With the final installment of our Fantasy Fresh Starts, we turn to the Atlantic Division, home of the Stanley Cup runner up Boston Bruins and NHL President’s trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. While the Lightning and the Bruins left much of their locker room makeup status quo, the rest of the division was hard at work in hopes of overstepping the top seeds.
Among the four NHL divisions, the Atlantic had the highest goals for (GF) at 2,081 and the highest goals against (GA) at 2,054, a perfect recipe for point production and an ideal hunting ground for fantasy hockey. The majority of the new faces in the Atlantic may not help win you your league outright, but there are plenty of quality options to help support you in your year-long point leagues, head-to-head weekly matchups and multiple category leagues.
Starting with the reigning division champion Tampa Bay Lightning and working out way down the 2018-19 Atlantic Division standings, let’s meet some of the new faces playing in the Atlantic that may or may not be worthy of a roster spot in your fantasy lineup.
Tampa Bay Lightning
After a disappointing first-round playoff exit, Tampa Bay didn’t hit the panic button. Instead, general manager (GM) Julien Brisebois showed confidence in his group and made minor additions through free agency. With an already star-studded cast of fantasy scoring options, some new Lightning faces may add another dimension to your team.
To support Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning signed goaltender Curtis McElhinney for the backup role. The veteran netminder has done nothing but fill-in as a steady fall back in his most recent stops with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes the past few seasons. He helped the Hurricanes surprise many last season and posted his first career 20-win season in a 1A and 1B situation with Petr Mrazek. Given the Lightning will once again be a strong group, look for McElhinney to be a good win option on most of his outings.
To help remedy their playoff woes, the Lighting also signed hulking power forward Patrick Maroon from the St. Louis Blues. Fresh off his Stanley Cup win, the forward will look to provide a heavier game for the Lightning. The left-winger does have touch around the net and of his 28 points last season, 11 came with the man advantage. While likely a waiver claim in your league, his value will likely only increase as the games get harder leading up to the playoffs, but don’t be surprised to see him parked in front of the net on the second power-play unit at times throughout the season.
Last on the list of the newbie Lightning players is offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Due to his sub-par play, the New York Rangers bought out the remaining four years on his contract this summer making him a free agent. With the potential to add another offensive threat to their blue line attack, Tampa Bay took a flyer on the former 40-plus point defender. With Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev ahead of him, the new defender will be in tough to resurrect his former self. He is definitely in the sleeper category and may be worth a late-round pick.
With the Bruins going all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in a losing effort, it’s hard to argue that they needed to overhaul their lineup. Despite the aging of veterans Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, the team is loaded with young talent chomping at the opportunity to get into the lineup and make their mark. With that in mind, the team could easily gear up for another cup run.
The most significant addition to the Bruins’ lineup was at the 2019 Trade Deadline when they acquired forward Charlie Coyle. The centreman is a versatile player that can finish, earn hits and offer positional flexibility as a centre or a right-wing. While he may not be worth a consistent spot in your fantasy lineup, he would be well served as a waiver claim should he earn more playing time or a move up the lineup due to injury.
After falling out of favour with the Dallas Stars, Brett Ritchie will be getting a fresh start on the fourth line in Boston. He showed promise playing his first full season in 2016-17 scoring 16 goals, but never built on his production. He is a big body at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and has an opportunity to redefine his game as a Bruin. With the departure of Noel Acciari, Ritchie could fit in nicely playing a high energy smashmouth brand of hockey deeper in the lineup. It’s safe to say that he doesn’t merit a spot in your fantasy lineup at this point.
Toronto Maple Leafs
In Toronto, goals aren’t the problem. The Maple Leafs had seven players with 20 or more goals last season, all of whom will be returning in 2019-20 and neither of whom were Nazim Kadri or William Nylander. After two significant trades with the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche, some skeptics don’t see any solution to their defensive headaches, but fantasy owners can only salivate at the new options wearing the blue and white.
Related Article: Ranking NHL Teams by Defencemen
In a deal with the Avalanche, the Maple Leafs added another scoring dimension to their blue line in Tyson Barrie. In each of the past two seasons, he has scored 14 goals and almost 60 points. He has a great shot and registered 218 last season, good enough for sixth among all defenceman. He’ll be in tough vying for minutes and power-play time with Morgan Rielly, but you can count on Barrie to continue producing and reach the 45 to 50-point plateau.
Also part of the Barrie trade, Alexander Kerfoot is a complementary forward that wins battles down low and makes space for his linemates. He also has a nice scoring touch and while he could produce respectable numbers on the third line, don’t be surprised to see him fill in as a top-six option at different points during the season. Keep an eye on him throughout the season as he may be the beneficiary of lesser defensive matchups.
