie Lack in the same tandem last season. That said, he's a stopgap for the team as it continues to develop, as evidenced by his reduced salary, two-year term. His ratios don't immediately translate to being a fantasy starter, but he's on the radar if the Canes have more success than expected. He doesn't need to be drafted, but can be on your watch list for the early part of the season.
What's new: The Blue Jackets didn't add any huge pieces this offseason, but they didn't need to. This is a waiting game for the development of young stars, including Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Saad, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and now Pierre-Luc Dubois and Zach Werenski. If even half of these young studs -- all under 24 years old -- take another step, there will be plenty of fantasy value to go around.
Fantasy owners will have to decide who they like the most, then take a chance. The team's best line last season was Jenner, Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky, but there is little doubt the best scorer at the moment is Saad.
Trending up: Alexander Wennberg, C: While Dubinsky is the de facto top-line center based on experience, Wennberg might deserve the role more based on his offensive potential. Following minimal usage through the first two months of last season, Wennberg closed with 39 points in 56 games, which is a very fantasy-relevant pace -- and a pace that would have led the Blue Jackets -- of 57 points in a full season.
Trending down: Nick Foligno, W: Following a one-season spike when he was Robin to Ryan Johansen's Batman, Foligno went right back to his previous career trends of 30-some-odd points and minimal fantasy relevance. The continued growth of the young forwards should further push Foligno aside and fantasy owners should forget about the one-season blip in an otherwise non-fantasy-worthy career.
Goaltender index: 3. It's getting harder to remember that Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy just three years ago. His ratios from the past two campaigns have been detrimental to any fantasy owner, as has been his inability to stay healthy in the crease for a full season. That said, this is still Bobrovsky's team, and he'll have a long leash to try and recapture some of the magic that made him a top-tier fantasy goalie for his first two seasons in Columbus. If he's your No. 2 fantasy goaltender and you get him somewhere outside the first 100 draft picks, that is an acceptable scenario.
What's new: For the first time since Ilya Kovalchuk bolted for Russia, the Devils have a bona fide star scorer on their roster. Taylor Hall, if healthy, is going to blow the doors off his numbers from last season. He may even come close to his career-high 80 points from 2013-14. Hall joins former Windsor and junior national team linemate Adam Henrique, with whom he's celebrated hundreds of goals already in his career.
Hall doesn't suddenly make the Devils a good team, in fact the defense got much uglier in trading for him, but he gives them a real fantasy factor up front. Aside from Henrique, Kyle Palmieri should be the other beneficiary from lining up with Hall. The depth chart falls off after that, however, with the only other interesting skater being the oft-injured Michael Cammalleri.
Trending up: Damon Severson, D: Who else is going to play quarterback on this power play? Andy Greene consistently underwhelms. Ben Lovejoy or Kyle Quincey would seem pretty desperate. Maybe it's John Moore, but Severson led the Devils defense in scoring last season and had more power-play time per game than anybody else left. We know this isn't a resounding endorsement, but the power play is going to be pretty good and there will be value in the role, which we suspect Severson will fill.
Trending down: Travis Zajac, C: He's still hanging around as a top-six forward for the Devils, and he doesn't look bad on paper given some of the supporting cast, but we are just so far removed from anything resembling fantasy appeal for Zajac. You're probably thinking, "We know. It's been six years since he did anything. Get with the times." And you're right, but expectations are pretty low for this group -- outside of Hall -- and we had to put someone here.
Goaltender index: 1. Cory Schneider is a diamond in the rough for the Devils. Despite the offense and defense in front of him, Schneider uses his superior skills to stay strongly in the mix as a No. 1 fantasy goaltender. He's managed a combined .924 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average in his three campaigns as a Devil, which is astounding from a personnel perspective. If you get Schneider, try to balance your fantasy squad with a goaltender who is strong in the wins category.
What's new: The Isles were forced to replace their second- and third-best forwards with lesser contributors, but should still maintain fantasy production at the top, thanks to catalyst John Tavares. It may well be that newcomer Andrew Ladd is on his flank to begin the season, which would be huge for him.
The defense is a little too crowded for any one fantasy asset to really stand out. Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk suck away each other's value just enough to keep them as back-end roster filler. We were getting excited about scoring dynamo Ryan Pulock's chances on the blue line, but the signing of Dennis Seidenberg takes some of the air out of that idea.
