With 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 CUBETA'S 2013-14 FANTASY HOCKEY SLEEPERS
1. David Booth, LW, Vancouver Canucks
The key with Booth is health -- for both him and his potential linemate, Ryan Kesler. He's currently recovering from an ankle injury and is hopeful to be ready for the start of the season, but in two seasons with the Canucks, he's missed 62 games. When he is on the ice, Booth hasn't been productive (17 goals, 32 points and a minus-2 rating). However, Booth has a bunch of good things going for him: his age, his history and his potential second-line role under new coach John Tortorella. Because he's entering his eighth NHL season, people tend to think he's already on the decline, but fortunately, Booth came into the NHL as a 20-year-old and is still in the middle of his prime. While his stats with the Canucks haven't been what many were hoping for, Booth did score more than 22 goals in three seasons with the Panthers and isn't shy about putting the puck on net -- in those same three seasons in Florida, he registered at least 228 shots on goal in each of them. Lastly, Booth is expected to line up on the team's second line with Kesler, and if they can find some American magic, they could form a lethal unit -- with Kesler's ability to bang in the corners and go to the net, and Booth's ability to get shots to the net, good things could be in store for the duo. Many fantasy drafters will ignore Booth, but you shouldn't be one of them -- look to select him with one of your final picks.
Projection: 24 G, 25 A, plus-2, 34 PIMs, 9 PPP, 221 SOG
2. David Perron, LW, Edmonton Oilers
Perron, 25, has had a few productive seasons in the NHL, but coming off a quiet 2012-13 (10 goals, 15 assists), I expect his first season with the Oilers to be his best. Perron's ability to provide decent value in every fantasy category is what I like most about him. Averaging out his six-year career and extrapolating those numbers to an 82-game season, this is what Perron would look like: 20 goals, 48 points, 12 power-play points, plus-11, 56 penalty minutes and 114 shots on goal. That's an extremely useful fantasy forward. The move to Edmonton should also increase Perron's value as he goes from a defensive-minded team to a squad that has so much talent offensively. Expect Perron to line up on the team's second line with Nail Yakupov (more to come on him) and Sam Gagner, and look for the former Blues forward to put together a tremendous season.
Projection: 24 G, 31 A, plus-3, 44 PIMs, 11 PPP, 168 SOG
3. Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers
McDonagh finished 221st among all fantasy players in Yahoo leagues last year, right behind Justin Schultz and ahead of Dennis Seidenberg among fellow defensemen. That's not exactly the most useful fantasy player. Expect a big difference in what will be McDonagh's third full NHL season with the Rangers. In his first full season in New York, McDonagh surprised many by recording seven goals, 32 points and an outstanding plus-25. Despite the breakthrough season, he was ignored by many on draft day last year (159th average draft pick and selected in 67 percent of Yahoo leagues). He went on to put up better per game numbers (.40 points-per-game) and his plus-13 rating showed his defensive game is among the NHL's best. This year, he should not be ignored come draft day. McDonagh has never received much power-play ice time in the past (averaged just 0:38 per game last year), but I believe Alain Vigneault will use him significantly more in 2013-14. His offensive game is quickly developing and he could very well turn out to be the most valuable fantasy blueliner on the Rangers. A 40-plus point season with a great plus/minus and more power play production is certainly realistic.
Projection: 8 G, 31 A, plus-17, 38 PIMs, 8 PPP, 139 SOG
4. Brandon Dubinsky, C, Columbus Blue Jackets
A stat line of two goals and 20 points isn't appealing to anyone, and understandably so. That's what Dubinsky finished with for the Blue Jackets in 2012-13. But when you look a little closer and realize he appeared in 29 games and that his peripheral stats (76 PIMs, plus-2, 7 PPP and 50 SOG) are extremely helpful, you can quickly see that Dubinsky is a player you should target late in fantasy drafts. The main piece that Columbus brought in from the Rick Nash trade to New York, Dubinsky has taken a leadership role on a young squad and could be in line for a big season. He's all but a lock to eclipse 100 penalty minutes for the fourth time in his career, he'll continue to see ample power play time (2:24 per game last year), his defensive awareness makes him a good candidate to finish with a solid plus/minus on an improving Blue Jackets squad, and while he might not score a ton of goals, 50-plus points would certainly make up for that. His dual-position eligibility (C, LW) in Yahoo! leagues provides good flexibility for fantasy owners is a nice bonus as well.
Projection: 19 G, 36 A, plus-5, 104 PIMs, 16 PPP, 181 SOG
5. Brandon Pirri, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Pirri has played in seven NHL games during his young career and has two assists. This is obviously not appealing. But what is appealing is how he's performed in the AHL and where he could fit in with the Blackhawks in 2013-14. During the past two seasons with the Rockford IceHogs, Pirri has 45 goals, 131 points, a plus-20 and 108 penalty minutes in 142 regular-season games. But the biggest factor for his fantasy value will be if he can win the No. 2 center job behind Jonathan Toews. If he does, he'll likely be centering a line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on his wings, and that could be huge for the 22-year-old. Pirri might not have a lot of NHL experience, but his potential is worth scooping up late in any fantasy draft.
Projection: 17 G, 33 A, plus-6, 56 PIMs, 10 PPP, 199 SOG
Author: Matt Cubeta | NHL.com Fantasy Insider