A player's postseason numbers may not count in fantasy leagues, but the positive impression an individual makes on potential owners always plays into draft strategy the following season.
Owners often can anticipate productivity in the playoffs from elite-level players who have achieved prior success either in recent postseasons (Jonathan Quick, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, David Krejci, etc.) or the preceding regular season (Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, James Neal, etc.). But there always are those eye-opening playoff contributions from less likely sources that stay fresh in our minds all summer long.
Let's take a look at 10 underrated playoff performers from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs that warrant more fantasy consideration than ever entering 2013-14.
Only Patrick Sharp (10) had more playoff goals in 2013 than Bickell, who got a new contract from Chicago this summer. The power forward had nine goals in 23 playoff games -- equaling his regular-season output -- to go along with top-five totals in plus/minus (plus-11) and hits (85). Fantasy owners can expect Bickell, who went undrafted in most Yahoo! leagues last season, to eclipse the 20-goal plateau for the first time of his career next season. Whether Bickell sees top-line action with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane or is slotted next to Andrew Shaw on the third unit, grabbing him in the late rounds can give your team category coverage and a touch of scoring.
Boychuk flew under the radar all postseason with statistical prowess across the board. Despite never posting more than five goals in a single season in his NHL career, he scored six (tied for most in NHL by a defenseman) in 22 playoff games. His ranks among defensemen in other categories were all the more impressive: first in shots on goal (63), second in hits (74) and first in blocked shots (62). Things are looking bright for the 29-year-old, who could be paired with one of the Bruins' younger blueliners (Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton) in 2013-14. All things considered, he's worth your while as a depth or bench defenseman.
Brassard blossomed after being dealt to the Rangers in April, accumulating 11 points in 13 regular-season games. He found his niche in his first career playoff appearance, mostly centering the team's second line, with Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. He also was a bright spot (three power-play points, tied for the team playoff lead) for a power-play unit that fell short of expectations. He was New York's only player with a double-digit playoff point total, and became the first Rangers player since Wayne Gretzky in 1997 with a six-game playoff point streak, per Elias Sports Bureau. If new coach Alain Vigneault gives him consistent time with Nash again, owners won't regret spending a middle-round pick on Brassard.
Couture has been on the fantasy map as an emerging center in the shadow of Joe Thornton over the last few seasons, but he took the next step toward stardom this past spring. Couture led the League in playoff power-play goals (five), becoming the first player to post five or more power-play goals in fewer than 15 games in a single playoff since Doug Weight in 2002-03. He finished among the regular-season League leaders in goals (21, tied for 10th) and shots on goal (151, tied for 16th). Couture has seen an increasing amount of power-play ice time with each passing season (career-high 3:07 per game in 2012-13) and has finally arrived as a top-50 fantasy asset.
After being drafted 143rd on average in Yahoo! leagues last season, fantasy owners view Crawford in an entirely different light now. He went 19-5-5 in 2012-13, finishing among the NHL's top five in goals-against average and save percentage. In the playoffs, Crawford led the League in wins (16) and GAA (1.84), en route to a championship with the Blackhawks. He allowed two goals or fewer in 16 of 23 playoff starts, proving to be a more consistent difference-maker than Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane (pointless in 10 of 23 playoff games). With Ray Emery now out of the picture, Crawford is in great position to put up career highs in appearances, wins and shutouts for the reigning champions.
It may have been one playoff round, but Etem picked the right time to give the League a glimpse of his potential with the Ducks. The native of Long Beach, Calif., built off his regular-season production with three goals on 12 shots and two assists in Anaheim's seven-game series loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Considering Bobby Ryan has been traded and coach Bruce Boudreau saw Etem excel despite a fourth-line playoff role, fantasy owners should bank on him being a leading candidate to occupy a top-six spot for the Ducks. He's a clear fantasy sleeper entering the season, especially if he finds a home with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the team's top line.
Krug, 22, had three games of regular-season NHL experience prior to the playoffs, but burst onto the scene with four goals, two assists and a plus-5 rating in 15 postseason games. The most surprising part about the Michigan State product's rise to prominence was how much ice time he saw with the man advantage in the playoffs (2:26 per game). He led all defensemen with three playoff power-play goals, and the Bruins posted a strong ratio of goals scored (12) to goals allowed (three) with him on the ice. Barring any setbacks, owners can count on Krug for a strong plus/minus rating, 5-10 goals and occasional power-play points.
Nyquist, drafted in the fourth round by Detroit in 2008, looks to be a steal based on his playoff heroics in 2013 (two goals, three assists, plus-3, one power-play goal, one game-winning goal) -- and fantasy owners could reap the benefits from adding him as early as this season. Nyquist, currently a restricted free agent, should be back in the fold come training camp. If he and the Wings agree to terms, he'll likely be in the mix for second-line duty. Valtteri Filppula signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner remain unsigned, leaving spots available. The team did bring in Stephen Weiss, who is coming off an injury, and 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, but the team also could opt to prioritize Nyquist's development by giving him a featured role. If injuries mount, Nyquist will be in prime position to take the next step.
Turris held down the fort during Jason Spezza's injury-ravaged season, with 29 points in 48 regular-season games. Spezza is expected to be back healthy and on the top line with Ryan, but Turris will be utilized in a major role after helping Ottawa get past the first round in the spring. He had at least one shot on goal in 44 of 48 regular-season games, and nearly was a point-per-game player in the playoffs (six goals, three assists in 10 games). Two of his frequent linemates, Alfredsson and Jakob Silfverberg, have moved on, but Turris will still have reliable pieces around him and should continue to develop as a goal-scorer.
If you're in a keeper fantasy league, Voynov needs to be on your radar. Voynov tied the NHL record this past postseason for the most game-winning goals (four) ever by a defenseman in a single playoff year. The Kings blueliner had four multi-point outings in 18 playoff games after just four in 48 regular-season games. His frequent defense partner, Rob Scuderi, won't return, but Los Angeles still has a blend of youth and experience on the back end that can help this 23-year-old adjust. Voynov averaged 2:05 per game on the power play last season and was extremely efficient at home in the playoffs (nine points, plus-9 in nine games) -- a testament to his growing composure in big-time spots. The scary part is that he's only going to get more comfortable in those situations.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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