The Ottawa Senators have some veteran performers, but the team's offensive production this season could be hinged on the play of two defensemen.
With only 57 points last year, his lowest total since the lockout, Jason Spezza could be poised for a bounceback season. In his last 30 games last season, Spezza tallied 18 goals and 38 points wot, with good health, he could very easily get back to his accustomed 80-plus points.
37-year-old Daniel Alfredsson scored better than a point-per-game last year (71 in 70 games), but his total of 20 goals was his lowest since 1998-1999 and his production has to slow down at some point, doesn't it?
Alex Kovalev's first season in Ottawa was a flop, with 49 points and a minus-8 rating, but more troubling is that his shots per game (2.14) was his lowest since he was a 19-year-old rookie in 1992-1993. Can Kovalev rev it up for another productive year at 37?
Coming off a career-high 25 goals and 53 points, despite slumping to 12 points in his last 25 games, Mike Fisher is a productive second-line centre who made himself a factor on the man advantage, with ten power play goals, last season. If Fisher could keep his early pace over a full year, new career bests would be achievable.
Though Milan Michalek surpassed 20 goals for the fourth straight season, he was a minus-12 last year and suffered another serious knee injury. He certainly has upside, particularly if he ends up flanking Spezza, but his upside doesn't seem as great as it did a few years ago.
If Michalek isn't riding shotgun on the top line, Peter Regin might be in position to build on his strong finish to 2009-2010 (eight points in last ten regular season games; three goals, four points in six playoff games). If Regin ends up on a scoring line, he's a prime candidate for a breakout offensive season.
Perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Senators' offensive production is their top two offensive defensemen.
Sergei Gonchar has put up at least .75 points per game for nine straight seasons, so if he stays healthy, that's better than a 60-point campaign. Of course, Gonchar has played a total of 87 games over the last two seasons, so expecting 80-plus games could be optimistic.
Sophomore blueliner Erik Karlsson tantalized late in his rookie year, scoring 13 points in his last ten games (and six points in six playoff games), and should be a dynamic force for the Sens in his second season. Gonchar's presence should also ease the pressure on Karlsson and allow the 20-year-old to turn in a productive full season.
Goaltending may still be an area of a concern for the Senators this year, but 25-year-old Brian Elliott is the safest option. Elliott produced a respectable .909 save percentage and 29 wins last season; how much better could he be this year?
Pascal Leclaire is on hand if Elliott isn't up to the starting responsibility, but it's been a couple of rough years for Leclaire since he posted nine shutouts with the Blue Jackets in 2007-2008.
Ottawa Senators Projected Depth Chart
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.