Preseason performance should always be taken with a grain of salt as it pertains to fantasy hockey, but there's still a lot to take from these games as the regular season looms.
There's a feeling-out period where coaches tinker with line combinations, prospects are given a chance to push for roster spots and minor injury concerns cause players to miss games. However, fantasy owners can still use exhibition games to quantify sleeper picks and identify players worth adding off the waiver wire or drafting late.
Here are five players owned in 25 percent or fewer Yahoo leagues that have stepped up in the preseason and could emerge as fantasy-relevant players this season:
Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings
Yahoo ownership: 22 percent
FANTASY HOCKEY ANALYSIS
The 2014-15 NHL season is drawing closer by the day, so NHL.com has you covered with all the fantasy hockey advice you'll need come draft day.
"That 70s Line" of Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Toffoli made waves during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the three have picked up where they left off. Each linemate finished among the League's top 18 in exhibition scoring, led by Toffoli's NHL-best nine points in five games. The 22-year-old put forth balanced point production and shots on goal at a high rate this past postseason and has followed it up with more of the same, so there's little doubt he can carry it over to the regular season. Toffoli is set in stone as a top-six forward for the defending Stanley Cup champions and can also provide a rating boost (plus-21 in 2013-14), so fantasy owners should save a right-wing slot and target him in the 13th round (Yahoo average draft position: 161.2).
Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Yahoo ownership: 12 percent
Atkinson is a dynamic wing who has something to prove and plays like it on every shift. While Ryan Johansen was in the midst of contract negotiations and Nathan Horton and Boone Jenner were sidelined, Atkinson scored four goals this preseason (T-2nd in NHL) despite seeing time next to a myriad of centers (Mark Letestu, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Dubinsky). With Johansen now under contract, Columbus coach Todd Richards has to construct a top line around his star player, and Atkinson's 20-plus goals and 200-plus SOG last season make him a candidate. The 25-year-old is not being drafted on average in Yahoo leagues, but adding him off the waiver wire in a deep format can bring your team a quality second or third-line player who will see a spike in power-play minutes while his team is dealing with injuries. Don't rule out 25 to 30 goals either.
Jori Lehtera, C, St. Louis Blues
Yahoo ownership: 5 percent
Lehtera, drafted in the third round by the Blues in 2008, has finally ventured to North America to play at the NHL level, and there has been a familiar face by his side in training camp. Lehtera and fantasy breakout candidate Vladimir Tarasenko, former Kontinental Hockey League linemates, have rekindled their connection this preseason. Lehtera has six points in five games and Tarasenko has four exhibition goals. Lehtera has also seen time of late with Jaden Schwartz and another preseason standout Joakim Lindstrom. Lehtera is totally off the map in Yahoo drafts, but was identified as a sleeper entering the season and should be grabbed either off the wire or in the final two or three rounds of your draft. Seeing natural chemistry on display this preseason indicates that, barring injury, Lehtera can pack serious scoring punch on the second or third line for an elite team.
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Yahoo ownership: 5 percent
2013-14 reg. season
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 18
SOG: 102 | +/-: 3
NHL.com's top-rated prospect Jonathan Drouin has been sidelined in the preseason due to injury and may not be ready for opening night. Kucherov, meanwhile, has taken off after a solid rookie season and capitalizing on an expanded role in Drouin's absence. Whether he has been in the midst of a trial on the team's top line with Steven Stamkos or meshing with fellow Russian Vladislav Namestnikov, Kucherov has been lights out with a League-best six goals in as many games. We saw how productive Tampa Bay's top-nine forward mix proved to be last season (e.g. Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn), so pick up Kucherov now and watch his fantasy ownership continue to soar.
Filip Forsberg, C/RW, Nashville Predators
Yahoo ownership: 15 percent
SIGN UP FOR YAHOO FANTASY HOCKEY
One of my biggest preseason takeaways is that Predators coach Peter Laviolette gave Forsberg opportunities to latch onto the top line with proven offensive threats James Neal and Mike Ribeiro. Even if the prospect ends up seeing second-line minutes next to Derek Roy and Craig Smith, he can pay dividends for fantasy owners. This is great news for the 20-year-old, who was on fantasy owners' radar last season before seeing 13 games of action and minimal power-play situations under Barry Trotz. This preseason, he had two goals in five games while generating more SOG (23) than any player League-wide, signs that he's being given more freedom in the offensive zone. He's dual eligible in Yahoo, and his average draft position proves that this Calder Trophy candidate can be a late splash in your draft (ADP: 167.1).
Five other preseason standouts worthy of consideration: Sami Vatanen, (D, ANA), Anthony Duclair (LW, NYR), Morgan Rielly (D, TOR), Elias Lindholm (C, CAR), Eric Fehr (RW, WSH)