2009-10 Draft Prep: Scouting the Central

Editor's Note: We evaluate each of the NHL's six divisions to find talent worthy of being on your 2009-10 Fantasy Hockey team(s).

Chicago Blackhawks

Must-haves: Patrick Kane , Marian Hossa , Jonathan Toews , Brian Campbell , Duncan Keith , Patrick Sharp
Contributors: Kris Versteeg , Cam Barker , Brent Seabrook , Dave Bolland , Andrew Ladd , Dustin Byfuglien
Sleepers: Cristobal Huet , Brent Sopel , Jack Skille
Specialists: Ben Eager , Adam Burish , John Madden , Colin Fraser , Tomas Kopecky , Troy Brouwer , Aaron Johnson , Corey Crawford , Antti Niemi
Offseason analysis: For the second year in a row, the Blackhawks made quite a splash in free agency. This year's top haul was Hossa, who signed a mega 12-year deal, and it came a year after Chicago lured Campbell to the Windy City with a long-term contract. Unfortunately, we found out weeks after the deal that Hossa needed shoulder surgery and could miss up to two months of the season. He is still worth owning in all Fantasy formats but is definitely a draft-and-stash guy. Re-signing Versteeg, Barker and Bolland was also key to Chicago's Stanley Cup hopes. However, they lost a few key players. Hossa will make up for the loss of Martin Havlat , but much of the intrigue will be in net, where Huet takes over the full-time starting role for Nikolai Khabibulin , who left for Edmonton. Chicago's success could rely on how well Huet transitions in net. He has yet to play more than 52 games in a season and Chicago will at least ask for 60 with unproven backups in Crawford and Niemi. Huet has the potential to be a No. 1 Fantasy goalie playing for a top contender, but we like him as a No. 2 option on Draft Day.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Must-haves: Rick Nash , Steve Mason
Contributors: Kristian Huselius , Fedor Tyutin , Mike Commodore , R.J. Umberger , Rostislav Klesla
Sleepers: Antoine Vermette , Derick Brassard , Nikita Filatov , Jakub Voracek , Kris Russell , Fredrik Modin
Specialists: Mathieu Garon , Jared Boll , Jason Chimera , Jan Hejda, Raffi Torres , Derek Dorsett , Marc Methot , Samuel Pahlsson , Andrew Murray
Offseason analysis: The biggest news Columbus made in the offseason was signing the All-Star Nash to a contract. Now that he is on board long-term, Columbus can focus on playing hockey and be glad its captain is locked up for the forseeable future. Columbus had more key subtractions -- Jason Williams , Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and Wade Dubielewicz -- than additions, but one of their biggest pickups was Pahlsson. He is a faceoff and penalty-killing specialist who will continue to be very helpful in those Fantasy formats. And while he was already under contract, getting Brassard (shoulder) back to full strength is key. Brassard was well on his way to Calder Trophy (top rookie) honors in 2008-09 before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in December. Brassard had 25 points (10 goals) and a plus-12 rating in 31 games. He was developing into a solid top-line center and could now be asked to run the point on the power play, an area Columbus struggled with mightily last season. Vermette and Filatov are two other players that Fantasy owners should keep tabs on. Vermette totaled 13 points (seven goals) in 17 games with Columbus last season after being picked up in a trade from Ottawa, and Filatov -- a 2008 first-round pick (sixth overall) -- is a rising star. The only issue is that Columbus is having trouble finding Filatov top-six minutes and the young winger is threatening a return to Russia. It's not hockey without a little offseason drama.

Detroit Red Wings

Must-haves: Pavel Datsyuk , Brian Rafalski , Henrik Zetterberg , Nicklas Lidstrom , Johan Franzen , Niklas Kronwall , Chris Osgood
Contributors: Tomas Holmstrom
Sleepers: Todd Bertuzzi , Daniel Cleary , Valtteri Filppula , Jason Williams , Ville Leino , Jimmy Howard , Jonathan Ericsson , Patrick Eaves
Specialists: Brad Stuart , Brett Lebda , Andreas Lilja , Kris Draper , Kirk Maltby
Offseason analysis: While most of Detroit's core group of stars returns in 2009-10, the Red Wings still had a mass exodus of sorts in the offseason. Detroit lost the likes of Mikael Samuelsson (Vancouver), Tomas Kopecky (Chicago), Marian Hossa (Chicago), Ty Conklin (St. Louis) and Jiri Hudler (Russia). That opened the door for Detroit to bring in Bertuzzi, Williams and Eaves to help shore up the right side of the ice. The real wild cards are Bertuzzi and Williams. Both have played in Detroit in the past and both have a knack for scoring. Detroit stands by the fact Bertuzzi is 100 percent healthy and ready to shock the world. Williams does his best work playing on a contender and Detroit is very much that. Conklin was extremely valuable as Osgood's backup last season, but Detroit finally felt Howard deserved a shot in the NHL after patiently waiting the last four years in the minors. Osgood hasn't played more than 46 games the last four seasons and coach Mike Babcock hasn't been afraid to rotate goalies, so Howard better be prepared to play. Two other players on the Fantasy radar are Leino and Ericsson. Leino came to North America last season as the second-most coveted overseas import behind Fabian Brunnstrom . Detroit had the luxury of letting Leino transition in the minors, but when he finally came to the NHL, all he did was score (nine points in 13 games). They re-signed him for two years and look forward to Leino's contributions. As for Ericsson, he has been a favorite of Babcock for a long time and only an injury kept him from making a bigger impact in the NHL last season. But Ericsson had quite a showing in the playoffs and the long-term injury to Lilja (concussion) could free up a spot for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Nashville Predators

