Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs is Puck Daddy’s resident fantasy hockey expert. Dobber can be criticized and ridiculed over at his own site, too. Follow him on Twitter (@DobberHockey), but only if you like cool tidbits on player trends.
Some interesting camp battles this year, especially with the field narrowed before camps even begin thanks to the rush to get the puck dropped. Things are happening quickly, so that "Dammit!" moment that you get every year when a guy you drafted gets cut will happen before you can say "Niederreiter".
Here are some key battles taking place on teams in the Eastern Conference. We'll take a look at the West tomorrow because those teams aren't as important.
(Just getting my friends out west all riled up. Like shooting fish in a barrel.)
Alright, let's get to it.
The battle: Dougie Hamilton vs. Dennis Seidenberg
The stakes: PP time.
The lowdown: As good as Hamilton is, teams generally don't give teenagers top billing on the power play. As hard as it is to believe, Seidenberg saw 2:36 of power play time each game on average in 2011-12. How someone can do that and fail to reach the 25-point mark is beyond me. But if Hamilton can earn the trust of Coach Claude Julien, it will mean the difference between 10 and 25 points in this shortened season.
My call: Hamilton by decision
The battle: Tyler Ennis vs. Cody Hodgson vs. Steve Ott vs. Mikhail Grigorenko
The stakes: Key ice time
The lowdown: Logic dictates that Ennis and Hodgson will be 1-2. And with Ott as the perfect third-line center, where does that leave Grigorenko? He's making waves in training camp and sticking him on your fourth line is like putting on a pair of nicely-polished dress shoes to go out in the yard and scoop up doggie doo after it stops raining. There's probably 125 points up for grabs between the four of them, and where they play and who they play will determine distribution.
My call: Ennis or Hodgson will get hurt early, because they often do. Either that, or Ott will be moved to the wing. Because Grigorenko should make this team and at the very least play on the third line.
The battle: Zach Boychuk vs. Drayson Bowman
The stakes: A top nine spot, with cameos on the first line
The lowdown: Bowman passed Boychuk on the depth chart last year and played fairly well for Carolina down the stretch. But Boychuk has had a resurgence of sorts with a strong start in the AHL. If one of them can stick on the third line, they'll gain the experience needed for another shot on the Eric Staal line. The winner could top 20 or 25 points, while the loser will end up with as few as, well zero.
My call: Boychuk by TKO
The battle: Alexei Kovalev vs. Marek Svatos vs. Drew Shore
The stakes: An NHL job
The lowdown: Svatos took last season off because nobody wanted him he was recuperating from all the injuries that had been piling on for the two years prior. This is his last kick at the can, and the can was kicked: He was released from his PTO on Thursday. Kovalev struggled last season with KHL's Moscow Oblast Atlant, notching just six points in 22 games. But now that he's 40, I'm sure he'll do much better. Shore has been Florida's best skater with San Antonio, but he's only 21 and the team can wait for him.
My call: Kovalev will win. And subsequently get re-hated by fantasy owners when he lets them down again.
The battle: Alex Galchenyuk vs. Lars Eller
The stakes: Power-play time
The lowdown: Galchenyuk is probably the best all-around player in this year's rookie crop and he has offensive upside that will translate to the pros sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Eller has been developing at a pace typical of most good prospects and is on the cusp of taking that big step forward. With Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Tomas Plekanec having spots sewn up, and veterans Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta also getting leaned on, there won't be enough PP time to hand out to two more players.
My call: This will be a close one, but Galchenyuk by decision. Eller will have to force off one of the vets or wait another year.
New Jersey Devils
The battle: Bobby Butler vs. Dainius Zubrus vs. David Clarkson
The stakes: Two spots available in the top six
The lowdown: Clarkson plays a game that will fit in well on a checking line. Then again, the guy scored 30 goals last year. Zubrus boasts a two-way game that can see him slotted on any line. Butler is…well, it's top six or bust for Butler, who tallied 20 points in his last 18 AHL contests.
My call: Butler and Clarkson. Butler will at least get a few games to prove himself.
New York Islanders
The battle: Brad Boyes vs. Michael Grabner
The stakes: Power-play time.
The lowdown: Brad Boyes has watched his numbers nosedive faster than our interest in Lance Armstrong. He needs this. Now that Kyle Okposo is back on the John Tavares line, Boyes needs all the power-play time he can get. Michael Grabner is looking to bounce back from a down year.
My call: It's entirely possible that these guys will form a second line. As long as it doesn't morph into a "third line", their numbers should each top the 25-point mark.
The battle: Chris Kreider vs. Carl Hagelin
The stakes: A top six job.
