Fantasy Hockey: Around the rink

      January 17, 2013 @ 01:29:35 PDT

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The Red Wings are looking for defenseman Niklas Kronwall to become their new No. 1 defenseman. It wasn't long ago he was third in the pecking order, but retirements and free-agent losses have put him at the top of the pecking order. Kronwall definitely has the talent, but showing up consistently is the big question. Fantasy owners cannot ignore him this year, there's too much talent around him to pad his numbers offensively.

Evgeni Nabokov enters as the New York Islanders No. 1 goalie, but Rick DiPietro is still in the wings - as are nine years remaining on his contract. If the oft-injured goaltender can stay on the ice, this could be a committee approach. Based off DiPietro's long injury history, Nabokov could be in line for plenty of playing time.

Center Ryan Kessler (shoulder, wrist) remains out of action for the Vancouver Canucks, and it is not clear when he'll be able to return to action after offseason surgeries. It's a wait-and-see situation with Kessler; although the team doesn't feel he'll be out of action that much longer. Use caution, as the shortened season won't help his stock if he starts it on your bench and then needs time to work his way back to full speed.

Sticking with the Cancucks, trade rumors surrounding goalie Roberto Luongo continue. The team admitted to speaking to a team as recently as Wednesday and feel there is a market for his services. He's worth owning in fantasy hockey leagues, but this situation will remain fluid as the season approaches.

New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky is now expected join the team, but it may not be for two or three weeks. He's dealing with some personal issues related to the health of his son, according to reports. He had six goals and 27 points last season and should be owned in all formats, but be ready to roll with another option while he deals with his off-the-ice matters.

Travis Zajac and the New Jersey Devils have reached an agreement on an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. Owned in only 18 percent of leagues polled, fantasy owners might be missing the boat here. He had seven goals and 14 points in 24 games last year after returning from an Achilles' injury. If available in your league, don't be afraid to stash him as the team looks for new faces offensively to replace the departed Zach Parise.

Speaking of the Devils, they welcomed the return of winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who hit the ice in New Jersey Wednesday. He played for SKA St. Petersburg and missed the first three days of training camp, which caused some drama about him possibly deciding to stick overseas in the KHL. As usual, he should be owned in all formats.

Jamie Benn, Dallas StarsJamie Benn and the Dallas Stars are still in contract squabbles, but pressure on negotiations could heat up quickly due to the season being shortened. It's unclear exactly what the problem is in contract talks and it is just as unclear on whether he'll be on the ice with the Stars when the season begins. Be prepared to go with another option when the initial puck drops this weekend. Tuck him away on your bench until the situation is resolved.

It looks like winger Jakub Voracek will get the first crack at replacing Jaromir Jagr with the Philadelphia Phillies. His 18 goals last season were a career best, but he brings plenty of speed to a line that features Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. Those two automatically make Voracek better. Sleeper potential here. (Note: Check out additional fantasy hockey sleepers here....)

Red Wings forward Justin Abedelkader will start the season on the team's fourth line, working at center. He may also see time as a third-line wing, because the coaching staff wants to give him as much playing time as possible coming off a 26-point season. There is a ton of potential here, but the Wings are deep up front, which should limit his playing time.

Center Matthew Lombardi is back with the Phoenix Coyotes, but you shouldn't get excited. His last stint in Phoenix saw him post 24 goals and 69 points, but he's coming off an eight goal, 18 point season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Lombardi has more than flashed talent in this same town, take the cautious route to see how he gels on his return.

Vancouver's left winger David Booth (groin), who had 16 goals and 30 points last season, will miss up to six weeks with a groin injury. The second-line center shouldn't be owned at this point; the season is too short to deal with his injury at this point. Zack Kassian has seen time in his place and should start the season on the second line barring the team working out a last minute trade. Winger Chris Higgins may also see his playing time increase when you couple Booth's injury with that of Ryan Kessler.

The puck drops this weekend, make sure your fantasy hockey lineup is ready! Don't forget to check out our fantasy hockey rankings, too!

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About Ryan R. Bonini

Founding KFFL in 1996, Bonini now serves as VP of Fantasy Sports Solutions for USA TODAY SPORTS, KFFL's parent company. Bonini was named 2009 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year by the FSWA, received honors with the Best Fantasy Football Series in '10 and was named into their Hall of Fame in '13.

His work has been found in USA TODAY Sports, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, NFL.com, and many others. He has also been featured on numerous radio programs around the country. Bonini is a member of the PFWA, FSWA and FSTA.

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