After recording a career-high 23 goals and 45 points in 62 games in the KHL last season, the Maple Leafs inked rangy winger Ilya Mikheyev. He has a nice blend of size and skill and has the ability to do it all offensively with a good release and nice vision. The Maple Leafs are loaded at the moment along the wing and he will be in tough to crack the opening night roster. He will likely earn his stripes with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL to begin the year, so save your late-round pick, but add him to your watchlist and keep a close eye on his progress as the year gets going.
The Canadiens finished in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic in 2018-19 and narrowly missed out on the playoffs. Despite a strong playoff push down the stretch, GM Marc Bergevin didn’t make any monster additions in the off-season and only tinkered to shore up positional needs. Much like the breakout of Max Domi and his 72 points last season, the Canadiens will look to their youth and current roster players to break out and take the next step in their development.
After riding the pine in Columbus when he was acquired at the 2019 Trade Deadline, Keith Kinkaid had a front-row seat to watch the Blue Jackets dismantle the Lightning in the first round. Despite never playing a game for Columbus, he caught the attention of many the year previous in 2017-18 when he filled in for the injured Cory Schneider with the New Jersey Devils and quietly put up 26 wins in 41 appearances. Kinkaid will now back up Carey Price and while Price had a great rebound season last year, Kinkaid should be a reliable option when Price needs a night off or if he gets into injury trouble again. At the moment, the newcomer shouldn’t be drafted in any fantasy format with Price being projected to play 60-plus games.
There have been plenty of moving pieces with the Winnipeg Jets this offseason and Ben Chiarot was one of them. After some consideration, he signed a three-year deal with Montreal. The hard-nosed defender played deeper in the Winnipeg lineup playing an average of 18:36 minutes a game but still managed to score 20 points. While he isn’t known for his offence, he is sound defensively and is a big body that should see his hit and shot block numbers elevate from last year. Consider him as a waiver claim in a head-to-head or multiple-category league.
After another lackluster season from the Florida Panthers where they finished second last in GA and fell apart defensively, the team made a splash landing a new head coach in three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville, but they weren’t done there. The Panthers signed the most coveted goaltender on the market inking two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky and instantly vaulted to the top of the NHL goalie rankings.
Related Article: Ranking NHL Teams by Goaltenders
With the aging duo of James Reimer and now retired Roberto Luongo, the Panthers were the team with the biggest void between the pipes. Despite some questionable moments last season, Bobrovsky should stabilize the Panthers’ crease and projects to have very competitive fantasy numbers this season. He has played 60-plus games in each of the past three seasons and posted at least five shutouts each year during that time. With Quenneville running a tighter ship behind the bench, look for Bobrovsky to have another stellar campaign.
Joining Bobrovsky in the Sunshine State is breakout forward Brett Connolly. Nine years later, Connolly finally lived up to his top-10 selection in the 2010 Draft, totaling 22 goals and 46 points for the Washington Capitals last season. He should draw in on the third line and with the increased center depth in Florida, he could be lined up with either high-end prospect Henrik Borgstrom or Aleksi Heponiemi. With scoring wingers at a premium, he is worthy of a late-round selection.
The Panthers signed centreman Noel Acciari to a three-year contract. In him, the Panthers get a workhorse. He showed a soft touch at times and scored timely goals in the playoffs for the Bruins last season. More importantly, he pilled up over 220 hits during the year. Consider him a waiver option in a head-to-head multiple-category league, especially if you are going down to the wire in a matchup and looking to beef up your numbers in the hits column.
After a strong start to the season that saw Buffalo win 17 of their first 25 games, the Sabres fell off the map in 2019 winning all of 12 of their final 42 outings. With former Sabres star and head coach Phil Housley out the door, Ralph Kruger enters the fold to try and steer the organization in the right direction. With a few deadline deals and free-agent signings, Buffalo looks poised to rise again in the Atlantic.
Acquired at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, Brandon Montour is an offensive defenceman with a high scoring ceiling that is just scratching the surface. The former Anaheim Ducks second-rounder is a great puck transporter and can walk the blue line with the best. He has a tremendous release and is more than capable of handling steady power-play time. In an effort to strengthen an offensive attack, he is a great option from the backend and it will be interesting to see where he finds himself on the depth chart with Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen. With rumours swirling around a potential Ristolainen trade, Montour could be poised for an increased offensive role in Buffalo.
After coming off a terrific playoff run with the Bruins, Marcus Johansson was a reliable scoring threat in a supporting role night in and night out. While he won’t fill the net for the Sabres, he is a true playmaker and a great puck distributor and is a nice addition to upgrade their offense. He is a versatile fantasy play on the wing or at centre and looks to be penciled in as a top-six in the Buffalo fold. With rookie scoring winger Victor Olofsson and former Ranger Jimmy Vesey looking for a fresh start, Johansson has a few potentials to lineup alongside to help contribute to the new Sabres attack.
