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Fantasy hockey impact of free agent signings

Andrew Ladd, Eric Staal should see value boosts; Alexander Radulov a wild card

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / Fantasy Insider

It's the start of free agency, which means plenty of fantasy-relevant players around the NHL are changing addresses.

Here are the most notable July 1 signees along with the potential fantasy impact each could have with his new team.

NOTES: Position(s) listed indicate(s) Yahoo eligibility from last season. ... Yahoo finish in 2015-16 reflects performance-based rank in standard leagues (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal for skaters; wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts for goalies).


Kyle Okposo, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 45th

Okposo is a top-notch right wing, and proved last season he was more than a product of elite center John Tavares on the New York Islanders. They played together for most of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Okposo spent much of the regular season on a separate line at even strength and eclipsed 60 points for the second time in his NHL career. Okposo, tied for sixth among active right wings in points per game (0.81) since 2012-13, now will either flank Ryan O'Reilly or Jack Eichel in Buffalo's loaded top six. This is a huge investment by the Sabres, who have not gotten anywhere near what they expected from former Islanders wing Matt Moulson, but they hope for a much better return in Okposo, a driver of possession in his prime at 28. Okposo had a career-high 23 power-play points in 2015-16 and could make the Sabres power play that ranked tied for 11th in the NHL last season (18.9 percent) even better. There were plenty of scenarios where Okposo could have taken a step back fantasy-wise, but Buffalo, stocked with budding talent, is one of the best spots he could have landed. He's worth taking inside the top 75 players, especially considering Eichel may be primed for a seismic leap in his second season.


Milan Lucic, LW, Edmonton Oilers
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 65th

Days after Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli traded left wing Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson, he recruited Lucic, a power forward with underrated scoring ability who was a staple for his Boston Bruins teams. Lucic finished among the top 75 fantasy assets last season playing top-six minutes alongside mostly Anze Kopitar with the Los Angeles Kings, and should be a good fit to protect one of the Oilers' young centers, either top-10 fantasy prospect Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Lucic has six straight seasons of at least 75 penalty minutes and has at least 200 hits in each of his past four full seasons. He has two category weaknesses (PPP, SOG), but still provides rare coverage; he was one of three forwards (Brad Marchand, Wayne Simmonds) last season with at least 55 points and 75 PIMs. Lucic is accustomed to playing top-line minutes for contenders, so his plus-minus could take a hit this season in Edmonton. But potentially getting a slice of McDavid's points could more than make up for that. Lucic is a multi-category threat that should be targeted in the seventh or eighth round of standard, 12-team drafts.


Loui Eriksson, LW/RW, Vancouver Canucks
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 71st

Eriksson's best season with the Boston Bruins came in 2015-16, his contract year, but he was ultimately a disappointment after being the biggest piece in the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. That said, this landing spot for Eriksson is intriguing because of how consistent Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin have been through the Canucks' ups and downs. Eriksson and David Krejci were quietly tied for the 12th-best point pair in the NHL last season (30 team goals with each recording a point), and the Sedins were fourth (41) on that list. This move presents an opportunity for Eriksson to round out that trio and replicate his 30-goal performance from last season. Radim Vrbata did the same two seasons ago upon his arrival in Vancouver with the Sedins. Eriksson, one of 24 players to score at least 10 power-play goals last season, should inject some life into Vancouver's offense, which ranked second-worst in goals per game (2.27), and power play, which ranked tied for third-worst (15.8 percent). Ranked outside the top 100 prior to the trade, Eriksson deserves to re-enter that realm.


David Backes, C/RW, Boston Bruins
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 90th

Backes played mostly a third-line role last season for the Blues and will likely take on similar responsibilities in Boston, where he signed a five-year contract Friday. The Bruins have Patrice Bergeron, one of two players (Patrick Kane) with at least 30 goals, 30 assists, a plus-10 rating, 25 PPP and 280 SOG last season, and David Krejci as their top two centers. Backes brings a ton of experience and physicality to deepen the Bruins lineup as they pursue a Stanley Cup Playoff berth after consecutive misses. As long as Backes is occupying a third-line role, he will have a hard time returning to his previous form as a top 30-40 overall fantasy asset (finished 30th in 2013-14, 37th in 2014-15). That said, he still has top-100 capability and is worth drafting if available outside the top 120 players. If Yahoo's draft data indicates fantasy owners are taking Backes inside the top 100 players, take a pass.


James Reimer, G, Florida Panthers 
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 107th (19th among goalies)

The Panthers have a top-10 fantasy goalie in Roberto Luongo, but locked up his potential heir apparent in Reimer. Luongo, 37, is the oldest goalie in the NHL and could benefit from a lesser workload as the Panthers hope to venture deeper into the postseason this season. Reimer was a beast in his short stint with the San Jose Sharks, winning six of eight starts with three shutouts. He also had the best even-strength save percentage (.938) in the NHL among goalies with at least 40 games played last season. After the Pittsburgh Penguins (Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy), the Panthers suddenly have one of the more effective goalie tandems in the NHL. Reimer will be a late-round pick in most fantasy drafts because he is the clear No. 2 entering the season, but is worth a late-round handcuff in case Luongo deals with injury.


Frans Nielsen, C, Detroit Red Wings
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 116th

After the Red Wings lost forward Pavel Datsyuk, it was essential for them to sign a two-way center with power-play expertise. They got their man in Nielsen, who has spent his entire NHL career with the Islanders and has always been undervalued in fantasy. Nielsen scored at least 20 goals, 50 points and 20 power-play points for the second time in his career to finish as a fringe top-100 fantasy asset last season as New York's second-line center. He may not play on Detroit's first power-play unit, but he could easily help turn the careers of Gustav Nyquist and/or Tomas Tatar around. Nielsen should not be touched in fantasy drafts until after the 15th round because of the overabundance of centers, but could be a useful bench player in standard leagues and will be an efficient option in deep formats.


