Back in the 2008-09 season, Marian Gaborik recorded 13 goals and 23 points in just 17 contests for the Wild. Fantasy drafters everywhere forgot about Gabby, a usual first- or second-round fantasy draft pick, and he ended up slipping to the third or fourth round in many drafts. Obviously people regretted this oversight, as the Slovakian star finished his first season with the Rangers with 42 goals (tying a career high) and a career-best 86 points.
You don't want to miss a guy like that again.
However, now that most fantasy leagues have had their drafts and are gearing up for the start of the 2010-11 NHL season, it's time to take a look at some very undervalued players. If you were lucky enough to land any of these guys in your draft, congratulations, because it will pay dividends. If you don't own any of them, start sending out trade proposals before the season starts.
While NHL.com's "10 Fantasy Sleepers" story covered players that didn't crack our rankings, this group of players did in fact make the ranks. They are guys that we all know about and have heard about, but they had a "down" year last season, or they were injured -- like Gaborik two seasons ago -- or they are just guys we feel are great buy-low options. We're expecting these guys to have bounce-back seasons or to improve on their recent stats. Most of them probably flew under the radar in drafts and could be had for a bargain price heading into the season, but once the puck drops on Thursday, these players will not come cheap, so get cracking.
In order of preference:
1. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ducks -- Ah, let's start with Mr. Getzlaf. Yes, he's obvious and yes, he should have been a first- or second-round choice in all drafts, but Getzlaf still somehow slipped to the third round or later in many leagues. Why, people, why? We've raved about him from Day 1 of our fantasy coverage. Just because he was hurt last season doesn't mean he won't be healthy this time around. Getzlaf has been a proven point-per-game player for the last three seasons, and at 25 years old and having been named Anaheim's captain just days ago, he may be in line for his biggest season yet. He contributes in every fantasy category (including hits, for those of you in leagues that count that category) and he'll be centering the top line with Corey Perry and most likely Bobby Ryan. What's not to like here? In case you're interested in what we project Getzlaf to do this season, take a look HERE. We love him.
2. Ales Hemsky, RW, Oilers -- Probably the most forgotten-about player on this list, Hemsky could easily turn out to be an 80-point forward. The former first-round draft choice has all the skill in the world, and he finally has some talent surrounding him. Regardless of who he skates with, Hemsky is the centerpiece to the Oilers offense. While he's only played in one full season in the last seven years (77 points back in 05-06), the Czech native could be in line for a monster season. Last year he totaled 7 goals and 22 points in 22 games; expect point-per-game stats for a full season.
3. Andrei Markov, D, Canadiens -- Like Getzlaf, Markov is a well-known player. He's a pure elite defenseman, but he still slipped in drafts so much because of his knee injury. Well, it turns out Markov is progressing extremely well and could only be out for less than a month. When healthy, Markov could be a low No. 1 d-man or a top of the line No. 2 on any fantasy squad. Yes, he's a bit injury prone and has only played in one full season in his career, but Markov should still total 50-plus points on the blue line for the Habs.
4. David Booth, LW, Panthers -- While Booth clearly has several questions surrounding him because of his concussions, the Panthers' winger could still put together a solid season. If preseason is any indication, then you shouldn't fear having the 25-year-old on your squad -- Booth had 3 goals and a helper in three contests. Last year he appeared in just 28 games, but recorded 8 goals and 8 assists while piling on 95 shots on goal. Booth is the top forward on Florida and averaged 3:42 of PP ice time last, which should be expected again this season. As long as he can stay healthy, Booth is a great steal and could easily top 30 goals.
5. Steve Mason, G, Blue Jackets -- Mason will just try to pretend last season never happened. After winning the Calder Trophy two years ago, he was an early fantasy draft pick in most leagues last season. Of course, he disappointed all of his owners after posting just 20 wins and a 3.06 goals-against average. Expect the youngster to bounce back this season. Mason did show signs of brilliance last season by posting 5 shutouts, so the talent is clearly still there. Some might say he is a one-year wonder, but we'll give Mason another shot. While he may not put up that elite 2.29 GAA of two years ago, somewhere around the 2.50 mark could be expected going forward.
