We all know that preseason results are irrelevant, but that doesn't mean we can't use what we see in training camp to help us the rest of the year.
Below are some of the most important position battles to monitor heading into the start of the 2021-22 NHL campaign...
Hurricanes: Frederik Andersen/Antti Raanta
Carolina completely remade its goaltending group in one offseason, trading Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic to Detroit and letting Petr Mrazek walk in free agency. In their places are Andersen, signed from Toronto, and Raanta, signed from Arizona. Both netminders have played like true No. 1s over the course of their respective careers, but Andersen was hurt the majority of last season and Raanta has seemingly been hurt more than he's been healthy during his NHL tenure. Andersen ($4.5 million) makes more than twice as much as Raanta ($2 million), so he should open the year as the starter, but the long-term No. 1 figures to be the one that holds up physically.
It's possible for both netminders to amass significant Fantasy value in a two-man rotation, but a three-headed split would be too much to overcome. It makes Dallas' decision to bring on Holtby as an unrestricted free agent this summer all the more baffling. My guess is that this will get cut down to two goalies before the start of the season, with Oettinger almost certainly sticking around given his youth and importance to the organization's future.
Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky/Spencer Knight
Bobrovsky makes $10 million per season. Knight, a 20-year-old rookie, makes $925,000. That shouldn't matter for a team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations such as Florida, but it does. The current plan is for the Panthers to roll with Bobrovsky as long as he's up for the job. I expect mediocre numbers and a solid win/loss record given all the offensive firepower on the Florida roster. This makes Knight, for now, nothing more than a late-round stash heading into the season.
Islanders: Semyon Varlamov/Ilya Sorokin
This isn't really a positional battle, but the Islanders are one of the best teams in the NHL and either Varlamov or Sorokin could be a potential Fantasy league-winner if the other gets hurt. As is, coach Barry Trotz is likely to give both guys a ton of playing time, with perhaps a 55-45 split in favor of the veteran Varlamov.
Maple Leafs: Jack Campbell/Petr Mrazek
Mrazek was another guy who was hurt last year, while Campbell took over as the No. 1 in Toronto behind an injured Andersen. Mrazek was signed for three years at a cap hit of $3.8 million, and Campbell will make $1.65 million and be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. This is the goaltending battle I have the least feel for, but if I had to choose, I'd roll with Mrazek.
Other battles to monitor
Rangers: No. 1 and No. 2 wingers
The Rangers have put Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider together the last two seasons, while also plugging in Artemi Panarin beside Ryan Strome. In 2021-22, who will fill the third spot on each line? The working plan at the moment is for 2020 No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere to skate with Zibanejad and Kreider, with 2019 No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko slotting in with Panarin and Strome. Keep an eye on this one.
Penguins: No. 2 center spot
Sidney Crosby will miss a handful of games following a wrist issue, but it's not a long-term injury. The bigger concern is Evgeni Malkin, who's expected to be out until at least Christmas with a knee issue. That means the Pens will be searching for a No. 2 center. Jeff Carter is probably the leading in-house candidate, while a guy like Teddy Blueger could move up in the lineup. Pittsburgh probably wishes they held onto Jared McCann right about now.
Kraken: Top power play
The Kraken have never played before, so we have less information on them than every other team in the league. Guys like Jaden Schwartz, Jordan Eberle, and Mark Giordano are locks to be there, but keep an eye on a young defender like Vince Dunn. He'd have real Fantasy value if he can somehow sneak onto that top unit alongside Giordano. If he's with the second group, not so much.
Blackhawks: Top center spot
Centering Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat will certainly lead to a ton of Fantasy value, and that position is currently up for grabs. Tyler Johnson, acquired in the offseason from the Lightning, is getting the first shot, but Chicago management would certainly like to see youngster Kirby Dach step up and seize the role.
Sharks: No. 1 left wing
Evander Kane is San Jose's top left wing and arguably its best offensive player, but he's had a myriad of issues the past year-plus and is currently away from the team as the league investigates claims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Sharks are a lousy team, but it's a position that could result in some low-end Fantasy value depending on how Kane's replacement fares.
Blue Jackets: Secondary power-play defensemen
We all know Zach Werenski will be running the show on the top unit, but youngsters and newcomers Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean should be in line to see time with the second group. And though the Blue Jackets aren't expected to pile up the offense this season, a secondary man-advantage role for the aforementioned blueliners would make them Fantasy-relevant in deeper formats.
Panthers: Top two lines
So, this is a mess. The Panthers have about nine guys who could realistically play on their top two lines. For starters, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and newcomer Sam Reinhart are locks. Florida began camp with Carter Verhaeghe alongside Barkov and Reinhart, with Sam Bennett centering Huberdeau and youngster Owen Tippett. That leaves Anthony Duclair, Patric Hornqvist, and rookie Anton Lundell on the outside looking in. I expect this to change as the year progresses, but it's worth keeping tabs on heading into Draft Day.