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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Updated: September 15, 7:23 PM ET
Central Division preview

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

Detroit Red Wings

Additions: Mike Commodore, D (Blue Jackets); Ty Conklin, G (Blues); Chris Conner (Penguins), RW; Ian White, D (Sharks)

Subtractions: Kris Draper, C (retirement); Mike Modano, C (UFA); Chris Osgood, G (retirement); Brian Rafalski, D (retirement); Ruslan Salei, D (KHL, deceased)

Depth Chart

First line: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom
Second line: Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen
Third line: Jiri Hudler Justin Abdelkader, Todd Bertuzzi
Fourth line: Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves

First pairing: Ian White, Nicklas Lidstrom
Second pairing: Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart
Third pairing: Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard
Backup: Ty Conklin

Just Missed: Mike Commodore, D; Brendan Smith, D; Jan Mursak, LW; Cory Emmerton, C; Fabian Brunnstrom, LW

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Pavel Datsyuk
A broken hand and a "lower body injury" limited Datsyuk for 56 games last season, but he still managed 59 points, 18 of them on the power play.

The corps of 12 starting forwards remains relatively unchanged from the end of 2010-11, which should result in few fantasy surprises for this upcoming campaign. Just pencil Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in for a point per game, and nearly 30 goals for both Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary. The only potential for real contention lies with the second-line center position, as Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader could fight Valtteri Filppula for the role. … Without breaking into the full opening verse of "The Old Gray Mare," Tomas Holmstrom, without dispute, ain't what he used to be. The 38-year-old isn't expected to improve much on this past season's total of 37 points. … If Jiri Hudler doesn't smarten up, and quick, his days with the Red Wings will be spent skating on the fourth line  or worse. Fortunately, the 27-year-old winger is in a contract season, which usually provides extra incentive for those who require as much.

Power Play

Like the ultimate Lego-master, coach Mike Babcock is spoiled for choice with experienced options to utilize and interchange with the man-advantage. Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Holmstrom lead a pack of power-play performers that also includes Franzen, Hudler and, to a lesser degree, Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi. … Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall will get the lion's share of power-play minutes, while fresh import Ian White should see a fair amount of action also.

Keep An Eye On

If White gets hurt or lets coach Babcock down as an offensive threat from the blue line, prospect Brendan Smith will be more than delighted to prove he's ready to play with the big boys. Monitor how positive an impression the 22-year-old defenseman makes in September. … Armed with a tryout invitation to training camp, uber-disappointment Fabian Brunnstrom will get a shot at earning a job with the organization. Brunnstrom won't be skating with the Red Wings at the start of the regular season, but a gig with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins is well within reach. And that could result in a midseason call-up for the Swedish winger. A stretch perhaps, but you never know.

Nashville Predators

Additions: Niclas Bergfors, RW (Panthers); Tyler Sloan, D (Capitals); Zack Stortini, RW (Oilers)

Subtractions: Cody Franson, D (Maple Leafs); J.P. Dumont, RW (UFA); Marcel Goc, C (Panthers); Matthew Lombardi, C (Maple Leafs); Shane O'Brien, D (Avalanche); Steve Sullivan, LW (Penguins); Joel Ward, RW (Capitals)

Depth Chart

First line: Sergei Kostitsyn, David Legwand, Martin Erat
Second line: Niclas Bergfors, Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist
Third line: Colin Wilson, Cal O'Reilly, Jordin Tootoo
Fourth line: Nick Spaling, Jerred Smithson, Matt Halischuk

First pairing: Ryan Suter, Shea Weber
Second pairing: Jonathan Blum, Kevin Klein
Third pairing: Teemu Laakso, Jack Hillen

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne
Backup: Anders Lindback

Just Missed: Francis Bouillon (injured), D; Taylor Beck, LW; Ryan Ellis, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Toews/Kane
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were among the five sets of teammates to all finish in the top 20 in NHL scoring last season.

No offense to Niclas Bergfors, but David Poile didn't make any truly substantial moves to improve his hockey team this offseason. In fact, the Predators' general manager did little more than bid adieu to several roster regulars from 2010-11. So, from where we're sitting, Patric Hornqvist remains the squad's greatest asset, in terms of fantasy upside, while a healthy Martin Erat should collect between 50 and 60 points by season's end. … Beware of drafting a Preds' centerman too early, as the top three -- David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Cal O'Reilly -- are seemingly interchangeable at present. For example, you don't want Legwand on your squad if he's skating on the third line, or conversely, O'Reilly could be a steal if he gets to perform in a top-six role. … Playing in the final year of his current contract, towering goaltender Pekka Rinne should be at his best through an estimated 65-70 appearances.

