2013 Outlook: Malkin enters his seventh NHL season coming off his best campaign. At 26 years old, the powerful Russian center is just coming into his prime years. Malkin led all fantasy hockey forwards for value last season by a wide margin. He scored 50 goals for the first time in his career and was the focal point of the Pittsburgh Penguins' offense while Sidney Crosby worked his way back. But Malkin didn't slow down when Crosby returned -- he actually elevated his points-per-game production with Crosby in the lineup for the final month of the season. Malkin showed an elevated number of shots on goal last season that we can't be sure will be repeated if Crosby plays a full season, but Malkin adjusts his game to suit. In 2008-09 (the last time Malkin and Crosby were healthy for a season), he scored only 35 goals, but he added 78 assists to make up for it, and he was still only 50 shots behind the new career high he set last season.
2013 Outlook: Stamkos has not missed a game in three NHL seasons. During those three seasons combined, Stamkos has 36 more goals than the next-highest scorer (Alex Ovechkin). He has led the league in two of the past three seasons for scoring and has 11 more power-play goals than the next-highest player during that time (Teemu Selanne). If Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby is not the overall No. 1 fantasy player this coming season, it will almost certainly be Stamkos. His consistency and goal-reliant value are enough to make the argument that he should be the top forward picked in fantasy leagues. Guess what else? He is only 22 years old. Stamkos could get even better than he already is. The supporting cast is still good enough with the Tampa Bay Lightning that the only category at risk for Stamkos is his plus/minus, and even that isn't guaranteed to be poor.
2013 Outlook: Crosby looked 100 percent after coming back late last season from his concussion/head-related woes that forced him to miss 101 games during the past two NHL campaigns. Does that mean we can trust him to be the elite fantasy center who has netted more than 100 points in all four of his healthy NHL campaigns? Or should we be concerned that three of his seven NHL campaigns have involved significant absences due to injury? There is risk, no question about that. But the reward from a healthy Crosby is nothing less than the best fantasy hockey asset that exists. That is why after a normal summer workout routine in which Crosby pledges 100 percent health, you won't be able to wait long in any fantasy draft. Crosby will stuff every fantasy category, including a better-than-average 70-plus penalty minutes. A disappointing free-agent period for the Pittsburgh Penguins means Crosby still doesn't have a winger above the level of Pascal Dupuis, but he will share the ice often enough with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal to make up for it. Besides, Crosby produces points all on his own.
2013 Outlook: Daniel is the naturally more valuable of the Sedin twins. As the finisher, he takes the shots and scores the goals, which means he has a one-category advantage over brother Henrik in the fantasy realm -- not to mention the fact that goals are more difficult to come by. The Sedins will return again at the forefront of a Vancouver Canucks team that is still ready to compete to be the best in the NHL. Certainly the team's regular-season record during the past few seasons bears out the truth of the team's collective talent. Not a lot is changing personnel-wise, and the Sedins should still line up with Alex Burrows more often than not. One reason to be mildly concerned with Daniel is a handful of missed games in two of the past three seasons. Still, it's not enough to label him as injury prone or to be too concerned about.
2013 Outlook: For those who hadn't been paying much attention, Jonathan Quick's meteoric rise into the history books as one of the top playoff goaltending performers ever this past postseason may have come as a surprise. For those who have watched his ascension closely, it was plain to see the Connecticut native was something special. For the three seasons starting in 2009-10, Quick improved his season-long ratio stats by leaps and bounds: his GAA went from 2.54 to 2.24 to 1.95 while his SV% went from .907 to .918 to .929. In those first two seasons, he had 10 shutouts total. He added 10 more in 2011-12. Before the 2010-11 season and again prior to 2011-12, the offseason chatter was that he was supposedly set to be in a timeshare with 'future franchise goalie' Jonathan Bernier. There hasn't been much of that chatter this offseason, even as Quick underwent back surgery (he's been cleared to play as of Jan. 8). Meanwhile, the Kings return much of the same roster that just ran roughshod over the league en route to the Stanley Cup. Quick is about as dependable an elite fantasy goaltending option can get, and he should be under consideration as a first-round pick in drafts this season.
2013 Outlook: If you were tired of Ovechkin not getting 50 goals, nor scoring more than 100 points during the past two seasons, never fear, Adam Oates is here! Oates brings an offensive style of coaching that will bring the Washington Capitals back to the up-tempo offense we fantasy players love and miss. There is no question that Ovechkin's stark drop in production can be attributed solely to the shot-blocking, defense-first attitude of coach Dale Hunter. Nothing against Hunter, it worked for the team, but Ovechkin was a shadow of his former offensive self. With Oates at the helm, Ovechkin will be back in business and bring the Capitals back to being a scoring powerhouse. So long as Oates delivers what he has promised to deliver, Ovie will be back amongst the fantasy elite in 2012-13.
2013 Outlook: The NHL's fourth-best GAA (1.97) and SV% (.930), along with the third-most wins (39) earned Lundqvist his first Vezina Trophy in 2011-12, but he's our No. 2 in the ESPN fantasy world looking ahead to the 2012-13 season. (You may have heard something about the guy ahead of him, Jonathan Quick). Still, one can't go wrong with using a high draft pick (even a first-rounder) on the Rangers' dominant netminder, especially now that the team has added Rick Nash to a team that has acquired Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik in recent offseasons. While the firepower up front should help Lundqvist take aim at the league lead in wins, it's the Blueshirts' defensemen (and defensive zone mindset) that will keep those ratios in strong shape. Lundqvist has been remarkably durable over his seven-year NHL career as well, averaging 66 starts per season; that puts him in the range of at least 38 starts in this shortened campaign. With reliable understudy Martin Biron on the roster (and another long postseason run in the Rangers' plans), the team may dial it back a bit for Lundqvist, but that won't keep him from another season amongst the elite fantasy netminders.
