Last season saw a number of veteran skaters steal headlines, proving age can sometimes be a meaningless number in the fantasy realm.
It's normal to see some players decline statistically in the late stages of their careers, but Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks and Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers followed the opposite narrative. Thornton, 37, drafted on average with the 142nd pick in Yahoo entering last season, shook off a slow start to finish as the eighth-ranked player in standard leagues. Jagr, 44, taken on average with the 168th pick, also had a blast-from-the-past season, finishing 55th. Daniel Sedin, 35, of the Vancouver Canucks (ADP: 64.6; final rank: 36) and Justin Williams, 34, of the Washington Capitals (2015-16 ADP: 169.2; final rank: 91) were other veterans to outperform their preseason draft stock.
The perception of age is so often the deciding factor when fantasy owners pass on older players in drafts, but last season reminded us that undervalued veterans can often yield huge fantasy returns. Here are some 35-or-older skaters who should be available in mid-to-late rounds of most drafts and could exceed fantasy expectations this season.
Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW, Detroit Red Wings
2015-16 ADP: 36.8; final rank: 125
Video: DET@CBJ: Zetterberg buries rebound, ties Shanahan
Zetterberg, 35, is tied for seventh in points per game (0.96) among active players with at least 700 games played since 2005-06, but last season marked his worst average (0.61) since his rookie season in 2002-03 (0.56). He likely will be available outside the top 100 overall players in drafts this season, and his case as a fantasy bargain becomes more compelling the further he falls. His longtime teammate, forward Pavel Datsyuk, left to play in Russia, opening up more ice time for Zetterberg and Dylan Larkin, who had successful stints as linemates. Zetterberg will remain a fixture on the Red Wings' first power-play unit (22 power-play points last season) and has the shot volume to create better luck for himself; his shooting percentage (6.1) was the third-lowest among forwards with at least 200 SOG behind Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings (5.0) and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers (5.2). A shooting uptick and some fresh, young linemates could be all Zetterberg needs to climb back into the 60-65 point range and finish among the top 75 overall fantasy assets.
Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
2015-16 ADP: 96.1; final rank: 197
Like Zetterberg, Hossa's shooting percentage is overdue for a correction. Among forwards with 400 SOG in the past two seasons combined, Hossa's shooting rate (8.0 percent) is tied for sixth-worst in the NHL. His shot volume and overall track record is strong enough that it would be hardly surprising to see him return to 30-goal territory alongside Jonathan Toews, but his goal total has declined significantly in each of the past two seasons (30 in 2013-14, 22 in 2014-15, 13 in 2015-16). Last season he missed 18 games because of injury, but had a strong Stanley Cup Playoffs with three goals, two assists and 33 SOG in seven games against the St. Louis Blues. The 37-year-old was barely a top 200 finisher last season and his Yahoo ADP will take a hit as a result, but it's hard to rule out a return to 25 goals, 60 points and 200 SOG to go along with his tradition of a strong plus-minus. It would help if he re-joined the Blackhawks' first power-play unit, but that remains a question mark.
Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins
2015-16 ADP: 153.6; final rank: 124
Chara is far from the top-50 overall fantasy asset he was for so many years with the Bruins, but many fantasy owners regretted taking his category coverage for granted last season. He was drafted on average in late rounds but finished 20th among defensemen in standard leagues. His power-play role (2:05 per game in 2014-15; 1:33 in 2015-16) and production continued to decline with the emergence of Torey Krug, but Chara still had 10 power-play points last season to go along with respectable coverage for a defenseman in each of the other five categories. In leagues that count hits and blocked shots, Chara, 39, is all the more valuable, averaging more than 100 of each in the past three seasons. You can do much worse than having Chara as the fourth defenseman on your fantasy roster.
Shane Doan, LW/RW, Arizona Coyotes
2015-16 ADP: N/A; final rank: 60
Video: Shane Doan signs one-year contract with Coyotes
Doan, who will turn 40 before the start of the season, will return to the top 200 rankings in NHL.com's August update after signing a one-year contract to remain with the Coyotes, and his fantasy value is much higher than most owners realize because of his multi-category profile. Even as mostly a third-line wing last season for a team turning the page to its youth, Doan led the Coyotes with 28 goals, 12 of which came on the power play (tied for eighth in the League), with nearly 100 penalty minutes (98), and strong totals in SOG (170) and plus-minus (plus-4). He went undrafted on average last season and finished 60th among all players, so why not take a flier on him after the 13th round if he falls that far? He carries dual eligibility and has had 100 or more hits in each of the past seven seasons since the category has been tracked.
Patrick Marleau, C/LW, San Jose Sharks
2015-16 ADP: 86.6; final rank: 145
Did you know Marleau had more PPP (25) than Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (24) last season? That's the benefit of playing on the first unit in San Jose, featuring Joe Pavelski, Thornton, Logan Couture and Brent Burns. Marleau, 36, could be destined for a third-line role at even strength with the addition of Mikkel Boedker and prospect Timo Meier pushing to make the Sharks roster. That said, Marleau should still see, at worst, second-unit power-play action for one of the deepest groups in the League. Marleau will probably be drafted later than Thornton was entering last season, and, though he is unlikely to bust out in a similar way, should remain fantasy relevant with at least 20 goals, 20 assists, 15 power-play points and 200 SOG. If Marleau ends up playing second line with a fully healthy Couture, he could even build off his solid totals of 2015-16.
Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins
2015-16 ADP: 124.5; final rank: 122
Kunitz's value is nowhere near what it once was; as recently as 2013-14 he was playing on the first line with Crosby, the Penguins' top power-play unit and finished as the 10th-ranked fantasy player based on performance (35 goals, 33 assists, plus-25, 66 PIMs, 22 PPP, 218 SOG). Times have changed and Kunitz is off the first unit in each situation, playing mostly third-line minutes alongside Evgeni Malkin in the postseason. That said, who's to say the Penguins won't deal with an injury or two, opening the door for Kunitz to return to the top-six group? He still had a monster plus-minus (plus-29; fourth in NHL), and decent totals in shots on goal (150) and points (40). If he's available in the final two rounds of standard drafts, it's a no-brainer to take such a proven commodity from the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Jarome Iginla, RW, Colorado Avalanche
2015-16 ADP: 116.9; final rank: 174
Video: ANA@COL: Iginla scores off of feed from Landeskog
Iginla, 39, had the worst plus-minus (minus-22) of his NHL career and his fewest goal total (22) in a full season since 1997-98. One of the most consistent offensive players of this generation -- he has 12 seasons with at least 30 goals -- is barely scraping fantasy relevance these days, ranking among the top 175 based on standard category performance. Luckily, he was still utilized on the Avalanche's first power-play unit for much of the season and can still put up 180-200 SOG. If Colorado's offseason adjustments translate to a better defensive structure, then Iginla's rating could make him less of a fantasy liability. In addition to sticking on the first power-play unit with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and restricted free agent Tyson Barrie, Iginla needs to latch onto the even-strength side of MacKinnon or Duchene to replicate his more-respectable production with the Avalanche from two seasons ago (29 goals, 30 assists in 82 games). He likely will be forgotten in 10-team drafts, but it should not shock anyone to see Iginla resurface as a 55-60 point player with 20 on the power play and a rating much closer to even this season.