The lowdown: Kreider's game is suited for the NHL. Which is good because he sure sucked in the AHL. Seriously, just two points in his last 19 games for Connecticut. I don't care how much of the "other stuff" he brought to the team during that span, he was outscored by Andrew Yogan. Just the fact that he got a training camp invite after laying that kind of egg is a testament to how highly he's thought of by team brass. Meanwhile, Hagelin really sucked for the Rangers as soon as Kreider joined the team in the postseason back in April. If Hagelin wins this, he'll triple the points he would get otherwise and Kreider will go back to the minors. If Kreider wins this, then, uh, the opposite of that.
My call: Against John Tortorella's better judgment, he'll keep Kreider for a few games at least.
The battle: Guillaume Latendresse vs. his fragility
The stakes: An NHL career
The lowdown: The good news? Latendresse has 33 goals in his last 82 games. The bad news? That's over the course of three seasons. Concussion, hip, groin and back injuries have taken a toll on the young power forward. He has so much potential if he could stay healthy - as in 20 goals and 30-plus points easily in a 48-game season.
My call: I'd be hard-pressed not to bet on another injury.
The battle: Jakub Voracek vs. Brayden Schenn
The stakes: That precious spot on the Claude Giroux line
The lowdown: Schenn is the man so far, and he's doing very well. Then again, doesn't Giroux make everyone look good? (I'm looking right at you Scott Hartnell) That being said, Schenn showed excellent chemistry with Daniel Briere in the postseason and where is Briere now? That's right - he's sidelined. So I'm not judging this battle over until the portly lady sings. Meanwhile, Voracek would make a great fit replacing countryman Jaromir Jagr, who played with Giroux last year. The winner can tack on a good 15 points to their totals this season.
My call: Schenn for training camp and the first five or six games, then Voracek the rest of the way. I guess that means Schenn wins the "camp battle".
The battle: Eric Tangradi vs. Beau Bennett vs. Tyler Kennedy
The stakes: Nothing big. Oh wait, that Malkin and Neal thing.
The lowdown: Tangradi has been less than impressive thus far in his pro career, while Bennett has done very well in the short time he's been a pro. But Tangradi is older, more experienced and probably more ready. Meanwhile, Kennedy is a solid 45-point third-liner who can sub in on a scoring line if needed.
My call: The default for Pittsburgh is always the vanilla "go with the veteran guy you know". So Kennedy.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The battle: Cory Conacher vs. Benoit Pouliot
The stakes: A spot in the top six
The lowdown: Conacher is the reigning AHL MVP and is impressing in training camp on a line with Vinnie Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell. Pouliot is a former first-round draft pick (three picks after Crosby) who has developed very slowly. But Pouliot is coming off a career high 16 goals and plus-18 rating. The winner here could very well reach 30 points.
My call: Conacher in a first-round knockout.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The battle: Nazem Kadri vs. Clarke MacArthur vs. Nikolai Kulemin vs. Tyler Bozak
The stakes: Power-play time
The lowdown: Assuming four of the six forward spots (two PP units) are taken, there are two spots left for these four. And if Tim Connolly gets some chances, then things will be even tougher. Nobody wants Nazem Kadri to thrive more than Brian Burke Dave Nonis Bell/Rogers Media Randy Carlyle his father the fans, so he's feeling the pressure.
My call: Kadri and Bozak, leaving MacArthur and Kulemin with sub-par years again.
The battle: Wojtek Wolski vs. Eric Fehr for a top six spot
The stakes: A future in the NHL
The lowdown: Wolski was drafted 21st overall in 2004 and has a 65-point year under his belt. Fehr was drafted 18th overall in 2003 and has a 21-goal season under his belt. Neither of them impressed these last two seasons, thanks in part to laziness injuries, but also inconsistency. It's go time - failure to put up decent stats will mean an AHL or European contract in 2013-14.
My call: Fehr will win, play three games, twist something and put himself out of the lineup. Then Wolski will take over and salvage his career.
The battle: Mark Scheifele vs. Alexander Burmistrov
The stakes: A third-line job
The lowdown: Five spots are locked in - Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Olli Jokinen and Andrew Ladd. You can probably give Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kyle Wellwood another three spots. That leaves one spot for the slower developing Burmistrov or the hotshot prospect Scheifele. Even from the third line, I think either one of them could get 20 points this year.
My call: The Jets don't need Scheifele to make his mark now. But they need Burmistrov to show something. So him.
Pick up my Fantasy Hockey Guide here - all are based on the 48-game season and frequently updated with injury notes.