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Friday, September 25, 2009
Atlantic Division preview

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

New Jersey Devils

Additions: Cory Murphy, D (Tampa Bay); Yann Danis, G (Islanders); Ilkka Pikkarainen, RW (Europe)

Subtractions: Brian Gionta, RW (Montreal); John Madden, C (Chicago); Scott Clemmensen, G (Florida); Michael Rupp, C (Pittsburgh)

Depth Chart

First line: Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner
Second line: Brenden Shanahan, Dainius Zubrus, Brian Rolston
Third line: Jay Pandolfo, Rod Pelley, David Clarkson
Fourth line: Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Nicklas Bergfors, Ilkka Pikkarainen

First pairing: Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya
Second pairing: Colin White, Bryce Salvador
Third pairing: Andy Greene, Mike Mottau

Top goalie: Martin Brodeur
Backup: Yann Danis

Just Missed: Patrik Elias, LW (out until November); Cory Murphy, D; Matt Halischuk, RW

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Zach Parise
Zach Parise has scored 107 goals in the past three seasons combined.

With the return of Mr. Defense, coach Jacques Lemaire, expect the output from most Devils to dip a bit this season as they concentrate once again on preventing goals instead of scoring them. Still, discounting the top pairing of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac too much would be a mistake. Consider them in for a 10-point drop or so in production from last season, which still makes Parise an arguable top-five selection when you factor in the plus/minus. … Brian Rolston had an ugly return to New Jersey last season, spending much of his time injured or on the third line. Lemaire used Rolston extensively during his tenure in Minnesota, and expect the same to be true now that they have been reunited on the Devils. Chalk Rolston up for a run at another 30-goal season. … Of course, the defensive styling of the Devils will mean solid plus/minus ratings all around. That really elevates the value of 30-point defensemen like Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya.

Power Play

Lemaire uses a simple power play, likely with Paul Martin, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, Brian Rolston and, once back from injury, Patrik Elias. Big shooters always benefit on a Lemaire power play, so look for some sleeper value from Rolston and even Brenden Shanahan.

Keep An Eye On

Cory Murphy is a power-play specialist, but Lemaire is unlikely to forgive his defensive shortcomings in favor of featuring him in such a role. Especially considering the Devils go six deep with solid defenders already. Still, he warrants a quick check once in a while to see if he is getting time. Murphy reminded us what he can do by closing last season with 15 points in 25 games for the Lightning. … One of Brian Rolston, Brenden Shanahan or Dainius Zubrus will be reduced to a third-line role when Patrik Elias returns. Here is betting on Zubrus, as Elias is more than able to play center on the second line.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Devils players.

New York Islanders

Additions: Martin Biron, G (Philadelphia); Dwayne Roloson, G (Edmonton)

Subtractions: Yann Danis, G (New Jersey); Mike Sillinger, C (retired); Joey MacDonald, G (Toronto)

Depth Chart

First line: Blake Comeau, John Tavares, Kyle Okposo
Second line: Jeff Tambellini, Doug Weight, Trent Hunter
Third line: Jon Sim, Josh Bailey, Richard Park
Fourth line: Sean Bergenheim, Frans Nielsen, Tim Jackman

First pairing: Mark Streit, Bruno Gervais
Second pairing: Andy Sutton, Brendan Witt
Third pairing: Radek Martinek, Freddy Meyer

Top goalie: Dwayne Roloson
Backup: Martin Biron

Just Missed: Jesse Joensuu, RW; Matt Moulson, LW; Rick DiPietro, G (injury status unknown)

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect
John Tavares
John Tavares scored 215 goals and 433 points in 247 career OHL games.

