Tuesday, September 16, 2014
If you want to do a little more digging yourself you should check out the official 5MFF fantasy hockey strategy guide as well as a handy primer to using advanced stats to crush your opponents. If you want to blindly trust my analysis jump ahead, I appreciate your faith.
As always sleepers are defined here as any player whose production this season should exceed the output of their draft position. So while this list may not have many obscure players, they should all be quality value picks.
Before Evgeni Malkin, James Neal was a 25-goal power forward worthy of a late pick in fantasy leagues. With Malkin, Neal became a fantasy beast, hitting the 40-goal mark in a dominating first season in Pittsburgh. Hornqvist was roughly a 25-goal player in Nashville when healthy, so the potential for a similar transformation is there.
Washington's 2010 first-round pick led his KHL team in scoring the past three years before finally making the jump to the NHL late last season. Kuznetsov scored 9 points in 17 games with the Caps and should get a real shot to play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom this year.
The top prospect in the game should make the Lightning this year, especially with Martin St. Louis' departure. Oh, and doesn't that wing beside Steven Stamkos look positively inviting for the playmaking prodigy. Even though numbers from the QMJHL always need to be taken with a grain of salt, Drouin's 108 points in 46 games project to about 50 points in the NHL.
A relative nobody tucked away in Phoenix, Vrbata is so unheralded that you probably had no idea he scored 35 goals a few years ago. He could be the missing link beside the Sedins, a player who is finally good enough that he doesn't have to leach off the hard work of the preternatural twins to get his points (cough Alex Burrows cough).
Centre is so deep that you need not spend anything more than a late round flyer on Bjustad, but he's the type of high-ceiling guy that could come through major in your pool. He scored 38 points in his first full season in the NHL, but he's so big and strong (6'6, 220 lbs), that once he figures out his game he could absolutely dominate.
The other big centre in Flordia, Barkov put up slightly better per-game numbers than Bjustad and drove possession at a better rate. He even had some bad luck on his side as the Panthers only converted about 6% of even-strength shots with Barkov on the ice, a number that should tick upwards meaning more points. Even though the Panthers made a bunch of dumb money signings in the off-season, those players should complement the Panthers' young core, leading to an improved squad.
The Islanders have been patient with Strome, giving him his first taste of the NHL after two full seasons in junior and another 37 games in the AHL. Strome ripped apart the OHL and was doing the same in the AHL (49 points in 37 games) before a call-up to the big club. With the Islanders he notched a respectable 18 points in 37 games (about 40 over a full season), and was getting over two minutes a game on the power play. With the departure Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson, there is plenty of opportunity for Strome in the top 6.
In his first two seasons in the NHL, Galchenyuk has been too injured to make a major impact (a more than passing concern considering he blew out his knee in his draft year). Playing in the bottom 6 hasn't helped either, but look for Galchenyuk to work his way up in the lineup this season, perhaps even replacing David Desharnais on the top line.
He's been a goal-scorer at every level—he twice topped 50 goals in junior, and added 43 in only 76 AHL games. Playing on a scoring line in the playoffs showed Toffoli could score at the NHL level too, and if he sees regular time with Jeff Carter he's likely to keep scoring.
Scoring 31 points for the Flames last season puts Brodie as a borderline starting fantasy defenceman, although bigger numbers could be in the young Flames future if players like Sean Monahan or Sam Bennett (should he make the team) start to make a sizeable impact. If veteran Dennis Wideman misses any time with an injury or is dealt to a contender looking for offense from the blueline, more power play minutes for Brodie could also help.
Over 132 career NHL games Muzzin has only 41 points, which is only around 25 per 82 games. That isn't very good for a fantasy defenceman, until you consider the Kings control the play at an exceptional level with Muzzin on the ice, which has yet to translate into points for Muzzin because the team only shoots 6.55% in those situations. Some better finishing (Marian Gaborik should help) and Muzzin should see his point total climb considerably.
Ehrhoff is ranked low because his Buffalo vacation depressed his numbers, but being back on a high-powered offensive team with PP time means a return to 40-50 point seasons is a reality. The only downside is that everyone knows Ehrhoff can put up points on a stacked team like the Pens, so even though he's ranked low he likely won't be drafted as late as you'd like a true sleeper.
Calvin de Haan or Matt Donovan
With Andrew MacDonald getting PAID in Philadelphia, there is a huge hole on the Isles' top power play. One of the Islanders' young defencemen will take that time, with either de Haan or Donovan being the most likely. Both drove possession at a strong rate, meaning there will be a lot of pucks going towards the opposition's net even when they aren't on the PP. But the power play opportunity is the most tantalizing, so take whichever player is getting the PP minutes.
He was a scoring force in junior, and that has yet to translate at the NHL level. He's starting to figure out the pro game and is getting some decent power play minutes as well. As Zdeno Chara gets older look for the Bruins to rely more heavily on its youth, particularly Hamilton. That could start as early as this season if Hamilton breaks out.
27 points in 73 games isn't bad for a teenager, but what is more encouraging is the way Rielly is able to skate effortlessly all over the ice and create plays. With the Leafs embracing analytics, the shackles might be coming off Rielly and his buddy Jake Gardiner, allowing them to play a more dynamic game.
His minus-23 was ugly last season, but a full season of Pekka Rinne behind him should help. He scored a respectable 25 points, but could be poised for more if he can outplay Roman Josi and earn himself some extra minutes. As the fourth overall pick in 2013, the talent is certainly there.
Warning: Goaltenders are the ultimate crapshoot, with guys who looked finished turning in Vezina-worthy seasons on a semi-frequent basis and no-names from overseas or the minors taking the league by storm. You can take almost anyone in the final few rounds as a third goalie and be pleasantly surprised.
Picking a goalie for the Oilers is fantasy suicide, right? Usually you would be right, but at some point the Oilers have to improve, and that might start in net. Scrivens is no stranger to being shelled, apprenticing in Toronto will do that to you, so he didn't seem out of place in Edmonton late last season. He was incredible in Los Angeles and only average in Edmonton, but the Oilers are in such desperate need of even average goaltending that if Scrivens plays to his career norms there is an opportunity for plenty more wins.
The main difference between Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen last season was how well each did when the Ducks were short-handed. Andersen was phenomenal and Hiller stunk. Andersen was so much better than average, however, that he is unlikely to be so fortunate again. If his numbers predictably fall, the opportunity for top prospect Gibson to step in is there.
He's stopped the puck everywhere he's played, and with Cam Ward fighting injuries and a troubling habit of playing terribly, a starting gig might well be in Khudobin's future, provided he can stay healthy.