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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012-2013 Fantasy Hockey Sleepers

Picture courtesy of D. Courville, who awards it to the owner in his league who trades the most draft picks.
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I must admit I've had this article written for weeks now. I've been too sad to post it.

That infernal lockout.

Fantasy baseball seasons are over, and usually that means immediately shifting gears and preparing for your hockey draft. But what's the point when you know the lockout is going to last until sometime between 2015 and 2022.

However, the two sides are meeting today (to discuss non-core economic issues), which should give a brief 10 minutes of optimism (which will surely be crushed swiftly).

But in those brief moments, you might think there will be a season this year. If that's the case, here are some players to help you win your fantasy pool.

Forwards

Derek Stepan

Through the first two seasons of his career, Stepan has more points than the following players: Zach Parise, James Neal, Tyler Seguin, and Jordan Staal.

He saw a slight dip in goals last season, but still managed to increase his point total from 45 to 51.

David Perron

After a concussion sidelined Perron for more than a season's worth of games, the winger stepped right back into the Blues lineup in 2011-12 and produced immediately, scoring 42 points in 57 games. That total was certainly buoyed by a high shooting percentage, but a full season should still see him hit 20 goals.

With a full off-season of training (something he wasn't able to do previously with concussion symptoms) Perron should be able to breakout in 2012-13.

Ryan O'Reilly

He isn't much of a finisher, having never hit 20 goals and owning a career shooting percentage under 10, but O'Reilly is a beast in the making.

He took a great leap forward last season with 55 points, more than his first two seasons combined. He was second only to Matt Duchene in power play time last season and is on the cusp of becoming a two-way force.

Matt Duchene

His 28 points last season was a big step down from the 67 he scored the previous year, but he battled injuries and never got on track. Even if he only rebounds to his career average in 2012-13 he should be good for at least 55 points over a full season.

He's still only 21-years-old and has room to grow. Think of Duchene as a poor man's Jonathan Toews.

James van Riemsdyk

JVR was a popular sleeper pick last season after scoring at will during the 2011 playoffs, but couldn't translate that success to the following regular season. He battled injuries and never really took that great leap forward that many expected, despite more minutes on the power play.

Randy Carlyle has mused about using JVR at centre, and if he can actually stick there (he hasn't played since college), he should produce in bunches between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Be careful, however, because there aren't many players who can transition to centre without any pro experience, so you shouldn't be banking on JVR to play a full year down the middle.

Kyle Turris

Getting out of Phoenix might have been the best thing for Turris' career, as he proved he was a legitimate NHLer in the nation's capital.

Turris scored at almost a 50-point pace after he suited up for Ottawa and provided a nice punch behind Spezza on the team's second line. He'll get second unit power play time and still has plenty of room for growth considering he's only 22-years-old and was a former third overall draft pick.

Andy McDonald

Sure, he's 35-years-old with concussion issues and hasn't played more than 60 games in all but two of the past six seasons. Sure, you can cite those facts. But he has scored over .80 points per game since joining St. Louis and is ranked lower than the following superstar left wingers: Daniel Carcillo, Matt Martin, Brandon Prust, Brian Rolston (who doesn't even have a team), and Tomas Holmstrom (who is likely to retire).

Viktor Stalberg

You could do a whole lot worse than a 26-year-old winger playing with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa. Especially one who quietly put up 43 points last season.

Now in his third full season in the NHL it could be time for bigger things.

Defencemen

Nick Leddy

The biggest beneficiary of Brian Campbell's south beach sojourn (aside from Rocky Wirtz's wallet) was Leddy, who absorbed Campbell's power play minutes and narrowly missed out on hitting 40 points.

Leddy, like many others on this list, was a first-round pick not too long ago (2009). He is entering his age 21 season and is ready to be your hero, baby. If the Blackhawks get better goaltending next year he shouldn't be as much of a liability to your plus/minus either.

Cam Fowler

Switching to number four in his sophomore season didn't inspire a Bobby Orr-like transformation for Fowler, who saw his points drop from 40 to 29. He wasn't much help on the back end either, sporting an ugly minus-28.

However, that ugly plus/minus is somewhat deceiving. He has been unfortunate to receive some bad goaltending when he's on the ice (.888 SV%) and he often faces some difficult defensive assignments, which is rare for someone so young. Even so, he does a good job limiting shots and sending the puck the other way.

He's still got the offensive skills to be in the top 5-10 in defenceman scoring at some point in his career, and if the Ducks get bounce back seasons from players like Ryan Getzlaf that could be as early as 2012-13. Hitting 40 points again shouldn't be a challenge.