Absolutely nothing is set in stone for the Isles scoring lines, and coach Scott Gordon has plenty of room for experimentation. Given the uncertainty, only players who will score regardless are recommended for fantasy drafts, with others simply acting as speculation or pickups once the lines become clear. John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Doug Weight and Mark Streit are the only players likely to have value no matter how the lines sort themselves out. … While the team has much young talent, there is no core just yet that will beat most teams. That means a poor plus/minus is to be expected all around, but it shouldn't be too terrible as the Islanders boast solid defense and plenty of good goaltending. … As for the three-headed goalie monster spotted in Long Island Sound, it looks like Dwayne Roloson will get the bulk of work while Rick DiPietro recovers from all that ails him (hip, knee, etc.). He could act as a deep-league No. 2 goaltender, but is better off left on your bench or used in a good matchup. Roloson is still skilled, but wins may be sparse.

Power Play

Doug Weight, Mark Streit and John Tavares are going to play a ton on the power play for the Islanders, but after them it becomes a mix of whoever has chemistry with that trio. Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey will have the inside track, though. … The Isles' power play was in the lower third of the league last season with a 16.9 percent conversion rate, but surely Tavares can change that by himself. He finished with as many as 34 power-play goals in some of his OHL seasons.

Keep An Eye On

While Kyle Okposo -- as long as he recovers from his concussion -- is the consensus favorite to play on John Tavares' right side, the left-wing spot is an open race between as many as five suitors. Jeff Tambellini and Sean Bergenheim are two young talented Isles prospects who have been around the block a few times already, but have yet to find their names consistently on the score sheet. They'll likely be given a shot at some point. Matt Moulson is the underdog candidate, having played sparingly for the Kings the past two season. But Moulson is making some waves in the preseason and showing chemistry with Tavares when on a line with the young sniper. Blake Comeau has flashed potential as a playmaker, with 18 assists in 53 games last season, and is another possibility. The long shot, who may win the role down the road, is Jesse Joensuu. The talented, sizable winger has already played five seasons of professional hockey between Finland and the AHL. Tavares has the rare talent of turning those around him into stars, so this is an important battle to follow.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Islanders players.

New York Rangers

Additions: Marian Gaborik, RW (Minnesota); Chris Higgins, RW (Montreal); Enver Lisin, RW (Phoenix); Ales Kotalik, RW (Edmonton); Tyler Arnason, C (Colorado); Donald Brashear, RW (Washington)

Subtractions: Scott Gomez, C (Montreal); Markus Naslund, LW (retired); Nikolai Zherdev, LW (Russia); Nik Antropov, C (Atlanta); Fredrik Sjostrom, LW (Calgary); Lauri Korpikoski, RW (Phoenix); Paul Mara, D (Montreal); Colton Orr, RW (Toronto); Derek Morris, D (Boston)

Depth Chart

First line: Vaclav Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik
Second line: Sean Avery, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan
Third line: Ales Kotalik, Artem Anisimov, Enver Lisin
Fourth line: Donald Brashear, Tyler Arnason, Aaron Voros

First pairing: Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival
Second pairing: Daniel Girardi, Marc Staal
Third pairing: Matt Gilroy, Bobby Sanguinetti

top goalie: Henrik Lundqvist
Backup: Stephen Valiquette

Just Missed: Evgeny Grachev, C; Patrick Rissmiller, LW; Michael Del Zotto, D; Corey Potter, D; Brian Boyle, C

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect
Marian Gaborik
Marian Gaborik has scored 85 goals and missed 104 games the past three seasons.

Coach John Tortorella has a number of details to work out given the amount of turnover on the Rangers' roster, but the recent deal with Brandon Dubinsky that ended the forward's holdout makes things a bit clearer. Dubinsky will play first-line center with Marian Gaborik, and most likely Vaclav Prospal on the wing. Prospal and Torts go back to Tampa Bay, where Vinny handled the top-line duty for Tortorella for several seasons. That could mean another 75-point season for Prospal, and fantasy owners should consider him worth a gamble. … Though not set in stone, a second line of Sean Avery, Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan would offer a rare combination of grit and offense that won't be repeated anywhere else in the league. They could offer significant fantasy value thanks to the defensive responsibility of Drury and penalty minutes from Avery and Callahan.

