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Fantasy: Dark horse forwards you can't ignore

Troy Brouwer, Travis Zajac, Anders Lee could become relevant in deep leagues

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

You've seen our breakout, sleeper and even deep sleeper picks, but there is always life after your draft. 

It's time to recognize experienced forwards who could be worth adding in deep leagues off the waiver wire, also known as dark horses. They are either barely being drafted on average in Yahoo leagues or being completely overlooked. These forwards cannot be ignored either because of past production or a chance to be more valuable than ever among their team's top six.

FANTASY RANKINGS: TOP 250 | CENTER | LW | RW | D-MAN | GOALIE

Here are some dark horses who will be at least 26 years old by the start of the 2016-17 season. None qualified for NHL.com's deep sleeper or breakout lists because of age, and also did not qualify as a sleeper because they will start the season on the waiver wire in most 12-team leagues.

Troy Brouwer, RW, Calgary Flames

Fresh off a productive Stanley Cup Playoff (13 points in 20 games with St. Louis Blues), Brouwer has a chance to skate on the right wing of a line with restricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau and center Sean Monahan, one of the NHL's most promising duos. The knock on Brouwer, 31, is that he has never scored more than 25 goals or 43 points in a single season. But he does have power-play experience from his days with the Washington Capitals (21 power-play points in 2013-14) and covered all six standard categories respectably last season. Draft Brouwer in the final round of a 12-team draft in case he puts it all together.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Brouwer swats home goal for the lead

Stat projection: 25 goals, 23 assists, plus-4, 70 penalty minutes, 15 PPP, 160 shots on goal

Shane Doan, RW, Arizona Coyotes

Doan, who turns 40 on Oct. 10, gets little fantasy respect (Yahoo rank: 223; ADP: 165.4) despite finishing 62nd overall last season. He led the Coyotes with 28 goals and covered PIMs (98), PPP (17), rating (plus-4) and SOG (170) in 72 games. He likely won't maintain his high shooting rate (16.5 percent), but should score 20 goals again with strong peripherals, even if he plays on Arizona's third line. If the Coyotes' contract stalemate with restricted free agent Tobias Rieder goes on much longer, Doan could benefit from a second-line role alongside Dylan Strome or Martin Hanzal.

Stat projection: 22 goals, 24 assists, plus-2, 82 PIMs, 13 PPP, 175 SOG

Nick Bonino, C, and Carl Hagelin, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins

If coach Mike Sullivan keeps his lines intact, Bonino and Hagelin could go from fantasy afterthoughts to productive waiver-wire additions alongside Phil Kessel. Bonino, undrafted on average in Yahoo, was fantasy-relevant only in 2013-14, when he had 49 points (20 PPP) and was plus-14 with 159 SOG while playing for the Anaheim Ducks. Hagelin (ADP: 156.9) has two PPP in 346 career NHL games. But the "HBK Line" did wonders for the Penguins late in the season and during their Stanley Cup title run; Hagelin had 27 points in 37 regular-season games and 16 in 24 postseason games after being traded to Pittsburgh; Bonino had 16 points in his final 13 regular-season games and 18 in 24 playoff games.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm5: Hagelin deflects equalizer past Jones

Stat projection (Bonino): 17 goals, 29 assists, plus-16, 26 PIMs, 6 PPP, 150 SOG
Stat projection (Hagelin): 20 goals, 22 assists, plus-18, 40 PIMs, 2 PPP, 196 SOG

Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Anaheim Ducks

Silfverberg, who turns 26 on Oct. 13, the day of Anaheim's season opener, failed to live up to fantasy sleeper expectations again last season. He's had back-to-back seasons of 39 points with a strong plus-minus rating (combined plus-23) and SOG totals (189 in 2014-15, 215 in 2015-16) in each, but limited power-play impact and overall production. The wild card for Silfverberg is whether new coach Randy Carlyle will move him off Ryan Kesler's line and onto Ryan Getzlaf's line. Silfverberg could also get more power-play usage in a fresh system. Any changes could be big for Silfverberg's fantasy value, which has been stagnant despite the potential he showcased two postseasons ago (18 points, four PPP in 16 games).

