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Fantasy: Free agency roundup for 2018-19

Tavares worthy of first-round pick with Maple Leafs; van Riemsdyk, Neal gain value; Hutton, Mrazek, Lehner sleeper goalies; impact of O'Reilly trade on Blues

by Fantasy Hockey Staff @NHLFantasy / examines signings made after the start of free agency that have fantasy implications for the 2018-19 season.


MORE FANTASY COVERAGE: Impact of Tavares' decision | Mock draft for 2018-19


Tavares to Maple Leafs

Center John Tavares has signed a seven-year contract with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, lifting him back into the first-round fantasy conversation.

Tavares, 27, joins elite fantasy center Auston Matthews on the Maple Leafs and puts them right up there with the Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin) for the best 1-2 punch at center in the NHL. The addition of Tavares will likely boost the fantasy value of potential linemate Mitchell Marner, who has played on a separate even-strength line from Matthews in his first two NHL seasons. Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has already projected Tavares to play with Marner and left wing Zach Hyman, with Matthews centering Patrick Marleau and William Nylander. Tavares should also play with Matthews and/or Marner on the power play.

Video: John Tavares agrees to 7-year deal with Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have arguably the deepest center arsenal in the NHL with Tavares, Matthews and Nazem Kadri, and their entire roster gets a boost from this news. Matthews and Tavares should each be considered in the mid-to-late first round of fantasy drafts once Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Crosby and Malkin are off the board (similar range to Patrik Laine). Toronto ranked second in power-play efficiency (25.0 percent).and now adds Tavares, who had 84 points (30 on power play) in 82 games last season.

Tavares' departure negatively affects most of the New York Islanders roster, with center Mathew Barzal, right wing Jordan Eberle and left wing Anthony Beauvillier being the only possible exceptions. Barzal, who won the Calder Trophy, remains a top 50 overall fantasy asset without Tavares, and Eberle could stick with Barzal at even strength and get a boost from first power-play usage under new coach Barry Trotz. The one concern with Barzal is that he will be the focal point of opposing defenses on a nightly basis.

Forwards Anders Lee and Josh Bailey, who had well-documented chemistry and production on Tavares' line, lose significant value without the elite center. Beauvillier played with Barzal and Eberle at even strength and would move up with them to the top line and first power-play unit in a best-case scenario.

Projected draft range for Tavares in 12-team fantasy league: Round 1-2 (picks 6-18)

READ: Impact of Tavares' decision on Maple Leafs, Islanders


Van Riemsdyk to Flyers

Left wing James van Riemsdyk has signed a five-year contract to rejoin the Philadelphia Flyers, where he played his first three NHL seasons. The move suggests the Flyers are looking to upgrade their power play, which finished 15th overall last season (20.7 percent). Van Riemsdyk had an NHL career-high 36 goals, 11 on the power play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had the second best power play in the League.

Van Riemsdyk was among the NHL's top 15 goal scorers despite averaging 14:54 per game last season on mostly the third line (career average: 16:39). His goals-per-60 average (1.79) ranked third in the NHL behind Patrik Laine (1.95) and Auston Matthews (1.81). If van Riemsdyk's ice time increases, he should eclipse the 30-goal mark for the third time of his NHL career. The signing could also have implications on Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2019.

With versatile forward Claude Giroux (can play center or wing), right wing Jakub Voracek and centers Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick near locks to play in the top six, Simmonds or Travis Konecny will have a third-line role at even strength. Patrick should see a boost in value with exposure to van Riemsdyk and/or a two-time 30-goal scorer in Simmonds. As a result of the van Riemsdyk signing, Patrick has become a more coveted fantasy pick than Konecny.

Simmonds, who played through multiple injuries last season and finished low in fantasy (152nd in Yahoo) by his standards, has bounce-back potential if he plays on the first or second line. He has brought elite category coverage in the past but is a fringe top 100 overall player because of his contract status and line uncertainty. Simmonds and van Riemsdyk will be available in the same draft range, with Simmonds being the safer option but van Riemsdyk having the higher ceiling.

The Flyers will now have two strong power-play units, and defenseman Ivan Provorov stands to benefit from this development. In recent years, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere have been staples on the first unit. With van Riemsdyk, Couturier and Patrick competing for the fifth spot on the first unit, Provorov will have more talent on the second group if the Flyers stay healthy and gains some fantasy appeal as a result.

Projected draft range for van Riemsdyk: Rounds 9-10 (picks 97-120)


Hutton to Sabres; Thompson deep sleeper after trade

Goaltender Carter Hutton signed a three-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres, giving them a new No. 1 option for next season.

Hutton (finished 45th in Yahoo) was an efficient backup to Pekka Rinne for three seasons with the Nashville Predators and timeshare goalie with Jake Allen over the past two seasons for the St. Louis Blues. His NHL career-high in appearances (40) came in 2013-14, but he may have untapped potential considering he won the starting job from Allen last season and led the League in save percentage (.931; minimum 20 games).