Power Play

The Rangers are in desperate need of a defenseman to take over the quarterback duties on the power play after having to suffer through the failings of a waning Wade Redden last season. Luckily, there are plenty of suitors. Bobby Sanguinetti is further along in development than Michael Del Zotto, but both offer a strong puck-moving presence on the blue line. Sanguinetti gets an extra edge in the competition for a roster spot given his lack of defensive misgivings (can't say the same for Del Zotto). Also in the mix is Matt Gilroy, the 2009 Hobey Baker award winner (for best U.S. college player). While Gilroy doesn't have the offensive upside of the other two, he brings more to the table overall and therefore might be quicker to win an important role. Either way, it looks like a replacement for the power-play blue line will be found internally, and Redden and Michal Rozsival can kiss much of their fantasy value goodbye. … Of course, the Rangers really need only one defenseman for the first unit on the power play, as they now boast specialist Ales Kotalik. He and Jarret Stoll are two-of-a-kind in the NHL, using their powerful shots to be power-play contributors even though they play a second- or third-line role at even strength. Expect a healthy contribution from Kotalik for ESPN leagues, but remember his value is limited to power-play production. … Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal and Ryan Callahan are likely to make up the rest of the first unit, as coach John Tortorella will chose Callahan over Brandon Dubinsky for his ability to work in front of the net.

Keep An Eye On

Don't get sucked in too much by Artem Anisimov's preseason production. He is not likely to win a scoring line role with the Rangers and, since he possesses a strong checking game, he'll wind up on a checking line with the club. He does have some offense to his game and may parlay it into a top-six role in the future, but this won't be his breakout season. … Enver Lisin, on the other hand, is someone to watch. While he is not assured a top-six role, Lisin does have the offensive ability to be there this season. He is blazing fast -- maybe the fastest in the NHL -- and has a knack for finishing plays. Watch how coach John Tortorella is using him in the early going to see if he might break out for 25 or more goals.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Rangers players.

Philadelphia Flyers

Additions: Chris Pronger, D (Anaheim); Ray Emery, G (Russia); Brian Boucher, G (San Jose); Ian Laperriere, C (Colorado)

Subtractions: Joffrey Lupul, RW (Anaheim); Mike Knuble, RW (Washington); Martin Biron, G (Islanders); Antero Niittymaki, G (Tampa Bay); Luca Sbisa, D (Anaheim)

Depth Chart

First line: Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Daniel Briere
Second line: Scott Hartnell, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux
Third line: Daniel Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Jason Ward
Fourth line: James vanRiemsdyk, Ian Laperriere, Arron Asham

First pairing: Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen
Second pairing: Braydon Coburn, Randy Jones
Third pairing: Matt Carle, Ryan Parent

Top goalie: Ray Emery
Backup: Brian Boucher

Just Missed: Riley Cote, LW; Jared Ross, C; Andreas Nodl, RW; Danny Syvret, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Ray Emery
Ray Emery won 33 games in 56 starts with Ottawa in 2006-07, posting a .918 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average.

Only one puzzle piece needs to fall into place for the Flyers to be a dominant squad for plus/minus seekers in fantasy: goaltending. Ray Emery returns from exile in Russia, and the Flyers -- who will be Stanley Cup contenders if they receive decent goaltending -- are making a big bet that Emery can return to his 2006-07 form. He certainly does appear to be free of the attitude problems that found him unable to attract a suitor last season, leaving him with no choice but to sign in the KHL. Emery performed admirably in the Russian league and is definitely a high-reward selection in fantasy drafts. The Flyers have also brought in stellar backup Brian Boucher in case Emery collapses. Bottom line: The goaltending does offer some risk, but overall the Flyers will be a dominant squad with solid plus/minus ratings across the board. … Coach John Stevens already has his lines sorted out, and there is a sleeper on both of the scoring lines. Daniel Briere shifts over to the wing to play with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne in the departed Mike Knuble's position. Coming off an injury-riddled campaign, Briere has nowhere to go but up. On the second line, sophomore Claude Giroux is a high-flying winger who steps into Joffrey Lupul's old role alongside Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter. Look for a huge breakout season from him.

