Training camp will be different this year for several reasons. They're being held in January instead of September, some teams haven't played in nearly a year and players are in transit more than normal since every league is at various stages of return to play. This creates a lot of interesting scenarios with the new taxi squads, which allow teams to carry 4-6 extra skaters at a reduced cap hit.
For teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay, who may play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen some nights and are currently against the cap, the way they make use of the taxi squad will be important. Some training camp battles between taxi-squad players may extend into the season, where injuries and other factors could determine their playing time.
Here are some of the key competitions to keep an eye on heading into the 2021 Fantasy season:
The Ducks' franchise center
It's hard to watch Trevor Zegras at the IIHF World Junior Championship and not get excited about a new era in Orange County. His playmaking ability is elite, and he needed just one season at Boston University before turning pro.
There are plenty of roster spots up for grabs at Ducks camp, where Zegras will be assigned once the World Juniors conclude. The AHL season is not expected to start until Feb. 5 at the earliest, and with no real playoff aspirations, the Ducks shouldn't hesitate to play him early in the season just to see where he's at in his development. Zegras should be on all watch lists in keeper formats.
A significant hole in Minnesota
No, we're not talking about Devan Dubnyk's five-hole, which has moved on to San Jose. We're talking about the vacancy between Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov, where a playmaking center needs to be. The Wild's platoon of Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Nick Bjugstad, Victor Rask and Nico Sturm are a complement of serviceable options until Bill Guerin finds a legitimate No. 1 center, and it'll probably be good enough to stay afloat this season.
Johansson probably has the most offensive skill, and he'll likely get first crack, but in both Washington and Buffalo he failed as a full-time center. It's unclear who'll take on the team's top pivot role, but it's a pretty good bet that whichever center scores the most points by the end of the season probably did so playing with Fiala and Kaprizov.
The Senators' talent overflow
Tim Stuetzle was Team Germany's best player at the World Juniors, and his offense looks good enough to hold up in today's NHL. The Senators won't be very competitive, but their group of prospects is as good as any team in the league, and a few of them are on the cusp of making the jump, including Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Erik Brannstrom.
Thatcher Demko had an impressive playoff run, but the Canucks felt they still needed some insurance for the young netminder facing a condensed schedule and mounting pressure as the team's future starter. In steps Braden Holtby on a two-year deal, who will likely be the No. 1 option to start the season based on veteran experience.
It's a desirable job for a team with really good young talent, but the Canucks also lost 800 games of NHL experience to free agency (Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher), and they've yet to address the loss of quality depth. Holtby vs. Demko will likely rage on all season, and it's advisable to draft the tandem in standard leagues.
There's no question that Robin Lehner is Vegas' top netminder today and tomorrow, but Marc-Andre Fleury is still around and, despite his advancing age, is a quality netminder. The Knights are now facing a situation in which both goalies have the right to demand the lion's share of the starts even though likely neither will get it — and it'll be awkward if Fleury ends up outplaying Lehner, too. That limits both Lehner and Fleury's Fantasy value, but they could also easily be one of the league's best tandems playing in a division with teams that may finish in the bottom 10, including Anaheim, Arizona, L.A. and San Jose.
It's best to grab both goalies, if possible, but the long-term Fantasy play is Lehner.
James Reimer and Petr Mrazek enter the season as pending free agents and both have a chance to be the starter, though the 28-year-old Mrazek has the inside track. Mrazek will be the 1A to Reimer's 1B, and given the condensed schedule and Mrazek's general inconsistency, don't be surprised if Reimer ends up starting half the games.
They're on the lower end, Fantasy-value wise, of available tandems, but Carolina should provide plenty of goal support and is one of few teams to benefit from divisional realignment this year.
The big unknown here is Ilya Sorokin, the former KHL champion who will begin the season as Semyon Varlamov's backup. It won't be easy to unseat Varlamov, whose .915 save percentage since the 2009-10 season ranks 25th out of 85 goalies (minimum 100 appearances), but Thomas Greiss managed to appear in 31 games last season, and Sorokin is considered a much better goalie.
The East Division should be pretty tough, but if Mathew Barzal signs and Barry Trotz works his magic again, both Varlamov and Sorokin will provide some value on a team noted for its defense.
This is arguably the most interesting goalie battle since the winner will be the successor to the throne Henrik Lundqvist held for 15 years, and both candidates are young and talented. Igor Shesterkin is believed to be superior, but Alexandar Georgiev has more experience and is certainly no slouch.
The Rangers will probably split the starts and go with the hot hand throughout the season, and the team should provide ample goal support with a potent offense that's welcoming 2020 No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. Both Shesterkin and Georgiev have the ability to steal games on their own, as well, so their Fantasy value will depend very much on their nightly opponents.