2017 Outlook: The Isles' franchise center took a step back in 2015-16. Sure, Tavares' 70 points were still the eighth-most among centers, but it was a significant reduction from the 86 he rattled off in 2014-15. Much of that can be attributed to a slow start (by his standards), as the 25-year-old recorded just 29 points in 39 games, punctuated by a 16-game stretch in December and January that featured just seven points. Tavares' feast-or-famine production continued in the playoffs, as he went bananas with 11 points in the first seven games before being held scoreless for the final four contests against Tampa Bay. Tavares probably shouldn't crack the first round in fantasy drafts this season -- especially since longtime productive linemate Kyle Okposo left for Buffalo in the offseason -- but odds are that he'll once again make magic, no matter who lines up with him. Andrew Ladd and P.A. Parenteau were brought in and are the most logical choices to get the first shot at flanking Tavares, so it'll be interesting to see how the Isles' revamped top six comes together as the season gets underway.
2017 Outlook: Schneider is almost certainly the best goalie in the NHL without a 30-win season to his name. He's posted superstar numbers each season, never finishing with a save percentage under .921 in any of the past six seasons. But Schneider has never really gotten his due credit because career circumstances have conspired to limit the rewards for his incredible performances. First he had to escape from Roberto Luongo's shadow in Vancouver, then Martin Brodeur's in New Jersey; Schneider finally emerged as a franchise netminder during the past two seasons, but has had the misfortune of doing so for a Devils team that's been allergic to scoring. Things were trending up last season, and this offseason's acquisition of Taylor Hall should provide a serious boost to the offense, helping Schneider earn some more victories and making him one of the most valuable goalies in fantasy.
2017 Outlook: With the Calder Trophy in his back pocket, the sky is the limit for Panarin entering his second NHL season. The Russian sniper thrived on a line with Art Ross Trophy winner Patrick Kane in 2015-16, piling up 30 goals and 77 points in 80 games. Considering he cracked the top-10 in scoring in his rookie season and delivered in the clutch with seven game-winning goals, Panarin is one of the most appealing left wingers entering the 2016-17 campaign. The 24-year-old will likely continue to skate alongside Kane at even strength and be a key piece on a talented Blackhawks power play anchored by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. It's hard to see Panarin improving on the totals from his rookie season, even if he does stick with Kane all year. However, the talented sophomore has a knack for finding the back of the net and should be a top fantasy forward once again on a skilled Chicago team.
2017 Outlook: With the talented Blackhawks a threat to contend each year, Crawford remains one of the most reliable fantasy netminders in the game. The 31-year-old had arguably his best season to date in 2015-16, posting a 35-18-5 record with a .924 save percentage and seven shutouts. In each of his past five full seasons, he has appeared in 55-plus games and posted save percentages in the .917 to .924 range. Crawford's consistency makes him one of the most sought after goaltenders in fantasy, and a dynamic Chicago blue line that includes Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson doesn't hurt, either. Aside from the return Brian Campbell, Chicago didn't make any huge acquisitions this offseason, but the core remains intact, powered by 2016 Art Ross Trophy winner Patrick Kane. Crawford is the go-to guy in the Windy City, and after posting three consecutive seasons with 30-plus wins, he should be in for another successful campaign in 2016-17.
2017 Outlook: They call him "King Henrik," but the blue-caped backstop was easily knocked off his throne in 2015-16. In the months of December, March and April, the Swede carried GAA's of 3.27, 3.38 and 3.32, respectively. He was obliterated against the Penguins -- the eventual Stanley Cup champions -- in the conference semifinals, allowing the puck to travel past him 15 times on 113 shots for a putrid save mark of .867. Still, the forgettable campaign is a small passing cloud over an otherwise bright career. The 34-year-old remains one of the best goalies in the league having been named the Rangers' MVP in seven seasons, an All-Star in three, and the Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top netminder in 2012. With the Rangers ranking in the top-third of the league in goals per game in each of the past two seasons and a good shot at making it three in a row, expect Hank to be a dependable source of wins in fantasy; only once in his 11-year career has he finished with fewer than 30 in a single season. Lundqvist's stinker of a year will have plenty of fantasy owners shopping elsewhere, but that could be a mistake given his overall track record. Buy low.