Trending up: Ryan Strome, C: This will be a make-or-break season for the junior superstar to show that some of his offensive flash can finally translate to the NHL. He's not an ideal winger, but has been playing there more often than not. With Frans Nielsen's departure, the second-line center role is up for grabs. If Strome can snag it, he can hopefully erase thoughts of last season and build on his 50-point campaign from 2014-15. But he better come out like gangbusters, because prospect Matthew Barzal is waiting in the wings.
Trending down: Anders Lee, W: Given the same opportunities last season that he had in his 25-goal campaign from 2014-15, Lee saw his total drop by 10. That pretty much put a stop to any thoughts of him building into a fantasy asset going forward, especially since Brock Nelson did build on his strong 2014-15 season and is on the rise. Only one of the two is likely to be in the mix for top power-play unit duties, and Nelson has the clear edge.
Goaltender index: 6. The perception of Thomas Greiss' challenge to Jaroslav Halak is a bit inflated beyond what it actually is. Halak actually finished last season with a better goals-against average and despite strong results in the first round of the playoffs for Greiss, he looked like nothing special in the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then there is the fact that this same tandem was in competition to start for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey, with Halak earning the nod and helping guide his team to the finals. Sure, Greiss will be there to push Halak again this season, but if Halak can avoid injuries and play to his potential, he'll earn a larger share of the starts than he did last season.
What's new: The Rangers swapped out Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, let Keith Yandle move on and added two exciting forward prospects this offseason. That's weak for a refueling, but for a consistent playoff squad with King Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, it's probably enough.
After two seasons of consistent output from Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, we have to start to accept that they might just be what they appear to be. But in watching them, it's hard not to envision another gear for both. Just note that it's buyer beware, because we have two straight seasons of "meh" fantasy stats from the pair.
Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich will need to find a role in the top six to make good on their potential, which is no guarantee with Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Stepan, Kreider and J.T. Miller in town. The defense is a fantasy wasteland, with Ryan McDonagh the only one who has shown potential to fill the offensive void left by Yandle.
Trending up: Mika Zibanejad, C: A couple of number series for you: 20, 33, 46 and 51, as well as 13, 14, 16 and 17. Those are Zibanejad's points and average minutes in his four NHL seasons. Are we in store for 60 points and 18 minutes this season? The potential is certainly there.
Trending down: Rick Nash, W: With an awesome fantasy stat line every other season in a Rangers jersey, Nash is due for a good season in 2016-17. Unfortunately, real life doesn't model itself after a pendulum all the time, and we can't bank on a pattern like that as gospel. Nash will have new potential linemates this season, which could go a long way to reviving the 32-year-old sniper. The most positive aspect is that his shooting percentage was way down last season, so he should bounce back. But how far? His shooting percentage during his 42-goal campaign in 2014-15 was his second highest in a decade. Expecting that kind of return is too much, but he could provide 30 goals in a healthy campaign. As long as he's not treated as a 40-goal scorer in drafts, he'll be worth it.
Goaltender index: 2. We like where Lundqvist finished on the ESPN Player Rater last season as a new baseline. He was the 75th-best fantasy player overall, and 14th-best goalie. That sounds about right for a 34-year-old tending twine for a team that is in the middle of the pack for defense. Thirty-four isn't that old, though, and Lundqvist is still a workhorse who will start 60-plus games for your fantasy squad. We have him ranked as the No. 13 goalie off the board, just missing No. 1 fantasy status in 12-team leagues. Antti Raanta only comes into the picture if there is an unexpected injury, and probably doesn't need to added until said injury.
What's new: The only new thing to see here is more time for this upstart crew to bond and find chemistry. The Flyers found their footing in the second half of 2015-16 under coach Dave Hakstol, and didn't tinker during the offseason. Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere are both elite at their position, Wayne Simmonds is the best multi-category fantasy producer in the game, and there is still room for growth with Brayden Schenn and others.
Aside from the powerhouse Gostisbehere, Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and Ivan Provorov will provide a deep defense group that could also provide a second fantasy asset depending on the deployment.
Trending up: Sean Couturier, C: Throw out the first two months of last season and Couturier's numbers suddenly look like those of a soon-to-be fantasy star. From December on, Couturier posted 34 points in 45 games. The Flyers' wealth of top-line wingers means Couturier will have some talent at his side no matter how the depth chart shakes out.
