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Fantasy sleepers for 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Andre Burakovsky, Zach Parise could improve production in postseason

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor

Underrated players always seem to emerge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The challenge for fantasy owners in postseason leagues is to anticipate these trends.

Proven players from years past who underachieved in the regular season, and young players with breakout potential, have a chance to make their mark. Each of the 16 teams could make a deep run, so those in fantasy playoff leagues need to be on high alert for any signs of promise or a potential turnaround.

MORE FANTASY COVERAGE: RANKINGS FOR STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

YEAR-END RANKS: TOP 100 'F' | TOP 50 'D' | TOP 25 'G' | AWARDS | TOP 250 FOR 2017-18

Last season, Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks), Robby Fabbri (St. Louis Blues) and Colin Wilson (Nashville Predators) outperformed their regular-season rates of production. Here are 16 players who could be instrumental in a deep postseason run for their respective teams:

 
EASTERN CONFERENCE

Andre Burakovsky, W, WSH -- The Washington Capitals appear primed for their deepest postseason run of the Alex Ovechkin era but will need contributions from their third line to make it happen, starting against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Burakovsky, 22, has had stretches of strong play in his NHL career but dealt with a hand injury this season and had 35 points in 64 games. He ranked sixth on the Capitals in points per 60 minutes (2.47), with most of them at even strength. His shooting percentage was lower this season (10.8) compared to his first two seasons (13.8 in 2014-15; 13.5 in 2015-16).

Video: WSH@CBJ: Burakovsky roofs Eller's spinning feed

Nikita Zaitsev, D, TOR -- The Maple Leafs may be too young to pull an upset, but they could strike some fear into the favored Capitals. Their outstanding rookie class begins with forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander but extends to Zaitsev and forwards Connor Brown and Zach Hyman. Zaitsev left Toronto's regular-season finale with an upper-body injury, but it's not considered serious. Zaitsev is a power-play specialist (12 power-play points), shoulders a heavy workload (22:01 per game), and could rack up assists for as long as the Maple Leafs last.

Trevor Daley, D, PIT -- Daley was productive for the Pittsburgh Penguins last postseason with six points, two PPP and 29 shots on goal in 15 games prior to a season-ending ankle injury in the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins have injury issues again facing the Columbus Blue Jackets, with defenseman Kris Letang (neck) sidelined for the playoffs. Justin Schultz is their top-scoring defenseman, but Daley should play major minutes and chip in offensively. He was limited to 19 points in 56 games this season but returned from a knee injury late in the regular season. 

Boone Jenner, C, CBJ -- If the Blue Jackets want to defeat the defending champions, gritty forwards Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell need to counter Pittsburgh's speed and skill. Jenner scored an NHL career-high 49 points (30 goals, 19 assists) in 82 games last season and has back-to-back 200-hit seasons. He took a step back with 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) in 82 games this season but had success against the Penguins in the 2014 playoffs with five points, four PPP and 16 SOG in six games. His low shooting percentage (8.5) could correct itself.

Brendan Gallagher, W, MTL -- Gallagher showed signs of improvement from the beginning of March to the end of the regular season with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 18 games for the Montreal Canadiens but continued to shoot a low percentage (6.3 in span). Gallagher's regular-season shooting rate (5.3 percent) was the lowest in the NHL among forwards with at least 175 SOG. His points-per-game average (0.45) also plummeted compared to last season (0.75) as a result of Alexander Radulov taking his top-line spot. That said, Gallagher could bounce back if the Canadiens take advantage of a wide-open Atlantic Division bracket, starting in the first round against the New York Rangers.

Video: FLA@MTL: Gallagher tips in Davidson's drive

Mika Zibanejad, C, NYR -- The Rangers' postseason fortunes hinge on Zibanejad's contributions, especially on the power play. He had 37 points and 11 PPP in 56 games on mostly the second line with Rick Nash and first power-play unit. Zibanejad has eight points in 16 NHL playoff games and could build on his points-per-game average (0.66 in regular season) against the Canadiens. It never hurts to ride the hot hand; Zibanejad had nine points (four PPP) over his final nine regular-season games.

Alexandre Burrows, W, OTT -- Burrows brings a wealth of postseason experience to the Ottawa Senators from his years with the Vancouver Canucks. He had 17 points in 25 games when the Canucks reached the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and has 34 points in 70 playoff games. He has played in Ottawa's top-nine forward group since being traded there Feb. 27 and has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 20 games. If center Derick Brassard bounces back in the playoffs, starting against the Boston Bruins, Burrows could be along for the ride.

