After going from eighth in the Eastern Conference in 2007-2008 to first in the conference last season, expectations are going to be high for the Boston Bruins and for good reason: they have a deep, tough and talented roster that will be able to provide all kinds of help for your fantasy squad.
Veteran playmaker Marc Savard has put up at least a point-per-game for five straight seasons, racking up 269 assists in the last four seasons; the second-highest total in the league, behind Joe Thornton, in that time.
While Phil Kessel will no longer be skating on his wing, Savard has been able to accumulate his points without necessarily having an elite sniper on his line. On top of all that, Savard is a bit of a pest and has 332 penalty minutes in 320 games over the last four years.
One of the Bruins' rising young stars, David Krejci, is coming off a 73-point, plus-37 season in 2008-2009, but he's also recovering from hip surgery, so he's not going to be ready right at the start of the season. His injury status could make him a nice draft-day sleeper, particularly if Krejci is ready a couple of weeks into the campaign.
With Krejci sidelined at the start of the year, there could be an opportunity for Patrice Bergeron to re-establish his credentials as a scoring centre. Injuries have limited the 24-year-old to just 74 games in the last two seasons, but he already has a couple of 70-point seasons on his resume, so he can't be forgotten.
Perhaps the player who will benefit most from Kessel's departure, Michael Ryder could play the role of finisher on Savard's line. Ryder has scored between 25 and 30 goals in four of his five NHL seasons and seems to have a comfort level playing for Bruins coach Claude Julien.
On Savard's other wing is 21-year-old heavyweight Milan Lucic, who increased his point total from 27 to 42 from Year One to Year Two. If he can secure more power play time, Lucic could have another similar jump in production this year, while likely adding more than 100 penalty minutes.
Blake Wheeler had a sensational rookie season, scoring 45 points, with a plus-36 rating, though he faded down the stretch and into the playoffs, which wasn't entirely unexpected in his first year out of college. Wheeler will be counted on to play a scoring role this season, so he could have decent late-round value.
41-year-old Mark Recchi had 16 points in 18 games with the Bruins after coming over at the trade deadline last season and his versatility gives the Bruins needed depth up front.
Recchi is particularly helpful on the power play, where he's scored at least 20 points in 12 of the last 13 seasons, but there's obviously a level of risk in taking a player his age who has also been a double-digit minus player for three of the last four seasons.
Marco Sturm only played 19 games last season, due to injury, so his return to the lineup will be welcomed on one of Boston's scoring units. Prior to last season, Sturm had six straight seasons with at least 20 goals.
While Chuck Kobasew isn't going to generate a lot of draft day interest, he's worth watching as a player during the season who occasionally fills in on scoring lines when there are injuries. Kobasew netted a career-high 42 points in 68 games last season.
On the blueline, the Bruins are led by Zdeno Chara, whose game has been top-notch the last two years, with at least 50 points and a double-digit plus rating in both seasons.
Chara is also a force on the power play, where he's scored at least 22 points for four straight years and last year's total of 95 penalty minutes ended a seven-year run of at least 100 PIM. For his balanced production, Chara is one of the top handful of fantasy defencemen.
26-year-old Dennis Wideman has improved steadily early in his career, culminating in last year's outstanding 50-point, plus-32 season. Wideman is smart, has good instincts and moves the puck well, so as long as the Bruins have finishers up front, Wideman will be able to accumulate points.
Last year's surprise defenceman, Matt Hunwick, won't be such a surprise this year, but the undersized blueliner had 27 points and was plus-15 in just 53 games as a rookie. It's a lot to ask Hunwick to extrapolate those numbers over a full season, but he showed enough to warrant a late-round pick in deep leagues.
Tim Thomas was superb in goal for the Bruins last year, posting a league-best 2.10 goals against average and .933 save percentage. What keeps the 35-year-old a step or two behind the elite fantasy goaltenders is that Thomas has started 109 games over the last two seasons, a workload that is decidedly lighter than other top goaltenders that routinely play 70 games.
Should Thomas falter, highly-touted rookie Tuukka Rask will be on hand as the backup and could see significant playing time.