The Washington Capitals started to get back to their high-scoring ways last season, thanks to an impossibly successful power play, but that has raised the stock of some top tier fantasy performers.
Top Picks: Last season marked a bit of a resurrection for RW Alex Ovechkin and not merely because he led the league in goals (32) with the second-highest shooting percentage (14.5%) of his career. The better indicator for Ovechkin was that his shots per game rebounded from a career-low 3.88 in 2011-2012 to 4.58 last season. He's also an active hitter, for leagues that cover that stat, so Ovechkin is worthy of a pick in the top half of the first round.
With Ovechkin back in gear, C Nicklas Backstrom scored a point-per-game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Since 2008-2009, his 1.05 points per game ranks seventh, so he's a bona fide No. 1 fantasy centre.
In 57 career games, G Braden Holtby has a .923 save percentage and, after a handful of rough starts at the beginning of last season, he performed at a high level. So long as he keeps playing at that level, Holtby would be an okay No. 1 fantasy goaltender, but his limited track record makes him a great fit as a No. 2.
Value Plays: Coming off a career season, RW Troy Brouwer matched his 2011-2012 point total (33) despite playing 35 fewer games in a lockout-shortened season. A crease-crasher like Brouwer is naturally a high-percentage finisher, but he isn't likely to score on 17.1% of his shots as he did last year, so some regression may occur, but he remains a viable fantasy winger.
D Mike Green scored better than a point per game in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 and then injuries started wreaking havoc on his game, and he has 57 points in 116 games in the last three seasons. However, he was a beast down the stretch last season, scoring nine goals and 18 points in his last 15 games, so Green could be an elite offensive defenceman once again, if healthy. Always, if healthy.
The safer option on the Capitals' blueline is D John Carlson, who put up a career-best 0.46 points per game last season. Over the last three years, Carlson has 91 points and should be on the way up as a 23-year-old taking on a bigger role.
Sleepers/Breakthrough: It's difficult to decipher how the Maple Leafs decided to use C Mikhail Grabovski last season, as a virtual sacrificial lamb, with so many more defensive zone starts and tough matchups compared to previous seasons. In Washington, the expectation is that Grabovski will again be used as a scoring centre, which makes sense because he scored 52 goals and 109 points in the two seasons previous. Last year's dip in production, though, should make Grabovski a bargain come draft day this year.
Prior to last season, LW Martin Erat had been consistentl, falling between 49 and 58 points in eight straight seasons, but a bad run of percentages, including a 7.2% shooting percentage (his career mark is 12.4%) left Erat with disappointing numbers. He and Grabovski can seek their redemption together.
Rookies: There aren't any easy slots in which to place rookies in the Washinton lineup.
RW Tom Wilson, a first-round pick in 2012, was called up for three playoff games last season and he's a big, ornery winger who will put up penalty minutes, at the very least. However, Wilson showed an improved offensive game last season and may benefit from another year in a big offensive role in junior before he's pressed into action.
The Capitals' blueline appears crowded already, with Dmitri Orlov trying to return to the big club, but collegiate free agent D Nate Schmidt has scored 73 points in 83 games with the University of Minnesota over the last two years, so if he does somehow get a chance, he'll be worth keeping an eye on.
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.