2014 Outlook: What has Kessel managed to do the last couple seasons? Well, despite what the fan base in Toronto might tell you, Kessel has earned heaps of respect in the fantasy hockey world by becoming a consistent 40-goal threat with an array of linemates. We are still awaiting the perfect storm to see Kessel shoot past 40 goals, and this coming season with a very respectable Maple Leafs club could be just the right situation. The Leafs are returning a healthy Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk as top offensive threats, and Nazem Kadri is on the rise. While added pieces like David Clarkson and David Bolland might not be first-line options to directly aid Kessel, they will bolster the ranks and ultimately give him more space to operate by keeping opponents in check. Still just 25 years old headed into this season, he's just entering his prime.
2014 Outlook: The captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs led his squad in even-strength and power-play minutes in 2013, collecting 12 points during five-on-five situations and 16 with the man advantage in 48 games. Plus, Phaneuf averaged over 25 minutes per contest and topped all Leafs defensemen (at least, those not named Mark Fraser) in time spent in the penalty box. Altogether, a consistent, well-rounded fantasy performance deserving of placement among the Top 10 fantasy blueliners.
2014 Outlook: First off, we can't trust Lupul to play in all 82 games based on recent history. Secondly, can we be sure he will be playing on the first line? We cannot. Despite having an absolutely beastly 2011-12 season alongside Phil Kessel, Lupul did not play much on a line with Kessel last season; instead, when his arm wasn't broken, Lupul was placed alongside breakout rookie Nazem Kadri. The result was still rock solid for Lupul in the 16 games he played last season, as he notched 11 goals and 18 points. But over the long haul, is he going to be that successful if he is not paired with Kessel? But risks aside, Lupul is firmly entrenched in a top-six role for the Maple Leafs that will be very dangerous with the addition of David Clarkson and Dave Bolland to the offense (though they might not be on a scoring line themselves). As long as you bank on some missed time for Lupul, you will be rewarded for taking him in your draft.
2014 Outlook: Kadri was one of the biggest draft day values in the league last season. He turned in 44 points in 48 games with a plus-15 on the side. Perhaps the most interesting part is that he didn't play much with Toronto's top sniper, Phil Kessel. Kadri did his damage on the ice with the likes of Leo Komarov, Clarke MacArthur and, late in the season, Joffrey Lupul. That kind of production with lesser linemates and fewer minutes on the ice is why fantasy owners should trust in investing in Kadri. Given the situations in which he produced nearly a point per game in 2013, there is tremendous upside with what Kadri can do with more responsibility and stronger linemates.
2014 Outlook: In 2013, van Riemsdyk was lucky enough to find himself alongside Phil Kessel quite frequently. The result was what many expected from JVR in his first opportunity to be on a top line: he scored a lot. van Riemsdyk nearly matched his career highs, as he played off of Kessel en route to a 32-point shortened season. Now playing for an ever-improving Maple Leafs offense that will boast new threats like David Clarkson and Dave Bolland, van Riemsdyk should continue to aim for new career highs at the top of the Leafs' depth chart. There is even the possibility that the team resorts to the plan it never got to try because of the lockout, to convert van Riemsdyk to a centerman. If you hear any rumors of that in training camp, move him up your depth chart. If van Riemsdyk is lined up in the middle, the Leafs canstack the top line even more.
2014 Outlook: Should we buy on Clarkson as a legitimate 30-goal scorer? After all, he has been on that pace for two consecutive seasons. Furthermore, one of the seasons he was over his career shooting percentage and in one of the seasons he was under his career shooting percentage. Maybe Clarkson just has a knack for putting pucks in around the net. He'll get his chances to continue doing so with the Maple Leafs, even if he falls outside the team's top two scoring lines. Clarkson's true value, which should manifest in a Leafs jersey, will be his triple-digit penalty minutes. With a chance at 25 goals and 120 or more PIMs, Clarkson truly brings fantasy value to the table where few other players can.
2014 Outlook: Finally, Franson relished in the type of production (29 points in 45 games) for which he first showed promise with the Nashville Predators back in 2010-11. Unless the restricted free agent's contract negotiations go seriously sour before the season starts, Franson is in line for a 40-point season with the Maple Leafs.
2014 Outlook: Whatever doesn't kill ya & Passing a tumultuous second season in Toronto, Jake Gardiner spent most of 2013 with the AHL Toronto Marlies before busting out with the big boys in the postseason. Playing heavy minutes and earning five points through six postseason contests, Gardiner essentially impressed the pants off head coach Randy Carlyle. Expect no such rollercoaster ride this season. Anything short of a 30-point campaign in a top-four role would be a letdown from the talented 23-year-old.