Power Play

If Poile and the rest of management are to be commended for any action this past summer, it's managing to maintain a mild grip (via arbitration) on star defenseman Shea Weber for at least one more season. Weber and his blue-line buddy, Ryan Suter, led the Predators with 17 power-play points a-piece in 2010-11. Without question, those two are the fantasy heavyweights on an otherwise underwhelming team. Meanwhile, young Jonathan Blum is expected to take over for the departed Cody Franson on the Preds' second power-play unit.

Keep An Eye On

Smokin' hot prospect Ryan Ellis could provide substantial fantasy value if he earns a blue-line job with the big boys -- not outside the realm of the possible … Of all the young forwards, 21-year-old Colin White may have the most potential for enjoying a breakout season. … At the time of this writing, the Predators remain in real need of another experienced top-six winger. Once they make that (ultimately necessary) move, it will be much easier to assess how the forward lines will eventually shuffle out.

Chicago Blackhawks

Additions: Andrew Brunette, LW (Wild); Daniel Carcillo, LW (Flyers); Sami Lepisto, D (Blue Jackets); Steve Montador, D (Sabres); Jamal Myers, RW (Sharks); Sean O'Donnell, D (Flyers); Rostislav Olesz LW/C (Panthers)

Subtractions: Troy Brouwer, LW (Capitals), Brian Campbell, D (Panthers); Chris Campoli, D (UFA); Jake Dowell, C (Stars); Jordan Hendry, D (UFA); Ryan Johnson, C (UFA); Tomas Kopecky, RW (Panthers); Fernando Pisani, RW (UFA); Marty Turco, G (UFA)

Depth Chart

First line: Andrew Brunette, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane
Second line: Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa
Third line: Rostislav Olesz, Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik
Fourth line: Bryan Bickell, Marcus Kruger, Jamal Mayers

First pairing: Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith
Second pairing: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Steve Montador
Third pairing: Sami Lepisto, Nick Leddy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford
Backup: Alexander Salak

Just Missed: Kyle Beach, LW; Daniel Carcillo, LW; Ray Emery, G; Jeremy Morin, LW; Sean O'Donnell, D; John Scott, D; Ben Smith, RW

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

TBD
Patric Hornqvist peppered the net with 265 shots last season, adding sneaky value to his otherwise pedestrian 21 goals and 48 points.

The Chicago Blackhawks added some rough and tough to the mix this offseason, but we're more interested in what role the newly acquired Andrew Brunette will play. At age 38, Brunette could experience a bit of a production renaissance if he skates on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, as anticipated. A point per game from Brunette isn't too fanciful an expectation, under such circumstances. … Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik are your fantasy dark horses as either could surprise by nailing down a top-six spot alongside Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

Power Play

The perennially under-appreciated other Patrick -- Patrick Sharp -- should once again manage to rack up an extra-impressive total of special teams points in 2011-12. Sharp collected 12 power-play goals and 14 helpers, skating on the top unit with Toews and Sharp. Coach Joel Quenneville isn't going to muck about with that combination. If he can stay healthy, Dave Bolland is also an everyday threat with the extra skater. … Following Brian Campbell's exodus for warmer pastures, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will be relied upon even more so than before. Young Nick Leddy also has the potential to see a bit of power-play action.

Keep An Eye On

Alexander Salak should watch his back. Ray Emery isn't attending Blackhawks' training on a tryout invitation just to stay limber. After carrying the Anaheim Ducks into the playoffs as a midseason signing in February, Emery now plans to put in a full campaign in the NHL -- even if that means playing sporadically as a reliable backup goaltender. And, hey, that surgically repaired hip looks just fine to us. Frankly, we're a little shocked Emery wasn't offered a decent NHL contract over the summer, but he has the chance to earn one now. And the early money has to be on the 28-year-old over Salak as the potential backup to No. 1 Cory Crawford.

St. Louis Blues

Additions: Jason Arnott, C (Capitals); Jonathan Cheechoo, RW (Sharks); Brian Elliott, G (Avalanche); Kent Huskins, D (Sharks); Jamie Langenbrunner, RW (Stars); Scott Nichol, C (Sharks); Danny Syvret, D (Flyers)

Subtractions: Paul Kariya, LW (retired); Cam Janssen, LW (Devils); Ty Conklin, G (Red Wings)

Depth Chart

First line: Andy McDonald, David Backes, Matt D'Agostini
Second line: Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart
Third line: Vladimir Sobotka, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner
Fourth line: B.J. Crombeen, Scott Nichol, T.J. Oshie

First pairing: Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Pietrangelo
Second pairing: Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk
Third pairing: Kent Huskins, Roman Polak

Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak
Backup: Brian Elliott

Just Missed: Ben Bishop, G; Ian Cole, D; Jonathan Cheechoo, RW; Nikita Nikitin, D; David Perron (injured), RW

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

David Perron
Promising young scorer David Perron missed 72 games with a concussion and may not be ready to start the season.

