Every year some young forward comes out of nowhere to net 30 goals (see Jussi Jokinen
last season and Loui Eriksson
two years ago), or a goaltender shocks the League and finishes as a Vezina Trophy finalist (see Ilya Bryzgalov
last season and Steve Mason
two years ago) -- and every year you pray the night before your fantasy hockey draft that you end up with one of these influential sleepers.
All sleepers, rookies and off-season acquisitions analyzed in the Rotoworld Draft Guide
. Be prepared to draft a winner!
I'm here to help you plan for your draft and assist you with sniffing out the unknown about the fantasy hockey "sleeper world." While these sleepers may not be in the elite group, they can turn out to be the difference between finishing in back of the pack and winning the championship. If you look back at your fantasy league from last year, I'll bet you find at least one or two of these "sleepers" on the team that took home the title. Sometimes they flop, but sometimes they end up being vital to your squad.
Let's take a look at 10 sleepers for the upcoming 2010-11 fantasy hockey season (these players did not crack NHL.com's rankings) -- in alphabetical order:
1. Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars
Benn came out of nowhere last season to chip in 22 goals and 41 points while playing in all 82 games for the Stars. After a full season in Dallas, Benn went back to the AHL and played for the Texas Stars in the playoffs, where he put up 14 goals and 26 points in 24 contests, helping the first-year team make the Calder Cup Finals. Benn has good hands and plenty of drive; for those of you who play in a league with the new "hits" category, Benn will be of help as he had 186 last season. While the Stars appear very deep offensively (Morrow, Richards, Ribeiro, Eriksson, Neal), Benn has a good chance at cracking the lineup as a top-six forward -- and if that's the case, he should easily improve on last season's stat line. Look for the 21-year-old to score around 25 goals and 50 points with around 200 shots and 200 hits.
2. Jonathan Bernier, G, Los Angeles Kings
In what looks like the best goaltending battle as we inch closer to the start of the regular season, it's possible that Bernier will take the starting job from Jonathan Quick
in L.A. At just 22 years old, Bernier looks ready to carry the load, but with the job Quick turned in last season, it's very possible the two goalies could find themselves sharing time. Bernier appeared in three NHL games for the Kings last year and was nothing short of spectacular, going 3-0-0 with a 1.30 GAA. In his first start he surrendered just one goal on 30 shots; he followed that performance with a 34-save shutout against the Predators. Even if Bernier is given the No. 1 job at the start of the season, temper your expectations as he's still a rookie. Play it safe and expect about 35-40 starts while splitting time with Quick.
3. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Atlanta Thrashers
Byfuglien will be one of the most interesting players to keep on eye on in fantasy drafts this season. After the Thrashers acquired the Minneapolis native in the offseason, they announced that he will be moving back to his original position of defense. However, it's likely that the 6-foot-4, 257-pounder will continue to be parked in front of the net on the power play. If that's the case, his value will skyrocket, because it's possible that Byfuglien could score 15-20 goals as a fantasy defenseman. While he may not end up on the top defensive pairing in Atlanta, "Big Buff" should still give you 80-plus penalty minutes, a hefty amount of shots from the blue line and have the chance to reach 40-plus points.
4. Ryan Callahan, RW, New York Rangers
Second only to Marian Gaborik
on the depth chart for the Rangers, Callahan should have a better season than he did in 2009-10. After posting 22 goals and 40 points two years ago, a lot of people expected Callahan to improve -- but he didn't, as the entire Rangers offense was silenced, with the exception of Gaborik, of course. On the plus side, Callahan still scored 9 power play goals and there is almost no chance his minus-12 rating from last season will be repeated, as Callahan is considered one of New York's best defensive forwards. The Rochester, N.Y., native works as hard as anyone in the League and has posted back-to-back 200-plus shot, 265-plus hit seasons. While the Rangers may continue to struggle offensively, Callahan is likely to regain his 20-goal form and continue to chip in on the power play.
