Skip to Main Content

Fantasy sleeper candidates for 2018-19

Buchnevich, Pulock, Mrazek high-upside picks attainable in later rounds

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / Senior Fantasy Editor identifies 10 fantasy sleeper candidates: players taken in the late rounds who can vastly outperform their average draft position. They can be young players who have scratched the surface or more experienced ones who remain undervalued for any reason(s). For more fantasy coverage, visit


Video: Late-round fantasy picks worth taking a chance on


Carter Hutton, G, BUF rank: 147; ADP: 145.7

Hutton has been a quality backup for most of his NHL career and stole starts from Jake Allen with the St. Louis Blues last season to lead the NHL in save percentage (.931; minimum 20 games). He missed time in March because of a neck injury but returned later in the season, finishing 17-7-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and three shutouts in 32 games (26 starts). Hutton ranked third in even-strength SV% (.936) behind Pekka Rinne (.939) and Antti Raanta (.937), and should be the clear No. 1 goalie for the Buffalo Sabres after signing a three-year contract July 1. Even though Sabres goalies haven't had much fantasy success since Ryan Miller won the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10, Hutton could be a steal for an improved team that selected defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (No. 1 pick in 2018 NHL Draft) and acquired goal-scoring left wing Jeff Skinner. The Sabres are in the Atlantic Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, but don't sleep on Hutton's potential for a .920 or better SV% and at least 25 wins, especially if elite center Jack Eichel plays a full season.


Tomas Hertl, C/LW/RW, SJS 149; ADP: 164.8

The San Jose Sharks forward has still never reached 50 points in a single NHL season, largely because he's had multiple knee injuries during his young career. But the 24-year-old has renewed fantasy upside after NHL regular-season career highs in goals (22) and power-play points (12) and tying his highest point total (46) set in 2015-16. He took his game to a new level in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with nine points (six goals, three assists), three PPP and 34 shots on goal in 10 games on the second line with center Logan Couture, and first power-play unit with Couture, Joe Pavelski and elite defenseman Brent Burns. Couture signed an eight-year extension and Hertl signed a four-year contract, giving the duo a chance to build on its momentum. Couture is a three-time 60-point, 20-PPP producer, and Hertl, who retains tri-eligibility in Yahoo, has a higher ceiling with top-liners Evander Kane, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski commanding the opposition's attention on a nightly basis.


Pavel Buchnevich, RW, NYR rank: 155; ADP: N/A

Even with mixed usage under former coach Alain Vigneault, Buchnevich has been productive over his first two NHL seasons for the New York Rangers (0.55 points per game). He had flashes of brilliance on the top line and first power-play unit when center Mika Zibanejad and left wing Chris Kreider were healthy last season but was also moved around the lineup frequently. Buchnevich averaged 15:01 per game (2:40 on the power play) and had 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists) with 17 PPP in 74 games. He ranked just outside the top 50 in assists per 60 minutes (1.57; T-55th; minimum 70 games). The 23-year-old Russian wing could be the biggest fantasy beneficiary of the Rangers hiring coach David Quinn (previously at Boston University), who should prioritize their young talent in Buchnevich and center prospects Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. The Rangers may be in rebuilding mode but have sneaky fantasy appeal in later rounds, with Buchnevich being a prime sleeper if Zibanejad finally breaks out and if the Rangers play them together for a full season.


Zach Hyman, LW, TOR 164; ADP: 174.2

The Maple Leafs left wing has been the most-frequent linemate of Auston Matthews over their first two NHL seasons and was one of the more productive even-strength players in the NHL when the elite center was healthy last season. Even with Matthews missing 20 games because of multiple injuries, Hyman scored 40 points (38 at even strength) in 82 games. After the Maple Leafs signed another superstar in John Tavares, coach Mike Babcock has projected Hyman to play on Tavares' wing, opposite Mitchell Marner. This development makes Hyman a potential sleeper with the near certainty he'll play with Matthews or Tavares at 5-on-5 and be available outside the top 150 overall. Hyman has had a minimal power-play role in his NHL career but still has a ceiling of 55-60 points and could have a plus/minus (plus-24 in 180 games) among the League leaders.


Ryan Pulock, D, NYI 169; ADP: 140.8

The New York Islanders defenseman had an encouraging season despite them allowing the most goals per game in the NHL (3.57). Pulock had double-digit goals (10) in 68 games, and strong coverage of PPP (11) and SOG (184) considering he was a rookie playing mostly the second power-play unit. Pulock ranked 12th among defensemen in goals per 60 minutes (0.48; minimum 65 games). The departure of Tavares in free agency hurts the Islanders' fantasy appeal, but Pulock could still expand his role and production under new coach Barry Trotz, a defensive, neutral-zone expert who helped the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup last season. Pulock has been under-utilized by New York, playing six games in the 2016 playoffs but one regular-season game in 2016-17 before averaging 18:24 per game last season. The 23-year-old would benefit if Nick Leddy is given a more defensive, even-strength role, and could take on first power-play duties with Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal and wings Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle (potential 2019 unrestricted free agents). Pulock also gains value from the addition of hits (113 last season; 1.5 per game in NHL career) as a standard fantasy category.


Petr Mrazek, G, CAR 185; ADP: 180.1

The 26-year-old goaltender has a clear path to be the starter for a fringe playoff team after signing a one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. He spent last season with the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers and had an impressive shutout total (four in 33 starts) but was mediocre in other categories (14 wins, 3.03 GAA, .902 SV%). With Scott Darling coming off an underachieving season, Mrazek could start at least 50 games, which he did in 2016-17 (50) and 2015-16 (54). Mrazek has been fantasy-relevant before, finishing among the top 75 overall in Yahoo three seasons ago by going 27-16-6 with a 2.33 GAA, .921 SV% and four SO for the Red Wings. This was a low-risk, high-reward signing by the Hurricanes, who have a new coach in Rod Brind'Amour, improved defense after trading for Dougie Hamilton and signing Calvin de Haan, and greater offensive potential with rookie-eligible forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and Valentin Zykov.


Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL 182; ADP: N/A

The 23-year-old returns to the Dallas Stars on a two-year contract after playing the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 6-foot-4 right wing can boost the secondary scoring of the most top-heavy fantasy team last season (four skaters of at least 67 points; no one else had more than 34). Depending on how new coach Jim Montgomery (previously at University of Denver) constructs the lines, Nichushkin could end up on the wing of elite forward Tyler Seguin and/or Jamie Benn, and on the power play with Alexander Radulov. Nichushkin comes with risk given his underwhelming production in the NHL (64 points in 166 games) and KHL (51 points in 86 games over past two seasons), but potential exposure to multiple elite forwards instantly makes him a top 200 fantasy target with 20-goal, 50-point upside. An X-factor is veteran center Jason Spezza, who fell out of favor (13:00 per game; 26 points in 78 games) under coach Ken Hitchcock last season but can bounce back on a line with Radulov or Nichushkin in his contract year (potential 2019 UFA).


Nick Schmaltz, C/LW, CHI 188; ADP: 168.1

The Chicago Blackhawks forward had a drastic improvement in points per game last season (0.67; 0.46 as rookie in 2016-17) and is striving for even greater consistency. The 22-year-old had erratic lineup placement, playing both center and left wing, but his 17.8 shooting percentage (21 goals on 118 SOG) made up for it. Schmaltz has a chance to latch onto a line with elite wing Patrick Kane and breakout candidate Alex DeBrincat over a full season, making him a potential late-round steal. He could also have added motivation as a potential 2019 restricted free agent and has been projected by to score 55 points this season.


Shea Theodore, D, VGK 190; ADP: 158.7

Some Vegas Golden Knights players could regress in their second season, but Theodore should quarterback a power play that has room for improvement. Vegas finished tied for ninth in power-play efficiency (21.4 percent) in the regular season but struggled in that area during the playoffs (18.5; worst among teams that advanced past first round). Theodore started last season with Chicago of the American Hockey League but played on the first power-play unit with top-line forwards Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith down the stretch of the regular season and postseason. Theodore had 29 points (six goals, 23 assists) in 61 regular-season games (82-game pace of 39 points) and five multipoint games, including a four-point game against the Lightning on Dec. 19. If Theodore signs a new contract before the start of the season, he could return value in late rounds and reach 45-50 points. It's worth noting top defenseman Nate Schmidt has been suspended 20 games, leaving an even-strength void for Theodore to potentially fill.


Jakub Vrana, LW/RW, WSH 194; ADP: 173.6

The Capitals rookie wing had a quiet regular season (27 points in 73 games; 12:30 per game) but responded with two huge performances in their run to the Stanley Cup. He had three points (one goal, two assists) in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and scored the opening goal in Game 5 of the Cup Final against the Golden Knights. He had a 12-game goal drought in between but showed signs of an eventual breakout with two assists, a plus-3, 28 SOG and by hitting multiple posts. His ice time remained low in the playoffs (11:56 per game) but he played more frequently on the second line with center Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie in later series, and had two of his three points against the Penguins in Game 5 on a line with elite forwards Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Associate coach Todd Reirden was promoted after Trotz left the Capitals -- encouraging news for Vrana, who has untapped fantasy potential if he remains in the top six for a full season.


Other sleeper candidates for 2018-19: Alex Tuch, RW, VGK; Nikita Zadorov, D, COL; Robin Lehner, G, NYI; Timo Meier, LW, SJS; Anthony Beauvillier, C/LW, NYI

View More