We have access to depth charts from the preseason, but not all coaches will use their opening day lineup in a preseason contest. Many times, the teams are trying to make some tough decisions on which players they should keep and thrust those on the brink of demotion into a keystone role as the preseason winds down.
But that's not true of all coaches, and the only hard truth with lineups ahead of the regular season is that we don't really know for sure how the depth chart will play out. Until a puck that means something gets dropped, we only have speculation and best guesses.
But I'll take hypotheses over nothing.
The same principle applies to the early-season versions of the Fantasy Forecaster. The chart we publish each week takes in each team's stats for goals, shots, Corsi, goals against, special teams and an array of others -- home and away variants -- into a formula that helps spit out matchup numbers. Obviously, no games have been played this season, but the formula still requires numbers.
For the early part of the season, those numbers are from last year. That makes them less relevant than they eventually will be, but still something to give us a baseline on the matchups.
Just make sure you take these early Forecaster rankings the same way you take preseason depth charts -- with a grain or two of salt.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 2 to Oct. 6
It's a short week with a Wednesday start, but it still counts as one scoring period in ESPN leagues. You'll need to take a closer look at the Forecaster, as there is a significant schedule imbalance to start the season.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50% of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10% ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Tampa Bay Lightning: With Brayden Point sidelined to start the season, the Bolts have a different look to their offense to begin the season. Tyler Johnson is lining up with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the top line and also playing on the top power-play unit. Also on the first power play is newcomer Patrick Maroon. Johnson has only been rostered in about half of leagues, while Maroon is only taken in about 10%. Both players could have very solid Octobers and you can then sell them off when Point is getting ready to return.
Toronto Maple Leafs: With Zach Hyman out for the first 12 to 15 games of the season, Kasperi Kapanen is going to get a good run alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner. The Leafs begin the campaign against the Ottawa Senators and the Sergei Bobrovsky-less Columbus Blue Jackets, which is a great opportunity for Kapanen to get a quick start. But even more tantalizing and more available, Andreas Johnsson is lining up alongside Auston Matthews and William Nylander in what looks like it could be a permanent role that also includes top power-play duty. Kapanen is available in 50% of leagues, while Johnsson is still around in 65% of them.
Winnipeg Jets: We're still not sure if Dustin Byfuglien is coming back from his personal leave of absence to begin the campaign, which makes Josh Morrissey an attractive addition to your defense. He's still hanging out in about 20% of leagues. With Jacob Trouba gone and Byfuglien's status unclear, Morrissey is the quarterback of what should be a very good power play. Bryan Little is also hurting to begin the season, which is going to give either Mathieu Perreault or maybe youngster Jack Roslovic a look as the second-line center. Little's claim on the role is not iron-clad, so success by either player could mean a longer deployment alongside Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Troy Terry, W, Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks still have some cuts to make, but Terry looks to be carving out a top-line role that includes work on the power play, too. He's been playing with Ryan Getzlaf at even strength and on a special teams unit that includes Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Cam Fowler and Adam Henrique.
Derek Stepan, C, Arizona Coyotes: As the season approaches, Stepan looks to be the center that will open between Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel on the Coyotes top line. He's still available in more than 40% of leagues.
Victor Olofsson, W, Buffalo Sabres: It looks like the Sabres are toying with a separation of Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel at even strength. Olofsson was a beast in the AHL last season, scoring 30 goals and 63 points in 66 games. He's been putting in preseason time with Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Alexander Nylander, W, Chicago Blackhawks: While brother William has some impressive linemates to start the season, Nylander's could arguably be better. He's no sure thing, but it looks like the quickly aging prospect (already has three full professional seasons under his belt at age 21) may open the campaign as the third member of a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Obviously, this bears watching.
James Neal, W, Edmonton Oilers: No, you don't typically want to draft a 32-year-old who only managed 19 points for the best team in the Western Conference last season. But the Calgary Flames never needed and never used Neal last season. Now he's with an Edmonton Oilers squad that gets real thin, real fast as you move past Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the depth chart. Speaking of those two, Neal looks like he may get time with them on the first power-play unit.
Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens: The injection of fresh blood in the Habs lineup that they desperately need could come from this 20-year-old rookie, who is looking to break camp with a top-six role. He's certainly made a case for himself in the preseason and is being penciled in next to Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. For fantasy success, he would need Drouin to also step up his game, but that is within the realm of possibility.
Sidney Crosby is listed as day-to-day, but we don't know what the ailment is. The Penguins get underway Thursday, so check on his status leading up to your lineup lock (which could be Wednesday). Hopefully we'll have a clearer answer.
Brock Boeser was banged up but is back on the ice practicing with his Canucks teammates. The preseason is over for the Canucks and they open the season in Edmonton on Wednesday. We should know more before your lineup locks.
Alex Tuch and Cody Eakins are at risk of missing time, leaving the Vegas Golden Knights with some room to run out some prospects for additional looks. We're thinking chiefly of Cody Glass, who could make a case for sticking around long-term.
Here's a song you might be familiar with: Antti Raanta is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. All the potential in the world can't stand up to wobbly legs. Would it be surprising if Raanta was among the top fantasy goaltenders this season? No, he has shown that talent before. Would it be surprising if his lower-body ailments kept him sidelined enough this season that Darcy Kuemper became fantasy relevant? No, that would also be par for the course. That's why Raanta's been coming at a healthy discount.