Charlie McAvoy, D, BOS -- With Torey Krug (lower body) and Brandon Carlo (upper body) injured, the Bruins signed McAvoy to an entry-level contract Monday, just in time for the postseason. He was paired with veteran Zdeno Chara at practice Tuesday and carries sleeper potential, potentially even on the power play, in any fantasy format, starting against the Senators. He scored 26 points in 38 games for Boston University this season and had six points in seven games to help the United States win the gold medal at the 2017 World Junior Championship.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Nick Schmaltz, W, CHI -- Even if center Artem Anisimov (lower body) returns for the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators, Schmaltz should have a second-line spot with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. Schmaltz started the season slowly in a depth role but was outstanding down the stretch with 21 points, a plus-14 and 36 SOG in his final 26 games. If the Blackhawks go far, Schmaltz could end up being one of Chicago's leading scorers, having played with Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Toews at different points in the past two months. 

Kevin Fiala, W, NSH -- A breakout from Fiala could give the Predators an extra lift in a high-scoring series against the Blackhawks. Fiala had no points in five games against the Blackhawks this season but totaled 20 SOG. He's skating on the third line with Colton Sissons but could be moved back to the second line with James Neal once Colin Wilson (lower body) returns. Fiala is tied for fourth among Predators in goals per 60 minutes (0.90; minimum 35 games) behind Viktor Arvidsson (1.36), Filip Forsberg (1.22) and Neal (1.11).

Video: NSH@DAL: Fiala goes top shelf with quick wrister

Zach Parise, W, MIN -- Parise has been limited by injuries in recent seasons and had a low points-per-game average (0.61) and shooting percentage (9.8) compared to his NHL standards (0.80; 11.3). But Parise has sneaky fantasy playoff appeal with 68 points and 308 SOG in 89 postseason games. He played third-line minutes at points this season but is back with center Eric Staal of late and could be close to a point-per-game player if the Minnesota Wild get past the St. Louis Blues and venture to the Western Conference Final or deeper.

Ivan Barbashev, C, STL -- Barbashev, 21, finished the season on a four-game point streak with Vladimir Tarasenko and could emerge in the postseason with the Blues depleted at center. Fabbri (knee) is out for the season, and Paul Stastny (lower body) is banged up, meaning Barbashev will draw a tough matchup against the Wild and center Mikko Koivu or Staal. But, sometimes, all that matters is having the most explosive player on your side in a given series. In this case, it's Tarasenko.

Jonathan Bernier, G, ANA -- Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson is healthy and expected to start Game 1 against the Calgary Flames, but Anaheim could turn to the other member of its time-share tandem, Jonathan Bernier, at any point. Gibson has had mixed results in the postseason (2-4, 2.84 goals-against average, .912 save percentage, one shutout), and Bernier went 13-2-2 with a .929 SV% and one SO in his final 17 games of the regular season. The Ducks have lost four straight Game 7s at home, so Bernier could provide some fresh blood for a team that needs to exorcise its playoff demons.

Sam Bennett, C, CGY -- Bennett has been on the outside of the Flames' top-six forward group for much of the season, largely due to the emergence of their strong second line (Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik). But the 20-year-old center had some playoff success for Calgary in 2015, totaling four points and 20 SOG in 11 games. He has an even better chance this time if he plays with usual playoff contributor Troy Brouwer (32 points in 98 postseason games) against the Ducks.

Video: CGY@LAK: Bennett sweeps home one-timer for PPG

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM -- Nugent-Hopkins has yet to meet expectations that came with being the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. That said, he had back-to-back 56-point seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and was the Edmonton Oilers' second-line center for much of the season behind Connor McDavid. With McDavid set to draw San Jose Sharks shutdown defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the first round, Nugent-Hopkins' performance is crucial to the Oilers' postseason staying power. He had 43 points and 11 PPP in 82 games but finished strong with nine points and two PPP over his final nine.

Tomas Hertl, C, SJS -- With centers Logan Couture (face) and Joe Thornton (lower body) uncertain for the start of their series, Hertl is an X-factor for the depleted Sharks against the Oilers. He was limited to 49 games this season because of a knee injury, scoring 22 points and two PPP. He has a solid playoff pedigree (16 points in 27 games) and has a chance to finally return to the NHL career-best production rate of his rookie season (0.68 points per game in 2013-14) to boost the Sharks' secondary scoring.

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