Andrew Ladd, LW, New York Islanders
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 165th 

Ladd has reportedly signed a seven-year contract with the Islanders. Getting the chance to play on Tavares' left wing bumps Ladd's fantasy stock considerably, making him an early bounce-back hopeful. Ladd was traded from the Winnipeg Jets to the Chicago Blackhawks last season and had a big dip in point production (46 points in 78 games) compared to 2014-15 (62 points in 81 games). That said, he's still in his prime at 30 years old with two Stanley Cup titles on his resume. Two seasons ago with Winnipeg, playing mostly with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, Ladd finished 26th in Yahoo's standard-league rankings with 24 goals, 38 assists, a plus-9 rating, 72 PIMs, 19 PPP and 224 SOG. The Islanders have lost Okposo and Nielsen in free agency, so there will be a first-unit power-play slot reserved for Ladd in New York. If you can scoop up Ladd in the 80-100 player range, you could have a serious draft bargain and category cog on your hands. Ladd also satisfies your hits-league needs, having posted at least 150 in each of the past three seasons. Ladd and Tavares could easily form a top-10 point pair in the NHL in 2016-17, with the veteran's coverage being icing on the cake.


Troy Brouwer, RW, Calgary Flames
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 175th

Brouwer joins the Flames after a strong postseason and figures to line up next to either Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on their top line or Sam Bennett on their second line. Brouwer won't "wow" you in any particular fantasy category, but covered all six standard ones in respectable fashion last season. He is much more relevant right off the bat if your league factors in hits (200 or more in each of past five full seasons) but also has serious offensive upside if he lands on Calgary's top unit at even strength. He has never scored more than 25 goals or 43 points in a single season and was limited to 18 goals last season for the deeper Blues, but had eight goals and 13 points in 20 playoff games and is a dark horse to finish among the fantasy top 100 because he covers points, PIMs, and power-play points. His sleeper potential is even greater than it was last season, and he'll likely be there for the taking outside the top-175 players yet again.


Eric Staal, C/LW, Minnesota Wild
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 205th

Outside of Ladd with the Islanders, Staal may have the greatest rebound potential of any other player changing scenery Friday. It was a miserable season for Staal by his standards, but a chance to center Zach Parise or at least fit back into a top-six group on a full-time basis has to get fantasy owners excited. He had six points (none on power play) in 20 regular-season games playing mostly third-line minutes after being traded by the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers last season, and his 39 points were his fewest in a single season since his rookie year in 2003-04 (31). Staal should be attainable later than where he was drafted on average last season (ADP: 132.2), and is well worth a pick after the 13th round in 12-team drafts. A return to 60 points with at least 50 PIMs and 200 SOG could quickly make this relatively overlooked veteran a giant fantasy steal. He has been a shell of his former self on the power play the past three seasons, but seeing time with Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter could completely revitalize his fantasy profile.


Mikkel Boedker, LW/RW, San Jose Sharks
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: 382nd

A second-line spot on one of the best teams in the Western Conference could be just what the doctor ordered for Boedker to finally reach his full potential. The 26-year-old wing was taken with the eighth pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, but has never scored more than 19 goals in a single season. He had spent his entire career with the Arizona Coyotes prior to being traded to the Colorado Avalanche before the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, and matched his career high with 51 points. Avalanche forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene were injured for much of Boedker's late-season tenure in Colorado, but the Danish forward still had 12 points in 18 games. Now, he moves to the Sharks, who have their top line of Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski intact but have a potential left-wing opening alongside postseason studs Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi. Latching onto that line would signficantly boost Boedker's even-strength scoring and give the Sharks added depth with Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward on their third line. Boedker likely won't play on the Sharks' first power-play unit, but he has plenty to offer San Jose's second unit; he had 19 power-play points last season. If Couture reaches 70 points for the first time in his career, Boedker and Donskoi could emerge as late-round fantasy steals by association.


Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal Canadiens
Yahoo finish in 2015-16: N/A (played in Kontinental Hockey League)

Radulov falls into that boom-or-bust fantasy territory. He returns to the NHL for the first time since leaving the Nashville Predators, whom he played for in 2006-07, 2007-08 and briefly late in the 2011-12 season. His talent cannot be questioned; he had 26 goals and 58 points in 2007-08 (81 games) and has had strong seasons in Russia since his second NHL departure. Last season, Radulov was near the top of the KHL leaderboard in nearly every category for CSKA Moscow: his 23 goals ranked tied for fifth, his 42 assists ranked second, his 65 points ranked second, his plus-28 rating led the KHL, his nine power-play goals ranked tied for sixth and his 177 SOG ranked 11th. He even chipped in 73 PIMs. Radulov has developed on the power play since his days in Nashville, and the Canadiens are taking a one-year flier on him in the hope he'll give their offense an added dimension. If Montreal coach Michel Therrien puts Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk together at even strength, Radulov could potentially round out that strong trio in a best-case scenario. In a more likely instance, Radulov could boost the Canadiens' second line and first power-play unit. Either way, he brings an unknown factor and the breakout potential that fantasy owners crave from middle rounds. It would be hardly surprising to see Radulov finish among the top 75 overall fantasy players this season, but reaching for him inside the top 100 is extremely risky.

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