Normally, I don’t take a whole lot of stock into combinations at training camp, as they will tend to be very fluid throughout the process.
However, in a one-week camp, I highly doubt coaches would waste their time with experimenting and instead are focused on building chemistry, so here are a few tid-bits of what we know so far for line combinations.
Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno look like they will carry over their success from the end of last season into this year. Foligno looked great at the end of the year with 13 points in 13 games after his call-up in March. Also, it looks like Cody Hodgson will center the top line of himself, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. This moves Hodgson up a bit from where I had him initially ranked, though I still have concerns about his consistency.
Literally as I clicked the “publish” button, a tweet came out that Andrew Shaw was on the top power-play unit with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the points. The second unit was Patrick Kane, Viktor Stalberg and Dave Bolland up front with Patrick Sharp as the fourth forward on the point with Nick Leddy. While this is sure to be fluid throughout the year, I was glad to see Shaw get a crack on the top unit. Move him up my rankings a couple tiers (20th tier to 16th)
With Scott Gomez told to stay home (he will be bought out, it seems), I feel the writing is on the wall for rookie Alex Galchenyuk to make the squad. He was seen at practice this morning skating on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. He brings a power-forward physicality element with lots of skill that would mesh well with that line. However, it is still far from certain that he will earn a spot on the final roster. Also, as expected, Lars Eller is now on the third line with René Bourque and Travis Moen.
New York Islanders
It looks as though Kyle Okposo has won the lottery and seems to be the right winger to replace P.A. Parenteau on the top line for the Islanders with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. While I personally feel it should be Nino Niederreiter (much like Hodgson, time to prove yourself), if only just to balance the lines, this gives them a very potent and skilled first line.
Although it’s not shocking, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz have been skating with Sidney Crosby. Unless something goes very wrong, I expect this will be Sid’s line combination for most of the season. What is a bit surprising is that there hasn’t been a consistent winger with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal yet. Coach Dan Bylsma has said he will try Brandon Sutter sometimes, but my feeling is the first crack will go to Eric Tangradi. It’s time to sink or swim for this prospect. Also, literally as I’m writing this, it seems as though Pittsburgh will go with four forwards on the power play (no surprise) with Letang on the point. The forwards are Malkin, Crosby, Neal and Kunitz. Chris Kunitz looks like a great late addition to any fantasy roster with a pick around round 10-12.
Early reports are that Brayden Schenn will be playing left wing on the second line with Danny Briere at center and Wayne Simmonds on the right flank. Schenn is a natural center, but with the emergence of Sean Couturier, he seems better served to be have a crack at the second line. Briere is still not confirmed to start the season with a hairline wrist fracture so we’ll have to see how this all plays out in the coming days.
St. Louis Blues
Much to my surprise, it appears as though rookie Jaden Schwartz will start on the second line with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. I’m not sure this is a great fit, as their third line now has Andy McDonald and potential Calder candidate Vladimir Tarasenko on the third line with Alex Steen. I’m not so sure it shouldn’t be Tarasenko with Berglund and Schwartz because I don’t think I trust Tarasenko to fit with Alex Steen. Be that as it may, it gives Schwartz more value in deeper formats (though I still think Tarasenko is the rookie to own here).
Tampa Bay Lighting
Like Pittsburgh, the Lightning appear to be going with a four-forward power play unit as their top unit which is no surprise (St. Louis, Purcell, Stamkos, Malone). What is a surprise is who the one defenceman is: Sami Salo. While he is a power play specialist of sorts with that massive shot of his, I thought the first crack would have gone to either Marc-André Bergeron who is also a PP specialist or Matt Carle who has offensive penchant. Be that as it may, Salo moves up my D rankings a bit.
The second line in Vancouver is in shambles (I’ll get to that in a minute) and it appears this is good news for Mason Raymond. He was seen flying around the second forward unit in training camps with Zack Kassian. This seems to also solidify Alex Burrows as the right winger on the top unit with the Sedin twins… for now.
The injury bug should affect this condensed schedule more than usual. In my guide I already wrote about some issues with both Backstroms, Ryan Kesler among others. Once training camp opened, the injuries just kept rolling…
(in alphabetical order)
David Booth (VAN) - He was expected to possibly start the year on the decimated second line in Vancouver, but suffered a groin injury in training camp. An MRI revealed a strain and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Realistically, he could miss half the season. Consider him droppable if you don’t have a deep enough bench to stash him.
Jordan Caron (BOS) – He suffered an upper-body injury in his final AHL game and is expected to be out until about the end of the month. Not a season-killer by any stretch, but I think he is relegated to waiver-wire status unless you have really deep rosters.
Jake Gardiner (TOR) – Gardiner (concussion) has been on the ice today with the skating coach for the Leafs. This is great news for the Leafs and fantasy owners alike. There is no word on when he’ll be ready to take part in full practices, but stay tuned to my Twitter account for updates…
Willie Mitchell (LAK) – While this won’t affect those not in deep leagues, it is interesting to note Willie Mitchell will be out 4-6 weeks (per TSN) with an injury suffered… taking his physical. Sigh.
James van Riemsdyk (TOR) – He seemed like a good sleeper as he’s a big-body forward with lots of skill that the Leafs are surely lacking. He left practice yesterday after taking a shot to the foot. The diagnosis is nothing but a bruised foot and he should be fine in a couple days, but it certainly is not a good omen.
Tuomo Ruutu (CAR) – I had held out hope that Ruutu would be ahead of schedule returning from hip surgery and could be stashed on benches (he was set to play with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner). This is all snuffed out as it appears he will miss most, if not all, the regular season. Chad LaRose just shot up my rankings as a potential top-100 forward (was top-200).
That’s all the news I have for you for now. Be sure to pay attention to my Twitter feed (@SlimCliffy) for updates as I see them and for answers to your fantasy hockey questions.