2017 Outlook: One of the most innately talented scorers in the game, Seguin has been held back from the top tier of fantasy greatness only by the fact that he has missed about 10 games in consecutive seasons. If not for that, he'd almost surely enter this year looking for his fourth consecutive 80-point campaign, as Seguin's operated at better than a point-per-game pace for three seasons running. Late-season calf and Achilles injuries ruined what had been an otherwise healthy campaign for 2010's No. 2 overall pick last year. He's expected back healthy, though, so don't be shy on draft day, especially since he and linemate Jamie Benn are one of the scariest duos in the Western Conference and both have the ability to finish among the NHL's top five scorers. They'll both be suiting up for Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September, as well, so those looking for a refresher on just how good the faces of the Stars' franchise are should tune in.
2017 Outlook: At just 23, Kucherov is already a top-five and perhaps top-three right winger in the NHL. And he's the first member of the Tampa Bay Lightning that should go off the board in fantasy drafts. Yes, you read that right. Kucherov is coming off a 30-goal season and pretty much carried the Bolts to the Eastern Conference Finals. His growth is on a steep curve and he is just now starting to enter his prime years. Kucherov's spot on the vaunted Triplets Line is well known, but fantasy owners should know just this: He delivers in all zones and situations, regardless of his pivot. Kucherov spent about one-third of his even-strength shifts last season with Steven Stamkos, and that's great news considering fellow Triplet Tyler Johnson could end up traded out of town because of cap pressure. Kucherov appears set to crack 70 points for the first time in 2016-17 which should lead the team. He'll also lead the Bolts in power-play production and challenge for a spot in the top 10 in goals across the league. Pretty soon, Kucherov's picture will appear among the greats as a fantasy cornerstone. He's that good.
2017 Outlook: It's hard to believe Backstrom is just 28, as he has been consistently one of the league's best dishers for nearly a decade. It's even harder to fathom that his 50 assists weren't even the most on the Caps last season, as Evgeny Kuznetsov seemingly came out of nowhere to rack up 57 assists in addition to potting 20 goals -- the same total as Backstrom. Kuznetsov did that largely in a second-line role and with nearly two minutes less ice time (17:24) than Backstrom (19:10), so while nothing is imminent, Backstrom's value could potentially take a hit if Kuznetsov is afforded more playing time and a better line assignment. It may come down to which player lines up next to goal-scoring machine Alex Ovechkin, a spot Backstrom has enjoyed for most of his career. Make no mistake, the Swede is an all-world talent whose production should continue to be among the top centers in the league for the foreseeable future no matter what line he's on, but there's little separating him and Kuznetsov in terms of fantasy value heading into 2015-16. Choose wisely.
2017 Outlook: Bergeron found a new gear (or perhaps an old one) last year, setting career highs with 32 goals and 25 power-play points, while his 68 points and 282 shots represented his best totals in nearly a decade. The Quebec native and first-line winger Brad Marchand were the two main bright spots in a bitterly disappointing campaign for the Bruins. One of the premier two-way players in the game, Bergeron has won the Frank J. Selke Trophy (given to the league's best defensive forward) three of the past five seasons, and he finished second in the voting in the other two years. If anything, the Bruins have grown to rely on him more than ever, and there's no reason to think that'll change in his age-31 season. He may not quite reach last year's lofty heights, but 60-plus points are nearly guaranteed as long as Bergeron remains healthy, which generally hasn't been a problem.
2017 Outlook: Over the past five seasons, Malkin averaged more than a point per game and is likely to continue that trend into the 2016-17 campaign. Unfortunately, the Russian has played in more than 70 games just once over that span and has been prone to injury. When he's on the ice, the 30-year-old has been a mainstay on the Penguins' top power-play unit, including notching 11 goals and 16 assists with the man advantage last season. While his productivity and spot on the power play are not in question, there is a significant unknown regarding who will play alongside Malkin on Pittsburgh's second line. He started last season with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, but after being knocked out due to injury, was replaced by Nick Bonino and closed out the postseason with Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust. Regardless of who he plays with, the center will be a focal point for opposing defenders as the Pens defend their Stanley Cup title. Despite concerns about his health, owners can expect Malkin to be selected early in virtually every fantasy format as point-per-game producers with his championship pedigree are few and far between.
