The NHL season starts tonight with the Pittsburgh Penguins taking on the back to back defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning followed by the Seattle Kraken making their NHL debut against a team who’s early success they’d love to replicate the Vegas Golden Knights. Throughout the season I’ll use this space to highlight the best games on the slate for fantasy scoring, however with there only being two games on the slate tonight I’m just going to break down the whole slate. A two game slate can be difficult to project and predict on it’s own, add in the Kraken as an expansion team and the Pens missing Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin and things become even more chaotic.
Pittsburgh Penguins @ Tampa Bay Lightning
Mike Sullivan returns for his seventh season as the Penguins head coach and this is a veteran team trying to keep it’s Stanley Cup window open with an aging core. Pittsburgh was middle of the pack in expected goals for (xGF) 111.3 18th and expected goals against (xGA) 114.1 16th last season. They also ranked bottom third in scoring chances for (SCF) 505 27th and high danger chances for (HDF) 122 27th. While I don’t expect much overall from this offense tonight there are a few bright spots to consider. With Malkin and Crosby out for tonight’s game the 36 year old Jeff Carter($6,100 DK, $4,900 FD) is expected to fill in as as first line center and on the top power play unit. Not as quick as he was in his younger days Carter still possesses a lethal shot and has scored 17 goals in each of the last two seasons. Priced as the second highest center on Draftkings should keep ownership down, making him a solid tournament play, while his price on FanDuel makes him a lock for cash game lineups. Jason Zucker ($4,400 DK, $4,300 FD) will man a wing spot on the second line and contribute on the power play, after four consecutive 20+ goal seasons Zucker finished with only 9 in 38 games last season, I believe last season was a blip on the radar and with increased opportunities tonight picking up the slack for the absences of Crosby, Malkin and Guentzel he should provide great value for his price tag on both sites.
In Tampa Bay Jon Cooper returns for his tenth season behind the bench for the Lightning. Coming off their second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship no team has played more games then the Lightning while that might have an effect on them as the season goes on, I expect them to come out and jump all over an old and undermanned Penguins team on the night they raise their third Stanley Cup banner. Ranking 7th in xGF with 117.2 despite underwhelming overall in SCFs 511 26th and HDFs 136 25th I expect the Lightning offense to actually be better than last year with the return of Nikita Kucherov ($8,000 DK, $8,600 FD). Before missing the whole regular season by hanging out on the long term injured reserve list only to ride in as the cavalry for the playoffs and lead Tampa Bay to another championship, Kucherov had over 85+ points in four straight season including two season over 100+ points and two 40+ goal seasons. Arguably the best player in the NHL right now Kucherov has the best floor/ceiling combo on tonight’s slate and is fairly priced on both sites. Another playoff hero Ross Colton ($3,800 DK, $3,600 FD) has a great opportunity in front of him to step into a larger role, he’ll likely have the first chance to replace Yanni Gourde on Tampa’s third line and will get power play minutes, he’s a great play for cap relief tonight.
Seattle Kraken @ Las Vegas Golden Knights
Over in Las Vegas Peter DeBoer returns for his third season to coach a Golden Knights team that ranked 2nd in xGF 132.5, 1st in SCFs and 1st in HDFs. This is a potent Golden Knights team with high end scoring in their top six and their backend as well as depth scoring up and down the lineup. Perennial Stanley Cup contenders since their inception in the 2017-18 season it’s Stanley Cup or bust every year in Sin City. The usual suspects are back for Vegas Mark Stone ($6,600 DK, $7,000 FD), Max Pacioretty ($7,100 DK, $7,000 FD) and Jonathan Marchessault ($6,000 DK, $5,700 FD) but the two most intriguing plays for me on this Vegas roster are two new additions Nolan Patrick ($3,600 DK, $3,400 FD) and Evgenii Dadonov ($3,900 DK, $4,200 FD). Talent and skill has never been the problem for Patrick, injuries and misuse/poor team role kept him from reaching his potential in Philadelphia but now with his migraines under control and reunited with Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon who coached Patrick in the Western Hockey League, where Patrick put up 158 pts in 127 games played, Patrick is in a perfect spot to reach the potential that made him the second overall pick in the 2017 draft and it starts tonight. Dadonov, before a disappointing 13 goal 20 point season last year in Ottawa, had three straight 25+ goal seasons and 2 of those seasons he eclipsed 65 points. Ottawa is basically the NHL’s version of an elephant graveyard so anything that a player does there on the ice should be ignored. In an improved offense and with an excellent supporting cast expect Dadonov to rediscover his scoring touch.
Former Philadelphia Flyers head coach, Dave Hakstol, begins his second stint as a head coach for the expansion Seattle Kraken after a brief stint as an assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hakstol’s Flyers teams played boring, defensive structured hockey with about as much emotion as a B team stripper. Lacking top end talent in the forward corps I expect the Kraken to play smothering hockey, limit scoring chances and keep television ratings down tonight. There’s not much to like from a fantasy perspective but if you want to get contrarian Jaden Schwartz ($5,000, $4,900 FD) presents the best floor/ceiling combo for all Kraken players. He had a down year last year but he does have three 55+ point seasons in the last five years and is going to be expected to carry the offensive load for Seattle. 24 year old Vince Dunn ($4,900 DK, $4,500 FD) is the other player on the Kraken with potential for not just a good night to open the season but potentially a breakout this year. The offensive defenseman has scored over 20 points in all four of his seasons and now has an opportunity to run Seattle’s top power play unit. Schwartz and Dunn are both solid value plays tonight.
As a parting note, remember that this is a new season and we really don’t know anything so if you feel strongly about a player or a team now’s the time to make that play and try to be ahead of the field.