July was a long time ago in terms of fantasy hockey. That was the last time I brought you fantasy hockey rankings, reacting to the flurry of offseason movement that is the draft and free agency. During the preseason and draft season, ESPN uses its projections to build a top 300, but they don't have anything to do with my rankings here.
Mine are built on projections as well, but also strongly consider lineup changes, injuries, promotions, demotions, history, age and streaks.
Depth charts are one of the biggest factors to determining these in-season rankings. For many teams, we have some solid foundations on which to project their depth chart at this point. For some other teams, we have no righteous clue what's going on ... and that's what I want to touch on here.
Here are four teams that have very unsettled depth charts through the first week of the season.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild have played two games and lost both, while allowing nine goals and only scoring four. In the first game, Eric Staal played with Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello. In the second game, Parise switched to a line with Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway, while Ryan Donato took his spot. Meanwhile, Mikko Koivu is centering Kevin Fiala and Jason Zucker. Power-play units have also switched between games.
Given that both contests have been losses, it's also safe to assume the tinkering isn't over. What this is, however, is an attempt at an incredibly balanced attack on offense. Last Thursday against the Predators, Koivu led the forwards in ice time with a lowly 16:39, while Ryan Hartman brought up the rear with 12:24. It was almost the same against the Avalanche on Saturday, with Koivu playing 18:49, and Ryan Donato at the bottom with 11:07. With no forwards peaking past 20 minutes per game, it's hard to guess where fantasy players should be looking for value to eventually emerge. The best hope is that the team decides to shorten the depth chart to two scoring lines instead of three in the near future.
It might be best to lower expectations for all Wild in the meantime.
Dallas Stars: The Stars have used different line combinations for all three of their games this season - all three of them loses. They've run the gamut from stacked at the top with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski on a line to start the season, down to three lines of attack in their most recent game with Pavelski, Seguin and Benn all on different lines.
How this shakes out will matter to how some potential sleepers pan out. If Roope Hintz or Denis Gurianov aren't playing with some of the big guns, they won't have fantasy relevance. Hintz played the first two games as the fourth forward on the power play, but was off the unit on Sunday against the Red Wings. The deployment will also impact how Benn bounces back from a poor showing last season.
There is too much talent on the Stars offense for them to not figure things out soon. Just follow the bouncing Seguin for value and don't pull the plug too quickly on anyone with a potential big role in this offense.
New Jersey Devils: It looks like coach John Hynes isn't quite as excited about his new pieces as the fantasy world has been. Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha have not been a part of the top six for the Devils first two games (both loses). The Nico Hischier, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri line is not a surprise, but seeing Travis Zajac, Wayne Simmonds and Blake Coleman off the bench next is a bit of a shock considering the other combinations you can pencil in.
Simmonds is the winner here, as he is also playing on the top power play. Hughes and Gusev are going to require some patience, as they will need more than 12 to 15 minutes of ice time in order to be starters in fantasy.
San Jose Sharks: Like the Wild, the Sharks may be trying to spread themselves a little too thin. Missing Evander Kane for a three-game suspension to start the season doesn't help, but is also not an excuse to score just three goals in three games. Still, getting Kane back will get the Sharks closer to their planned offensive deployment, which is Timo Meier, Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc on one line, with Tomas Hertl, Kane and another forward on a second line.
Forwards on the move
Sebastian Aho, C, Carolina Hurricanes (down three spots to No. 29): It's OK if you also did a bit of a double-take when checking on the Hurricanes power-play units. Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton are not on the same unit as Aho. Instead, Aho is on the ice for the man advantage with Jordan Staal, Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter and Jake Gardiner. While we can applaud the team's ability to ice two formidable power-play units, the fantasy realm would much rather see this condensed to one really, really good one.
Pavel Buchnevich, W, New York Rangers (up 77 spots to No. 154): How about that Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin combo? We aren't going to get six points a game out them on an ongoing basis, but it's clear this line is just as good as we hoped it would be. That's where Buchnevich comes in: He's the cheap way to get yourself a piece of this action. He's with Z and Bread on and off the power play while averaging 17-plus minutes through two games. Availability? Eighty-five percent of leagues.
Defensemen on the move
Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (down 11 spots to No. 34): While Hedman has three assists through three games, which is just fine for most defensemen, there are signs that too many cooks in the kitchen is going to be a problem for his value this season. Mikhail Sergachev has four points already, while Kevin Shattenkirk has two goals and a helper. Not to mention that Ryan McDonagh is also playing more than 20 minutes a night. It will be hard for Hedman to emerge from this pack as dominant as he could be.
Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets (down 65 spots to No. 122): It doesn't appear as if there is some kind of imminent decision, but I'm still loathe to remove Byfuglien from this list because of the situation in Winnipeg. While the Jets will get by without him, Byfuglien, should he return, would be in line for the same prime role he's enjoyed in recent seasons. If you can afford the bench space, don't let him go just yet.
Goaltenders on the move
Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets (down 19 spots to No. 61): While it's far too early to react to any of the goaltending results, reacting to goaltending starts is another matter all together. Hellebuyck ceded two consecutive starts to supposed backup Laurent Brossoit. Either coach Paul Maurice is trying to light a fire under Hellebuyck, is interested in a bigger timeshare this season or a combination of both. Whatever the reason, having the anointed starter sit the second and third game of the NHL season is never a good sign.
New to rankings
A lot has changed since the start of July, so we have plenty of newcomers to welcome.
Victor Olofsson, Patric Hornqvist, James Neal, Shayne Gostisbehere, Alexander Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Erik Haula, Sammy Blais, Ilya Samsonov, Dennis Cholowski, Cody Glass, Alexander Kerfoot, Ondrej Kase, Carter Hutton, Patrick Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk, Mike Smith, Luke Kunin, Jeff Carter, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, Lars Eller, Neal Pionk, James Reimer, Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Pirri and Blake Coleman.