Power Play

With Chris Pronger and his big shot and Kimmo Timonen and his soft passes, the Flyers' power play should no longer need Mike Richards to play the point. But he should still be a member of the first unit with linemates Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne. The second unit essentially will consist of the second line, and both trios will get a fair amount of time on the man advantage. … The Philadelphia power play clipped along at a 22.5 percent rate last season and should remain near the top of the league thanks to an influx of talent replacing the departed contributors.

Keep An Eye On

James vanRiemsdyk is a future star forward, but there isn't room for him to have a big season quite yet. He may start in the AHL so he can hone his skills professionally in a featured role. Look to him if there are any injuries among the top six (cough, cough, Simon Gagne). … Braydon Coburn was ready for a coming out party, but it has been postponed with the arrival of Chris Pronger. While Coburn will still play an important role on the team, he won't be featured and take that next step with Pronger in town. … Watch Daniel Carcillo's ice time. If he is playing fewer than 10 minutes a game, he could be too detrimental to your average ice time to be worth the 200 penalty minutes.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Flyers players.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Additions: Jay McKee, D (St. Louis); Michael Rupp, C (New Jersey); Brent Johnson, G (Washington)

Subtractions: Petr Sykora, RW (Minnesota); Philippe Boucher, D (retired); Hal Gill, D (Montreal); Mathieu Garon, G (Columbus); Rob Scuderi, D (Los Angeles)

Depth Chart

First line: Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Bill Guerin
Second line: Ruslan Fedotenko, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy
Third line: Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis
Fourth line: Craig Adams, Michael Rupp, Eric Godard

First pairing: Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang
Second pairing: Brooks Orpik, Alex Goligoski
Third pairing: Mark Eaton, Jay McKee

Top goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury
Backup: Brent Johnson

Just Missed: Max Talbot, C (out until November); Chris Connor, C; Luca Caputi, LW; Eric Tangradi, LW; Ben Lovejoy, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have combined for 599 points in three seasons together.

With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Dan Bylsma can do no wrong when sorting out his lineup. As we learned last year, working in the Penguins' top six is no guarantee for production (see: Satan, Miroslav and Sykora, Petr), but a player could sure do a lot worse to help his chances. Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko are locks to be among the top lines, therefore each has an outside shot at 30 goals, even though Kunitz and Fedotenko have never reached that plateau. Don't forget that the Penguins were spinning their wheels until Bylsma took the helm in mid-February. A full season of disciplined play means big production from everyone, instead of just Malkin (113) and Crosby (103) notching more than double the points of the third-best Penguin (Jordan Staal's 49).

Power Play

The power play is where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin join forces to give opponents nightmares. However, the Pens were a lowly 17.2 percent on the man advantage last season (10th-worst in the league). Don't forget that quarterback Sergei Gonchar didn't return until mid-February, though, so an improvement is all but assured with the three main cogs all in place.

Keep An Eye On

Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski will be jostling for position this season as the second option for offense from the blue line. Both have a solid track record in juniors and the AHL for putting up points and both have a future in power-play quarterbacking. There is likely only enough points available for one to be a fantasy asset this season. Letang will start the race out in front, but Goligoski has the slightly higher long-term potential. Watch their distribution and ice time at even strength and on the power play. … Chris Kunitz deserves some extra attention in drafts. Working with Crosby all but assures he'll return to his 60-point level from 2006-07. The bonus with Kunitz is that you know he's good for 80 penalty minutes. … He may have only until Max Talbot's return to assert himself, but Tyler Kennedy is certainly in a prime position to advance his fortunes. Not only is he on Malkin's wing for the time being, but he has shown steady improvement in his first two seasons and likely would have been expected to get better this year even if he remained on the third line in Pittsburgh.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Penguins players.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was named the 2008 Hockey Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can e-mail him here

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