We’re at the stage of training camp where teams are trimming their rosters, but haven’t made any noteworthy cuts yet. We’ll have to wait a bit longer before we get a real sense of who will win roster spot battles, but in the meantime, there have been some interesting storylines emerging that could end up having a substantial impact in fantasy circles. Let’s take an opportunity to look at some of them now.
Brock Nelson emerging as a second-line center
With John Tavares now in Toronto, sophomore Mathew Barzal will need to anchor the top line. If his rookie campaign is any indication, Barzal should be able to handle that role, but the bigger issue in New York is the lack of skilled centers beyond him. There’s no great option to serve as the Islanders’ second-line center, but it seems like Brock Nelson will attempt to fill that void. He’s gotten looks with both Tavares’ old linemates of Anders Lee and Josh Bailey and a combination of Lee and Jordan Eberle so far during training camp.
Nelson only had 19 goals and 35 points in 82 games in 2017-18, but he was also averaging just 14:44 minutes per game. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him jump to 50 points if he consistency serves in a top-six capacity.
The two have played together in two preseason games thus far and Rattie has managed to record an incredible seven points over that span. Of course that has to be taken with a grain of salt, but the big thing here is that McDavid and Rattie have meshed well and impressed Oilers coach Todd McLellan. Rattie also got some ice time with McDavid during his 14-game stint with Edmonton towards the end of the 2017-18. Going into this season, Rattie hasn’t even established himself as a regular in the NHL yet, so he’s a gamble, but one that could pay off handsomely given the opportunity he appears to have.
Max Domi gets suspended
Domi will miss the rest of the preseason after sucker punching Aaron Ekblad in Wednesday’s preseason game between Montreal and Florida. While Domi isn’t missing any games that matter, the fact that he couldn’t keep his cool even in an exhibition game can’t be encouraging for the Canadiens. He’s also new to the team after being acquired from Arizona, so this costs him an opportunity to better mesh with the team before the preseason.
Yahoo has shifted from using penalty minutes as a default category to using hits, which significantly hurts Domi’s fantasy value in those leagues. Domi had 73 penalty minutes in 82 games last season, but was credited with an underwhelming 49 hits.
Erik Karlsson settling in with the San Jose Sharks
San Jose’s acquisition of Karlsson has moved them from being a strong team capable of pleasantly surprising in the playoffs to a top-tier Stanley Cup contender. Having Brent Burns and Karlsson, arguably the two best offensive defensemen in the league today, on the same roster just feels unfair, though it also raises questions about how the ice time will shake out, particularly with the man advantage.
That’s something we’re going to keep an eye on during the early portion of the season, but for now we’re getting our first glimpse of how the Sharks’ defense will be utilized this season. Karlsson has been practicing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and we might see Burns be paired with Joakim Ryan given that the duo spent a fair amount of time together last season.
The defenseman that might stand to lose the most in that scenario is Justin Braun, who had 33 points and averaged 21:20 minutes last season. Vlasic might also take a small hit because while he’ll likely play with Karlsson in 5-on-5 situations, Vlasic might end up losing his role with the man advantage. Fortunately that’s not a huge deal because despite the fact that Vlasic did get an okay amount of power-play ice time in 2017-18, 28 of his 32 points were recorded on even-strength.
Ilya Kovalchuk off to a strong start with the Los Angeles Kings
When Kovalchuk left the NHL following the 2013 campaign, he was one of the league’s top goal scorers and it won’t be long before we find out if he’s still an elite forward after five seasons in the KHL. Certainly he excelled in Russia, most recently recording 31 goals and 63 points in 53 KHL contests, but he’s also 35-years-old.
For what it’s worth though, Kovalchuk has looked good in the preseason thus far and found the back of the net on Thursday. He was playing on a line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, which could continue to be the Kings’ top unit once the campaign starts.
Flyers might be in for more goaltending health headaches
It’s too early to actually say that with any degree of confidence, but there have been some discouraging signs in the early going. Alex Lyon will miss the next four weeks with a lower-body injury and now Michal Neuvirth is questionable for Friday’s game and his availability beyond that is uncertain. Under other circumstances, Neuvirth being questionable for an exhibition contest wouldn’t really be news, but he’s coming off arthroscopic surgery on both hips and has endured far more than his share of injuries over the past couple seasons.
Of course, the Flyers have Carter Hart, who is one of the top goaltending prospects in the league and is projected to open the campaign in the AHL. There’s a chance that Hart could end up starting the season with the Flyers if Neuvirth is hurt, especially given that Lyon doesn’t appear to be an immediate option. The Flyers have a ton of goalie depth though and may turn to Anthony Stolarz rather than risk asking Hart to do too much, too soon. Stolarz, 24, missed most of the 2017-18 campaign, but he’s a very promising goaltender in his own right and might be able to step up if Neuvirth ends up being unavailable.