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30 in 30

New York Rangers fantasy outlook

Buyer beware Henrik Lundqvist in early rounds; Mika Zibanejad could have breakout season

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

As part of NHL.com's 30 in 30 series, our fantasy hockey staff is breaking down each team's fantasy landscape. From most valuable assets to underrated options, impact prospects and more, this guide should help fantasy owners prioritize players for drafts.

Starting at the top: Henrik Lundqvist, G

Fantasy owners set on selecting Lundqvist any earlier than the fifth round of a draft may want to reconsider. He's 34 years old, coming off the worst single-season goals-against average (2.48) of his NHL career, and has a Rangers defense in front of him that faltered down the stretch last season. Lundqvist leads the League in wins since 2005-06 and has been a consistent top-five fantasy goalie, but his supporting cast is arguably more questionable than ever. The Rangers haven't done much to improve their roster since Lundqvist allowed 15 goals in five Stanley Cup Playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He will be the first Rangers player off the board come draft day, and rightfully so, but there's a good chance he'll finish worse than his draft position for the second straight season.

Rangers 30 in 30: Season outlook | Burning questions, reasons for optimism | Top prospects | Vesey adds to Rangers' depth | Fantasy: Top 200

Undervalued: Mats Zuccarello, RW

Excluding center Derick Brassard, who was traded to the Ottawa Senators on July 18, Zuccarello, 28, is the Rangers' points leader (110 in 159 games) over the past two seasons. That's not a good look regarding Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, but it speaks to how underrated Zuccarello has been in fantasy. The Norwegian forward finished 81st in Yahoo last season after being drafted on average with the 170th pick and likely will go outside the top 100 again in most leagues. He'll be a bargain if available in the 10th or 11th round considering his spot on the Rangers' top line and first man-advantage unit (18 power-play points last season). It was an amazing story to see him lead New York in scoring with 61 points (26 goals, 35 assists) after sustaining a brain contusion and a hairline fracture of his skull in the 2015 postseason.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Zuccarello nets Miller's feed

Overvalued: Ryan McDonagh, D

McDonagh, 27, plays major minutes (22:21 per game) and provides a ray of hope for a Rangers defense that struggled last season. That said, his fantasy value has not lined up with his worth in reality. McDonagh (nine PPP last season) has never had more than 13 PPP in a season, and it remains to be seen if he can carry the load in those situations with Keith Yandle, Brassard and Dan Boyle out of the picture. His plus/minus has been outstanding throughout his NHL career (plus-26 last season; plus-114 in his career), but that trend could change if the Rangers defense performs anything like it did in the postseason.

McDonagh's best fantasy season came in 2013-14, when he had 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists), a plus-11 rating and 177 shots on goal. He has had fewer than 10 goals, 35 points and 150 SOG in each of the two seasons since, and carries injury concerns after missing 20 games over the past two seasons. McDonagh, who finished 35th among defensemen in Yahoo, is ranked 32nd at his position by NHL.com because of an anticipated power-play uptick. But considering his lack of coverage and the state of the Rangers, it's risky to invest in him before the 11th round.

Sleeper: Mika Zibanejad, C/RW

Zibanejad's point total has improved in each of his four full NHL seasons, with last season his best fantasy performance yet with 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists), 11 PPP and 184 SOG. He mostly was the second-line center for the Senators but thrived in a late-season stint on their first line after Kyle Turris was injured. From Feb. 27 to the end of the season, Zibanejad had 10 goals, five assists, a plus-2 rating and 63 SOG in 20 games to become a late-season commodity. Acquired by the Rangers in the Brassard trade, the 23-year-old could emerge as their No. 1 center and lead them in scoring as early as this season. Brassard's departure opens up a first power-play spot Zibanejad could fill, and his even-strength minutes could rejuvenate Nash. Reach for Zibanejad, ranked 130th in NHL.com's fantasy top 200, as early as the 10th round of a 12-team league, and much higher in keeper leagues.

Bounce-back: Rick Nash, LW

Nash, 32, ranks third in even-strength goals behind Alex Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla since entering the League in 2002-03. He scored 42 goals two seasons ago (third in NHL) but was limited to 60 games last season and was unproductive when healthy with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists). Power-play production has been missing for Nash since joining the Rangers in 2012-13 (34 PPP in 248 games). He is the top-ranked Rangers forward and 99th overall in NHL.com's rankings because of his bounce-back potential, specifically because his high shot volume (183) suggests he could be in line for a shooting percentage (8.2) correction. If he skates with Zibanejad and Zuccarello on the top line, stays healthy, and scores at least 60 points, the 32-year-old would turn into a big steal for fantasy owners who should be able to land him in the eighth round or later.

Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Nash opens scoring with top-shelf SHG

Impact prospect: Pavel Buchnevich, LW

Buchnevich signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on May 13 after playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for the past four seasons. He's 21 years old and remains a wild card in terms of immediate fantasy value but is a deep sleeper in the hope he can crack the top six. He's probably destined for a third-line role to start, considering Nash, Zibanejad, Zuccarello, Stepan, Kreider and J.T. Miller are projected to land on New York's top two lines, not to mention recent free agent addition Jimmy Vesey now is part of the competition. That said, the forward prospect will be aiming high in training camp and could show off his untapped potential if given consistent ice time in the NHL. After Artemi Panarin, an underrated KHL product, flourished last season for the Chicago Blackhawks, fantasy owners need to have prospects like Buchnevich on their radar.

Goalie outlook

The Rangers had the fifth-worst shot attempts percentage in the League last season, but Lundqvist remains a good enough individual goalie to singlehandedly steal games. He had at least 35 wins and a .920 save percentage for the fourth time in his NHL career, and is a lock to start 60-65 games if healthy. ... The Rangers brought back Antti Raanta on a two-year contract. He won 11 of 18 decisions with a 2.24 GAA, .919 SV% and one shutout, his second straight season with quality totals as a true backup. If you're bold enough to draft Lundqvist early, be sure to handcuff Raanta for insurance.

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