2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Western Conference Preview – Central Division

by Justin Cheng
2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Western Preview - Central Division

Welcome back, fantasy hockey fanatics! It's that time of the year again when we're all eagerly assembling our dream teams, hoping for a shot at fantasy glory. It is also that time of year when we hope the star player we drafted doesn't end up as part of the LTIR shenanigans that seem more and more common each year. But hey, let's not dwell on the past, because the future looks brighter than ever in the NHL's Western Conference. Grab your favorite jersey as we dive headfirst into the 2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Western Conference Preview - Central Division.

As the regular season inches closer, the stakes are higher, the rivalries fiercer, and the excitement off the charts. Whether you're a seasoned fantasy pro or a newbie just looking for some virtual puck action, we've got your back.

In this preview, we'll dissect the key players, emerging stars, and dark horses from the Western Conference, helping you navigate the tumultuous waters of Fantasy Hockey.

In this first part of the series, we will be looking at the teams in the Central Division. So, grab your favorite fantasy beverage, and let's explore the Western Conference's fantasy landscape together.

Without further ado, let's dive into the enchanting world of the 2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Western Conference Preview - Central Division!"

2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Western Conference Preview - Central Division

Arizona Coyotes

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Buyer Beware: Nick Schmaltz, C, ADP: 154.3

With the team another year older, the vibes around the Arizona Coyotes appear to be more positive. Last season, Nick Schmaltz scored 22 goals and put up 58 points in just 63 games. On the proviso that he stays healthy, I have seen some people expecting 75-80 points from the former first-round pick.

Further, many are expecting Clayton Keller to have his first point-per-game season. If this were to happen, there is the expectation that Schmaltz would factor in on many of these points, further boosting his draft stock to 11th- or 12th-round value.

However, it is worth noting that the closest Schmaltz has come to 82 games over the last half-decade was in 2019-20 when he finished with 70 games. The injury risk with Schmaltz is not insignificant, which drops his value closer to the 17th or 18th round in my books.

Chicago Blackhawks

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Remarkable Rookie: Connor Bedard, C, ADP: 37.9

My opinion on Connor Bedard varies depending on the type of league that I am drafting for. In dynasty leagues - leagues in which most or all of your players are kept year-to-year - Bedard is undoubtedly a first-round talent. He is a generational player that should keep your team competitive for the next 15 or so years.

In keeper leagues, Bedard is also a good bet. After putting up three goals and an assist in Chicago's first game of the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase, it is clear that he is ready for the NHL. Even as one of the youngest on the ice, he had a demeanor and poise to his game that screamed that he was a man among boys.

In redraft leagues, I am staying clear of the young phenom at his 3rd/4th round ADP.  In a best-case scenario, I think we see Bedard score 30-35 goals and put up 25-30 assists. At the tail end of the third round, players like Sebastien Aho, Connor Hellebuyck, and Artemi Panarin are all more reliable one-year options for this season.

Colorado Avalanche

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Suomalainen Sleeper: Artturi Lehkonen, LW, ADP:  170.2

While injuries are never to be celebrated, they do breed opportunity. With captain Gabe Landeskog expected to be sidelined all year, there is a massive opportunity for Artturi Lehkonen.

The Finnish forward bounced around the lineup last season, eventually settling in on Nathan Mackinnon's left wing. This was a smashing success, as Lehkonen finished with a career-high 51 points in just 64 games.

For a player expected to play on one of the best lines in hockey and one of the best powerplays in the league, an ADP of 170.2 is criminal. This is definitely a player I would be looking to target with a later pick in most of my leagues.

Dallas Stars

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Shutout Star or Disappointing Dallasite: Jake Oettinger, G, ADP: 20.4

This list would be incomplete if we did not address the Fantasy goaltending situation. In most drafts, Jake Oettinger is getting picked as the fourth goalie off the board, near the tail end of the second round. From my experience with mock drafts this season, an antsy GM will grab Oettinger once the goalie run begins to avoid missing out.

For what it is worth, I actually think Oettinger is a great pick. The Dallas defense is solid, led by young superstar Miro Heiskanen. And to further accentuate Oettinger's value, Dallas goes into the season with Scott Wedgewood as their backup. Not exactly an inspiring duo.

