Saturday, September 10, 2011

2011-2012 Fantasy Hockey Sleepers

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Last year I waited until closer to the start of the season to post my fantasy sleepers in the vain attempt to do better in my league, but this year I’ve decided to share my knowledge with ample time before the season begins. I’m a giver.

I will make one disclaimer: the term sleeper is relative. If you’re in a pool with a bunch of fans from one team then those players instantly become overrated. That doesn’t mean you still can’t get them and they won’t be productive, but it means other people will be reaching for those players as well, so they probably won’t really fit the true definition of a sleeper.

I have one more piece of advice: don’t doubt yourself. In one of my pools last year I was planning on taking Carey Price. My thinking was that he was actually pretty decent in the previous season (despite the hate) and with Alex Auld as the backup he was going to play a ton. Anyway, he was hanging around pretty late (everyone already had at least a goalie, some had two), and I was ready to pounce. The only problem was I was in a league with Montreal fans and I began to worry why they were leaving him. Did they know something I didn’t? Was he back in the party scene? If emotionally invested Habs fans didn’t want him, why should I? Well, I didn’t take him and he turned out into a Vezina quality goalie. Trust yourself.


Jamie Benn - Stars

Raise your hand if you knew that Jamie Benn scored as many points during his first two seasons in the NHL as Ryan Getzlaf. Anyone? You should also know that Benn scored more points during those first two seasons than Zach Parise. Really. Benn also has a higher points-per-game during his first two seasons than Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and Mike Richards. Benn scored 56 points in 69 games last year and is poised for a major breakout.

James van Riemsdyk - Flyers

JVR exploded for 7 goals in 11 playoff games and looked dominant doing so. With the departures of both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, JVR will assume a larger offensive role on the Flyers and will receive ample powerplay time.

Blake Wheeler - Jets

The Bruins traded Wheeler to the Thrashers to create cap room after he failed to improve upon an impressive 45-point rookie season. With increased ice time and opportunity in Atlanta, Wheeler scored 17 points in 23 games. At only 24-years-old, Wheeler is another breakout candidate.

Brad Boyes - Sabres

Once upon a time Brad Boyes scored 40 goals and was the source of much consternation among Leafs Nation. He looked pretty good in Buffalo last season and could play a pivotal role in an underrated Sabres offense next season. Don’t draft him as one of your centres (because the position is so deep), but definitely consider him as a winger.

James Neal - Penguins

Neal didn’t really light the world on fire after joining the Penguins last season – he had one goal in 20 games – but he will ride shotgun with Sidney Crosby next season, assuming Sid comes back at some point. Neal is big and physical, which will complement Crosby’s style well. Even if Sid doesn’t play until mid-way through the season, there is enough talent up-front for Neal to gel with.

Kyle Okposo - Islanders 

The Islanders have been much maligned for the past decade, but they have quietly assembled a strong core of players that will soon help them compete in the Eastern Conference. One of the major pieces is Okposo, the former 7th overall pick. He missed much of last season with injuries, but scored over 50 in 2009-2010.

Evander Kane – Jets 

Kane has steadily increased his point totals over his first two seasons in the NHL and is still only 20-years-old. Conventional wisdom suggests that a player’s third season is when he takes a huge leap forward in his development and that might just ring true for the man who one-punched Matt Cooke.

Nazem Kadri – Leafs 

At the risk of sounding like a major homer, I’m naming the Leafs’ youngster as a sleeper. He only scored 12 points in 29 games, but was considerably better during his second call-up last season, scoring closer to .50 points-per-game. If he makes the team he will start as a third-line winger, but he could also start the season in the AHL. He scored 41 points in 44 games in the minors last season, so there’s no questioning his skill, but the question remains whether he will show it in the NHL.

Max Pacioretty - Canadiens

Before having his neck almost snapped in half, Pacioretty was having a quietly excellent season in Montreal. He scored 14 goals and 24 points in 37 games and gave them a dynamic element they were missing among their top-6. He may have been on a near 40-goal pace, but don't expect that much from him this year. Still, he has a chance to break 25 if he's fully recovered from last season's concussion.