Stat projection: 24 goals, 26 assists, plus-10, 26 PIMs, 10 PPP, 225 SOG

Anders Lee, LW, New York Islanders

Lee took a big step back from a goal-scoring standpoint in his second full NHL season; he had 15 on 183 SOG after having 25 on 197 SOG playing mostly with John Tavares as a rookie. Veteran Andrew Ladd has the inside track on the top-line LW spot after signing a seven-year contract with the Islanders, but Lee remains a threat to regain his old spot or build chemistry on a young second line with rookie Mathew Barzal and bounce-back hopeful Ryan Strome. Lee, who missed all 11 of New York's postseason games because of a broken fibula, can return to the 20-goal realm and build on his strong category coverage (51 PIMs, 14 PPP) as long as he remains on the Islanders' first power-play unit. 

Stat projection: 22 goals, 26 assists, plus-3, 46 PIMs, 16 PPP, 194 SOG

David Perron, LW/RW, St. Louis Blues

Perron had 20 points and was plus-12 in 28 games last season while playing mostly alongside Getzlaf after being traded to the Ducks by the Penguins, so his fantasy potential is real if he cracks the Blues' top six. That's a possibility considering their lack of RW depth behind Vladimir Tarasenko after losing Brouwer and David Backes in free agency. If Perron ends up on the second line with Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen, he could score 45-50 points with strong category coverage. His low shooting percentage last season with the Penguins (4.2 percent; four goals on 96 SOG) corrected itself after the trade (15.7 percent; eight goals on 51 SOG with Anaheim). His dual eligibility in Yahoo makes him worth owning in deep fantasy leagues.

Stat projection: 23 goals, 24 assists, plus-8, 52 PIMs, 12 PPP, 186 SOG

Travis Zajac, C, New Jersey Devils

There's much talk of the Devils' fantasy resurgence after acquiring Taylor Hall, yet almost no talk of Zajac, who's poised to remain their second-line center and see time on a loaded first power-play unit. He should play at even strength with either Hall or injury bounce-back candidate Michael Cammalleri, and could have Kyle Palmieri on his other wing. It's risky to expect Zajac to return to his glory days, when he scored 67 points in 2009-10 and 62 in 2008-09 alongside Zach Parise or Patrik Elias. That said, Zajac should have 30 assists for the first time since 2013-14 and get back on the fantasy map.

Video: BOS@NJD: Zajac puts the Devils on top with a PPG

Stat projection: 16 goals, 32 assists, plus-2, 28 PIMs, 17 PPP, 140 SOG

Colin Wilson, LW, and Mike Fisher, C, Nashville Predators

The Predators have a new-look offense after swapping defenseman Shea Weber for a more dynamic puck-mover in P.K. Subban, but their even-strength lines remain a question entering the season. With James Neal, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen leading the group, coach Peter Laviolette will likely balance them over two lines. Last season, it was mostly Johansen and Neal in the regular season, but Neal was moved to a line with Fisher and Wilson in the playoffs, one that nearly helped them defeat the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Second Round. Fisher, the Predators' new captain, is getting up in age (36), and Wilson underachieved during the regular season, but there's an outside chance the Predators will roll with this successful trio. If that's the case, Neal could help Wilson and Fisher score more than 40 points apiece.

Stat projection (Wilson): 21 goals, 24 assists, plus-4, 22 PIMs, 11 PPP, 175 SOG
Stat projection (Fisher): 16 goals, 27 assists, minus-2, 57 PIMs, 9 PPP, 145 SOG

Additional dark-horse candidates: Tomas Plekanec (C, MTL), Alex Killorn (C, TBL), Teddy Purcell (LW, LAK), Radim Vrbata (RW, ARI), Zack Smith (C, OTT).

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