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Fantasy: Offseason moves will give others boost

Addition of Keith Yandle to Panthers could ignite Aaron Ekblad's offensive potential

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / Staff Writer

The impact free agency and offseason trades have on fantasy hockey is important to consider, even this early in July. Each year players move to different cities, whether by default or choice, and it's crucial that you know how each player will be affected by the change.

A move that will be talked about, seemingly until the end of time, is the trade of defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators from the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Shea Weber on June 29. Subban will play with fantasy stud Roman Josi, who had 14 goals and 61 points last season. Weber and Josi were able to co-exist in Nashville, each scoring at least 40 points in each of the past three seasons. Subban is more offensive-minded than Weber and will command the puck on his stick more often, but that should only boost the Predators' offense.

Unless Nashville's forward group takes a big step this season, Subban and Josi figure to lead the way as the Predators' two most valuable fantasy assets.

Here are some more players who were positively impacted through free agency or trades so far this offseason: 

Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

Through Ekblad's first two NHL seasons, his defensive partners haven't exactly set the fantasy world on fire. Consider the Panthers' addition of Keith Yandle the spark that could ignite Ekblad's fantasy potential. The Panthers acquired Yandle from the New York Rangers for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2017 on June 20. They signed Yandle to a seven-year contract on June 23 and Ekblad, 20, to an eight-year contract extension on July 1.

Ekblad finished just outside the top 20 defensemen (21st) in Yahoo's performance-based rankings from last season. He had 15 goals and 36 points with a plus-18 rating in 78 games, the only knock being a lack of power-play production (nine points). If the Panthers decide to play Ekblad and Yandle together on the first power-play unit, Ekblad figures to be the biggest beneficiary and will likely get secondary-assist opportunities quite often. Ekblad also has a shot at eclipsing his goal total from last season.

Video: OTT@FLA: Ekblad gives Panthers the lead in 2nd

Even if Ekblad and Yandle are separated on the man-advantage, Yandle's offensive acumen at even strength should help the young defenseman set new career highs across the board. The addition of Yandle should help boost the PP production of Panthers forwards including Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr.  

Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey Devils

The acquisition of Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29 will have a positive fantasy impact throughout the Devils lineup, but Henrique could see the biggest boost should the two reunite on New Jersey's top line. Hall and Henrique have plenty of history from their junior days with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League, and coach John Hynes will likely give the two a shot to rekindle some of that chemistry to start this season.

Henrique was very productive last season; he scored 30 goals and had 50 points in 80 games, and his shooting percentage of 20.1 percent ranked second among forwards who played at least 70 games. Hall led the Oilers in scoring with 65 points (39 assists) in 82 games. He was a boon for young center Leon Draisaitl, who had a career-high 51 points in 72 games in his second NHL season after scoring nine points in 37 games in 2014-15. If Hall gives the same type of lift to Henrique's game, the 26-year-old center could provide solid fantasy value late in drafts. 

Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver Canucks

The Sedins have been two of the most consistent fantasy hockey forwards throughout their NHL careers, but are no longer considered elite. Perhaps the signing of Loui Eriksson will return each of them to prominence; the Canucks signed Eriksson, who has played on a line with the Sedins for Sweden in international play, to a six-year, $36 million contract on July 1. He is expected to rejoin his fellow countrymen on Vancouver's top line for next season, providing them versatility and skill.

Eriksson, who turns 31 on July 17, is coming off one of his best NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins. He had 30 goals and 63 points in 82 games playing primarily with center David Krejci on the Bruins' second line. Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen rotated on a line with the Sedins last season, combining for 31 goals and 60 points. Eriksson is a clear upgrade over those players and could duplicate Burrows' 2009-10 season, when he scored 35 goals and had 67 points.

At center, Henrik Sedin gets the edge over Daniel Sedin in terms of who benefits the most from Eriksson's arrival; his assist numbers should increase from the 44 he had last season. But the more goals the line scores, the more the twins will thrive. 

Robby Fabbri, F, St. Louis Blues

The Blues lost two key members of their top-nine forwards through free agency in captain David Backes, who signed with the Bruins, and Troy Brouwer, who signed with the Calgary Flames. General manager Doug Armstrong made a depth signing by bringing back David Perron, but Fabbri, who is coming off an impressive rookie season with 18 goals and 37 points in 72 games, should benefit the most in a top-six role. Despite dealing with a lower-body injury late in the regular season, Fabbri returned in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping the Blues advance to the Western Conference Final. He finished tied with Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues lead with 15 points in 20 games.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Fabbri lifts backhander past Lehtonen

If coach Ken Hitchcock decides to stick with the "STL" line of Jaden Schwartz, Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera, then Fabbri will likely join Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny on the second line, either at right wing or center, or it's possible Fabbri centers Schwartz and Tarasenko. Fabbri, who saw 103:47 of ice time on the power play last season, should be promoted to the Blues' first unit. That would give him an outside shot of cracking the top 50 fantasy forwards this season.

Robin Lehner, G, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres were 25th with 2.43 goals per game last season, but after the signing of forward Kyle Okposo, that number should improve this season. With more goal support comes more wins for Robin Lehner, who is the likely No. 1 goaltender in front of Anders Nilsson and/or Linus Ullmark. Lehner sustained a lower-body injury in last season's opener and didn't return until January. He was 5-9-5 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 21 games.

Under coach Dan Bylsma, the Sabres went from 54 points in 2014-15 to 81 last season. It's unrealistic to expect another improvement of that magnitude, but adding Okposo and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a young core that features forwards Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart, and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, will give Buffalo a shot at reaching 40 wins. If Lehner can stay healthy and give the Sabres 40-50 starts, there's no reason he won't be worthy of keeping on your roster as a second or third goaltender.

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