Following the initial flurry of free-agent signings to launch Summer 2023, here’s an ultra-preliminary look at how some prominent fantasy performers predictively fit in with their new squads.
Blake Wheeler, RW, New York Rangers: If the veteran winger earns the opportunity to skate on a top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, as anticipated, he should easily re-visit his 0.92 point/game pace from 2021-22. A gig on a second unit with center Vincent Trocheck doesn’t strike as too lousy either. Settling into his ideal landing spot – with a contender on the east coast – Wheeler now needs to prove last season’s substandard output was the product of a broken relationship in Winnipeg and not personal decline. Signed to a single year, his next contract depends on it. The 36-year-old should be drafted as an incentivized No. 2 RW in all fantasy redraft leagues of reasonable size. In net, new backup Jonathan Quick sports limited fantasy value behind No. 1 Igor Shesterkin, who projects to be one of the league’s busier netminders in 2023-24.
Ryan O’Reilly, C, Nashville Predators: As it stands, the former Stanley Cup Champ/Conn Smythe winner is set to center a top line and power play with Filip Forsberg. Not a bad gig. O’Reilly was nearly a point/game performer only three short years ago in St. Louis, and could be again, competing within coach Andrew Brunette’s fresh offense-driven system in Nashville. Especially if Forsberg can stay healthy. O’Reilly offers real value as a No. 2/3 fantasy center in all but the most shallow of fantasy leagues.
Matt Duchene, C, Dallas Stars: At first glance, Duchene appears destined to slide into the third-line center role behind Roope Hintz and Wyatt Johnston – who performed too well in his rookie season to lose that second-line job, at least to start. Toss in some secondary power-play minutes, and the 32-year-old veteran could near the 60-point plateau through a full, healthy campaign. More perhaps, if Duchene manages to bust into the Stars’ top-six.
Tyler Bertuzzi, RW/LW, Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs are paying Bertuzzi $5.5-million – $2.5-million more than fellow import Max Domi – to play on the left side of either Auston Matthews or John Tavares. Either way, the pesky producer is going to score in bunches. Perhaps even to the tune of 70 points, which would serve as a first for the 28-year-old. It’s worth keeping in mind, Bertuzzi came close to that mark with the Red Wings in 2021-22 surrounded by lesser talent. He should be drafted accordingly. On the blue line, John Klingberg can be afforded one last kick at the rebound can as a top-four defender and secondary power-play asset. The pressure is on to prove last year’s dud of a turn in Anaheim (before being traded to Minnesota) was largely anomalous.
Connor Brown, RW, Edmonton Oilers: Does he slide into a top-line spot alongside former Erie teammate Connor McDavid? Or maybe on an equally dangerous unit with Leon Draisaitl? Can he stay healthy after viciously tearing his ACL last October? Fantasy managers who feel comfortable answering ‘yes’ to the above should definitely set their sights on drafting Brown in deeper leagues. The winger was on pace to score 30 goals with the Senators only two seasons ago. The fit in Edmonton is even more promising.
Max Pacioretty, LW, Washington Capitals: It all depends on whether the dynamic scoring forward can stay healthy or not. Unfortunately, recent history suggests a great deal of scepticism is warranted in that regard. Still, if Pacioretty is able to successfully move on from his most recent string of poor health fortune, he’s poised to flirt with 35 goals once more in a top-six role with the Capitals. Plus a reasonable number of helpers. As such, the sniper is worth a later-round gamble in most fantasy leagues.
Jonathan Drouin, LW, Colorado Avalanche: In one of this summer’s more intriguing signings, the former Canadien/Lightning earns a one-year shot at revitalizing his NHL career with a top team in the West. Managers should be more than a little curious at what the talented, if consistently underachieving, third-overall draft pick (2013) can accomplish on a scoring line with either Nathan MacKinnon – his former teammate with the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads – or new center Ryan Johansen, if afforded that opportunity. This is it. Drouin can’t afford to fall well short of expectations once again. As such, he’s to be appreciated as a sleeper pick in deeper, conventional fantasy leagues.
Dmitry Orlov, D, Carolina Hurricanes: After volleying middling numbers for more than a decade with the Capitals, Orlov erupted for 25 points in 30 games, including postseason competition, in last season’s brief stint in Boston. Unlikely to match that pace in his new Carolina home – not with Brent Burns owning his spot on the Hurricanes’ top power play – the 31-year-old is still positioned to flirt with the 45-point mark, while racking up a respectable number of blocked-shots and hits. The ‘Canes aren’t paying Orlov nearly $8-million/year to fill a bottom-pair role. He’s going to earn plenty of ice-time and opportunities to contribute. While Burns remains the top fantasy blue-line asset on this talented Carolina squad, Orlov sits No. 2.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Detroit Red Wings: Of Detroit’s myriad signings, the puck-moving defenseman merits the most immediate fantasy attention. Inked to a one-year audition with the Wings, Gostisbehere will want to make as much productive hay as possible ahead of signing his next deal. Fated to anchor the club’s secondary power play – presuming Moritz Seider hangs onto his first-unit role – the one-time 65-point producer should rack up 45 or so with relative ease. Less fantasy relevant, at least ahead of the season, netminding newbies James Reimer and Alex Lyon are poised to battle it out for playing time behind Numero Uno Ville Husso.
Joonas Korpisalo, G, Ottawa Senators: Without question, the 29-year-old is poised to enjoy a career year as the undisputed No. 1 netminder for a Senators squad on the rise. If – a substantial if, considering his history – he can stay healthy. All goes well, Korpisalo should shine as a No. 2 goalie in most conventional fantasy leagues. Managers got a reasonable taste of what he’s capable with a better club in the Kings in the waning bit of 2022-23 – 7-3-1, 2.13 GAA, .921 SV% – after years of trying his best in Columbus.
Cam Talbot, G, Los Angeles Kings: If No. 1 Pheonix Copley stumbles, the 35-year-old stands to enjoy a steady goaltending gig behind a solid defensive corps in Los Angeles. Otherwise, Talbot’s play will be limited to spelling the slightly younger netminder when necessary. Consequently, most managers should take a “wait-and-see” approach to how it all unfolds though camp and beyond before hitching their squads to the weathered goalie.
Laurent Brossoit, G, Winnipeg Jets: If the Jets do indeed move Connor Hellebuyck in the final year of his contract, Brossoit could find himself the de facto No. 1 goaltender for his former team. Contingent, of course, on Winnipeg not receiving a more prominent netminder in return for their current top banana. A situation worth monitoring, with a fantasy view, at minimum. Remember, Brossoit was pretty super when called upon in admittedly limited action for the Golden Knights this past run.
2023 NHL free agency – Fantasy impact, outlooks, more