Must-haves: Shea Weber , J.P. Dumont , Jason Arnott , Pekka Rinne , Ryan Suter
Contributors: Martin Erat , David Legwand , Dan Hamhuis
Sleepers: Steve Sullivan , Patric Hornqvist , Colin Wilson , Cody Franson , Alexander Sulzer
Specialists: Dan Ellis , Joel Ward , Wade Belak , Jordin Tootoo , Ryan Jones , Marcel Goc , Jerred Smithson , Kevin Klein , Ben Guite
Offseason analysis: The Predators chose not to address their blue-line issue in the offseason and in fact let Greg Zanon leave for Minnesota, a year after Nashville traded Marek Zidlicky to the Wild. They have a solid core of players in Weber, Suter and Hamhuis, but depth is Nashville's biggest concern. It finally seems they are going to dip into their system and give Sulzer and Franson serious looks. A real sleeper in the mix is Jonathon Blum , who is entering his first full year of pro hockey, but Nashville would like to bring the 2007 first-round pick along slowly. The re-signing of Sullivan was huge for Nashville. Sullivan came on very strong late in the 2008-09 season after he initially played tentatively following a two-year absence from the NHL because of a back issue. Sullivan had 27 points in his last 25 games and finished with 32 points (11 goals) in 41 contests. Nashville is excited to put him on the top line with Arnott and Dumont. Nashville also re-signed Ward this offseason after his breakout 35-point performance in '08-09. However, Nashville is looking for more this season from Hornqvist and Jones. Both players were expected to be impact skaters for the Predators last season, but spent the majority of the time bouncing between the NHL and AHL. General manager David Poile has given both players a vote of confidence heading into 2009-10 after strong finishes last season. One other key wild card is Wilson, who turned pro after leading Boston University to a NCAA championship. Wilson has his eye on bypassing the AHL and nabbing a roster spot out of training camp. The Nashville front office can't say enough about Wilson's playmaking prowess, but they aren't going to risk hurting his development if he isn't ready for the big time.

St. Louis Blues

Must-haves: Brad Boyes , Chris Mason
Contributors: Keith Tkachuk , David Backes , Patrik Berglund , David Perron , Carlo Colaiacovo , Alexander Steen
Sleepers: Andy McDonald , Paul Kariya , T.J. Oshie , Erik Johnson , Alex Pietrangelo
Specialists: Ty Conklin , B.J. Crombeen , Brendan Bell , Barret Jackman , Eric Brewer , Cam Janssen , Jay McClement . Roman Polak , Brad Winchester , D.J. King , Mike Weaver
Offseason analysis: The Blues had a pretty quiet offseason in regards to making a splash in the free-agent market. Their biggest move was luring Conklin from Detroit to back up Mason, who was outstanding down the stretch for St. Louis in 2008-09. Unfortunately, Conklin loses some Fantasy appeal on Draft Day since Mason is expected to shoulder the workload and not share it like Chris Osgood did with Conklin in Detroit. Bell was a surprise addition to the blue line since St. Louis already has a solid core of players, and they are getting practically two new fresh faces in Johnson and Pietrangelo. Johnson, the No. 1 pick in 2006, is returning from a year on injured reserve due to a torn ACL. All the reports have been positive and St. Louis is hoping Johnson returns to the offensive threat he was as a rookie in 2007-08 (33 points in 69 games). Pietrangelo, the No. 4 pick in 2008, was given a chance to wow the St. Louis organization last year, but it wasn't meant to be and he was sent back to junior hockey for more seasoning. The Blues hope a year later Pietrangelo is ready for the show. Another key injury returnee is Kariya, who played just 11 games in 2008-09 due to hip issues. Kariya came out of the gate on fire with 15 points and is still a top offensive skater when healthy. The Blues have pretty much all of their core players that helped get them to the playoffs in '08-09, so don't sleep on the fact that they can make some noise in the Western Conference.

Do you have a question for our Fantasy staff? You can e-mail us at DMFantasyPucks@cbs.com. Be sure to put Attn: Fantasy Pucks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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