A traditional powerhouse team that is full of reliable veteran performers, the Detroit Red Wings have even higher expectations this year with a move to the Eastern Conference following some savvy offseason additions.
Top Picks: Since 2005-2006, Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk has scored 613 points in 570 games, ranking sixth in the league over that span (he's also a league-best plus-207). He's a magician with the puck, has scored better than a point per game in six of the last eight seasons and, even though he's 35, hasn't shown signs of slowing down. Take him as your top centre and revel in safe, consistent production with many appearances on the the highlight reels.
Expected to ride shotgun with Datsyuk to start the season, LW Henrik Zetterberg ranks 11th in points (585) and ninth in plus-minus (plus-125) since 2005-2006. He's not as flashy as Datsyuk, but both play sound two-way games and Zetterberg played 20:31 per game last season, his most since 2007-2008, so he's not fading away as he heads into his mid-30s. With eligibility on left wing, where talent is more scarce, Zetterberg is an elite performer, worthy of a late first or early second-round pick.
G Jimmy Howard has a .922 save percentage over the last two seasons, ranking sixth among goaltenders with at least 50 games played. He's an unchallenged starting goaltender, expected to start 65 games, for a team that is expected to be a winner in the Eastern Conference, so it's entirely reasonable for him to be one of the top five goaltenders off the board.
While D Niklas Kronwall isn't going to be mistaken for Nicklas Lidstrom -- who is? -- Kronwall is the one proven productive defenceman on the roster. He played a career-high 24:22 last season and his 175 points since 2008-2009 ranks 20th among defencemen, so he fits as a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy defenceman.
Value Plays: There is something to be said about the consistency in LW Johan Franzen's production. He's scored between 0.72 and 0.83 points per game in each of the last five seasons. He's never scored 50 points, but has topped 55 three times, scoring more than 25 goals four times in his career. If he's playing on the Wings' second line, that might hurt his numbers a little, but lines can change and Detroit's second line will get favourable matchups, so 33-year-old Franzen is still a viable No. 2 left wing for fantasy owners.
One of the offseason shock waves was the Red Wings signing longtime Ottawa Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson. While Alfredsson is coming off a postseason in which he scored 10 points in 10 games, he's 40-years-old and his production, naturally, is declining. As a No.4 right wing, sure, he provides value, but don't expect Alfie in his prime numbers just because he's wearing a new sweater.
Sleepers/Breakthrough: It's not as if C Stephen Weiss is going to fly under the radar, moving from Florida to Detroit, but after a season shortened by wrist surgery (during which he had four points and a minus-13 rating in 17 games), his value will be at a low point, especially when compared to the previous four seasons, as he scored 227 points, good enough for 49th in the league.
It's always a risk to invest in a player based on the linemates whose coattails he's expected to ride, but if RW Justin Abdelkader is going to line up with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, he can't be ignored in deep leagues. He's 26-years-old with 60 points in 257 career games, but finished last season with nine goals in his final 20 games, perhaps an indication that the hard-driving winger could be a 20-goal scorer in the right situation and situations don't get much better than playing with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
A skilled forward who appears ticketed for a spot on the Wings' third line to start the year, Gustav Nyquist has 13 points in 40 NHL games over the last couple seasons, but he's shown skill which is backed up by 118 points in 114 AHL games, so he ought to be considered an upwardly-mobile sleeper on the Red Wings' depth chart.
Rookies: 22-year-old LW Tomas Tatar has already played four AHL seasons, scoring 71 goals and 164 points in 207 games over the last three seasons, punctuated by his scoring 16 goals in 24 playoff games on Grand Rapids' way to the Calder Cup. He also has eight points in 27 career NHL games, so he's due for a longer look and, perhaps more importantly, isn't exempt from waivers this year. If the Wings want to send him down, Tatar will likely be toiling for another team because it's time to see if he can score at the next level.
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.