By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Crafting a championship-winning fantasy team is all about getting the most value out of your picks. Minimizing errors during the draft and avoiding big busts is paramount. Here's a primer on the players you should be wary of heading into the 2019-20 season.
Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
Pressed into action last year after a season-ending injury to Antti Raanta, the 29 year old career backup was brilliant, starting 55 games while posting a .925 save percentage and 2.33 GAA. It's a great story for the former sixth-round pick, but his career trajectory may change yet again with a healthy Raanta expected to take back the No. 1 job in 2019-20. Volume is incredibly important for goalies in fantasy, and a healthy Raanta should see 50-to-60 starts, which obviously caps Kuemper's value. The Desert Dogs were thirsty for a starter after years of Mike Smith's maddening inconsistency, and they paid a high price (Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 first-round pick) for Raanta, which means the Coyotes probably feel beholden to their pricey investment, and they've always envisioned the 30 year old Finn as their long-term starter.
Kuemper is a good handcuff should Raanta's health be an issue again, but as the 24th-ranked goalie (139th overall) on Yahoo, there are a few netminders who have higher upside and will probably see more action, including Petr Mrazek and Jacob Markstrom.
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
The addition of Tyson Barrie should give the Leafs' eighth-ranked power play a chance to be elite, but it may come at the cost of Rielly's production. A natural regression is certainly possible; Rielly converted nine percent of his shots, nearly double his career average, in 2018-19, and his 20 goals basically matched the total from his three previous seasons combined (21). Rielly's offense has really come together over the past two seasons, with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner's emergence as elite scorers obviously being a big help. Barrie, however, is the more proven power-play quarterback, scoring double-digit goals five times in seven seasons, so Rielly could lose his spot on the four-forward top unit.
Should Barrie and Rielly share the ice with the man advantage, the right-handed Barrie is still better suited to set up the Leafs' lefty shooters in Matthews and John Tavares. If Marner's contract impasse extends into the start of the season, it will also take a huge bite out of Toronto's power play, further hurting offensive production. Rielly is a legitimate threat to score 50-60 points, but most of that will likely come via assists.
There's no question Hughes is the Canucks' most talented and gifted defenseman. His razzle-dazzle showing in a late-season, five-game stint excited even the grimmest of Canucks fans, who have never seen someone who can jump up on offense quite like him. But the sample size was small, and a 5-foot-10 rookie defenseman is going to get outmuscled and outworked in his own zone, not to mention the NCAA schedule is half the length of the NHL's. At even strength, Hughes' production will depend on how much ice time he gets, and it's already a logjam with Alexander Edler, Chris Tanev and newly signed veterans Jordie Benn and Tyler Myers hogging most of the minutes.
Where Hughes can make the biggest difference is on the power play, but it's a power play that faltered in the second half of last season after defenses keyed in on Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, the latter of which whom remains unsigned. Ranked 31st among defensemen on Yahoo, Hughes offers huge upside but not without considerable risk, and it's conceivable that more experienced youngsters such as Mikhail Sergachev or a bounce-back candidate like Shayne Gostisbehere could end up making a bigger impact than Hughes.
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators
When Duchene totaled 58 points in 50 games for the Senators, it was the first time he had ever scored at over a point-per-game pace in the NHL. The speedy center is now on his fourth team in three seasons, and while it seems as though he's finally found a (more) permanent home, remember that he's already 28 years old and will have to share duties with incumbent top center Ryan Johansen. Perhaps a little more stability will help Duchene be more consistent, but also keep in mind that unless Mikael Granlund becomes a 40-assist playmaker again (he had just four in 16 games with the Predators last year), the reigning Central Division champions are a little thin up front. They boast just three players who scored over 20 goals and only one who scored more than 60 points last year.
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin is an elite offensive weapon, and without him, the Blue Jackets could find scoring difficult. No one is going to feel that more than Atkinson, who scored 41 goals last season, 20 of which were assisted by Panarin. Atkinson is a notorious high-volume shooter, but without Panarin on the other wing for the opposition to focus on, Atkinson's job will be much, much harder. He is the most obvious candidate to drop out of the 40-goal club for a team that was just slightly above average in maintaining possession of the puck (50.09 CF%) and getting shots on goal last year.
The 2019 RFA’s
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
Sigh. Another summer, another cap debacle. Some GM's in the NHL just never learn, and just one season after William Nylander's holdout led to a disappointing season, both for the talented winger and the Cup-aspiring Leafs, there are still key RFA's who have yet to sign. Not every player who holds out has a disappointing season (P.K. Subban missed six games and still won the Norris in 2013), but the more time a player misses, the more time he may need to get up to speed once he signs, not to mention that signing later in the campaign could hamper a team's cap structure and ability to add more talent.
It's a bigger issue than usual this year because the level of talent among the RFA's is truly franchise-altering — Marner and Rantanen are legitimate first-round fantasy picks and Boeser and Laine are both elite scorers. As of this writing, none of them have signed, and with the regular season less than a month away, their fantasy value is starting to decline based on the uncertainty of their status.