My projections expect Oettinger to play between 60 and 65 games, putting him near the top of the league. With five shutouts in 62 games last season, this seems like a reasonable mark to expect from the Boston University product. I would not be surprised to see Oettinger finish as the second-best fantasy goalie this year.

I say all of this with the major caveat that fantasy goaltending is as much voodoo as it is statistical analysis. Spend your second-round pick on Jake Oettinger at your own risk, knowing there is a chance that he will disappoint.

Minnesota Wild

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Venerable Vet: Marc-Andre Fleury, G, ADP: 94.9

Although I typically try to avoid commenting too much on goalies, I would be remiss to not go with back-to-back goalies. For years, Marc-Andre Fleury has been a reliable fantasy option. In recent years, he has been a good fall-back once all of the elite-tier goaltenders have been picked off the board. However, despite the steady and respectable reputation, it may be time to move on from the 38-year-old veteran.

Last season, Fleury began to show the first signs of aging. The Wild cut his playing time, starting just 45 games - the lowest of his career, excluding injuries. This represented a cut of 11 games from the previous season, which is not an insignificant decline. With Filip Gustavsson recently inked to a new three-year contract, it is clear who Minnesota's goaltender of the future (and present) is.

This season, I would expect to continue to see a decline in Fleury's share of games. When he does start games, I would expect him to be a solid option. However, in fantasy, volume is often key for goaltenders. I would expect Fleury to start around 30-35 games this season. It is hard for me to justify drafting a player in the sixth or seventh round who is all but guaranteed to fall shy of the 40-game mark.

Nashville Predators

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Defensive Disaster: Tyson Barrie, D, ADP: 108.3

I recognize that it is often hard to find quality defensemen on the fantasy draft floor. The gap between an elite defenseman and the next tier is massive, and there are often undrafted gems that take the cake. Case study: Josh Morrissey and Erik Karlsson last season.

Tyson Barrie, traded to Nashville as a cap-clearing moving at the deadline last year, was once in the elite tier of fantasy defenseman. However, his value is dropping by the month, and the 32-year-old is barely worth rostering in a lot of standard leagues at this point.

Somehow, even though Nashville has no offense to speak of, and Roman Josi has the first PP unit locked down, Barrie is still being drafted right around the 100th pick mark. My two cents - steer clear of this defenseman unless you are looking for disappointment.

St. Louis Blues

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Blue to Bypass: Kevin Hayes, C, ADP: 147.8

Sometimes a change of scenery can spark a player. Look no further than Jack Eichel, propelling the Vegas Golden Knights to the hockey pinnacle. However, sometimes even a ZIP code change cannot salvage a player's career.

If you just looked at Kevin Hayes' $7 million cap hit alongside his career production, you would be shocked. Hayes has only hit the 50-point mark with a single team once in his career - last season with the Flyers. Prior to this, his career high was a 49-point stint with the Rangers in 2016-17.

Despite this, many still regard Hayes as a top-tier second-line center. Fantasy GMs are drafting him as such,  drafting him well ahead of guys like Tyler Seguin, Anders Lee, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Even with the move to join the St. Louis Blues this offseason, I do not expect Hayes to crest the 50-point plateau. There are better options at Center than this St. Louis Blue.

Winnipeg Jets

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Discounted Dane: Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, ADP: 159.4

If you are looking for a draft steal to help you win your season, look no further than Nikolaj Ehlers. For a number of seasons now, we have been waiting for the dazzling Dane to break out. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, injuries and inconsistent play have led to a few sub-par seasons in a row.

With Blake Wheeler in the Big Apple, there is nothing between Ehlers and first-line time. In a best-case scenario, I could see Ehlers scoring at a point-per-game pace.

If Ehlers can stay healthy (and this is a big if), his current ADP is a steal. No one else around that point in the draft will be able to provide what Ehlers may be able to. Comparing him to the likes of Erik Haula and Mason McTavish - the other forwards that will be available around the 160th pick - the choice to go with Ehlers is clear.

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