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30 in 30

Washington Capitals fantasy outlook

Alex Ovechkin top asset; Evgeny Kuznetsov will hurt Nicklas Backstrom's value

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

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: Alex Ovechkin, LW

The three-time Hart Trophy winner hasn't played a season in the NHL when he wasn't worth at least a top 10 pick. Ovechkin reached the 50-goal mark for the third straight season and has led the League in goals and power-play goals in each of the past four. He's plus-31 over the past two seasons after finishing minus-35 in 2013-14, so there really aren't any blemishes on Ovechkin's fantasy resume other than his low assist totals; he hasn't had more than 28 in a season since 2010-11. In Ovechkin's 11 NHL seasons, he has led the League in shots on goal in 10, failing only in 2011-12 (36 behind Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins). Chances are Ovechkin will play with longtime center Nicklas Backstrom on the first line, though center Evgeny Kuznetsov's breakout last season could warrant time there. Either way, Ovechkin is the complete package and is worth drafting in the top 3-5 players regardless of format. 

Capitals 30 in 30: Season outlook | Top prospects | Burning questions, reasons for optimism | Fantasy: Top 200

Undervalued: John Carlson, D

Had Carlson not missed 26 games last season, he likely would have passed his NHL career highs in goals (12) and points (55) of 2014-15 and plus/minus (plus-21) of 2010-11. Instead, Carlson had 39 points (eight goals, 31 assists) and was plus-16 in 56 games, finishing 31st among defensemen in Yahoo and 193rd overall. A healthy Carlson would have finished among the top 15 defensemen, which is where he is in NHL.com's top 50 rankings for the position (No. 9). He finished second on the Capitals in power-play ice time per game (3:18) behind Ovechkin, and though his shot and PIM totals are usually low, there are few defensemen who have the potential to get 60 points. Carlson will start in midseason form, considering he'll be one of the top defensemen for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September. The 26-year-old will provide great value as a potential top 10 defenseman you can draft in the seventh or eighth round in a 10-team league.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Carlson blasts home PPG to tie it

Overvalued: Nicklas Backstrom, C

Throughout Backstrom's NHL career, his fantasy value has been directly linked to Ovechkin. Over the past six seasons, Backstrom's 288 assists are tied for fourth in the League, mostly because he has been setting up Ovechkin, who has scored the most goals in that span (256). Backstrom had 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists) in 75 games last season to finish 26th in Yahoo's rankings, but if Kuznetsov replaces him on the first line next to Ovechkin, Backstrom would finish well below that mark. The 28-year-old center had 30 points on the power play last season, but Kuznetsov could also eat into his time on the first unit. Backstrom is usually worth selecting in the third or fourth round of a 10-team draft, but if his role decreases, it would be a bit of a reach taking him that early.

Sleeper: Andre Burakovsky, LW

After having 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 53 games as a rookie in 2014-15, Burakovsky improved to 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games last season. He primarily played with Kuznetsov and right wing Justin Williams on the second line, which allowed him to be productive in almost every fantasy category. If the 21-year-old left wing stays on that trajectory, and Washington's offense produces at the same pace (which it should), Burakovsky's numbers should keep improving. He played 0:47 per game on the power play, but that should jump with the departure of free agent Jason Chimera. You should be able to grab Burakovsky toward the end of a 10-team draft as a potential breakout candidate in the mold of Kuznetsov from last season.

Video: WSH@PIT: Burakovsky's snipe draws Caps even

Bounce-back: Lars Eller, C

With how successful the Capitals were last season, it's hard to target a player from that roster in line for a rebound. So let's look at one of the new faces, Eller, acquired in an offseason trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Once revered on the Canadiens' "Kid Line" from a few seasons ago, Eller regressed in Montreal's defensive-minded system but could provide fantasy value playing on a potent Capitals third line with Marcus Johansson and fellow redemption project Brett Connolly. Two of three third-line players (Chimera, Johansson) had at least 40 points last season, and anything more than 30 points would be a career high for Eller, who had that many in 46 games of the shortened 2012-13 season. He isn't worth drafting in a 10- or 12-team league, but definitely monitor him for a possible waiver wire add.

Impact prospect: Jakub Vrana, LW

Hershey of the American Hockey League is filled with promising prospects, including forwards Riley Barber and Nathan Walker. But the most talented is Vrana, the No. 13 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound wing had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 36 games for the Bears last season and helped Hershey reach the Calder Cup Final with eight goals and six assists in 21 playoff games. The Capitals roster is crowded, so chances are none of their prospects will make an impact this season. But an injury could be all it takes for Vrana to land among Washington's top nine forwards, and he could play with an elite center, making him relevant in fantasy.

Video: 30 in 30: Washington Capitals 2016-17 season preview

Goalie outlook

Despite leading the NHL with 48 wins last season, Braden Holtby's 2.20 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts in 66 starts was only good enough to finish fourth among goalies in Yahoo. That fact creates some cause for concern, considering how difficult it would be for Holtby to duplicate his wins total, but not enough to suggest he shouldn't be one of the first three goalies selected in a standard draft. Washington returns essentially the same roster from last season, so the reigning Vezina Trophy winner should win 40 games with a sub-2.30 GAA and a SV% above .920. Philipp Grubauer likely won't see many starts, but like any backup of an elite goaltender, he'll be a prime streamer candidate when Holtby rests.

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