Fantasy NHL: Big players shifting positions

The Edmonton Oilers have been deploying left winger Taylor Hall as a centre to cover for the injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Versatility and perspective are important tools with which to thrive in your everyday life, but they’re also key to boosting the value of players on your fantasy hockey team.

True story.

The more a player can do on the ice, the more he increases the likelihood of being used more often by his coach. Pretty simple. There’s a reason strict enforcers only see a handful of shifts per night, while physical guys who can skate and are responsible defensively can be a regular third line presence and play 10-12 minutes a game.

Let’s take that philosophy one step further.

Fantasy leagues are largely divided into two camps. Those that separate forwards, defencemen and goalies and then those that take it one step further by parsing out left wing, centre and right wing among the forwards as well.

It stands to reason, then, that if you have a player who can qualify at two different positions instead of just one, his value will increase. Particularly in head-to-head leagues, where you’re trying to fill every open roster spot nightly in order to maximize point potential, it’s quite valuable to have several guys who are eligible to be used at more than one position. Each fantasy service may be slightly different in its requirements for qualifying a player at his new position (sometimes one game is enough, but often you’ll need five or more), but most leagues will allow the dual position eligibility to stand for the rest of the season once it has been established.

Here are a handful of players poised to make a difference for you this season, along with a few more possibilities to keep in the back of your mind as the season goes along.

1. Tyler Seguin & 2. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

Seguin and Benn are linked together on this list, just as they’ll be potentially be paired together in importance to this Stars team over the next decade.

You know the deal by now if you’re even a casual hockey fan. Seguin is a natural centre, but the Boston Bruins had moved him to the wing because that’s where they had room and the best opportunity for him to play. Benn was a winger the Stars moved into the middle, but with a new general manager and coach coming in for this season they wanted to get him back on the wing where they feel he’ll have the most success. That means very early in October, you’ll have two star-level players who will be eligible on both the wing and as a pivot. That’s a huge deal, especially in those H2H formats.

Seguin got a huge wake-up call when the Bruins shipped him out of town. He’s hungry and anxious to prove himself. Benn has a Team Canada-sized chip on his shoulder and was already poised to take that next step in his young career. Throw in the fact that Lindy Ruff is ready to have this tandem on the penalty kill to make sure they’re always on the ice and poolies should be very happy with the way things are trending here.

3. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

The Calgary-born offensive winger had a tremendous 2012-13 campaign, racking up 16-34-50 in his 45 starts and he was, for all intents and purposes, the best left winger in the NHL last season. With the Oilers knowing No. 1 pivot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be sidelined indefinitely for the start of this year though, the team has opted to use Hall as a temporary patch down the middle. Hall has been skating between veterans Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky in the preseason.

Now, with second line centre Sam Gagner sidelined perhaps up to two months with a broken jaw, it’s entirely possible we’ll see Hall remain in the middle even after Nugent-Hopkins makes his return. Regardless of how this situation plays out under the watchful eye of new head coach Dallas Eakins, Hall will be quickly earning a LW-C designation in fantasy leagues and will be that much more of a resource for poolies.

4. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

The switch was made last March. Sharks coach Todd McLellan moved hulking 6-foot-5 Brent Burns, all 230 pounds of him, from the blueline onto the wing when Burns returned from an injured stint. Suddenly opposing defencemen had that sinking ‘objects in mirror may be closer than they appear’ feeling when they saw him streaking down the ice.

The move made an impact for the Sharks and for Burns’ fantasy value, as he finished the year with 20 points in those final 24 games after having been held pointless in his first six starts. He has six points in his first four outings on the wing alone.

Another key stat, mostly overlooked, is that during those 24 affairs Burns had 71 shots. Projected over an 82-game slate, that would mean a career high of 243 SOG.

Burns and Joe Thornton should be a regular combination up front in San Jose and this decision by the Sharks mean you’ll be able to use a first line right winger in one of your defensive slots and reap the rewards.

5. Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

When the Avs jumped at the chance to draft NHL-ready centre Nathan MacKinnon first overall in the summer entry draft, something had to give on Colorado’s roster. Already strong down the middle with O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, incoming coach Patrick Roy made the choice to switch O’Reilly to the left side on Duchene’s line. That would allow MacKinnon to stay at his normal centre slot, but in a lower-pressure third line role.

Meanwhile O’Reilly, who missed the first part of last season due to his contract holdout – which then turned into the infamous Calgary Flames offer sheet fiasco – has had the entire summer to prepare and get himself both physically and mentally ready for a good year.

Roy sees O’Reilly as the defensive conscience of the trio, depending on which winger sticks opposite O’Reilly, but he’ll nonetheless be in a fantastic spot to challenge his career best point pace. His positional flexibility should make him a great choice for your roster too.

6. Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning

When Drouin was chosen with the third overall pick of the draft, the immediate (and logical) speculation saw the left winger lining up alongside superstar Lightning centre Steven Stamkos. Instead, when camp opened Jon Cooper employed Drouin down the middle a little deeper in the lineup. This was the plan in Tampa Bay though, as the team wanted to see how their talented youngster looked distributing the puck as a pivot.

On Monday, Cooper moved Drouin back to his natural wing slot and yes, it was alongside Stamkos. The coach was noncommittal as to where Drouin would be in the lineup going forward, but you’d certainly think that first line LW slot with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will be tempting for the bench boss if the youngster doesn’t look out of place in the NHL.

We’ll see what happens here, but it’s certainly worth filing that potential centre eligibility away as the year progresses.

Quick hits

Adam Oates, who saw terrific success flipping Alex Ovechkin to his opposite wing last year, has been using winger Eric Fehr as a centre in camp between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. Where everyone will fit in Washington’s bottom six is a huge question mark right now, but in really deep leagues Fehr’s potential versatility may come in handy.

The Brandon Saad-at-centre experiment in camp didn’t last too long for the Chicago Blackhawks, but a run of injuries could see the winger move back into the middle. Make a mental note.

Carl Soderberg seems to have found a home on the third line for the Boston Bruins, but on the wing instead of as a pivot. Chris Kelly is in the middle there. The offensive chances will not be as plentiful in the bottom six, but in expansive fantasy leagues that extra wing designation could be a competitive advantage.

Tyler Ennis began last season as the number two centre for the Buffalo Sabres, after having been switched from left wing in the later portion of the prior campaign. He initially had success after the move, but then last season didn’t go quite as planned and Ennis finished 2012-13 back on the wing. Which is where he’ll begin 2013-14. Follow all of that? Your league’s eligibility will determine where he’ll slot in for you, but chances are decent he’ll begin as a centre and then gain LW eligibility early on.

If you’re a keeper league owner of Jeff Skinner, how frustrated are you these days? Finally healthy after a bad run of concussion luck, the top-six forward material youngster may now be relegated to the third line in an effort to spread out the offence. Coach Kirk Muller has trended toward using Skinner as a winger in camp so far, but did mention over the summer he wanted to see how the preseason played out. Skinner has been used as a centre there before.

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