Fantasy Fresh Starts: Central Division

Fantasy hockey season is just around the corner and many leagues are gearing up to draft their teams. With all the changes that inevitably happen in the offseason, fantasy values can change from season to season. Trades, free agent signings, and new teammates throw a wrench into any draft strategy.

Related: 2019-20 NHL Fantasy Guide

So, who do you pick? The fantasy team here at THW has got you covered! Throughout September we will be looking at each division’s key additions and the fantasy impact they could have on their new team. Hopefully, this will make it easier to choose players on draft day. Second on our list, the Central Division.

Chicago Blackhawks

While the Chicago Blackhawks were not major players during free agency (the team only signed Robin Lehner and Ryan Carpenter), general manager (GM) Stan Bowman made his noise via the trade market. He brought in Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith, Alexander Nylander, Calvin de Haan, and Olli Maatta. Here are a few players with the most to prove.

Andrew Shaw (C, RW)

After coming off a career-high 47 points in 2018-19, Shaw is back with the Blackhawks. He scored 20 goals for them in 2013-14 and is only 28 years old. If you are in a league that counts hits and penalty minutes (PIM), you have to love the potential for a big season. He is a reliable two-way forward with the possibility to line-up with Jonathan Toews. He could break the 50-point plateau this season.

Robin Lehner (G)

After winning the Masterton and Jennings Trophies with the New York Islanders last season, Lehner signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks over the summer. He found his game under Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn, now he is oozing confidence and hopes to replicate last season. Fellow netminder, Corey Crawford, has suffered from a concussion the last two seasons and Lehner would be the de-facto number one, but Crawford is healthy so they could split the net much like Lehner did last season in Long Island.

Robin Lehner, Valtteri Filppula
Former New York Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner celebrates with Valtteri Filppula (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Olli Maatta (D)

The former first-rounder was dealt by the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer because of cap issues, but he could not have landed in a better spot. Injury issues aside, Maatta is only 25 years old and with Calvin de Haan hurt to start the season, Maatta will receive plenty of ice time. He is a good puck mover and with all of the fast, young players on the Blackhawks he could pick up a sneaky amount of secondary assists. Plus, if your league counts hits and blocks, he’ll give you both.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche’s window to win is now. They have a team of young guns on cheap contracts and have cap space to spend. The team tried adding Artemi Panarin in free agency, pitching their significant interest in the winger, but ultimately lost out on those sweepstakes. GM Joe Sakic still added a number of new faces and hopes to build off a successful second-round playoff appearance.

Nazem Kadri (C)

The Avs’ Achilles heel last season was secondary scoring. They made a number of moves this summer to help address that, and it starts down the middle with Nazem Kadri. He has eclipsed 15 goals in every full NHL season he has played in and with the move to the tougher conference, former teammate Tyler Bozak says Kadri’s game is built for the Central Division. Look for Kadri to see a spike in penalty minutes (PIM), hits, and with no more Soderberg around, Kadri should take most of the big draws and score some face-off wins (FOW).

Nazem Kadri, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs, Hockey
Nazem Kadri (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Andre Burakovsky (LW, RW)

The former first-rounder is hoping a fresh start will ignite his career. After being a healthy scratch at different points throughout last season and during the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup run the previous season, Burakovsky lands on a team that needs secondary scoring. He should receive plenty of ice time for the Avalanches and with a one year contract, it is time to put up or shut up.

Joonas Donskoi (LW, RW)

Donskoi could never find a home in San Jose, being bounced around from line to line, but Sakic must have seen something he liked during their playoff series because he signed him to a four-year contract worth almost $16 million. You can bet that he will see more than the 14 minutes he averaged in his career with the Sharks and that could lead to a breakout performance for Finnish winger.

Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in Game 7 in double overtime. The team feels they can compete with the best of them and management added some much-needed scoring depth. With their current core and the added pieces, the Stars feel they can contend for the ultimate prize this season.

Joe Pavelski (C, RW)

After spending his whole 13-year career with the San Jose Sharks, Pavelski thought it was time for a change. He signed a three-year deal with the Stars, whose main problem last season was depth scoring. Pavelski is a player that will certainly bring that; he can center the second line or play wing on the top line. With the opportunity to play with Jamie Benn and/or Tyler Seguin, he has a good chance to break the 25-goal plateau for the ninth time in his career.

Corey Perry (RW)

Perry is a former shade of himself and has fallen hard off the wagon in the last few seasons. In Dallas, Perry won’t be considered “the guy” so he will be free of the pressures to produce. He will most likely play a bottom-six role but could provide sneaky value if he manages to be a net-front presence on the Stars top power-play unit. Perry is a gamer and as competitive as they come, so a late-round flyer on the former MVP could pay dividends.

