The unrestricted free agent crop didn't include many marquee forwards, but the flurry of offseason trades certainly did.
Several big-name forwards around the NHL changed scenery in recent weeks, setting the table for a summer of speculation about line combinations and fantasy implications. We've seen summer trades pay sizable fantasy dividends in recent years, with no better example being the July 2013 trade that sent Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins to the Dallas Stars.
Seguin, a young role player with the Bruins at the time of the trade, played with Jamie Benn and scored 161 points in 151 games in the next two regular seasons with the Stars. Last season, Scott Hartnell (trade to Columbus Blue Jackets) and Radim Vrbata (signed by Vancouver Canucks) finished among the top 50 fantasy forwards after moving to new teams.
We're still more than two months away from training camp, but there are plenty of reasons to get excited about breakout, bounce-back and sleeper potential after so much roster movement. Here are some forwards who should finish higher than they did last season as a result of changing teams.
Phil Kessel, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
Per Elias Sports Bureau, Claude Giroux (227) was the only player in the League with more points than Kessel (214) from 2011-12 to 2013-14. The 27-year-old right wing hasn't missed a game in the past five seasons and put up elite numbers playing alongside Tyler Bozak. Now, he'll be playing with one of the League's best centers in either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin at even strength and alongside both on the power play. Kessel is likely to put the disappointing end to his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs behind him, bounce back with 80-plus points and finish among the top 15-20 fantasy assets in 2015-16.
Brandon Saad, LW/RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
The 22-year-old power forward was traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Blue Jackets before signing a long-term contract. He'll be paired alongside either rising star Ryan Johansen or underrated category cog Brandon Dubinsky. Saad should see an uptick in minutes per game with the man-advantage compared to his average with the Blackhawks and be in position to eclipse 20-plus power-play points, 250 shots on goal and 60-plus points. Saad's days of being outside the fantasy top 100 are over, because he'll be getting top-six minutes with one of the Eastern Conference's top forward arsenals. His breakout season is upon us.
T.J. Oshie, C/RW, Washington Capitals
2014-15 STATS WITH BLUES
Goals: 19 | Assists: 36 | Pts: 55
Shots: 162 | +/-: +17
It remains to be seen whether Oshie will be positioned next to Nicklas Backstrom (60 assists in 2014-15, 1st in NHL) and Alex Ovechkin or in a secondary spot with Evgeny Kuznetsov, but this is a refreshing situation either way. Oshie finished with 50-plus points for the second straight season with the St. Louis Blues, but a slow start and an ineffective Stanley Cup Playoffs led to a trade to the Capitals. Oshie should easily surpass his current career highs in goals (21) and assists (39), post a great rating playing with an explosive top-six forward group and be attainable in fantasy come the seventh or eighth round.
Marko Dano, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Artem Anisimov may fill the Blackhawks' second-line center void to start the season, but Dano could find his way into that spot at some point in 2015-16. In 35 games last season, Dano led the Blue Jackets in shot-attempts percentage (SAT) and posted 21 points, a plus-12 rating and 2.4 SOG per game. Even if he occupies a third-line role, there's a great chance he'll play with Teuvo Teravainen. That depth duo could give the salary-cap-strapped Blackhawks another dimension behind Jonathan Toews' and Patrick Kane's lines. Dano is a must-add sleeper based on upside after the 15th round of drafts.
Ryan O'Reilly, LW/C, Buffalo Sabres
O'Reilly posted career highs in goals, points and SOG in 2013-14 before taking a step back with the rest of the Colorado Avalanche last season. He was traded to rebuilding Buffalo with one year remaining on his contract but signed a seven-year extension and has a chance to surprise in the short term as the Sabres' top-line center alongside Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis. O'Reilly, one of the League's best at takeaways, should finish in the 60- to 65-point range and mentor Buffalo's young centers (Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons) in the process. The Sabres have deceptive fantasy value as a team, so select him if he drops outside the first 10 rounds.
Carl Soderberg, LW/C, Colorado Avalanche
The O'Reilly trade means Soderberg is Colorado's projected second-line center alongside fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog and bounce-back candidate Nathan MacKinnon. Soderberg was stuck in a third-line role for much of his time with the Bruins but carries sleeper upside in a heightened role with the Avalanche. For more on his value, check out this fantasy spin.
Milan Lucic, LW, Los Angeles Kings
2014-15 STATS WITH BRUINS
Goals: 18 | Assists: 26 | Pts: 44
PIMs: 81 | +/-: +13
Lucic, 111th in Yahoo's season-end rankings, is a physically imposing player who could get the Kings right back into contention if he takes on left wing duties on what could be a scary top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. His fantasy value is low after his production dipped with Bruins linemate David Krejci missing time with injury, but he'll have a more durable center by his side in 2015-16 and should return to form as a top-tier points/penalty minutes fantasy asset. This is a great fit for Lucic, and fantasy owners should expect him to rack up 50-plus points and 100-plus PIMs this season.
Emerson Etem, LW/RW, New York Rangers
Etem gives the Rangers an athletic goal-scorer who was unable to reach anything close to his ceiling with the Anaheim Ducks, who used him as a fourth-liner when he wasn't in the American Hockey League. He should have a spot waiting for him on the third line with Kevin Hayes. If he produces, look for him to replace the retired Martin St. Louis and play with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider on the second line. Etem has never played more than 45 games in a season, but he has scored big goals before in the playoffs and has a chance to thrive in Alain Vigneault's system. He could be a big steal if available after the 15th round.
Jimmy Hayes, RW, Boston Bruins
2014-15 STATS WITH PANTHERS
Goals: 19 | Assists: 16 | Pts: 35
Shots: 166 | +/-: -4
The Bruins have parted ways with key contributors this offseason, so Hayes and fellow newcomer Matt Beleskey should see big minutes in 2015-16. Beleskey should fill Lucic's spot next to Krejci, and the void on Patrice Bergeron's right side should catch fantasy owners' eyes regarding Hayes. The Bruins acquired him from the Florida Panthers and signed him to a three-year contract after he finished with 1.05 goals per 60 minutes last season (T-36th among players with 72-plus games played). He has 30-goal potential if he sticks in a top-six role, and just might be around for the final round of standard drafts.
Antoine Vermette, LW/C, Arizona Coyotes
Vermette, who scored three game-winning goals in Chicago's run to the Stanley Cup, returned to the desert on a two-year contract. After playing the middle on the Blackhawks' third line, he's the No. 1 center at the moment for the Coyotes, who have a bright future. Led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the NHL's reigning goal leader among defensemen, Arizona has highly touted forward prospects (i.e. Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome) vying for roster spots. Vermette, who's off the fantasy radar at the moment, could be winning faceoffs and setting the table for that young talent as early as this season.