2013 Outlook: As reigning king blueliner of the NHL's fantasy empire, Erik Karlsson is the undisputed top-ranked defenseman ahead of 2012-13. Racking up 78 points (plus-16), the young lad didn't endure even one mediocre week through all of last year. And we don't expect Karlsson to succumb to the pressure of following up such a brilliant campaign ' he's just too easygoing and chill. Occasionally accused of playing his position like a forward, the 22-year-old is primed to near his jaw-dropping pace from 2011-12 ' as long as he continues to shoot the puck with great frequency.
2013 Outlook: Tavares took another huge step forward last season, but we haven't seen his ceiling yet. Entering his fourth season, the 21-year-old is one of the few players who are a threat to lead the league if everything breaks right. Tavares is an offensive threat everywhere in the offensive zone and needs only the right linemates to make his run at being in the Art Ross Trophy hunt this season. Matt Moulson is his partner in crime for scoring goals on one side, but the consistent presence of P.A. Parenteau on the other side is gone through free agency. That shouldn't be a huge setback as the New York Islanders have no shortage of suitors lined up to take over Parenteau's role on the wing. There can be no fault found in looking to Tavares as a top fantasy pick after Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos are no longer available.
2013 Outlook: Giroux brings exceptional playmaking and offensive instincts to the ice, and it won't hurt him one bit that Jaromir Jagr will no longer be his linemate. The Philadelphia Flyers didn't bring in any big guns on offense during the offseason, but the team could afford to lose Jagr with a seemingly endless supply of NHL-ready prospects. Whether it's Jakub Voracek who gets to show off some offensive muscles we haven't seen fully flexed yet or one of the sophomore players like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn or Matt Read who gets to step up, Giroux will be just fine adapting to their style of play. Scott Hartnell will continue to help make room on the ice and Giroux should have little trouble coming close to a repeat of as one of the league's leading scorers. Giroux brings everything to the fantasy table, including a league-leading 38 power-play points last season, and his 65 assists were second only to Henrik Sedin. You should be very comfortable starting with Giroux and building your team around him. Giroux did have a neck injury playing in Germany during the lockout, but is expected to be ready for the NHL season to begin.
2013 Outlook: Perry's drop in production from his 2010-11 Hart Trophy season was expected and, considering the performance of some of his teammates, was not altogether severe. In a season of dwindling offense for the Anaheim Ducks, Perry's 37 goals and 60 points were not all that bad. No, it's not the 50 goals and 98 points he scored two seasons ago, but very few expected Perry to repeat those lofty numbers. Perry does everything right and fills one category that is usually a black mark against elite scorers: penalty minutes. Perry has been in triple-digit PIMs in each of the past five seasons. The overall low point totals for Perry last season cannot be blamed entirely on him, as linemate Ryan Getzlaf had an absolutely dismal campaign. And while he slipped to 37 goals, that was still good enough to tie for sixth in the NHL. There is nothing wrong with considering Perry an elite asset coming into this season, and, in fact, he could reward beyond expectations if Getzlaf can get his game back on track.
2013 Outlook: The No. 1 defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins is nearing the cusp of his playing prime at 25 years of age. Scoring 10 goals and 32 assists on 142 shots, Letang wrapped up this past season at plus-21 ' despite missing 31 games due to concussion complications. Well, he's healthy again, as is fellow top power-play performer Sidney Crosby. So, along with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, Crosby and Letang are situated to make a whole lot of goal-scoring noise ' particularly with the man advantage. If anyone is to challenge Erik Karlsson for the defensive scoring title, our money is on Letang.
2013 Outlook: Neal and Evgeni Malkin found instant chemistry when they began the season as the main duo for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Neal nearly doubled his career highs in points, assists and goals. He also topped his career high in shots on goal by more than 100. In other words, Neal found his niche. With Malkin as his go-to center, and Sidney Crosby always ready as a supplement, Neal should have no issues repeating the success of last season. His numbers are easily good enough for inclusion amongst the top 10 fantasy forwards. At just 24 years of age, Neal could even begin to improve some aspects of his game and perform better than the pace of 81 points in 80 games he gave fantasy owners last season.
2013 Outlook: Don't forget that Backstrom -- in a season shortened by injury, and with a head coach who wanted defense first -- scored 44 points in 42 games. No question he still has his playmaking skills and will be a fantasy beast under new head coach Adam Oates. What are the chances that a playmaking center like Backstrom can improve his game under the NHL's sixth-leading assist man of all time? Yeah, probably pretty good. Linemate and partner in crime Alex Ovechkin will be unleashed, and Backstrom should be back to flirting with the league lead for assists again as the Washington Capitals return to an offensive powerhouse.
2013 Outlook: Richards didn't have one of his better seasons, but he wasn't a complete bust with the New York Rangers, either. The 32-year-old playmaking centerman seemed to have only occasional chemistry on the ice with the Rangers' best goal scorer in Marian Gaborik. While the two did pick up some points together, Gaborik had a better connection with Derek Stepan. But Richards has a new sniper to feed: Rick Nash. The trade brings Nash to a much-improved offense and an elite playmaker in Richards. While Richards didn't connect with the speedy Gaborik, he is sure to be able to find chemistry with Nash.