John Carlson

With Mike Green battling injuries and ineffectiveness on the blueline, Carlson is beginning to emerge as a leader on the Washington backend. He has produced two seasons of 30+ points even though he is getting tougher defensive duties.

With Dennis Wideman the latest overpaid player in Calgary, there is a spot open on the first power play unit in D.C. Carlson should have dibs on the cushy spot next to Green, feeding passes to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Roman Josi

Someone is going to get to play with Shea Weber and it's going to come down to either Roman Josi or Kevin Klein (Ryan Ellis is a little too green and won't be able to take the defensive responsibility that comes with playing with Weber).

Klein was better defensively, but hasn't shown much offensive acumen over his career. Josi is only working with one year of NHL experience, and he didn't light the lamp on fire, but he scored at a decent clip in the AHL, so could have the inside track to play with Weber, at least on the power play.

Justin Faulk

Next to Joni Pitkanen, who missed lots of time with a concussion, Justin Faulk led Carolina defencemen in power play time per game. He didn't score a whole lot in that time—only 22 points in 66 games (less than 30 over a full season), but was only a rookie.

There isn't a whole lot of competition on Carolina's back end (especially with Pitkanen's cloudy future) and Faulk could be the lone defenceman on a revamped Hurricanes power play that could conceivably feature Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Jeff Skinner.

Jake Gardiner

One of the few pure puck movers that the Leafs have (not counting John-Michael Liles who fell to the earth after a concussion). He will get second power play time in Toronto, and could even push for the first unit if Liles continues to struggle coming back from a concussion.

Gardiner started the season slowly points wise, but began to steadily increase his total as the year went on and he acclimatized to the NHL. He eventually ended the year with 30 points. 40 points this season is possible.

Justin Schultz

Gardiner's former teammate at Wisconsin is absolutely tearing the AHL up right now. He was named the AHL player of the week to start the season after going on a points binge. He's currently up to eight points in five games (four goals and four assists). That's good enough for fifth in the AHL.

Based on the kind of points he was putting up in college, Schultz has a realistic shot at 40 points, which is a big deal for any defenceman (only 19 reached that mark in 2011-12), and his play early on in the minors isn't doing anything to disprove that projection. 

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Very under-appreciated because he plays in the obscurity of Phoenix, but OEL (which is what people would call him if this was the late 90s) is a star in the making.

He scored 32 points last season, despite getting tough defensive assignments as the Coyotes' No. 1 defenceman. Yes, at 21 years of age Ekman-Larsson is already the top dog in the desert. He will make it apparent to everyone quite soon.

Ryan Whitney

During his time in Edmonton, Whitney has produced at a pace that would see him score 45 points over a full season. Too bad he hasn't been healthy long enough to actually put up decent numbers.

He's a far cry from the 59-point player he was with Pittsburgh in 2006-07, but if he can get into at least 70 games (a big if) and the Oilers' young players start to put it all together, Whitney could be a cornerstone in the team's return to respectability.

Goalies

Tomas Vokoun

Marc-Andre Fleury has been viewed as a top fantasy goalie because he plays for the powerhouse Penguins and racks up wins (five times he has been in the top 10 in the league). However, his other stats aren't as great. He's only placed in the top 10 in shutouts twice, and once in both goals against average and save percentage.

Tomas Vokoun doesn't have as many wins on his resume, thanks in large part to playing on some bad teams, but he has owned a top 10 save percentage five times and placed in the top 10 in shutouts six times.

With Fleury's highly publicized breakdown in last year's playoffs (4.63 GAA and .834 SV%), don't be surprised if Vokoun makes a strong run at the starter's job. Only once has Fleury had a higher save percentage than Vokoun (.921 versus .919 in 2007-08).

At the very least, Vokoun should cut down on Fleury's starts and finish with 30-40 games.

Anders Lindback

The Lightning took a major step back after reaching the Eastern Conference Final in 2011 largely thanks to Dwayne Roloson playing like the 42-year-old man he was. To rectify the situation, Steve Yzerman chose to trade for Nashville's backup, Anders Lindback, rather than attempt to reanimate the corpse of Dwayne Roloson.

Over his brief career Lindback has only managed average numbers (.914 SV%, 2.53 GAA), which is a little troubling considering he played behind a defensive team with the best defensive pairing in the league. But he's big and athletic and has all the tools to be a successful No. 1 goalie in the NHL. Plus, the Lightning play a very defensive style as well, albeit without the luxury of two towers of power on the blueline.

Devin Dubnyk

The former first-round pick has outplayed incumbent starter Nikolai Khabibulin each of the past two seasons, but still found himself splitting time with the veteran. This season Dubnyk should finally get his chance at grabbing hold of the No. 1 job in Edmonton after signing a two-year deal.