6. Alex Goligoski, D, Penguins -- One of the most undervalued players in fantasy hockey this season, Goligoski should easily improve on last season's career-high of 37 points (in just 69 games). Several signs point to a monster season from the 25-year-old blueliner. First off, and most importantly, Goligoski is Sergei Gonchar's replacement. That means he is the new lead PP d-man to play with Sid, Malkin and Co.. Secondly, he recorded 9 points in 13 playoff contests, and lastly, he had a team-high 6 points in four preseason games. That's plenty of reason to expect Gogo to put up Gonchar-like numbers: 10-15 goals and around 50 points, to go along with a solid plus/minus and plenty of PP points.
Brad Boyes, RW, Blues -- In 2007-08 Boyes scored a career-high 43 goals. In 2008-09 he tallied 33 goals. Last season he scored all of 14! Why the enormous drop-off? Well, for starters, the entire Blues team struggled last season. Not only did the Blues drop out of the top eight in the West, but their goals-per-game fell from 2.77 in 08-09 to 2.66 last season. Boyes was also demoted to the third line after struggling early on. However, we still like Boyes as a bounce-back candidate. He notched 7 points in five preseason contests, and as long as he holds down a spot as a top-six forward, Boyes and the Blues should both improve. Look for the former first-rounder to come close to that 30-goal form from two years ago.
8. Nikolay Zherdev, RW, Flyers -- After a season in Russia, Zherdev is back in the NHL, this time with Philadelphia. Zherdev's offensive talent is unquestioned; his willingness to compete and play hard at both ends of the ice is the reason he's on his third NHL team before turning 25. But after signing a one-year deal with the Flyers, Zherdev is out to prove that he belongs in the NHL. He had posted 39 points in 52 games while playing in the KHL last season, but did register 5 goals and 6 points in six preseason games with the Flyers. Like the new spelling on his first name, expect a big change during the regular season and bank on 60-plus points with upside for more.
9. Dennis Wideman, D, Panthers -- The centerpiece in the Nathan Horton trade with the Bruins, Wideman is looking to rebound after a disastrous '09-10 season. After breaking out with 50 points and a plus-32 rating in 2008-09, Wideman regressed to just 30 points and a minus-14 rating last season. One major reason for the decline was that Wideman's power-play ice time took a hit. After seeing an average of 3:13 of PP ice time in '08-09, Wideman was given just 2:43 last season. Expect that to change as Wideman will now be the catalyst to Florida's power-play unit. Paired with veteran Bryan McCabe, it's safe to say Wideman will do just fine in his first season in South Florida.
Milan Michalek, LW, Senators -- After being a very productive fantasy player for three straight years for the Sharks, Michalek took a major step back in his first season in Ottawa. While he got off to a great start with 6 goals in his first nine contests, Michalek battled injuries and ended the season with just 22 goals, 12 assists and a minus-12 in 66 games for the Sens. We're expecting a much better numbers this season. The biggest reason we like Michalek so much this season is because the former sixth pick in the draft is on Ottawa's top line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. While Milan has never scored more than 26 goals, this could be his year for 30. Keep an eye on him, as he was likely undrafted in most fantasy leagues.
Note: Simon Gagne, Alex Frolov, Marty Turco, Alex Tanguay and Nathan Horton all could have made this list, but because all of them changed teams in the offseason, NHL.com analyzed them in our Fantasy Off-Season Moves Story.
Other candidates: Erik Karlsson (OTT), Kevin Bieksa (VAN), Scottie Upshall (PHX), Jay Bouwmeester (CGY), Martin Havlat (MIN), Kari Lehtonen (DAL), Tuomo Ruutu (CAR)