With very few exceptions, the vast majority of top-tier players are established and well-known to the common fantasy owner. But while these players are integral components of a championship team, under-the-radar options with high potential -- better known as sleepers -- can pay huge dividends in fantasy leagues as well.
Whether drafted or added off waivers, these players are typically undervalued on draft day but can ultimately become fantasy commodities by season's end. Sleepers are extremely unpredictable every year, but the bottom line is, these players end up outperforming everyone's expectations, regardless of their age, team or position.
This week, NHL.com fantasy insiders Sergei Feldman, Pete Jensen, and Matt Cubeta take in-depth looks at underrated players who should be on your fantasy team's radar entering drafts. Each expert will provide 10 sleeper picks with corresponding stat projections (in order of preference), along with five additional candidates for fantasy owners to keep an eye on.
SERGEI FELDMAN'S FANTASY HOCKEY SLEEPERS:
1. Milan Hejduk, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Right Wing - COL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 37
SOG: 170 | +/-: -12
What do you get when you take into account a one-time 50-goal scorer, a five-time 30-plus goal-scorer and an impressive crop of forwards to play alongside with? Hejduk, who figures to be a consistent contributor for fantasy owners given the new wave of talent in the Mile High City.
Projection: 22 G, 38 A, plus-5, 25 PIM, 25 PPP, 210 SOG
2. R.J. Umberger, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
The guy who has played in no fewer than 73 games in the seven seasons since joining the NHL has also scored at least 20 goals in four straight campaigns. On an improved Columbus squad, Umberger should grow into the kind of power forward with across-the-board production that fantasy owners everywhere dream of.
Projection: 27 G, 35 A, plus-2, 40 PIM, 15 PPP, 230 SOG
3. Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg Jets
After an under-the-radar coming out party last year, Wheeler can be the life of the party in 2012-13. It's hard to quietly rack up 60-plus points, but Wheeler's managed to do so. A spike in goals figures to compensate for a dip in assists, but Wheeler will be a viable fantasy option.
Projection: 22 G, 41 A, plus-10, 60 PIM, 23 PPP, 215 SOG
4. Andrei Markov, D, Montreal Canadiens
The typically-talented blueliner hasn't played in more than 45 games since 2009-10, but when healthy, Markov is easily a 40-60 point contributor. In the later rounds of your drafts, be bold and bank on health and reap the rewards weekly lineup in, weekly lineup out.
Projection: 9 G, 36 A, plus-1, 40 PIM, 16 PPP, 140 SOG
5. Mikhail Grabovski, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Center - TOR
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 51
SOG: 163 | +/-: 0
A solid second-line anchor, Grabovski is Mr. Reliable. Whether he's having a good year or underachieving, you can expect a similar stat sheet. But with the Maple Leafs' more balanced offensive attack, Grabovski can be on the verge of making a fantasy jump.
Projection: 26 G, 30 A, plus-12, 55 PIM, 30 PPP, 205 SOG
6. Jiri Hudler, RW, Calgary Flames
There are times when it's tough to deny Hudler's talent, but then he'll give you a reason. Three years of improvement from 2006-07 to 2008-09 were followed by an inexplicable career low in 2010-11. He bounced back with a 25-goal, 25-assist campaign and figures to be on the upswing again in a new environment in Calgary with a club that's desperate to make a strong push.
Projection: 26 G, 37 A, plus-9, 55 PIM, 18 PPP, 175 SOG
7. Cody Hodgson, C, Buffalo Sabres
The former first-round pick showed flashes of dominance while in Vancouver last year, but had a tough time settling in Buffalo after a trade. Hodgson is projected as the Sabres' top-line center, so enormous potential exists with explosive wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville by his side. With time, his new environment will seem more familiar and Hodgson could blend into a consistent and reliable complementary performer for fantasy owners.
Projection: 20 G, 25 A, plus-5, 25 PIM, 12 PPP, 180 SOG
8. Mathieu Perreault, RW, Washington Capitals
Seemingly out of nowhere, Perreault chipped in with 16 goals in just 64 games for Washington last season and with that confidence can push the 20-goal mark. While he won't provide much in most categories, every fantasy owner could use that kind of scoring punch in later rounds.
Projection: 18 G, 20 A, plus-11, 35 PIM, 10 PPP, 120 SOG
9. Anders Lindback, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
Goalie - TBL
GAA: 2.42 | SVP: 0.912
Playing behind stud netminder Pekka Rinne for two years hopefully rubbed off a bit on the now potential go-to-guy in Tampa Bay. Lindback only has 38 games played under his belt, but was adequate between the pipes when getting the chance. Playing on a contender in Nashville figures to help Lindback handle the pressure of being the missing piece in Tampa Bay's push for contention in the East.
Projection: 63 GP, 26 W, 2.45 GAA, .917 SV%
10. Eric Tangradi, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
With just one goal in his NHL career, Tangradi has underachieved so far in Pittsburgh, but has improved in the more technical facets of his game. With those pieces in place, his large frame and potential opportunity to play alongside elite talent can be the recipe for success for a future top-six option.
Projection: 15 G, 12 A, plus-4, 30 PIM, 8 PPP, 100 SOG
Other sleeper candidates: Jared Cowen (Senators), Kyle Quincey (Red Wings), Slava Voynov (Kings), Brad Boyes (Islanders), Jake Gardiner (Maple Leafs)
Follow Sergei Feldman on Twitter: @NHLFeldman; Join in the conversation: @NHLFantasy