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Fantasy hockey second half sleepers for 2018-19

Kase, Pirri excel in goals per 60 minutes; trades can boost Simmonds, Zuccarello; Demko, Vrana have high upside

by Fantasy Hockey Staff @NHLFantasy

NHL.com has identified a second half sleeper for each of the 31 teams. These players have yet to sustain fantasy relevance in the first half (statistics and trends entering Jan. 10, 2019) but are primed for greater production in the coming months. For more fantasy hockey coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy.

 

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Anaheim Ducks: Ondrej Kase -- The right wing ranks 10th in even-strength goals per 60 minutes (1.71) and has overcome an injury absence by scoring 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in his first 26 games. Top-line usage with Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, who returned from injury Wednesday, could take Kase's production to new heights.

Arizona Coyotes: Darcy Kuemper -- Despite all the injuries and inconsistency from the Coyotes, they rank 13th in team save percentage (.908). Kuemper, who has missed time with injury, could improve on his .914 save percentage in the second half with a heavy workload in the absence of injured Antti Raanta (lower body).

Boston Bruins: Jake DeBrusk -- If the Bruins stay healthy in the second half, DeBrusk could build on his first half production in a secondary role; he has 17 points (14 goals, three assists), six power-play points and 87 SOG in 34 games and could feasibly lock down the fifth spot on the first power-play unit with elite fantasy skaters David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug.

Buffalo Sabres: Lawrence Pilut -- The Sabres already have two fantasy-relevant defensemen in Rasmus Ristolainen and rookie Rasmus Dahlin, but Buffalo has room for more depth scoring in the second half. Pilut, also a rookie, has shown a glimpse of it with five points (one goal, four assists) and a plus-7 in his first 12 NHL games.

Calgary Flames: Mikael Backlund -- The center brings exposure to a point-per-game player in Matthew Tkachuk (51 points in 45 games) and also unheralded category coverage (10 goals, 12 assists, plus-18, 101 SOG). If given the opportunity, he also should improve in PPP (none in 41 games; 1:54 per game) based on the past two seasons (11 PPP last season; 16 in 2016-17).

Video: COL@CGY: Backlund buries rebound for opening goal

Carolina Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov -- The No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft has room for better lineup placement; he has played mostly away from valuable forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen in the first half. Svechnikov leads all rookies in SOG (114) and would also benefit from more first power-play usage (two PPP).

Chicago Blackhawks: Erik Gustafsson, Dylan Strome and Collin Delia -- The Blackhawks have a potential second half sleeper at each position as they find more consistency under new coach Jeremy Colliton. Gustafsson has been covering assists and power-play points, Strome has benefited from top-line exposure to elite right wing Patrick Kane and Delia has a .939 SV% through six starts this season in the absence of injured goalie Corey Crawford (concussion).

Colorado Avalanche: J.T. Compher -- The tri-eligible forward has 18 points (10 goals, eight assists), seven on the power play, in 28 games and could see more consistent usage on the top power-play unit with elite forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Compher has a chance to elevate Colorado's second line down the stretch and would also benefit from its top line being broken up again at any point.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Oliver Bjorkstrand -- With uncertainty surrounding elite left wing Artemi Panarin (potential 2019 unrestricted free agent), he could be moved prior to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. Bjorkstrand has the highest ceiling among Columbus' secondary scorers and could reach his potential if an injury or Panarin trade opens up a spot with valuable forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois and/or Cam Atkinson.

Dallas Stars: Jason Spezza -- A second half surge from elite forwards Tyler Seguin and/or Jamie Benn could have a ripple effect on Spezza at even strength and/or on the first power play (eight of Spezza's 21 points have come on the power play). If right wing Alexander Radulov plays mostly on the second line with Spezza, the veteran would also see a fantasy uptick.

Detroit Red Wings: Anthony Mantha -- Since returning from a hand injury, Mantha has points in two of his first three games and carries high upside for the second half. Mantha was a balanced scorer last season (24 goals, 24 assists) and could ignite if reunited with fantasy standout Dylan Larkin.

Edmonton Oilers: Caleb Jones -- With top defenseman Oscar Klefbom (finger) still out, Edmonton could use a lift from one of its young defensemen. Jones has four points (one goal, three assists), 16 hits and is averaging 19:33 per game through his first 11 NHL games and has the luxury of exposure to elite forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on any given shift.

Florida Panthers: Frank Vatrano -- The Panthers forward has maintained second-line usage lately and is closing in on 100 SOG (98 in 40 games) with frequent exposure to either Evgenii Dadonov or Mike Hoffman. Vatrano has seven points (three goals, four assists), two on the power play, a plus-2 and 33 SOG over his past 12 games.

Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown -- With valuable center Anze Kopitar and now veteran wing Ilya Kovalchuk on Brown's line, he's regaining his scoring consistency from last season (61 points in 81 games). Already a must-own forward in hits leagues (70 in 34 games), Brown has nine points (three goals, six assists), a plus-3 and 31 SOG in his past 12 games.

Video: LAK@SJS: Kopitar taps home Brown's dish in front

Minnesota Wild: Charlie Coyle -- The center is skating on the second line with left wing Zach Parise, who has 38 points (19 goals, 19 assists) in 41 games. Coyle has five points (one goal, four assists) in 18:25 per game (leads Wild forwards) since Dec. 31.

Montreal Canadiens: Joel Armia -- The right wing has sneaky upside in deeper leagues with two points (one goal, one assist) in four games since returning from injury Jan. 3. He's skating on the top line with forwards Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi and first power-play unit with Drouin, Domi, wing Tomas Tatar and defenseman Shea Weber.

Nashville Predators: Craig Smith -- Since Dec. 29, the right wing has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his past seven games and is skating in the top six and on the second power-play unit with elite defenseman P.K. Subban, who returned from injury after the NHL's holiday break.

New Jersey Devils: Mackenzie Blackwood -- The rookie goalie is 3-1-0 in his past five appearances, including two shutouts and a .954 SV% and could challenge Keith Kinkaid (.898 SV%) for the starting job.

New York Islanders: Brock Nelson -- The center is on pace for an NHL career-high 58 points and could have extra motivation down the stretch of his contract year (potential 2019 UFA). He leads all Islanders forwards in time on ice per game (19:22) since Dec. 31 and has at least a point in four of his past five games on a line with valuable left wing Anders Lee.

New York Rangers: Mats Zuccarello -- The right wing, who could become a UFA in 2019, has missed time with injury and would likely see a boost in production (15 points in 29 games) if he's traded to a contending team. Zuccarello has averaged 56 points over the past five seasons

Ottawa Senators: Colin White -- The forward ranks second behind Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks in rookie scoring with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 43 games and has been skating mostly on the top line and power-play unit with right wing Mark Stone. UPDATE: White (undisclosed) has been placed on injured reserve.

Philadelphia Flyers: Wayne Simmonds -- The right wing is minus-16 this season (T-4th worst among NHL forwards) but has two goals and 14 SOG in the past four games. It's plausible that the potential 2019 UFA could be traded to a contender, significantly boosting his value. He is a consistent hits producer (80) and has room for improvement on the power play (five PPP).

Video: PHI@WSH: Simmonds jams home 200th goal as a Flyer

Pittsburgh Penguins: Bryan Rust -- The wing has 10 goals in his past 13 games and looks to have secured his lineup placement alongside elite center Sidney Crosby and left wing Jake Guentzel.

San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton -- The 39-year-old has been a perennial fantasy-relevant skater since entering the League in 1997-98 and quietly has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 36 games this season and is back in his usual spot with valuable forward Joe Pavelski.

St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington -- The goalie earned his first NHL shutout against the Flyers and could be given more opportunities to start in the second half of the season given Jake Allen's underwhelming peripherals (.896 SV%; 3.07 GAA).

Tampa Bay Lightning: Ondrej Palat -- The left wing is skating on the top line with elite forward Steven Stamkos (47 points in 43 games) and has recently practiced on the first power-play unit with valuable exposure to Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Zach Hyman -- The left wing is back in the lineup after an ankle injury and offers even-strength scoring upside and hits (57 in 32 games) in his usual spot on a line with elite forwards John Tavares and Mitchell Marner. Hyman also has past chemistry with Auston Matthews in the event that he's moved to a different line.

Vancouver Canucks: Thatcher Demko -- The rookie goalie won his only NHL start last season and could challenge the inconsistent Jacob Markstrom for the starting job after Anders Nilsson was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 2. Once rookie standout Elias Pettersson returns from injury, the Canucks could put their best foot forward down the stretch.

Vegas Golden Knights: Brandon Pirri -- The forward gained dual eligibility (C/LW) and has eight goals in his first 10 games this season mostly skating in a top-six role. He leads the NHL with 3.1 even-strength goals per 60, indicating he doesn't need a power-play role to stay relevant.

Washington Capitals: Jakub Vrana -- The wing is second on the Capitals with 14 goals and looks to have solidified a role skating on the second line with elite center Nicklas Backstrom (44 points in 41 games) and right wing T.J. Oshie, who's also in line for a better second half.

Winnipeg Jets: Jack Roslovic -- With wing Nikolaj Ehlers (upper body) expected to be out at least one month, Roslovic has seen his average ice time rise to 14:34 and is skating with elite right wing Patrik Laine.

NHL.com fantasy editors Pete Jensen and Rob Reese contributed to this list

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