As part of NHL.com's 31 in 31 series, our fantasy hockey staff is breaking down each team's landscape. Fantasy-relevant players are listed in order of rank in NHL.com's top 250. Today, we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
[LIGHTNING 31 in 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the numbers | More team fantasy previews]
Nikita Kucherov, RW -- Two players had at least 40 goals and 40 assists last season: Kucherov (40 goals, 45 assists in 74 games) and Sidney Crosby (44 goals, 45 assists in 75 games). Kucherov, 24, finished third in points per game (1.15; minimum 65 games) behind Connor McDavid (1.22) and Crosby (1.19) and third in power-play points (32) behind Nicklas Backstrom (35) and Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Victor Hedman (33). Kucherov (fourth in Yahoo last season) could contend for the NHL scoring title if Steven Stamkos stays healthy.
Steven Stamkos, C (INJ.) -- He's produced nearly a point per game in his NHL career (582 in 586), but has missed significant time in three of the past four seasons because of different injuries. Last season, Stamkos scored 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 17 games before tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee on Nov. 15 and missing the remainder of the season. Injury concerns could scare off many fantasy owners, but anything close to a full season centering Kucherov would make Stamkos a bargain in the late-second or early-third round.
Ondrej Palat, LW -- The Lightning traded Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens on June 15, making Palat the best fantasy left wing on their roster entering the season. He played most of 2016-17 with Kucherov, Drouin and Hedman on the first power-play unit, scoring an NHL career-high 15 PPP in 75 games. He has exceeded 50 points in each of the three seasons in which he played at least 75 games and has plenty of past experience with Kucherov and Tyler Johnson at even strength.
Video: DAL@TBL: Palat cranks wrister past Lehtonen for PPG
Tyler Johnson, C -- Since scoring 72 points (29 goals, 43 assists) in 77 games in 2014-15, Johnson has been limited to 83 points (33 goals, 50 assists) in 135 of a possible 164 games over the past two seasons. He played frequently with Kucherov and Palat last season, but Stamkos' return could break up that line. Johnson had solid production (45 points, 17 PPP in 66 games) even though he wasn't always on the first power-play unit, and could emerge as a late-round steal if healthy.
Brayden Point, C/RW -- The 21-year-old played in the top six and on the first power-play unit for most of the season, totaling 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) and 12 PPP in 68 games. His fantasy ceiling would be limited if he's moved to third-line center behind Stamkos and Johnson, but he could also just as likely play right wing on the second line. If Stamkos or Johnson deals with injury again, Point could reach 50 points in his second NHL season.
Vladislav Namestnikov, C/LW -- If Johnson and Palat play on the second line to spread out Tampa Bay's scoring, Namestnikov could end up flanking Stamkos and Kucherov on the top line -- reuniting the trio that played thrived together early last season. Namestnikov, who could become a restricted free agent July 1, is only 24 and scored eight points over a 13-game span with Stamkos and Kucherov. He's a deep sleeper with upside based on those potential linemates.
Video: 31 in 31: Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-18 season preview
Victor Hedman -- There was a 15-point drop-off after the three highest-scoring defensemen (Brent Burns, Hedman, Erik Karlsson) last season, reminding fantasy owners to be wary of position scarcity in drafts. Hedman, 26, had NHL career-highs in goals (16), assists (56), points (72) and PPP (33), and that was with the Lightning missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a result of injuries. The big difference for Hedman was consistent first power-play usage; he had been behind Anton Stralman in the previous two seasons. Even if Hedman's point total dips into the 60s, he'll remain a top five defenseman and top 25 overall asset.
Andrei Vasilevskiy -- He had mixed results in an NHL career-high 50 games played (47 starts), but it was a great sign that he went 12-4-2 with a .930 save percentage in 18 games after the Lightning traded Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 26. The 23-year-old could have a full-fledged fantasy breakout this season if he plays 60 or more games and the Lightning have fewer injuries. Vasilevskiy is a glaring value pick outside the top 10 goaltenders, and it can't hurt to grab Peter Budaj for insurance after an impressive relief showing with the Kings last season.
Others to consider: Mikhail Sergachev (D), Alex Killorn (LW), Peter Budaj (G), Anton Stralman (D), Chris Kunitz (LW)
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