It's the 11th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically - but switch starting points each year. This year I began with Anaheim and will finish up with Winnipeg in early September. Time to take a look at the Oilers and Panthers.
Pending UFAs - Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell, Jerred Smithson, Ryan Whitney, Mark Fistric, Nikolai Khabibulin, Darcy Hordichuk, Yann Danis
Pending RFAs - Teemu Hartikainen (signed to play in the KHL next season), Theo Peckham, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi
Looking to add - There's no shortage of up-and-coming offensive forwards, so what the Oilers need up front are some role players. Interestingly, they let Hartikainen sign in the KHL and have not yet re-signed Jones. The Oilers also need an experienced scorer, so perhaps trading one of their young guns will take care of that issue.
With the loss of Khabibulin, the Oilers will also be in the market for a goaltender. Now, whether that is a proven starter, (in which case Devan Dubnyk becomes the backup) remains to be seen. But at the very least, the organization needs a No. 2 goaltender - and while we're at it, they need a No. 3 as well, if they don't re-sign Danis. What Edmonton does with this position in the summer will have serious implications on fantasy hockey – as a backup Dubnyk is obviously far less valuable to poolies than if he was the starter. For the record, I think Dubnyk can be their guy.
Assuming newcomer Anton Belov makes the team - and I think he will - the Oilers still need a veteran presence on their blueline. Someone like Ryan Whitney, only he should be what Whitney was supposed to have been before all the foot problems hindered his play.
Ready for full time: Haven't the Oilers had enough prospects making the jump these past few years? It's high time they took a break from that and it looks like this year they will. Belov is a 26-year-old undrafted Russian who had a nice breakout season in the KHL last year, posting 26 points in just 46 games. He also stands at 6-foot-3 and was a plus-19 for Omsk, indicating he can offer a nice combination of size and defensive acumen.
Hartikainen would have made the team this season, but decided the KHL was the best way to go.
Fantasy Outlook: A team that has understandably risen steadily in terms of how popular its players are among fantasy hockey owners. That's bound to happen when a team picks first overall for three consecutive years and selects someone in the top 10 in five of the past six drafts. So yeah, I've had every reason to trumpet this team. And if you need more proof, simply pick up the phone and call a fellow fantasy owner in your league and try to acquire one of his/her Oilers. It will come together one of these years. I said last year that when the Oilers surge into the playoffs, they won't give you a heads up. That still sounds about right. Fantasy Grade: A (last year was A-)
Pending UFAs - Stephen Weiss, Tyson Strachan, Jose Theodore, Eric Selleck
Pending RFAs - Colby Robak, Jacob Markstrom, Peter Mueller, Shawn Matthias, Jack Skille, Bobby Butler
Looking to add - The Panthers gave up more goals than any other team last season. They also scored 109 goals, tied for last with Nashville, so the needs are everywhere. It looks as though the team will go with blue-chip prospect goaltender Jacob Markstrom as the starter, with Scott Clemmensen as the backup. However, Clemmensen had a tough go last season. Seeing as he's not getting any younger, I suspect the Panthers are in the market for a goaltender. My guess is they will go for a 1A/1B situation with Markstrom, similar to the way the Maple Leafs are with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer.
The loss of Weiss to free agency will hurt, but I suspect the Panthers will continue to build from within and not chase after free agents, unless it’s for one or two years. Because Florida boasts one of the better prospect groups in the league, they may just turn to the kids, despite Kris Versteeg being questionable to return from injury in time for the regular season to start.
Ready for full time - Last season the Panthers integrated Drew Shore and Jonathan Huberdeau into the lineup. But those were easy calls - Huberdeau was always a Calder favorite (he ended up winning), while Shore played so well the Panthers couldn’t send him down. This year there are no such candidates.
We saw an 11-game trial stint for center Nick Bjugstad in April, but in those games he managed just one point and was a minus-8. He's still only 20 and his upside may be higher than any Panthers forward other than Huberdeau, but he needs a season in the AHL, or at least half of one. He needs to take control of hockey games at the pro level and doing that first in the American League is more easily accomplished than at the NHL level.
Defenseman Colby Robak is a potential second-pairing defenseman who is getting close. He could eventually give fantasy owners 30 points and 60 PIM, but for the time being keep your expectations at half those numbers.
Center Quinton Howden got into 18 NHL games, but was held without a point and posted a minus-11 rating. The 21-year-old was drafted 25th overall in 2010, but he could use a full season in the AHL. He played very well as a rookie in the AHL and could really build on that experience. Hopefully the Panthers can stay healthy and thus not be forced to turn to kids such as Howden too early.
The Panthers pick second overall at the draft this weekend, which means they will either land defenseman Seth Jones, center Nathan MacKinnon or left winger Jonathan Drouin. All three are ready to play in the NHL.
Fantasy Outlook - Depending on who the Panthers draft this weekend and who they sign on July 5 when free agency opens, they will finish anywhere between 30th (again) and 20th in goals scored. But their future's so bright, you gotta wear shades (sorry, couldn't help myself). They are still three years away, but rebuilding keeper owners may want to start quietly adding Panthers now. Fantasy Grade: B+ (last year was B+)
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.