Andrei Markov - Canadiens 

After missing almost all last season with a knee injury, Markov will have a lower ranking than what a player of his calibre usually warrants. But don’t be fooled, if you take Markov you’re getting a power-play quarterbacking defenceman in the middle of the draft that can easily score 50-60 points. Well, unless it turns out he does, in fact, have a knee made of glass.

Mark Streit – Islanders

Here’s another player that missed time last season and should see his fantasy ranking drop accordingly. That’s where savvy fantasy owners like you can find a bargain. The three seasons before his injury, Streit averaged 55 points and could do so again quarterbacking an Islanders team that is better than most people think.

Travis Hamonic – Islanders 

Another Islander makes the list, which isn’t surprising considering how many young, talented players they have. Hamonic scored 26 points in 62 games as a rookie last season and should find ample power-play time alongside Mark Streit.

Cody Franson – Maple Leafs 

Franson has an emerging offensive game that is slowly blossoming after two seasons in Nashville. He was playing second power-play time in Nashville, which will be where he starts in Toronto. He has scored over 50 points in both the AHL and the WHL and could push 40 points this season in the NHL.

Alex Pietrangelo – Blues

Tyler Myers received effusive praise during his rookie season (justifiably so) after scoring 48-points to accompany an excellent +13 rating, yet, surprisingly, nobody talked about the season Alex Pietrangelo just had, despite its remarkable similarity. Pietrangelo scored 43-points and was +18 on an underwhelming St. Louis team. He’s big and strong and could easily break the 50-point barrier this season.

Dennis Wideman – Capitals

Wideman rebounded from a disappointing 2009-2010 with the Bruins by scoring 40 points in 75 games split between the Panthers and Capitals in 2010-2011. His -19 rating is ugly, but it’s a total mirage. It came entirely while with the Panthers. Now that Wideman is playing for the Capitals his rating will be much higher. A full season with the Capitals could see Wideman replicate his last good season in Boston (50 points, +32).


Craig Anderson - Senators

Anderson salvaged his career as a starting goalie after a mid-season trade from Colorado to Ottawa by posting .939 SV% and 2.05 GAA with the Sens. The Senators are in full re-build mode, so don’t expect many wins, but Anderson should provide a solid third goalie option for fantasy teams.

Al Montoya - Islanders

The Islanders acquired Montoya in desperation after an almost comical rash of injuries depleted their organizational goaltending depth. Montoya was more than adequate filling in, posting a 2.39 GAA and .921 SV%. With Rick DiPietro ahead on the depth chart you know it’s only a matter of time before Montoya annexes the starting job.

Ondrej Pavelec - Jets 

Pavelec ended the season with respectable numbers - .914 SV% and 2.73 GAA – but started the season on fire, posting an otherworldly (unless you’re Tim Thomas) .936 SV% during the first 28 games of the season. Hopefully Pavelec has increased his stamina and can carry a high level of play deeper into the season.

Jonas Hiller – Ducks 

Hiller was having a Vezina worthy season last year, backstopping the Ducks with an impressive .924 SV% and 2.28 GAA, but then came down with a bizarre bout of vertigo. Due to his injury status, many owners will shy away from Hiller in favour of less risky goalies, but Hiller has declared himself completely over his injury, so you can happily to take him later if others choose to pass.


Anonymous said...

Nice list, I agree with most of your picks. I would add Semyon Varlamov to the goalie list.

Anonymous said...

agree, good stuff thanks for sharing

Matt Horner said...

Yes, you're totally right about Semyon. He's going really late in mock drafts, but had a really good save percentage last year and the Avalanche are a team on the rise. I might be a little nervous if he was my 2nd goalie, but there are no risks if you get him as your 3rd.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of simon gagne?

Matt Horner said...

I'm wary of Gagne's ability to stay healthy, but he should be reasonably productive when he is.

Anonymous said...

I don't think many of those players such as Benn or Kane can be considered sleepers. They may be undervalued, but they are established scorers. I think of a sleeper as a guy totally under the radar.

Matt Horner said...

A sleeper is anyone you can get at a later pick than they should be taken based on what they will likely produce.

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