At the top end, the Carolina Hurricanes have some elite fantasy performers, with potential for more from the supporting cast.
Top Picks: There is great value in the consistency provided by C Eric Staal, who has missed more than one game once in nine NHL seasons. He's coming off a season in which he scored 53 points in 48 games, his 1.10 points per game counting as the second-best of his career and best since 2005-2006, when he scored 40 power play points on his way to a 100-point season.
Staal had excellent chemistry with linemates Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin last season and there's no reason to think that won't continue, though they may be hard-pressed to duplicate their numbers. Even so, Staal is a viable No. 1 and great No. 2 centre in fantasy formats.
Semin is a brilliant talent who has endured some ups-and-downs in his career, but last season was the third time that he scored a point per game and he's a plus-106 over the last five seasons, ranking fifth in the league. His inconsistency makes him a safer selection as a No. 2 right winger, but has the potential for more.
Last season was supposed to give Jordan Staal the opportunity to break through in an offensive role, but it didn't seem to materialize as his 0.65 points per game was lower than the previous two seasons, though some of that can be attributed to his shooting percentage (8.8%) being notably lower than his career mark (12.6%). In any case, Jordan Staal logs more than 20 minutes per game and is a four-time 20-goal scorer. He may not have the highest offensive ceiling, having yet to score more than 50 points in a season, but he's a safe enough option as a No 3 or No. 4 centre.
Value Plays: Jiri Tlusty broke through in a big way last season, scoring 23 goals and 38 points in 48 games while playing with Semin and Eric Staal. There's no reason to think that Tlusty can't continue to be a productive scoring winger, but a half season with a 19.7% shooting percentage isn't enough to count on 40-goal-like production either. If you don't have to pay full retail price on Tlusty, then he can be a value play, but if someone wants to bank on him playing to last year's level, let them.
Despite generating a career-high 3.79 shots on goal per game last season, good enough to rank fifth among players that played at least 25 games, Jeff Skinner finished with 24 points and a minus-21 rating (worst among forwards) in 42 games. He's talented and can do so much better so, coming off a down season, Skinner has a chance to provide significant value.
While the story of the Hurricanes' 2013 season was that G Cam Ward was injured and his replacements weren't up to the job, it went unsaid that Ward's .908 save percentage, when he did play, was his lowest since 2007-2008. Since 2008-2009, Ward has a .917 save percentage, which puts him in the Top 10 of goaltenders that played at least 200 games in that span. His team makes him less appealing as a No. 1 fantasy goaltender, but his workload and track record make Ward a fine option as a No. 2 'tender.
Sleepers/Breakthrough: 21-year-old D Justin Faulk is promising, and has put up 37 points in 104 career games, but he's really about projection at this point. He played 24 minutes per game last season and is the most accomplished puck-moving defenceman on the roster, especially with veteran Joni Pitkanen out for the season, so Faulk is worthy of a top four spot in most fantasy leagues, but that value is still largely on potential to be realized by an excellent young player.
Veteran forward Tuomo Ruutu played only 17 games last season, and injuries have been a career-long risk with him due to his physical style of play, but he is a two-time 20-goal and two-time 50-point scorer who figures to have a top-six role with the Hurricanes. When he's healthy, his hit totals add value to decent offensive numbers.
Rookies: While he's not likely to have much value as long as Cam Ward is healthy, Anton Khudobin has been impressive in limited NHL action, posting a .933 save percentage in 21 games. That's a small sample number and his AHL numbers don't suggest an elite puck-stopper, but Khudobin would be a pretty quality option.
The fifth overall pick in the 2013 Draft, C Elias Lindholm is going to get a chance to make the Hurricanes roster after scoring 30 points in 48 Swedish Elite League games last season. He has a well-rounded game, but isn't likely to score enough to have fantasy value right out of the gate.
On the other hand, D Ryan Murphy could be poised to play a big role on a Carolina blueline that lacks puck-movers. Murphy is a terrific skater and creative offensive talent who needs to pay attention to the fine points in the defensive zone because he's not strong enough to win a lot of one-on-one battles, but if the Hurricanes can protect him, Murphy is the type of dynamic puck-moving defenceman who can play on the power play and put up points.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.