Daniel Dobish (@danieledobish) – Special to Triangle Sports Network
RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s that time of the year again.
The leaves are changing, the air is turning brisk and the Carolina Hurricanes are about to hit the ice and play games for real after a brief, somewhat entertaining and very informative preseason, finishing 4-2 overall following a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh on Friday.
Many have already drafted in Fantasy Pools, others are still set to draft in a very busy upcoming weekend.
What better way to spend a few hours than to have a pizza, a few beers and avoid the soggy weather outside by drafting a successful hockey team for the 2015-16 NHL season?
The Carolina Hurricanes struggled down the stretch last season, and they do not have as many bonafide Fantasy Hockey options as past seasons.
However, you will want to have a few Canes on your team, if not just to have a few of the hometown guys to cheer for.
After drafting in a handful of Experts leagues and mock drafts, the first Hurricane flying off the board is defenseman Justin Faulk.
He emerged last season as one of the top offensive D-men by lighting the lamp 15 times while adding 34 assists.
In fact, his point totals per game have increased in each of his first three NHL campaigns.
He will also grab a handful of penalty minutes in leagues which reward that category, but doesn’t take a ton of penalties to hurt you in leagues which discourage bad behavior.
The only area of concern for Faulk owners will be in the plus-minus category, where he was a dismal minus-19.
If the Hurricanes are better, that won’t be a problem.
If they struggle again, you’ll need to insulate yourself by drafting a handful of rearguards from contending teams to lessen the blow in the category.
Another added bonus, Faulk piled up 157 hits and 114 blocked shots, so he is a boon to Fantasy owners in pools with advanced scoring systems.
Hurricanes center and captain Eric Staal has been slipping on draft day, going in the later rounds in some instances.
While his days of a front-line Fantasy center are in the rear-view mirror, he can still be a productive contributor.
In fact, over the past two seasons, his goal totals have actually increased and his 23 markers from a season ago are his best since the 2011-12 campaign.
As a No. 3 center you can certainly do a lot worse.
Keep in mind, like Faulk and most other Canes, the plus-minus category is a problem.
Staal has been at minus-10 in each of his past four full NHL seasons (50 or more games).
The nice thing about Staal is that he is very durable, missing a total of just 22 games in his entire 846-game NHL career.
Staal’s partner in crime, left winger Jeff Skinner, is also a guy with plenty of upside in the middle to late rounds on draft day.
He burst onto the scene in 2010-11 with 31 goals and 63 points, still career highs, but he has taken a big step backward since.
In fact, his 18 goals in 77 games last season were his worst average-per-game totals over his entire NHL career, as were his 31 points and dismal minus-24 rating.
Still, he is just 23 years old and he has plenty of time to turn things around.
He is certainly a candidate to rebound, at least to the 50-point level, and if he can stay as a top-six forward and work on the man advantage for most of the season, it’s hard to envision another 31-point season.
As a late-round pick, he is a good stash candidate.
Another defenseman you will want on your radar is newcomer James Wisniewski, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks.
He is a tremendous addition to the blue line, and he is coming off a season where he notched a career-high seven power player markers in 56 games with Columbus before his trade to Anaheim.
He posted 51 points as recently as 2013-14, and like Faulk, he won’t really help or hurt you in the penalty minutes department.
Wisniewski posted 81 blocked shots in 69 games while dishing out 115 hits, so he has added value in advanced scoring system leagues.
Lastly, veteran Cam Ward is likely to start a majority of the games in between the pipes, while Eddie Lack replaces Anton Khudobin as the primary backup in Raleigh.
You can expect a 60-40 split in the starts.
In other words, look for Ward to start about 46-50 games with Lack in the crease for 32-36 games.
The latter proved he can be a top-flight goaltender in this league, and Canes fans might remember him from his first NHL shutout right here in Raleigh when he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
At this juncture, Ward is best used as a No. 3 goaltender, worth using if your primary Fantasy options go down.
Lack actually has the better long-term outlook, but it would take a Ward injury to make him more than just an intriguing option in daily Fantasy formats.
Daniel Dobish lives in the Triangle and writes for RotoExperts.com and VegasInsider.com, as well as doing other various fantasy-related work and some non-fantasy.