Video: Sabres expected to sign Carter Hutton

The 32-year-old will have every opportunity to start 50-60 games for Buffalo, which could be one of the NHL's most-improved teams after winning the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery and selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Sabres have also signed Lawrence Pilut, the defenseman of the year in the Swedish Hockey League last season. Hutton could serve as a mentor to 24-year-old goaltender Linus Ullmark, who could be the future starter. Ullmark is not yet a target in fantasy drafts but can be added off the waiver wire if the Sabres have team success.

The Sabres have missed the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons, but could take the next step if elite center Jack Eichel stays healthy for a full season, their power play bounces back and even-strength play improves as a result of Dahlin. With the chance that many of these factors align at once for the Sabres, Hutton is a fantasy sleeper candidate in the same range as the Colorado Avalanche tandem (Semyon Varlamov, Philipp Grubauer) and just behind middle-tier starters Mike Smith, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Hutton and Grubauer each comes with risk but also upside if drafted as the third goalie on your fantasy roster.

Buffalo also acquired right wing Tage Thompson from the St. Louis Blues as part of its return for center Ryan O'Reilly. Thompson, 20, had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 41 games in mostly a bottom-six role for the Blues last season but was nearly a point-per-game player over two seasons for University of Connecticut (64 points in 70 games). Thompson and Conor Sheary, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 27, are deep fantasy sleeper candidates that could return value if either latches onto the top line with elite center Jack Eichel. Thompson, who had three points (one goal, two assists) for the United States at the 2018 World Championship, will compete for a roster spot and could challenge veteran right wings Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville for top-nine usage.

Projected draft range for Hutton: Round 13 or later (21-25 among goalies)

Projected draft range for Thompson: Undrafted (pick 193 or later)

Read: Fantasy projection for Dahlin with Sabres


Neal to Flames

Forward James Neal signed a five-year contractwith the Calgary Flames. The signing marks the second big move of the offseason for Calgary, who acquired forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin from Carolina on June 23.

Neal had 25 goals with the Vegas Golden Knights in last season, his 10th straight of at least 20 goals. The 31-year-old joins elite fantasy forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk in Calgary's top six. The best-case scenario for Neal's fantasy stock is if he plays on the top line with Monahan and Gaudreau. On the potential of this alone, Neal gets a short-term boost in value for next season. The addition of Neal could mean a slight decline in value for Lindholm, who's expected to get a top-line trial on the wing but is likely better suited for a second or third-line center role.

Calgary now has a mix of forward combinations to use in the top nine, with the only three sure-fire fantasy bets being Gaudreau, Monahan and Tkachuk. Neal and Lindholm should be viewed as late-round sleepers that could return big dividends if given first-line usage. The Flames have more depth than in seasons past, which could help lift pressure off the top line at even strength. Calgary hired coach Bill Peters on April 23 and assistant coach Geoff Ward on May 31. Ward, who was previously an assistant with the New Jersey Devils, helped his former team finish among the NHL's best power plays (T-9th) last season and will be counted on to do the same with the Flames (29th).

Projected draft range for Neal: Round 15-16 (pick 169-192)


Green re-signs with Red Wings

Defenseman Mike Green will be back with the Detroit Red Wings on a two-year contract and should remain fantasy-relevant on their first power-play unit. Green (322nd in Yahoo) had 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) and 13 power-play points in 66 games last season and played on a man-advantage unit with mostly Dylan Larkin (94th) and Anthony Mantha (125th).

Detroit has shifted to a youth movement with forward prospects Filip Zadina (No. 6 pick in 2018 NHL Draft), Michael Rasmussen (can play center or wing) and Evgeny Svechnikov all having a chance to make the team. With new additions to their forward group, the Red Wings could have an improved power play (ranked 24th last season), giving Green sneaky fantasy value. The 32-year-old defenseman should have double-digit goals and at least 40 points if he plays close to a full season, and is likely the safest option among fringe top 50 defensemen.

Projected draft range for Green: Round 15-16 (pick 169-192)


Nichushkin back to Stars

Right wing Valeri Nichushkin signed a two-year contract to rejoin the Dallas Stars, strengthening their secondary scoring and improving their team fantasy depth. The 23-year-old had spent the past two seasons playing for CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League. Dallas was arguably the most top-heavy fantasy team last season with elite forwards Jamie Benn (79 points), Tyler Seguin (78), Alexander Radulov (72) and defenseman John Klingberg (67) all exceeding 65 points but no other skater reaching 35.