2017 Outlook: Rinne presents a conundrum for fantasy owners. Once regarded as one of the NHL's elite goalies, the 33-year-old Finn has posted below-average save percentages in three of the past four seasons; in the other one, he was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy. That's quite a lot of variance, and it makes him hard to value entering this season. You can count on him for a start total in the 60s, which gives Rinne a solid floor, but come draft day, be sure you're paying for his volume, not his reputation, as the quality of his ratios is anything but certain. That said, the Predators should be good again, with the acquisition of P.K. Subban arguably counting as a modest upgrade over Shea Weber (at least offensively). Rinne is a lock for 30-plus wins, and he could hit 40 for the third time in his career if the Preds' forward group, led by studs Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal, continues to produce at a high level.
2017 Outlook: For years, Byfuglien has been the rock on Winnipeg's blue line and the hard place for opposing players who absorb his vicious hits and shots. He's the complete package, a consistent (from season to season, if not always from game to game) performer who's on a streak of three straight campaigns with 18-plus goals, 45-plus points and 200-plus hits from the back end. Big Buff has also ramped up his PIM over the past two seasons, making him incredibly valuable in leagues that count that particular stat. A defenseman turned forward turned defenseman, Byfuglien was the subject of much trade speculation last season, but the Jets put an end to that by signing him to a five-year contract extension in February (and subsequently dealing away captain Andrew Ladd), so the hulking 31-year-old will continue bullying Winnipeg's opponents into the next decade. He's not likely to have forward eligibility in too many leagues anymore, but he still makes for one of the most valuable fantasy defensemen around.
2017 Outlook: Wheeler looked every bit the part of a top fantasy right winger in 2013-14 when he dropped 69 points. He took a slight step back the following campaign, which left owners questioning his value in 2015-16. Wheeler likely carried those who believed in him to victory last season after feasting on opposing netminders on a consistent basis. The 2004 fifth-overall pick had a career season, finding twine 26 times on 256 shots (10.2 conversion rate) and assisting on 52 goals. In special team situations, Wheeler was just as good, putting up three power-play goals and two shorties with 14 helpers. The scary truth for the opposition is that Winnipeg is improving quickly after adding potential star Patrik Laine as this year's No. 2 overall pick and keeping an explosive top six together moving into 2016-17. The Minnesota native has established himself as a lock for 25-plus tallies, and with talent blossoming on the Jets, reaching 50 assists could come easily for the eight-year NHLer. Look to lock him up in drafts after the very select few right wingers ranked higher than him (Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Vladimir Tarasenko and possibly Nikita Kucherov) are gone.
2017 Outlook: Stamkos was supposed to be the biggest free agent catch this past summer, but he broke the hearts of general managers and fans in at least a dozen cities when he re-upped with the Bolts for eight years and $68 million just two days before the July 1 deadline. The talented center is coming off an odd season, in part from the pressure of constant discussion about his future and in part because of the way he was deployed on the ice. The result? Just 64 points, albeit 36 goals, in 78 games. Why? Stamkos wasn't the centerpiece of the Tampa offense, as the Triplets (Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat) were still the go-to group for head coach Jon Cooper. Stammer didn't get the best linemates all the time, nor did he always hop the boards on the first power-play unit. He heads into 2016-17 healthy and should be the man in Tampa. His supporting cast will determine if he has a 65-point season or a 75-point one. Either way, count on 40 goals and pray for 70 points, but just don't overdraft him, as he's no longer a top-five fantasy center.
2017 Outlook: The Kings could hardly have chosen a better new team captain than Kopitar, who finally gets to wear the C on his jersey in his 11th year in the NHL. Still just 29 years old entering the 2016-17 season, Kopitar is the Kings' heart and soul (with apologies to Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty) and a supremely talented scorer who's just as good on the defensive side of the ice. Kopitar's fantasy owners have generally enjoyed excellent plus-minus and terrific power-play production to go with his typically brisk scoring pace, and there's no reason they won't get that again this season. Arguably the league's best two-way center, he's still in the midst of a lengthy prime that will probably land him in the Hall of Fame one day, so Kopitar makes for one of the highest-floor fantasy options around. Draft him after the league's super-elite scorers are gone and reap the benefits.