In a quieter free-agent signing, the Sabres inked former Vegas Golden Knight Colin Miller. The defenceman broke out for Vegas in their inaugural campaign with 41 points and despite being sidelined by injury last season, he was still on pace to repeat his production. He doesn’t pound the puck at the net but is able to get a quick wrister through traffic and look off defenders to create strong looks for his linemates. He is an all-around blueliner than chips in for the occasional hit and has a history of about 0.5 penalty minutes per game. While the Sabres defence core appears to be logjammed, he will no doubt find a way to continue his steady production and is a great flyer in deeper leagues.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are in full re-tooling mode. Gone are the days of steady fantasy options from the Motor City. With the likes of Niklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk all out to pasture from the NHL and the recent retirement announcement of Niklas Kronwall, there is a true changing of the guard in Detroit. The Red Wings didn’t catch any big fish in free agency and appear to be letting the recipe of old take them to the next step – savvy drafting and patience.
The top NCAA scorer in 2018-19, Taro Hirose scored 35 assists and 50 points with Michigan State. He was arguably the most sought after college free agent in the spring and chose to stick around the Michigan area to kick off his pro career. In an early look at the tail end of last season, he put up seven points in just 10 NHL games. He is a strong passer with above-average speed and will fit in nicely with Detroit’s up-tempo game. Look for him to be available in most fantasy leagues in later rounds and could potentially be a surprise in the Calder Trophy debate.
After a six-year absence, Valtteri Filppula returns to the organization that originally drafted him 95th overall in 2002. Gone are the days that saw him score 66 points for the Wings in 2012, but he may still have some value. He has always been an effective puck distributor and with the Detroit boasting sleeper speed and skill on the wing, he could surprise and see some streaks of success throughout the year. On top of that, he is an avid penalty killer and could earn some shorthanded points to help in multiple category leagues.
Kaski is another strong free agent signing by the Red Wings out of the SM-liiga. After a short stint with Western Michigan in the NCHC, he returned to Finland in 2016-17. Putting up modest numbers in 2017-18, he blew up last season posting 50 points in 59 games, 18 of which were goals. He was a trigger all season long and totaled the most shots in the league. He had a dream year, winning the Best Defenceman and Best Regular Season Player awards, was named to the all-star team and even won gold for Finland at the World Championships. It looked like he would be starting the season in Grand Rapids of the AHL, but with Kronwall retiring, the door may have opened for him to battle it out for an opening day roster spot. Keep him on your watchlist for now.
Despite finishing at the bottom of the league in 2018-19, the Ottawa Senators had some serious fantasy plays. On paper, the likes of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Ryan Dzingel formed what appeared to be a pretty potent power-play unit, but with Stone, Duchene and Dzingel no longer in the Nation’s Capital, the Senators aren’t likely to score at the same pace this season. The Senators are biding their time and allowing internal assets to claim roster spots as much as possible, but the team did make a few moves worth fantasy consideration.
Coming over to the Senators in the Cody Ceci trade, Connor Brown is slated to start in a top-six role on the right side and will be given every opportunity to make it work. In 2016-17, he scored 20 goals in Toronto while playing 16:12 time on ice (TOI) per game. In just 13:48 TOI last season, he scored eight goals. With his contract coming up at the end of the season, look for him to take advantage of increased playing time and offensive looks.
Never a top-flight centreman, but always a reliable two-way option, Artem Anisimov was acquired by the Senators over the summer in exchange for Zach Smith. Anisimov posted a career-best 45 points in 62 games for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016-17 skating alongside Patrick Kane. While the Senators can’t partner him with comparable skill, they do need a number one center and he could fit the bill. He will likely be available in deep drafts in the later rounds and may be worth a flyer seeing as somebody has to score in Ottawa.
This might be the last kick at the can for Anthony Duclair. Already with his fifth NHL team and only 24 years old, he has all the tools needed to be a reliable point producer but just can’t seem to piece it all together. Acquired in the Dzingel trade at the deadline, he took advantage of yet another change of scenery and totaled 14 points in 21 games since being acquired by Ottawa. Like Brown, he will see his contract expire at the end of the season, so he should have enough motivation to potentially play for his hockey life. He is a solid sleeper option as a left-wing.
Good luck this year in your fantasy pools and continue to check back at The Hockey Writers’ 2019-20 NHL Fantasy Guide for more fantasy advice all season long.
Ottawa Senators writer for The Hockey Writers.
Scout/writer on the Nashville Predators at Dobber Prospects.
Ottawa native, hockey player, coach and referee.
Forever a fan of hockey with a keen interest in prospects and NHL rookies.