Coming off a playoff berth in 2013, expectations will be raised for the New York Islanders, who have a couple of premier fantasy options surrounded by a lot of possibles and maybes.
Top Picks: With 128 points over the last two seasons, John Tavares ranks sixth, and he's the one driving the Islanders' offence. It would be easier to raise expectations if the Islanders provided him with a better supporting cast, but he's a reliable point-per-game option who would be higher than a top five fantasy centre if he could become a stronger plus player.
There are benefits to skating on Tavares' wing and Matt Moulson has reaped the rewards, scoring 112 goals in the last four seasons, ranking 13th in the league. His exceptionally low penalty minute totals (10 PIM in last two seasons combined) can hurt his value in leagues that count penalty minutes, but otherwise he's a legitimate No. 1 left winger.
Value Plays: Forever regarded as underrated, C Frans Nielsen has added some offence to his sound defensive game, but only enough to be considered as a depth pickup in fantasy.
Speedy winger Michael Grabner has scored 70 goals over the last three seasons, ranking 28th, but his low assist totals leave him as a fringe fantasy performer in most cases.
With Mark Streit departing, veteran D Lubomir Visnovsky becomes an integral part of the Islanders' attack, and while his point production is down (41 points in 103 games) over the last two seasons, Visnovsky is the logical quarterback on the Islanders' power play.
G Evgeni Nabokov was vital to the Islanders' push for the playoffs last season but, his .912 save percentage over the last couple seasons (since returning to the league) is only okay. He's the clearcut No. 1 for the Islanders, so he's a viable No. 2 (or good No. 3) fantasy goaltender.
Sleepers/Breakthrough: LW Josh Bailey has had a rocky road of development, but finishing 2013 with 10 points in his last 13 games, playing nearly 18 minutes per game, may have been a sign that he's ready to fulfill at least a complementary scoring role for the Isles.
The right side of the Islanders' forward lines is full of uncertainty, but enough potential upside to provide value.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard has missed 154 games over the last four seasons, and is a long way removed his 63-point career high in 2008-2009, but the 29-year-old was inked as a free agent, with an eye to moving him alongside Tavares and Moulson on the number one line. That alone makes him worth a look.
Kyle Okposo managed just four goals in 48 games last season, a year after scoring a career-high 24 goals, but he figures to play a top six role for the Islanders, enough of an opportunity to have value in deep leagues if he returns to his previous levels of production.
Cal Clutterbuck only had 10 points in 42 games last year, but had 34 goals combined in the previous two years, which is enough production to offer value in leagues that count hits because Clutterbuck is perennially among the league leaders.
Rookies: The departure of Mark Streit also opens up a spot on the blueline for rookie D Matt Donovan to play a regular role. The 23-year-old has 98 points and 185 penalty minutes in 153 AHL games over two-plus seasons. In deep leagues, he's worth a late-round look on potential alone.
If an Islanders rookie forward is going to have a major impact, it could be C Ryan Strome, the fifth overall pick in 2011 who had 94 points in 53 OHL games last season and could fit as the Islanders' number three centre since the number two slot is held by Nielsen, who is a strong defensive centre. However, there is uncertainty about whether Strome will secure that spot.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.