Dubnyk was much improved after the All-Star break last year, with a sub-2.50 GAA, and a save percentage that was a hair below .920. And as the season wore on, Dubnyk got stronger with a save percentage above .930 over the last two months.

If Justin Schultz is the real deal and Nail Yakupov is able to make an impact as a rookie, the Oilers should be a much improved squad next year, thus giving Dubnyk a better chance of accumulating wins.

Semyon Varlamov

He finished the year on a tear, going 12-8-2 with a sub-2.00 GAA and a save percentage above .930.

Like Edmonton, Colorado should be a rapidly improving team, which means Varlamov has more opportunity for wins.

Braden Holtby

Michal Neuvirth has already said he isn't scared of Holtby. He's outlasted Varlamov, Vokoun, and Christobal Huet, and I'm sure he had a role to play in Jose Theodore's exit. But maybe he should be scared, because he posted a .903 SV% last year, compared to Holtby's .922 mark (which improved to over .930 in the playoffs).

Be cautious with Holtby, because he does have a small sample size of games to consider (only 21 combined regular season and playoffs). He has put up decent numbers in the AHL, however, so he should get a real shot at grabbing the No. 1 gig in Washington—something no goalie has really been able to do convincingly.

Undervalued Non-sleeper Sleepers

Jordan Staal

The shackles are finally coming off for Staal. The youngest of the three Staal brothers in the NHL will get his first crack at becoming a No. 1 centre in Carolina, something that wasn't going to happen in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ahead of him on the depth chart.

Staal will no longer be buried in the defensive zone, won't have to check the opposition's best players every shift, every night, and will finally get substantial time on the first power play unit.

He's averaged about 50 points per 82 games over his career, but scored at a 66-point pace in limited duty last season. He also exploded in the playoffs, scoring 9 points in 6 games. He won't score on every other shot like he did in the playoffs, but with his new role and better linemates (brother Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner/Alex Semin), Jordan is in for a big season. Get in on the ground floor.

Ryan Getzlaf

The best candidate to be this year's Jason Spezza, who hit it big in 2011-12 after two disappointing, injury-riddled seasons. Both Getzlaf and Spezza fought the injury bug from 2009 to 2011, playing 122 and 133 games, respectively. Getzlaf was more productive during those seasons, scoring 1.09 points per game, compared to Spezza's 0.93. Spezza's counting stats were deflated because of the time he missed and was consequently undervalued come draft day, although a full season brought those counting stats back in line with career norms, and anyone who took a chance on Spezza was handsomely rewarded.

Getzlaf finally stayed healthy for a full 82 games in 2011-12, but surprisingly didn't put up his typical numbers, which should have been about 80 points. Instead, he scored 57 and barely broke double digits in goals.

If Getzlaf can resemble the player he was over the first six years of his career, rather than the cheap knockoff he was in the seventh, you're looking at a top 5 fantasy centre.

Roberto Luongo

Currently ranked 30th among goalies by Yahoo!, behind guys like Ondrej Pavalec, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Craig Anderson. Woof! Luongo is ranked so low because he's going to take a back seat to Cory Schneider this season. But Luongo is going to start somewhere at some point this season. The Canucks aren't going to let $5 million rot on the bench. A trade will shake loose sometime after the CBA is complete. It might take a few months, but Luongo will be traded. In the meantime, he will do more than just take the odd start from Schneider. It'll probably end up a 60-40 split for Schneider and even a little Luongo is better than a lot of Bobrovsky.

Jaroslav Halak

Another goalie ranked much lower than he should because of a potential platoon situation. Halak is the 29th ranked goalie because Brian Elliott set the single-season save percentage record last season and should split duties with Halak. Unless he turns into a pumpkin and resumes playing like BRIAN FUCKING ELLIOTT. Elliott's career save percentage is .909, pulled high because of his .940 outlier season. If you're looking for a major regression this year, it's Elliott, and Halak will benefit.

Marian Gaborik

Off-season shoulder surgery dropped Gaborik way down draft lists after it was revealed he would be out until late November. But with the lockout that probably means he won't miss much time, if any.

Ryan Kesler

Another injury case that could see Kesler become undervalued as the centreman isn't expected back until December after wrist and shoulder surgery.

Kesler is currently ranked as the 35th best centreman by Yahoo!, which means in a standard 12-team league he is just a bench player at best. Yes, he is coming off two major surgeries and a year in which he scored his fewest points since 2007-08, but not too long ago he scored back-to-back 70+ point seasons.

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