Nichushkin had 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games during his rookie season in 2013-14, but has realistic 20-goal, 50-point potential within Dallas' high-powered offense. The Stars hired coach Jim Montgomery on May 4 to replace Ken Hitchcock, and Montgomery could re-integrate Nichushkin into the top six and mold him into a more reliable two-way forward. Given the potential exposure to elite fantasy talents in Benn, Seguin and Radulov, Nichushkin is a late-round flier that could return value with the right usage.

Projected draft range for Nichushkin: Round 16 or later (pick 180 or later)

Read: Impact of NHL coaching changes for 2018-19


Mrazek to Hurricanes

Goaltender Petr Mrazek has signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Mrazek will compete for the starting job with goaltender Scott Darling, who went 13-21-7 with a .888 save percentage and a 3.18 goals-against average and was a huge fantasy disappointment in his first season with the Hurricanes.

Mrazek, 26, is coming off an up-and-down season, going 8-7-3 with a 2.89 GAA in 22 games for the Detroit Red Wings before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb 19. He went 6-6-3 with an .891 SV% and 3.22 GAA in 17 games for the Flyers and lost playing time to timeshare goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth.

With Darling's concerns and longtime goalie Cam Ward signing with the Chicago Blackhawks, Mrazek will join the top 200 overall fantasy rankings with a chance to help a fringe Stanley Cup Playoff team take the next step. This goaltending carousel and Mrazek's inconsistency in his NHL career make him a boom-or-bust pick in late rounds.

Projected draft range for Mrazek: Round 16 or later (pick 180 or later)


Lehner to Islanders

Goaltender Robin Lehner has signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders. Similar to Mrazek, Lehner might not strike potential fantasy owners as a legitimate bench option but with new coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders will play a more defensive system than last season when they allowed the most goals in the NHL (293). Lehner should enter the season as the Islanders unanimous No. 1 goaltender in front of Thomas Greiss.

In three seasons with Buffalo, Lehner was 42-61-22 with a .916 save percentage and six shutouts in 133 games. It's worth noting the Lehner had fantasy-relevant save percentages in two seasons with the Sabres (.924, 2014-15; .920, 2016-17). After simulating a deep season-long mock draft, it became clear that workhorse goalies will be hard to find beyond round 10, making Lehner worthy of a late-round flier that can be viewed as a No. 3 goalie with upside.

 Projected draft range for Lehner: Round 16 or later (pick 180 or later)


Blues sign Perron, Bozak, land O'Reilly in trade

Forward David Perron signed a four-year contract to return to the St. Louis Blues. Perron and center Ryan O'Reilly, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, add veteran experience and steady production to the Blues' top-nine forward group. Perron had an NHL career-high 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists) for the Vegas Golden Knights last season on the second line with Erik Haula and James Neal and nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 15 playoff games.

If the Blues stick with their most-frequent top line from last season of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, Perron (finished 102nd in Yahoo) could round out their second line with one of their center options, including O'Reilly, Alexander Steen, Tyler Bozak (signed three-year contract) and prospect Robert Thomas.

Perron was a fantasy steal based on average draft position (167.8; finished 102nd in Yahoo) but could be on the third line if the Blues integrate multiple prospects (i.e. Thomas, Sammy Blais) into their top six. Fantasy owners should view the 30-year-old wing as a late-round flier who will likely regress from last season but could still remain relevant in deep leagues. Perron's production could be similar to his 2016-17 season with the Blues, when he had 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 82 games (fourth among their forwards).

O'Reilly, a fringe top 175 overall player with added value in leagues that count face-off wins, will likely be St. Louis' No. 2 center behind Schenn after the trade. He is a proven secondary scorer and warrants first power-play usage after scoring at least 22 power-play points in four of the past five seasons. O'Reilly had an NHL career-high 230 shots on goal last season, reached 60 points (61) for the third time and has at least 55 points in each of his past six full seasons. 

Projected draft range for O'Reilly: Round 14-15 (picks 157-180)

Projected draft range for Perron: Round 16 or later (pick 180 or later)

Projected draft range for Bozak: Undrafted (pick 193 or later)


Stastny to Golden Knights

Center Paul Stastny signed a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. The signing accounts for the forward depth lost by Perron's departure to the Blues, but gives the Golden Knights a surplus at center with William Karlsson, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

Stastny, 32, loses fantasy appeal from this move compared to his spot in the Winnipeg Jets' top six with elite wing Patrik Laine. With Vegas' top line of Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith solidified, Stastny's path to the top six would need to involve center Erik Haula moving to wing. Even if that happens, Stastny plays the deepest position in fantasy and is no longer worth reaching for inside the top 200 overall.

With wing James Neal becoming an unrestricted free agent, Vegas' second line could be comprised of Haula, Stastny and right wing Alex Tuch. Stastny is also unlikely to play on the first power-play unit, which featured Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Tuch and defenseman Shea Theodore for much of last regular season and in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Projected draft range for Stastny: Undrafted (pick 193 or later)

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