Trending down: Jakub Voracek, W: The Flyers got incredible production from a line of Simmonds, Schenn and Giroux after Voracek's slump never waned last season, forcing Hakstol to demote Voracek. Sure, he could start on the top line again and see his shooting percentage increase, but Vorcaek could also stay on the second line and continue to slump. He's a fine choice as long as you don't jump on him too soon expecting a lock for a return to near 80 points.
Goaltender index: 8. Michal Neuvirth was deadly good to close last season out, but Steve Mason's body of work for the past three seasons can't be entirely ignored. Mason has posted a terrific .924 save percentage in the past three seasons and has been getting by with little offensive support at times. Mason out-started Neuvirth 53-29 during the regular season, and we are confident that he will continue to lead the way, but with an asterisk that the split might be closer to 41-41. It's painful and difficult to draft either of them with confidence, but if you already have your goaltending squared away and have room on the bench, flip a coin and stash one in hope they can separate.
What's new: It's hard to argue with an inactive offseason by a team when the players are spending most of it taking sips from Lord Stanley's Cup. The Penguins return with mostly the same cast of characters that hoisted the cup at the end of last season, and helped many fantasy owners to a similar glory with their box score-stuffing style.
The goaltender situation is certainly worth monitoring, and scores a 10 out of a possible 10 on our goaltender safety index below. As for the skaters, the biggest piece to watch is whether the HBK line sticks together, which would relegate one of the top-10 skilled players in the world to a third-line role.
Trending up: Carl Hagelin, W: As mentioned, the HBK line is one to watch in the preseason, as Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel were a dominant trio late in the season and right through to the Penguins' Stanley Cup victory. They combined for 28 points once they came together in the middle of March, and put together another 34 points in 24 playoff games as the Penguins' most dangerous trio. Keeping them together as a scoring line means an odd depth chart arrangement given the presence of two other world-class centers, so it's not guaranteed they stick together. If they do, however, Hagelin and Bonino will be worth a look at the end of drafts.
Trending down: Evgeni Malkin, C: As noted above, Malkin ends up in limbo if the Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel trio stays together. The Pens have done many experiments in the past with Crosby and Malkin on the same line -- and it has never worked. If the HBK line sticks, Malkin is relegated to third-line duty. While he is still good enough to make hay on the best third line in the NHL, Malkin isn't a first-round fantasy draft pick if that is his fate this season.
Goaltender index: 10. The hot mess that will be the Penguins goaltending timeshare won't hit DEFCON-1 until November, as the team won't rush Matt Murray back from a broken hand. Is a month enough time for Marc-Andre Fleury, one of the best regular season goaltenders in the NHL, enough time to remind everyone that he's a perfectly capable starting goaltender to carry a team to the playoffs? Murray stole the net and was a beacon of goaltender goodness (technical term) during the postseason, sporting a 2.08 goals-against average and .923 save percentage to win the Stanley Cup. But how soon we forget that Fleury, who has the most NHL wins during the past eight seasons combined, had his absolute best NHL season in the ratio department ever? The early advantage goes to Fleury, while Murray is out, which makes us want him more in fantasy drafts. But if you take the plunge with Fleury, you need to spend a pick on Murray a couple of rounds later.
What's new: Another team that required minimal tinkering after blasting aside all comers in the regular season, the Capitals are back with largely the same lineup. Only some pieces in the bottom six moved around, with Jason Chimera out, and Lars Eller and Brett Connolly in.
Trending up: John Carlson, D: On the whole, Carlson's numbers don't look great from last season, but he was on pace to top his 55 points from the season prior if he hadn't missed 26 games. Carlson is a threat for 60 points, and could easily finish among the top 10 fantasy defensemen.
Trending down: Marcus Johansson, W: Kuznetsov's establishment as a star and Andre Burakowsky's shot at continued improvement will impact Johansson on two fronts. Kuznetsov should begin to earn a role on the top power-play unit, taking over a role Johansson has occupied for the past couple seasons. Meanwhile, Burakowsky should get a shot to stick on the second scoring line all season, knocking Johansson out of the top six. An injury in the top six would shoot Johansson back up, but going into the season, he doesn't need to be on the fantasy radar.
Goaltender index: 1. Braden Holtby has finished among the top 10 on the ESPN Player Rater for two consecutive seasons -- a feat only matched by Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Erik Karlsson. That's some mighty fine company for the defending Vezina Trophy winner, who collected an NHL record-tying 48 wins last season. He's money in the bank in the crease for fantasy, and a surefire first-round pick.