It's looking like a rough year in South Florida, which limits the appeal of any players on the Florida Panthers. At the same time, those low expectations can present opportunities to find draft day value.
Top Picks: Under the principle of All Things Are Relative, LW Tomas Fleischmann qualifies as a top pick for the Panthers, even though he's probably a low-end No. 2 left winger for fantasy owners. That's not all on Fleischmann, though, as he doesn't necessarily have the supporting cast to produce his best numbers. Nevertheless, he has 96 points over the last two seasons, which is good enough to tie for 45th in the league.
Value Plays: One of the better offensive defencemen in the league, D Brian Campbell plays more than 26 minutes per game for the Panthers and, since 2005-2006, ranks third among defencemen with 351 points. Peripheral numbers (hits, blocked shots) and plus-minus bring Campbell's value down, but he's a top four defenceman for fantasy owners.
Sleepers/Breakthrough: Last year's Calder Trophy winner, LW Jonathan Huberdeau, certainly comes into this season with high expectations. He's likely to play more minutes and should be more productive. The concern, from a fantasy angle, is that Huberdeau was minus-15 in 48 games last season. With the Panthers expected to struggle again, how bad could his plus-minus be this year? That isn't reason to abandon Huberdeau altogether; he makes sense as a low-end No. 2 or high-end No. 3 left winger, but there is risk involved.
If not Thomas, then G Jacob Markstrom who has a .906 save percentage in 31 NHL games. Markstrom, 23, is 6-foot-6 and does have a .923 save percentage in 65 AHL games over the last two seasons, so the time is right to give him a legitimate shot at the starting job, but if he's not ready for it, he's not ready. If he is, then he'll also have fantasy value because he's likely to see a lot of action.
In 2011-2012, RW Kris Versteeg was riding high on the Panthers' top line with Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss, but last year was shortened by a knee injury and he's now attempting to come back in time for the start of the regular season. He's a four-time 20-goal scorer whose track record ensures that, if healthy, he would be a signficant part of the Panthers' offence.
Injuries have already been a problem for D Dmitry Kulikov, who has missed 62 games in four NHL seasons, but he does have puck skills and is playing more than 20 minutes per game when he's in the lineup. In deep leagues, as a late-round pick, the 22-year-old could be ready to start realizing his potential.
Rookies: A surprise selection as the second overall pick in the summer, Aleksander Barkov not only has a good chance to make the Panthers, but he could, in short order, be the team's No. 1 centre. He scored 48 points in 53 Finnish League games last season and, by all accounts, is ready to play in the NHL, but it's all a question of value. Is Barkov ready to play and put up 30 points, which isn't bad for an 18-year-old, or is he ready to play and produce in a scoring role, tallying 50-plus points? Right now, put the expectation somewhere in between and if that means he's a bench selection or late-round pick in a deep league, that might be the best way to approach that unknown.