After making their first playoff appearance last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the way up, with a roster of young talent that should only get better as they gain more experience.
Leading the way is Rick Nash, a 25-year-old who ranks among the league's elite power forwards. Nash scored a point-per-game last season and has surpassed 30 goals in four of the last five years. If the Blue Jackets power play could improve, thereby increasing Nash's 19 points with the man advantage, he could be in for a huge season.
Playing centre on Nash's line happens to be a coveted position and it appears that will be a job for second-year pivot Derick Brassard, whose rookie season was cut short by a shoulder injury. Before getting hurt, however, Brassard showed a quality all-around game and his skills as a setup man should make him a fine complement to Nash. So long as he stay healthy, Brassard will easily double, and possibly triple, last year's 25 points (in 31 games).
Veteran winger Kristian Huselius has seen his production dip in each of the last two seasons, but he's still a skilled forward who can serve as a complement to other skilled players. He's streaky too, but Huselius is going to warrant fantasy interest in most formats, at least as a depth player.
The Jackets also have some young guns who will certainly have value in keeper leagues and could make a difference as soon as this year.
Second-year winger Jakub Voracek impressed as a teenager last year and the 20-year-old will look to build on his offensive numbers after showing a responsible game in limited action as a rookie.
Pushing for a spot on the team this season as well is Nikita Filatov, an exciting Russian winger who has already notched his first NHL hat trick. With 32 points in 39 AHL games as an 18-year-old last year, Filatov showed his offensive promise and he could be ready to take that next step in a second-line role with Columbus.
Columbus also has a few veterans who may have value in deep leagues, depending on how their role plays out. Both R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette have had their moments and Vermette managed 13 points in 17 games after arriving in Columbus last season, so he could be ready to rebound.
A final note on Blue Jackets forwards and that is, for those in leagues that count penalty minutes, Jared Boll will be a valuable contributor after putting up 406 minutes in two seasons, and Derek Dorsett (150 PIM in 52 games last year) can be a force in that category if he gets in the lineup consistently.
Where the Jackets fall short, especially when it comes to fantasy, is the blueline, where none of their defencemen are proven point producers. Fedor Tyutin was the best of the bunch last year, with 34 points and 81 penalty minutes, but he doesn't appear to be a guy who would increase those numbers too much.
Kris Russell is a sensational skater and has the offensive upside, but he's still a work in progress defensively, which limits the amount of responsibility afforded to him. If someone is going to have a breakout season on the Columbus defence, though, Russell is the best bet.
One of the biggest difference-makers in fantasy hockey last year, particularly since he wouldn't have been drafted in all but the rarest of leagues, was goaltender Steve Mason. While it could be difficult for Mason to duplicate his rookie season, he should still be considered a strong fantasy option as he has a young and improving squad skating in front of him.