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Fantasy: Linemates to target together in drafts

Patrick Kane-Artemi Panarin, Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski among top scoring pairs to stack

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

It's easy to coast through your fantasy draft by picking, for instance, the best player available or your favorite players. But hockey is a sport in which one player's success can be directly tied to the player skating beside him. A useful strategy to keep in mind, in standard formats and in daily formats, is stacking linemates in an effort to limit the amount of points you miss out on during the season.

Targeting top point pairs for your lineup in standard formats throughout an entire season carries a lot of risk. When one player's success is tied to another's, should one of those players struggle or get injured, everything can fall apart.

But the reward can outweigh the risk in many cases. We saw last season how effective Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks were playing together. Although it would be extremely difficult to get Dallas Stars linemates Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin out of your draft, each finished in the top 15 in the NHL in scoring; Benn's 89 points were second, and Seguin's 73 were 14th. Left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals seemingly have gone hand-in-hand since the 2007-08 season. Center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, up until last season, had been among the elite as well.

Here are nine scoring pairs to target together in drafts, broken into three categories: Elite pairs from last season, new pairs formed in free agency or trades this offseason, and pairs on the rise.

ELITE PAIRS

C/RW Patrick Kane and LW Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

Combined 2015-16 point total: 183 (76 goals, 107 assists)

Kane and Panarin formed a bond early last season that blossomed into fantasy hockey poetry for those lucky enough to own each of them. The two were far and away the top scoring pair; the closest was Benn and Seguin (162 combined points). They also ranked first in team goals on which each had a point (56), and there's nothing to suggest they won't finish at the top again this season. You should have no trouble finding a way to draft Kane and Panarin: Pick Kane early in the first round, and then take Panarin late in the second or early in the third.

C Joe Thornton and C/LW/RW Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

Combined 2015-16 point total: 160 (57 goals, 103 assists)

Last season, Thornton really turned back the clock with 82 points, his highest total since 2009-10, when he had 89 in 79 games. It's hard to imagine Thornton being a point-per-game player again this season but playing on a line with one of the most consistent goal-scorers in the League certainly helps. Pavelski has scored 30 or more goals in four straight full NHL seasons and is third in goals scored over the past five seasons (163), trailing Steven Stamkos (193) and Ovechkin (224). Thornton and Pavelski should continue to be staples on the Sharks' top line and will benefit from having either Tomas Hertl or Mikkel Boedker skating with them for a full season.

LW Johnny Gaudreau and C Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Combined 2015-16 point total: 141 (57 goals, 84 assists)

Gaudreau (78) and Monahan (63) each set an NHL career high in points last season. The Flames were in the top third of the League in goals scored (2.79 per game) and improved their roster by signing veteran forward Troy Brouwer. But Calgary primarily has Gaudreau and Monahan to thank for its potent offense; each had a point on 38 team goals last season, sixth in the NHL. You shouldn't have much trouble drafting each of them: Pick Gaudreau in the late first round/early second, and then take Monahan somewhere in the fifth or sixth.

Also consider: C Patrice Bergeron and LW Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins; C Henrik Sedin and LW Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

NEW PAIRS

Video: Milan Lucic talks to the crew on NHL Tonight

C Connor McDavid and LW Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers brought in Lucic through free agency this offseason to provide some veteran toughness atop the lineup next to rising star McDavid. The 19-year-old was better than a point-per-game player last season (48 in 45 games) while playing with uninspiring linemates. Lucic will give McDavid a reliable goal-scorer as well as protection to allow him to create plays freely. With the Los Angeles Kings last season, Lucic scored 20 goals and had 55 points in 81 games. It's safe to say those numbers should look much better playing with McDavid, who will gain a steady left wing to finish some of his next-level passes. McDavid likely will be drafted in the first round, and Lucic's average draft position should give you plenty of time to pair them together. This pair would also be particularly useful in hits leagues; Lucic has had 240 or more hits in each of the past three seasons.

Video: Chatting with Taylor Hall

C/LW Taylor Hall and C/LW Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils

At this point, you should know of the history between Hall and Henrique from their days in juniors. The two likely will reunite in the Devils' top six this season and could form a potent offensive pairing. Had they been on the same team last season, Hall and Henrique would have combined for 45 goals and 91 points at even strength. Hall, acquired from the Oilers in a trade for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29, will be targeted high in drafts, but Henrique should fly under the radar as a late-round pick with upside. Each has 30-goal potential and will be featured on the Devils power play, which was ninth in the League last season (19.9 percent).

Video: Chatting with Eric Staal on signing with the Wild

LW Zach Parise and C/LW Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

This pair would be considered very low-risk, high-reward in most drafts, simply because neither player will be targeted or ranked very high. Parise, who turns 32 on Thursday, had 25 goals and 53 points in 70 games while dealing with a back injury last season. Staal underperformed in two bad situations with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, finishing with 39 points in 83 games. Parise, if healthy, benefits from playing with a veteran center like Staal, who will try to find his game in a fresh start with Minnesota.

Also consider: C Jack Eichel and RW Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres; C John Tavares and LW Andrew Ladd, New York Islanders

ON THE RISE

C Steven Stamkos and LW Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning

Combined 2015-16 point total: 74 (40 goals, 34 assists)

The total number listed above doesn't tell the whole story between Stamkos and Drouin. The two barely played together last season and were only briefly on the ice at the same time during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. But Drouin was fantastic during the Stanley Cup Playoffs (14 points in 17 games) when Stamkos was out because of a blood clot, and they should be featured on the Lightning's top line at the start of this season. Stamkos will look to return to scoring 50-plus goals, something Drouin could help him accomplish while getting a fresh start of his own after a tumultuous 2015-16 regular season that saw him suspended for failing to report to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.  

C Aleksander Barkov and C/LW Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Combined 2015-16 point total: 118 (48 goals, 70 assists)

Veteran forward Jaromir Jagr may have led the Panthers in points last season (66), but he can't be expected to keep up that kind of production at age 44. Barkov and Huberdeau each set an NHL career high with 59 points last season, and all Florida did this offseason was improve its roster, particularly by signing defenseman Keith Yandle. Barkov and Huberdeau each had a point on 32 team goals last season, tied for seventh in the League, and will be available in the middle rounds of drafts.

C Mark Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Combined 2015-16 point total: 139 (55 goals, 84 assists)

It wasn't until Jets center Bryan Little sustained a fractured vertebrae that Scheifele and Wheeler were put on the same line. But after that, the two took off, finding instant chemistry. Wheeler finished the season 15th in Yahoo's performance-based rankings with 78 points in 82 games, and Scheifele had an NHL career-high 61 points. If the two start this season on the same line, they would be considered an elite pair, but that picture isn't clear yet. Wheeler could go back to playing with Little on the Jets' second line, leaving Scheifele with rookie forward Patrik Laine.

Also consider: C/LW Max Domi and LW/RW Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes; C/RW Boone Jenner and RW Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

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