Year after year, fantasy owners who cash in on steals and breakout candidates around the NHL improve their chances of claiming that coveted league crown.
But while emerging young talent is always at the forefront of the offseason conversation, it's important to also keep an eye on veterans looking to prove they have something left in the tank.
We're not talking about elite-level players who have stood the test of time (Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa, etc.) or even middle-round assets (Pascal Dupuis, Dan Boyle, Patrik Elias, Mike Ribeiro, etc.). Fantasy owners need to be wary of hidden gems in the latter stages of their careers who can sneak back into fantasy relevance and boost their teams in the process.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov is a perfect example of how veterans can catch the fantasy world by surprise. After having multiple knee surgeries and missing significant time over a three-season span, Markov fell off the fantasy radar entering 2012-13. But over the past two seasons, he has compiled the second-most power-play points League-wide among defensemen. Fantasy owners who took a chance on Markov when his value hit rock bottom were rewarded in a big way.
With that, NHL.com takes a look at five players 34 and over (or who will turn 34 this season) that were ranked 190th or later in NHL.com's consensus offseason rankings. There are concerns surrounding each of them, but fantasy owners should still keep their potential short-term value in mind for the final rounds of drafts -- especially in deep leagues.
Richards has been exposed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent years and is no longer a formidable point man on the power play. That said, he put up strong regular-season totals in points (51) and shots on goal (259) for the New York Rangers in 2013-14. After Richards was bought out, the Blackhawks signed the 34-year-old to a one-year contract with the intention of giving him a shot at center on their second line alongside Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. Richards could prove to be an upgrade for Chicago in that spot at a fraction of the cap hit he would have carried under his previous contract. He'll see a drop-off in power-play minutes per game, but will no longer need to be relied upon as an anchor there. Per ExtraSkater.com, Richards finished 17th among centers (minimum 62 games) in Corsi-for percentage (54.1 at 5-on-5) last season and is joining a stronger possession team. If Chicago plays Richards to his strengths, he could be a fantasy steal in the 17th round or later.
The 37-year-old is back with New Jersey on a one-year contract after leading the team's defense corps in goals (12), assists (30), penalty minutes (60), power-play points (18) and power-play ice time (232:05). His point total (42) was the highest by a Devils defenseman since Brian Rafalski (55) in 2006-07, and he has a chance to post similar totals again this season. Fantasy owners can anticipate the rise of sleeper candidate Eric Gelinas to potentially affect Zidlicky's power-play outlook, but the Devils lost Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne this summer, leaving Zidlicky and Andy Greene as the only defensemen the Devils can rely on for two-way reassurance. This fringe top-200 asset is a short-term power-play producer who warrants serious consideration late in fantasy drafts.
In his heyday, there were few more explosive goal-scorers League-wide than Heatley, hence his spot on NHL.com's fantasy starting lineup of the past decade. But times have changed, and fantasy owners have grown tired of waiting for a "blast from the past" season from this veteran wing. His point production has declined significantly over the past three seasons with the Minnesota Wild (.53) compared to his career average (.92), and he's turning 34 in January. But here's the thing: You won't find many six-time 39-plus goal-scorers available in the final rounds of your draft, especially ones that play for elite teams. If Heatley doesn't pan out on his one-year contract with the Ducks, Bruce Boudreau won't dwell on it for a second with so much young forward talent in the organization. But as long as there's a chance for Heatley to see some time alongside Ryan Getzlaf or Ryan Kesler, fantasy owners can't ignore the hidden value if he gets his career back on track. Taking a chance on Heatley with a late-round pick could result in 25 or 30 goals for your team if he avoids injury and sticks in a top-six role.
Visnovsky, who just turned 38, is coming off a season in which he was limited to 24 games due to injury. His ongoing recovery from a concussion that sidelined him for months is a concern, and his fantasy potential comes with great risk as a result. But the veteran defenseman will have the floor to be New York's power-play quarterback on the blue line if he stays healthy. Young prospects Calvin de Haan and Griffin Reinhart could be factored into the mix, but Visnovsky played nearly four minutes per game with the man advantage last season and has past success in those situations (54 power-play points over a two-season span from 2009-10 to 2010-11). Entering the final year of his contract on Long Island, Visnovsky has a golden opportunity to prove he can still hold his ground as a second or third-pair defenseman and power-play contributor at the NHL level.
With Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik out of the picture, the Penguins defense will rely heavily on the health of Kris Letang and Martin. Pittsburgh added a potent power-play threat in Christian Ehrhoff and will give Olli Maatta a chance to build off his impressive rookie season, but the team hopes to avoid leading the League in man-games lost to injury for the second-straight season. Martin was limited to 39 games in 2013-14 after fracturing his tibia in November and sustaining a broken hand while competing for the United States in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He turns 34 in March, but is still more than capable of producing points, as evidenced by his four multi-assist games against the Columbus Blue Jackets this past postseason and his solid total of nine power-play points despite missing so much time. Martin is far from a sure thing in fantasy, but if the Penguins deal with injuries again he could step in to be a difference-maker for one of the League's most dangerous power-play groups. He has added value in leagues that take blocked shots into account, as he averaged nearly two per game last season. Be sure to keep an eye on him in late rounds of deep-league drafts and on the waiver wire once the season starts in shallow leagues.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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