5. Jordan Eberle, C,RW, Edmonton Oilers
While everyone in your league will be looking to grab No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall
, you should be looking at his highly talented 20-year-old teammate. Eberle, selected 22nd overall by the Oilers two years ago, was the Canadian Hockey League's player of the year after recording 50 goals and 106 points in just 57 games in the WHL. Not only did Eberle impress there, but he also led Team Canada with 13 points at the 2010 World Junior Championship. Eberle is almost guaranteed a spot in the opening day lineup and could even find himself on a line with Hall and another youngster, possibly Sam Gagner
or Magnus Paajarvi
. Simply put, the kid is a star in the making. The only question is whether he'll flourish right away. Similar to what John Tavares
did last season, expect between 20-25 goals to go along with 50-60 points.
6. Cody Franson, D, Nashville Predators
The 23-year-old defenseman will have the chance to shine in Nashville with the departure of veteran blueliner Dan Hamhuis
. After finishing his rookie season with 6 goals and 15 assists in 61 games last year, Franson will likely be the third D-man in Nashville behind Shea Weber
and Ryan Suter
. As a rookie in the AHL in 2007-08 Franson posted 36 points, then notched 52 points in his second season before getting an NHL call-up last season. He averaged just 14:12 of ice time in his first NHL season, but should easily get 18 minutes per game this season. The talented defenseman was awarded a two-year deal in the off-season and could crack 10 goals and put up 35-plus points.
7. Michael Grabner, RW, Florida Panthers
Grabner, picked 14th in the 2006 Entry Draft by Vancouver, could be a great sleeper pick. The 22-year-old posted 5 goals, 6 assists and a whopping 63 shots in 20 contests while playing for the Canucks last season. Grabner then was dealt to the Panthers at the draft along with Steve Bernier
in exchange for Keith Ballard
and Victor Oreskovich
. Grabner scored 30 goals in the AHL in 2008-09, and there's a good chance he'll be on the Panthers' top line with Stephen Weiss
and David Booth
, which could result in a big season for the youngster. Expect around 20 goals and 40 points with an outside chance for 25-plus goals and 50 or more points from the second-year forward.
8. Matthew Lombardi, C, Nashville Predators
Lombardi is coming off a career year with the Coyotes last season, scoring 19 goals and a career-high 53 points in 78 games. The Predators then signed the speedy center to a three-year, $10.5 million contract and expect him to be their No. 1 center this season, replacing Jason Arnott
. Signing Lombardi should turn out to be a great move as the Preds were desperate for offensive help -- Lombardi's 53 points would have led the team last season. The 28-year-old is a terrific playmaker and will likely line up with some combination of Martin Erat
, Patric Hornqvist
, J.P. Dumont, Steve Sullivan
or youngster Colin Wilson
. Lombardi is an excellent two-way player, and with Nashville being a consistently solid defensive club, his plus/minus could actually improve on last season's plus-8 rating. Expect him to contribute heavily on the power play and post around 60 points this season.
9. Peter Mueller, C, LW, Colorado Avalanche
After being selected by Phoenix with the No. 8 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, Mueller looked like he was headed for stardom early on in his career. He recorded 54 points as a rookie in the 2007-08 season, but then posted just 53 points in his next 126 games with the Coyotes. Phoenix gave up on the talented youngster at the trade deadline in March and shipped him to Colorado, where Mueller rediscovered his game, scoring 9 goals and 11 assists in just 15 games for the Avs before going down with a concussion. Heading into this season, Mueller could end up on Colorado's top line alongside Paul Stastny
and Chris Stewart
. At 22, Mueller could be in line for his biggest season after the much-needed change of scenery. Lock him in for 20-plus goals and 50 or more points, but there's potential for a lot more.
10. T.J. Oshie, C, St. Louis Blues
After posting 39 points in 57 games as a rookie two years ago, Oshie was expected to break out last season. However, he finished with just 18 goals and 48 points in nearly a full season. Expect his third NHL season to be a lot better. The former first-round draft choice finished 2009-10 with 3 goals and 3 assists in his final seven contests and will hopefully carry that momentum forward. While Oshie is clearly more of a passer than a shooter, he did average more than 18 minutes of ice time per game and 2:30 of PP ice time last season, so the opportunity to rack up points should be there going forward. He's the core of a team that will be seeking to get back into the playoffs after missing out last year; hope for 60 or more points from the youngster.
NHL.com's 2010-11 Fantasy Hockey Rankings: