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Fantasy deep sleeper candidates for 2017-18

Little, Beaulieu, Point among players rarely being drafted who could emerge as assets

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / Staff Writer

We aren't talking just any type of sleepers here, ladies and gentlemen. No, we're talking deep sleepers. Most of the players you're about to read about will go undrafted in a 12-team format, maybe even a 14-team league. Many will start the season on the waiver wire, but could be key cogs in your championship run once their true value presents itself, whether through an injury or by earning an increased role during the preseason. 

Here is one deep sleeper candidate for each team, in alphabetical order: 


FANTASY RANKINGS: Top 250Top 100 'F' | C | LW | RW | Top 50 'D' | Top 25 'G'

DRAFT GUIDES: Standard mock draft 1.0 | Keeper / dynasty | Hits | Faceoff wins

2017-18 PROJECTIONS: Forward points | D-man points | Goalie wins | Team previews

LISTS: Forward bargains | D-man bargains | Breakouts | Sleepers | Deep sleepers | Rookies


Nick Ritchie, LW, Anaheim Ducks -- Ritchie has a shot to land in the top six and had solid secondary category coverage last season with 62 penalty minutes and 149 shots on goal in 77 games. He'd also be an asset in a hits league (247).

Christian Dvorak, C, Arizona Coyotes -- Dvorak should start the season as the second-line center after scoring 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 78 games in 2016-17. He has 50-point upside considering Arizona's offseason improvements.

Frank Vatrano, C/LW, Boston Bruins -- Vatrano's 2.6 SOG per game was fourth on Boston last season, and he would have had 213 had he not been limited to 44 games. In a perfect world, Vatrano plays in the top six all season and scores around 20-25 goals. 

Nathan Beaulieu, D, Buffalo Sabres -- Beaulieu had 12 power-play points on the Montreal Canadiens' 13th-ranked unit last season. This season he could have a role on the Sabres power play, which was first (24.5 percent) in 2016-17. 

Travis Hamonic, D, Calgary Flames -- Hamonic has a chance to provide decent category coverage in PIMs, plus/minus and SOG in his first season with the Flames. It wasn't too long ago he had 33 points and was plus-15 with 85 PIMs for the New York Islanders. 

Victor Rask, C, Carolina Hurricanes -- Rask has at least 45 points and 160 SOG in each of the past two seasons. If the Hurricanes take a big step forward, as many are predicting, Rask could post 50-55 points with 15-20 PPP. 

Richard Panik, LW/RW, Chicago Blackhawks -- People forget that Panik finished 120th in Yahoo last season, scoring a career-high 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) playing primarily next to center Jonathan Toews. Without Artemi Panarin, Panik could see an increased role on the power play as well. 

Mikko Rantanen, LW/RW, Colorado Avalanche -- The 20-year-old has dual eligibility at wing and was a sneaky 20-goal scorer last season. Rantanen averaged 18:03 of ice time as a rookie and the Avalanche likely won't be as bad as they were in 2016-17. 

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets -- If the Blue Jackets feel captain Nick Foligno is better suited on the third line, Bjorkstrand could be in the top six. He had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 21 games from Feb. 15 to the end of last season, a 47-point pace. 

Brett Ritchie, RW, Dallas Stars -- Like his brother Nick, the elder Ritchie also has an outside shot at a top-six role in a potent offense. He provided decent category coverage in SOG (167) and goals (16 in 78 games) last season. Brett, like Nick, would get a boost in stock in a hits league as well.

Video: Pete Jensen on where to draft rookies in fantasy

Gustav Nyquist, LW/RW, Detroit Red Wings -- Nyquist went from scoring at least 27 goals in back-to-back seasons from 2013-15, to failing to score 20 in the past two seasons. That likely has a lot to do with the departure of Mike Babcock as coach, but two full seasons under Jeff Blashill could mean Nyquist is ready to be fantasy relevant again. 

Patrick Maroon, LW, Edmonton Oilers -- Only Connor McDavid could turn Maroon into a top 100 fantasy asset. He finished 84th in Yahoo last season after scoring 27 goals with 95 PIMs, 178 SOG and 189 hits. If he lands with McDavid again, he'd be worth adding with your last bench spot. 

Michael Matheson, D, Florida Panthers -- Last season, Matheson sneakily was 22nd in the League with 179 SOG, one ahead of teammate Keith Yandle. If Aaron Ekblad struggles again, Matheson could see more PP time, plus he has added value in a blocks league (118 last season). 

Tanner Pearson, LW, Los Angeles Kings -- In the past three seasons, not counting plus/minus, Pearson has improved in each fantasy category. He's coming off 24 goals, 44 points and 187 SOG, solid numbers for a player going undrafted on average in Yahoo. 

