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Fantasy sleeper candidates for 2018-19

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

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

NHL.com 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 NHL.com/Fantasy.

 

FANTASY COVERAGE: Breakouts | Deep sleepers | Rookies to watch

Top 250 rankings | 100 'F' | 50 'D' | 25 'G' | Team previews

 

Pavel Buchnevich , LW/RW, NYR

NHL.com rank: 146; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 237

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 power-play points 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, center prospects Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson, and defenseman Neal Pionk. 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.

Video: BUF@NYR: Buchnevich nets Zibanejad's great pass

 

Carter Hutton, G, BUF

NHL.com rank: 150; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 45

Hutton has been a quality backup for most of his NHL career with the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, and stole starts from the younger Jake Allen last season to lead the NHL in save percentage (.931; minimum 20 games). The 32-year-old missed time in March because of a neck injury but returned later in the season and finished 17-7-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and three shutouts in 32 games (26 starts) for the Blues, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 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 middle-round steal for a much-improved team that has defenseman prospect Rasmus Dahlin (No. 1 pick in 2018 NHL Draft), Swedish Hockey League defenseman of the year Lawrence Pilut and plenty of depth scoring after two trades this offseason. 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 25 or more wins with a .920 or better SV% if elite center Jack Eichel plays a full season and Dahlin makes an immediate impact.

 

Tomas Hertl, C/LW/RW, SJS

NHL.com rank: 154; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 162

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 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 clearly has a higher ceiling, especially with top-line center Joe Pavelski and left wing Evander Kane (re-signed to seven-year contract) commanding the opposition's attention on a nightly basis.

Video: SJS@VGK, Gm5: Hertl buries loose puck past Fleury

 

Zach Hyman, LW, TOR

NHL.com rank: 157; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 200

The Maple Leafs left wing has been Auston Matthews' frequent linemate 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 elite center in John Tavares, coach Mike Babcock has projected Hyman to play on Tavares' wing opposite right wing Mitchell Marner. This development makes Hyman a potential late-round steal 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 can still produce 55-60 points and be among the NHL leaders in plus/minus (plus-24 in 180 games) if the Maple Leafs stay healthy.

 

Petr Mrazek, G, CAR

NHL.com rank: 175; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 299

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 break away and start at least 50 games, which he did in 2016-17 (50) and 2015-16 (54). Mrazek has been fantasy-relevant before, finishing 68th overall in Yahoo three seasons ago by going 27-16-6 with a 2.33 GAA, .921 SV% and four shutouts 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 forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and Valentin Zykov.

Video: BOS@PHI: Mrazek robs Pastrnak with stellar glove save

 

Ryan Pulock, D, NYI

NHL.com rank: 176; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 289

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 for the first time 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).

 

Shea Theodore, D, VGK (restricted free agent)

NHL.com rank: 178; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 336

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 because of Vegas' logjam at the position after the NHL Expansion Draft, but ended up playing 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 the Golden Knights' power-play improves and Theodore plays a full season there, he should return value in late rounds and reach 45-50 points.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm2: Theodore keeps puck in, nets PPG

 

Brandon Montour, D, ANA

NHL.com rank: 183; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 171

The 24-year-old defenseman saw significant power-play time (2:15 per game), sometimes on the first unit, in his second NHL season and covered all six standard fantasy categories well (nine goals, 23 assists, plus-16, 42 penalty minutes, 12 PPP, 160 SOG). Top defenseman Cam Fowler was limited to 67 regular-season games because of a lower-body injury in October and shoulder injury in April, the latter keeping him out of Anaheim's four postseason games when they were swept by the Sharks. Montour's fantasy value remains complicated in the short term because the Ducks again have a crowded defense (others: Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm) and Fowler is usually productive when healthy (had same point total as Montour in 13 fewer regular-season games). But Montour should be available outside the top 150 in fantasy (Montour: 158th in NHL.com's first mock; Fowler: 166th) and has proven he has a ceiling of at least 50 points over a full season with power-play exposure to forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell.

 

Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL

NHL.com rank: 187; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 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 had 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 (potential 2019 unrestricted free agent) 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; 23 goals, 41 assists 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).

Video: NJD@DAL: Nichushkin opens the scoring on pretty move

 

Jakub Vrana, LW/RW, WSH

NHL.com rank: 199; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 404

The Capitals rookie wing had a quiet regular season (27 points; 13 goals, 14 assists 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; that's 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: Colton Parayko, D, STL; Alex Tuch, RW, VGK; Anthony Beauvillier, C/LW, NYI; Timo Meier, LW/RW, SJS; Robin Lehner, G, NYI

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