With very few exceptions, the vast majority of top-tier players are established and well-known to the common fantasy owner. While these players are integral components of a championship team, under-the-radar options with high potential -- better known as sleepers -- can pay huge dividends in fantasy leagues as well.
Whether drafted or added off waivers, these players typically are undervalued on draft day but ultimately can become major fantasy commodities by season's end. Sleepers are extremely unpredictable every season, but the bottom line is these players end up outperforming everyone’s expectations, regardless of their age, team or position.
This week, NHL.com fantasy insiders Matt Cubeta, Pete Jensen and Matt Sitkoff take in-depth looks at underrated players who should be on your fantasy team's radar entering drafts. Each expert will provide 10 sleeper picks with corresponding stat projections (in order of preference), along with five additional candidates for fantasy owners to keep an eye on.
MATT SITKOFF'S 2013-14 FANTASY HOCKEY SLEEPERS
The Coyotes' top line got a makeover this offseason. Mike Ribeiro takes over as the top center, and no player will benefit more than the 23-year-old speedy wing. The Coyotes have been waiting for the eighth pick of the 2008 NHL Draft to break out after a career-high 28 points in his rookie season, but last season showed his real potential; he had his career-high in points per game (0.54) and assists per game (0.40). Boedker more minutes than any Coyotes forward last season (886:53) and started with 15 points in the first 20 games. He's shown durability by not missing a game in the past two seasons (130 games). Boedker was ranked as the 204th player in Yahoo! leagues last season, but expect the 6-foot forward to finish in the top 100 this season. The one element that could slow down his fantasy breakout is he is a restricted free agent and has yet to sign a contract, so keep an eye on his situation heading into your draft. It shouldn't keep you from drafting this player in the fourth or fifth round.
Projection: 16 G, 39 A, plus-10, 12 PIM, 14 PPP, 153 SOG
The Ottawa Senators thought so much of the second-round pick from the 2009 NHL Draft they brought him up to play in two Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2012. He started his rookie season with the Binghamton Senators in the American Hockey League, where he had 29 points in 34 games. He then played in all 48 games for Ottawa and had 10 goals and 19 points with a plus-9 rating and 134 shots on goal. The Ducks thought so much of the 22-year-old wing he was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Bobby Ryan to the Senators. Ryan played 22.44 percent of his time with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, thus opening a valuable spot on the Ducks' top line. He will face competition from Matt Beleskey, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem and Dustin Penner, but even if Silfverberg, a right-handed shot who played most of last season at right wing, doesn't get the much-coveted top-line assignment, he still falls in the top six and should produce in that role. He is a RFA at the end of the season, so he is playing for a new contract.
Projection: 22 G, 36 A, plus-13, 28 PIM, 8 PPP, 230 SOG
It can't be ignored that Ryan Miller is in the final year of his contract and the Sabres signed 25-year-old Enroth to a two-year contract this summer. Miller, who has started 164 of the Sabres' 212 games the past three seasons, is a prime trade target for teams with an early goalie injury or needing a trade-deadline boost. The one who will benefit would be Enroth, a 5-foot-10 Swedish goalie who has a 21-18-7 record with a 2.72 GAA, and .914 save percentage in his NHL career. The fantasy goalie landscape is in flux, evidenced by the 77 goalies who started a game last season, and the Sabres' net is up for grabs for the first time in seven years. Enroth made a claim for more playing time by finishing last season 4-1-1 with a 1.55 GAA and .953 save percentage in seven starts. The Swede made an even bigger splash being named the best goaltender at the 2013 IIHF World Championship, leading his country to a gold medal with a 1.15 GAA and .956 save percentage. Target Enroth as your third goalie in one of the last rounds of your draft.
Projection: 36 games, 19-14-4, 2.53 GAA, .924 SV%, 3 SO
A first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft was on pace for a career year in 2012-13 with 19 points in 25 games, but a shoulder injury March 9 derailed his season. The bad news is he had stabilization surgery on his left shoulder May 6, three weeks after having it on his right shoulder. The good news is his rehab is going well and it's been reported he is ahead of his original 4-6 month recovery. The 6-1 left wing will be a part of the top line whenever he comes back. Wilson, 23, has a career 0.49 points per game (103 points in 210 games) and will help you in the plus/minus category with a career plus-13 rating. He will not help with in the PIM category, but if your league accounts for GWG, he has 11. With the injury concern, Wilson should fall in your draft and picking him up in the seventh or eighth round could be a steal.
