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Most improved fantasy teams for 2019-20

Panthers, Devils have bright outlook after offseason moves; Rangers, Stars signings have ripple effect

by Brett Amadon / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com identifies the most improved fantasy hockey teams for the 2019-20 season. These are teams that have gained fantasy momentum from offseason improvements and other trends. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy and subscribe for free to the NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast.

 

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FLORIDA PANTHERS

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky provides the Panthers with a stable option in net after Roberto Luongo retired and backup James Reimer was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. A two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2013, 2017), Bobrovsky went 37-24-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and an NHL-leading nine shutouts in 62 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. Although his numbers were down from his career averages (2.46 GAA, .919 SV%), he is a reliable and durable goaltender -- he has played in 190 games in the past three seasons, third in the NHL behind Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs -- and an obvious upgrade for Florida.

If there was one knock on Bobrovsky, it's been his performance in the playoffs (11-18, .902 SV%), but he turned the corner this season by helping Columbus win its first playoff series (6-4, 2.41 GAA, .925 SV%). This is an encouraging sign for Florida, which has qualified for the postseason twice in the past 18 seasons.

The hiring of coach Joel Quenneville should elevate a Panthers offense which ranked ninth in the NHL last season in goals per game (3.22) and second on the power play (26.8 percent). Florida had five players with at least 62 points last season -- forwards Aleksander Barkov (96), Jonathan Huberdeau (92), Mike Hoffman (70), Evgenii Dadonov (70) and defenseman Keith Yandle (62) -- and if Quenneville's tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks is any indication, those numbers shouldn't change.

While coaching Chicago from 2008-18 (not including 15 games last season), the Blackhawks ranked third in the NHL in goals per game at 2.99, third in shots on goal per game at 32.4 and 12th on the power play at 18.6 percent. Add in Quenneville's experience with players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, and it should make for a smooth transition. Quenneville should also get more out of secondary scorers such as center Vincent Trocheck (injury bounce-back candidate), defensemen Aaron Ekblad (breakout) and Mike Matheson (deep sleeper).

 

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

One season after making the playoffs, the Devils regressed and finished 29th in the NHL but then won the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery and landed center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick. With a healthy Taylor Hall and other notable additions in defenseman P.K. Subban and right wing Wayne Simmonds, it wouldn't be surprising to see New Jersey do another 180-degree turnaround.

Hall won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in 2018 after NHL career highs in points (93) and power-play points (37). However, he was limited to 33 games last season because of a knee injury and didn't play following the Christmas break. Hall, a potential 2020 unrestricted free agent, said he wanted to see the Devils improve the team around him, and that started when they selected Hughes No. 1 overall.

Hughes had 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games for the United States National Team Development Program. An elite skater reminiscent of Kane, Hughes set the NTDP record for assists (134) and points (197) before playing alongside the Blackhawks right wing for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, where he had three assists in seven games. He should step in right away to New Jersey's top six and give Hall another playmaking center along with Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Like Hall, Subban battled injuries last season but still managed 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 63 games, which would've ranked second among Devils defensemen behind Damon Severson (39). When healthy, Subban has been a 50-60 point scorer four times in the past, and his power-play production - he has at least 21 PPP in five of the past seven seasons - should elevate Hall, Hughes, Hischier and/or right wing Kyle Palmieri. Simmonds, a power forward who has potential to score 25-30 goals and contribute on the power play (at least 16 PPP in seven of past eight seasons), is a deep sleeper with the Devils.

 

NEW YORK RANGERS

The Rangers went through some growing pains under first-year coach David Quinn, but with the addition of Artemi Panarin in free agency, Kaapo Kakko in the 2019 draft, and defenseman Jacob Trouba in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets, it's not crazy to think New York could make the playoffs after missing in each of the past two seasons.

Panarin should have an instant impact on an offense that was tied for 23rd in goals per game last season (2.70). The 27-year-old left wing had an NHL career-high 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last season and has been nearly a point-per-game player since entering the NHL in 2015-16 with the Blackhawks (320 points in 322 games). With New York only having one player score more than 52 points last season (Mika Zibanejad, 74), the ripple effect from the Panarin signing is obvious.

Kakko, whom the Rangers selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, will have the opportunity to bring New York much-needed depth scoring. A big right wing (6-foot-2, 194 pounds), Kakko put everyone on notice with his performance at the IIHF World Championship, where he had six goals in 10 games to help Finland win the gold medal. He also had a record-setting season for TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, by scoring 22 goals in 45 games, the most by an 18-or-younger player in the league's history. With young Rangers forwards Filip Chytil (No. 21 in 2017 NHL Draft) and Lias Andersson (No. 7 in 2017) struggling to find their footing, Kakko and rookie right wing Vitali Kravtsov should have every opportunity to compete for top-six and power-play roles.

Trouba will bring some much-needed point production to the Rangers defense. The 25-year-old had an NHL career-high 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) last season, 20 more than Tony DeAngelo (30), who led New York in scoring. The Rangers haven't had a defenseman score more than 50 points since the 2001-02 season (Brian Leetch, 55). And the Rangers also have defenseman prospect Adam Fox, whom they acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on April 30, likely to play heavy minutes as a rookie.

 

DALLAS STARS

Dallas finished the regular season strong, going 12-5-2 in their final 19 games, before making it to double overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round, where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Stars have since made a big splash by signing veteran forward Joe Pavelski. The former San Jose Sharks captain, who will turn 35 on July 11, led them with 38 goals last season and has been a consistent point producer - he has had at least 61 in each of his past eight full NHL seasons. Pavelski could boost the value of left wing Roope Hintz, who had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in the final 14 regular-season games and eight points (five goals, three assists) in 13 playoff games as a rookie.

Pavelski is also a consistent producer on the power play. Pavelski, who ranks 11th in the NHL in power-play points (156) since 2013-14, is likely to be paired with Tyler Seguin, who is tied for eighth (159) over the same span, on Dallas' first unit. That combo should help Jamie Benn, whose power-play and overall production dipped last season, right wing Alexander Radulov and defensemen John Klingberg (45 points, 20 PPP in 64 games) and/or Miro Heiskanen (led rookie defensemen with 12 goals).

Dallas also improved by signing veteran right wing Corey Perry. Although the 34-year-old forward dealt with injury last season, he's a deep sleeper candidate who could score 20-25 goals depending on where he slots into the lineup. He could crack the top six, but the third line may be more realistic to start the season. With the change of scenery - Anaheim scored the fewest goals in the NHL (196) last season - and potential usage on the second power play, don't be surprised if Perry bounces back for 40-45 points with solid category coverage.

 

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