Corey Perry
Former Anaheim Duck Corey Perry (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Minnesota Wild

After an up and down season, the Minnesota Wild fired GM Paul Fenton after one season. Bill Guerin has been hired for the position and he will need to put his stamp on this Wild team as they have one of the oldest rosters in the league. It will be tough to move some of their contracts, but pushing the restart button might be the best for this team.

Mats Zuccarello (RW)

Even though he was in Dallas for only three months, Zuccarello instantly became a fan favorite. Now he is off to a division rival, where he will undoubtedly become a fan favorite in the state of hockey. He signed a five-year, $6 million contract with the Wild on July 1. The contract all but guarantees he will get top playing minutes so in one-year leagues, you can chalk him down for 55 points in a full season.

Dallas Stars Mats Zuccarello
Former Dallas Star Mats Zuccarello (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Hartman (LW, RW)

The Wild will be Hartman’s fifth team in the last three seasons, although he never suited up for one of them. He scored 19 goals in his rookie season and playing for a new team should see a spike in his PIM and hits. Hartman could be a good flyer in deeper leagues that count these peripheral stats, with the added bonus of him scoring goals while Minnesota tries to find their identity.

Nashville Predators

The Predators needed a shake-up after their disappointing first-round loss last season and they started by moving P.K. Subban at the draft. With the cap savings they obtained by moving him, that freed up enough money for them to make a big splash in free agency by signing Matt Duchene. Nashville tends to churn out defensemen in their system, so moving a position of strength for one of need was a smart move.

Matt Duchene (C)

A one-two punch of Ryan Johansen and Duchene will be hard to contain. Defenses will have to choose which center they will want to match up against, opening up more scoring opportunities for the 28-year-old center. He has the talent and now with no distractions in a new town, he is poised for another 30-goal, 65-point campaign.

Columbus Blue Jackets' Matt Duchene
Former Columbus Blue Jacket Matt Duchene (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Steven Santini (D)

Santini was one of the defensemen acquired in the trade that sent Subban to the Devils. While he won’t bring the offense Subban brings, Santini can provide the gritty stats to your fantasy team. He has 193 hits over his last 75 games and will shore up the Predators bottom pairing.

St. Louis Blues

After winning the Stanley Cup, the St. Louis Blues feel they can repeat with the same roster as last season. They have a couple of young players who will be looking to take bigger roles with the team this season.

Robert Thomas (C, RW)

The 20-year-old will be looking to build off of a solid rookie season that saw him score 9 goals and 33 points. He still has plenty to learn at the pro level but has loads of big-game experience, winning two OHL Championships, a Memorial Cup, a gold medal at the World Juniors, and a Stanley Cup. The speedy forward has elite vision and high IQ so he will continue to get better as he sees more ice.

Robert Thomas St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues center Robert Thomas (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Zachary Sanford (C, LW)

Sanford was the main piece in the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals back in 2017. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury cost Sanford the entire 2017-18 season. He came back last season and played 60 games in a fourth-line role, but found himself a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs. When Thomas was injured in Game 1, Sanford was inserted into the lineup and a switch went off.

He had four points in five Stanley Cup games and played a major role on the second line with Conn Smythe-winner Ryan O’Reilly. The two showed tons of chemistry and he should start on that line again to begin the season. Sanford is a sleeper and could be grabbed late in drafts as he only has 99 games played.

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets did not do much this offseason because two of their star forwards are up for a new contract. With the training camp right around the corner, they still have not signed Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. If these two players holdout into the season, here are a couple of guys who look to step up.

Jack Roslovic (C, RW)

Roslovic asked for a trade this past summer, but with two of their top forwards out, this is a great opportunity to prove himself. There are plenty of offensive minutes to be had and this is the time for him to show what he can bring when put in a bigger role.

Winnipeg Jets' Tyler Myers Bryan Little Jack Roslovic
Winnipeg Jets’ Bryan Little and Jack Roslovic celebrate (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

Mathieu Perreault (LW, RW)

Perreault could see a lot more ice time this season if Laine and Connor miss game action. He is a hard-nosed player who isn’t afraid of throwing his weight around but also possesses high speed and creativity with the puck. He has scored at least 10 power-play points in four of his last five seasons and has averaged 101 hits in those same five seasons. He has late-round sleeper written all over him for this season.

There you have it, all the new additions and players that look to step up for the Central Division teams that will have a fantasy impact. I hope that this primer provided you with some extra knowledge to stay ahead in your fantasy league. Stay tuned for the next iteration in the fresh starts series, the Metropolitan Division!

*All stats and player positions were provided by Fantrax.