Projection: 24 G, 29 A, plus-8, 23 PIM, 12 PPP, 123 SOG
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center played in only nine games last season due to a groin injury but had only missed four games over the previous five seasons. The three-time 20-goal scorer has a perfect balance of size and strength that the Capitals were missing last season and his versatility could see him play wing in the top six or provide scoring depth as their third-line center. With the subtraction of Mike Ribeiro, who had a big impact on the League's top-rated power play unit, Laich, who has 84 career power-play points including 12 power-play goals in 2009-10, could see extended time on the top unit with the man advantage. Since Laich is coming off his first big injury, he will fall in most draft boards, so target him in the later rounds (11th or 12th).
Projection: 16 G, 38 A, plus-4, 43 PIM, 13 PPP, 196 SOG
Erik Johnson has the most points (59) the past three seasons from the Avalanche blue line. In contrast, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson has 137 over that span. The Avalanche need more production, and 22-year-old Barrie led Colorado defensemen last season with 13 points in 32 games. The 5-10 offensive-minded defenseman led the team with 21:34 of ice time per game and should see all of these numbers increase with a full year with Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon. Although Barrie won't help your team in plus-minus (he is a career minus-13, and new coach Patrick Roy is preaching an offense-driven team), it won't matter. Barrie also led all Avalanche defensemen in power-play minutes (84:20), which will be even more important with the increase of firepower on the man advantage. You should target Barrie as a solid No. 2 defender in the eighth or ninth round.
Projection: 11 G, 25 A, minus-8, 22 PIM, 10 PPP, 110 SOG
Most tabbed Schenn as a breakout candidate in his second season, and although he did not have a slump, he did not make the jump in production we saw in the AHL (33 points in 33 games played). But the 21-year-old did have a career-high in points (28), points per game (0.55) and was on pace for 45 points in a projected 82 games last season. The 6-foot-1 center/left wing did not mesh with Claude Giroux early last season and struggled like the Flyers out of the gate. Schenn did bounce back with 16 points in 15 games played in February, with six power-play points, and finished the season with points in four of six games. Schenn is a legitimate category hog in your fantasy league; he plays minutes on the power play and with an edge that can lead to PIM. The acquisition of Vincent Lecavalier should not affect Schenn's fantasy production; he has shown the flexibility to play center and left wing. An injury concern with Giroux could mean Schenn will see some top minutes to start the season. He finished ranked 201st in Yahoo! leagues, and was drafted on average in the 14th round last season, but should be targeted before that, around the 10th-11th, especially if he is given dual eligibility again this season.
Projection: 16G, 37A, minus-5, 53 PIM, 17 PPP, 145 SOG
The 23-year-old center made his NHL debut Feb. 10 against the New York Rangers and had an assist and two SOG in 13:17, He was never sent back to the AHL and finished the season near the top in major rookie categories; tying for eighth in scoring (19 points) and 10th in goals (7). He played the fourth-most minutes per game (16:49) for Tampa Bay. Even with the acquisition of Valtteri Filppula and the drafting of Jonathan Drouin, expect Jon Cooper, who enters his first full season as Lightning coach, to put Killorn in the top six. Killorn (6-2) has proven he can be effective on the wing, which could make him a great dual-eligibility player in your league.
Projection: 17G, 25A, minus-10, 33 PIM, 8 PPP, 163 SOG
What a season Toffoli had in 2012-13 with his NHL debut, first NHL goal, first NHL playoff game and making an impact in the Kings' playoff run toward the Western Conference Final. On top of that, the 21-year-old was named AHL Rookie of the Year with 28 goals and 48 points in 55 games for the Manchester Monarchs. Now, the two-time 50-goal scorer in the OHL could land in a dangerous top six. With Dustin Penner leaving via free agency, there is an opening on the left side of the Mike Richards-Jeff Carter line, and although Toffoli is a right-handed shot, there is already talk of a switch to left wing. Even if Toffoli doesn't get the assignment immediately, expect the 6-1 forward to end the season in the top six.
Projection: 20G, 23A, plus-10, 20 PIM, 12 PPP, 178 SOG
Lost in the Norris Trophy winning season by P.K. Subban and a healthy season from Andrei Markov was the emergence of Diaz. The 27-year-old got off to a terrific start with 13 points (seven power-play assists) in 19 games and a plus-5 rating. Then came a concussion Feb. 25, causing Diaz to miss the next 25 games. But he returned to play four regular-season games and all five playoff games. Diaz finished his season by joining Switzerland on its Cinderella run to the silver medal at the IIHF World Championship, playing 19:34 per game and chipping in with an assist. With the concussion problems behind him, and the injury history of Markov, we saw what Diaz could do as Montreal's top power-play quarterback. The 5-11 player is a perfect third or fourth defenseman who could be had in the 13th or 14th round.
Projection: 5 G, 27 A, plus-8, 30 PIM, 16 PPP, 163 SOG
Follow Matt Sitkoff on Twitter: @MSitkoffNHL
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