With David Perron still battling concussion symptoms, the top-line right-wing position is up for grabs. Ahead of training camp, Matt D'Agostini is (slightly) favored to win the role, but that could easily change. If Chris Stewart or T.J Oshie move up to skate with Andy McDonald and David Backes, D'Agostini could tumble all the way down to the fourth line. … The additions of veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner adds valuable depth to the roster, which should bolster plus/minus ratings all around. However, if Brian Elliott or Ben Bishop -- and it's a toss-up at present as to who will get the coveted backup role -- are forced to take over for No.1 Jaroslav Halak, the Blues could be in a heap of trouble in the goals-allowed department.

Power Play

Projected to play on the Blues' top power-play unit, young defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are your biggest blue-line assets, while Nikita Nikitin should get opportunities to contribute with the man-advantage if (read: when) Carlo Colaiacovo manages to injure himself in some fashion. … Whatever role he holds at even-strength, Stewart will be the prime recipient of hefty minutes on the top unit along with McDonald and Backes.

Keep An Eye On

Without a doubt, the biggest wild card for the Blues ahead of October is winger Jonathan Cheechoo. A spectacular dud over the past three (four, perhaps) NHL seasons, this is still the fella who tallied 56 goals and 37 assists for the San Jose Sharks in 2005-06. And he's still only 31 years old. We're not about to stand behind any frivolous fantasy endorsements, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong favors giving Cheechoo a solid chance to earn a regular job in training camp. And this could be Cheechoo's last genuine kick at the NHL can. You can't help but root for the guy, in any case.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Additions: Jeff Carter, C (Flyers); Mark Dekanich, G (Predators); Radek Martinek, D (Islanders); Vaclav Prospal, C/LW (Rangers); James Wisniewski, D (Canadiens)

Subtractions: Chris Clark, RW (UFA); Nikita Filatov, LW (Senators); Mathieu Garon, G (Lightning); Jan Hejda, D (Avalanche); Ethan Moreau, LW (Kings); Craig Rivet, D (UFA); Anton Stralman, D (UFA); Scottie Upshall, RW (Panthers); Jakub Voracek, RW (Flyers)

Depth Chart

First line: Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger
Second line: Vaclav Prospal, Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard
Third line: Mathew Calvert, Samuel Pahlsson, Derek Dorsett
Fourth line: Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Johansen, Jared Boll

First pairing: Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski
Second pairing: Kris Russell, Marc Methot
Third pairing: Grant Clitsome, Radek Martinek

Starting goalie: Steve Mason
Backup: Mark Dekanich

Just Missed: Cody Bass, RW; Kristian Huselius, LW (injured); Maksim Mayorov, LW; John Moore, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Jeff Carter
Acquiring Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers gives the Blue Jackets the best player they've ever been able to line up alongside franchise player Rick Nash.

Rick Nash may still be grinning in gleeful anticipation after what transpired with his Blue Jackets this summer, and who can blame him? For the first time in forever, the elite winger has a top-notch centerman to skate with in Jeff Carter. Following the jaw-dropping trade which sent Jakub Voracek to the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash and Carter are in position to put up some staggering numbers this season. Throw the able-bodied R.J. Umberger on that top line and just watch the points add up. This could be the year Nash finally nears -- if not hits -- the 50-goal mark. Meanwhile, with Kristian Huselius out for months, Vaclav Prospal makes a swell addition to the second scoring line. … The biggest question mark on the Jackets' roster unarguably lies with their goaltending. If Steve Mason has his head together, and the club is counting on a solid rebound season, more goals will be scored than allowed.

Power Play

Picture, if you will, a top power-play unit consisting of Nash, Carter, Umberger and Prospal, with newly acquired offensive-defenseman James Wisniewski as anchor. Not too shabby. All the tools are there to compete with some of the best special teams assemblies in the league. And the secondary unit could also fare reasonably well with Vermette, Brassard -- young Matt Calvert maybe? -- defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Grant Clitsome. Without attracting too much attention, Clitsome collected 10 power-play points in only 31 contests in 2010-11. As far as Kris Russell is concerned, demand more consistency before you invest much fantasy faith. The 24-year-old blue-liner has yet to live up to his once promised potential.

Keep An Eye On

Center Ryan Johansen isn't a shoo-in to make the Blue Jackets' roster out of training camp, but nearly. The 19-year-old will be a top-six forward at some point, whether he ascends to that position this season or down the road remains to be seen. Until then, Johansen could still be a scoring threat, playing with fellow youngster Calvert.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com.