Tyler Ennis, LW/RW, Minnesota Wild -- If Ennis can stay healthy, which is obviously a big 'if', then he has a shot to duplicate what forward Jason Pominville did for the Wild last season, somewhere around 45 points and 175 SOG. 

Phillip Danault, C/LW, Montreal Canadiens -- There's a decent chance Danault ends up as the top-line center and he's going undrafted in Yahoo. Even if Montreal's offense isn't appealing, Danault, 24, is in a contract year and could see increased playing time in his second full season with the Canadiens. 

Scott Hartnell, LW, Nashville Predators -- The Predators need to replace James Neal at wing and Hartnell may be able to fill that role. Nashville lacks forward depth, so Hartnell could be a top-six forward with great PIM coverage (at least 100 in 11 of 16 seasons). 

Pavel Zacha, C/LW, New Jersey Devils -- With center Travis Zajac expected to miss the first two months of the season, Zacha should center one of the top two lines. The No. 6 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft showed promise late last season and could be in store for a breakout, particularly with the Devils' offseason improvements. 

Josh Bailey, LW/RW, New York Islanders -- It's odd Bailey only finished 142nd in Yahoo considering he had an NHL career-high 56 points (13 goals, 43 assists, 12 PPP) with 173 SOG in 82 games. He should still have a significant role in the Islanders' top nine despite the additions of Jordan Eberle, Mathew Barzal and Joshua Ho-Sang. 

Kevin Hayes, C/RW, New York Rangers -- With the trade of Derek Stepan to the Coyotes, the Rangers will likely move Hayes up the depth chart to center the second line. He had 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in a lesser role last season, so at least a minor uptick in production makes sense. 

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Ottawa Senators -- Pageau regressed from 43 points to 33 last season, but led the Senators with eight goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His defensive acumen will earn him increased playing time, and his shot volume (169 last season) and plus/minus should be above average. 

Travis Sanheim, D, Philadelphia Flyers -- After an impressive rookie season with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League (37 points in 76 games), expect Sanheim to make the Flyers' top four this season. The 21-year-old has plenty of offensive upside, having scored at least 65 points in back-to-back seasons from 2014-16 in juniors.

Video: Fantasy expert Pete Jensen on offseason moves

Ian Cole, D, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Top defenseman Kris Letang has missed time because of injury in each of the past six seasons. If that trend continues, Cole gets a nice bump in playing time. He can provide nice coverage in plus/minus (plus-26) and PIMs (72), and is a hits/blocks league stud (164, 194 last season). 

Timo Meier, LW/RW, San Jose Sharks -- Coach Pete DeBoer clearly has a problem with playing Mikkel Boedker extensively, so Meier has the best shot of playing wing on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. If so, he's worth a late-round pick in keeper and dynasty formats. 

Joel Edmundson, D, St. Louis Blues -- It was Edmundson, not Alex Pietrangelo or Colton Parayko, who stepped up in the playoffs last season. He led St. Louis defensemen with six points (three goals, three assists) and was plus-12 in 11 games. With no Kevin Shattenkirk, Edmundson could see second-unit PP time. 

Brayden Point, C/RW, Tampa Bay Lightning -- A third-round pick (No. 79) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Point had one of the more overlooked rookie seasons in 2016-17. He finished with 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) in 68 games, a 48-point pace. He could play right wing next to Steven Stamkos and is being drafted on average at 168.3. 

Tyler Bozak, C, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Things working in Bozak's favor this season include: He's in a contract year, is coming off an NHL career-high 55 points (18 goals, 37 assists), and will likely be playing with James van Reimsdyk and Mitchell Marner. What more needs to be said? 

Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks could surprise a lot of people this season and Markstrom is expected to be their No. 1 goalie, which means at least 45-50 starts. That could translate into a serviceable starter who will likely be available on the waiver wire. 

Reilly Smith, RW, Vegas Golden Knights -- Practically every Golden Knights player will be considered a deep sleeper, but Smith going undrafted seems odd. You could argue he's the best forward on Vegas behind James Neal, and if nothing else will have a high shot volume and double-digit PPP. 

Brett Connolly, LW/RW, Washington Capitals -- Somebody is going to have to play right wing next to Evgeny Kuznetsov on the second line and Connolly has some goal-scoring ability, scoring 15 on 81 SOG in a bottom-six role last season. 

Bryan Little, C, Winnipeg Jets -- Another absurdity is Little being drafted 173.6 on average. He had 47 points (21 goals, 26 assists) in 59 games last season, a 65-point pace. He's going to center a line with elite wings, either Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers or Blake Wheeler. If Little stays healthy, he should easily eclipse 60 points. 

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