Changes are coming in Carolina and this season promises to provide a glimpse towards the future as the Hurricanes are going to get a number of young players into the lineup.
Some will be productive, but the safer bets are going to be proven guys like Eric Staal and...okay, Eric Staal.
Staal has put up at least 70 points in five straight seasons, managing to do so last year despite missing a dozen games -- the first games he'd missed since missing a single game in his rookie season. With points along with respectable plus-minus and penalty minute totals, Staal can be considered a Top 10 fantasy centre.
After a breakthrough 65-point season last year, it's hard to know what to make of Jussi Jokinen. He had 48, 42 and 27 points in the three years prior, so the jump to 65 is out of the norm, but he should be in the prime of his career at 27-years-old and will be one of the offensive leaders for a relatively unproven batch of forwards.
Brandon Sutter had never been much of an offensive performer, even in junior (topping out at 26 goals in Red Deer of the WHL), but he surprised with 21 goals and 40 points for the 'Canes last season; numbers that may not warrant getting drafted in many fantasy leagues, but should keep him on the radar for occasions when he hits a hot streak.
Tuomo Ruutu holds some value, which comes in part because he plays with Staal. He scores enough to be a depth fantasy winger, but adding a penalty minute per game (404 PIM in 378 career games) enhances his value, provided he stays healthy -- something that's been an issue at times in his career.
When it comes to the young forwards, they pretty much all fall into the late-round sleeper category, and that's for deep leagues. Zach Boychuk only had three goals in 31 games with Carolina last year, but also had 36 points in 52 AHL games as a 20-year-old, so he could develop with more ice time this year.
Jiri Tlusty hasn't been able to stick in the NHL, but has 96 points in 105 AHL games over the last two years and head coach Paul Maurice is obviously familiar with him from their time in Toronto.
Seventh overall pick Jeff Skinner scored 70 goals in 84 regular season and playoff games in the OHL last season. It's not easy for and 18-year-old to make the jump but, considering the Hurricanes' roster, the opportunity is there for Skinner to play -- and produce -- right away.
Another young forward to consider is Zac Dalpe, a second-round pick in 2008, who played two years at Ohio State, scoring 45 points ni 39 games as a sophomore, before jumping to the AHL and putting up nine goals and 13 points in 17 games down the stretch and through the playoffs last year. If Dalpe or Skinner (or both) make the club, they could end up in productive roles.
Carolina's defence has many options, which makes it difficult to know which ones will emerge as the most valuable.
Jamie McBain is a Calder Trophy contender who had 40 points in 68 AHL games last year before adding ten points in 14 games late in the year with Carolina. He can play in all situations and log heavy minutes; the only question is whether the Hurricanes need to play him 25 minutes per game when they have puck-moving depth on the blueline.
While Joni Pitkanen can be maligned for inconsistent play, he did tie a career-high with 46 points last season. If he's getting power play time and producing points, fantasy owners can live with his untimely turnovers.
Back from a year in Russia, Anton Babchuk had 16 goals and 35 points in his last stint with Carolina (2008-2009) and then added nine goals and 22 points in 49 KHL games last season. His big shot from the point should earn him time on the power play, but that will be the key to whether he indeed has fantasy value this year.
Joe Corvo is back in Carolina, hoping to bounce back from an 18-point season in 2009-2010. Corvo suffered a lacerated calf and that hampered him, obviously, but he struggled some before the injury (minus-10 in 25 games) too. If he's back to full strength this year, the 33-year-old can skate, handle and shoot the puck well enough to be a power play contributor.
Also hoping for a healthy season, goaltender Cam Ward was limited to 47 games last year, but his save percentage of .916 tied his career-best, set the year before. The 'Canes should be an improved team, so if Ward gets 60 games, like he did in the previous three years, his win total could be double last year's 18 victories.
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Depth Chart