Thanks to the Internet, it's getting more and more difficult to come up with a list of sleeper picks for your fantasy draft. After all, is Player X really a “steal” if 50 websites list him as such? Nonetheless, I'll list 10 of my favorites. Some you'll see on other lists…and perhaps a couple of them will be unique. I'll stay away from the rookies, because most of the good ones default under the “potential steal” moniker.
10. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota/Ryan Whitney, Edmonton
This is where I cheated. I couldn't decide which one to knock off the list. Their situations are similar in that they're both defensemen with offensive upside, they are surrounded by an exciting team on the cusp off offensive greatness – and they spend a lot of time in the injury ward. The veteran Whitney has been there more often over the past two years, whereas the younger Spurgeon has been hit with a few injuries early in his career. Either of these guys will slip deep in your draft and their success will depend on their health. If they can stay on the ice, they will surprise.
9. Jiri Tlusty, Carolina
He's practicing on a top-six line early in camp, thanks in large part to the Tuomo Ruutu injury. He had 22 of his 36 points in the last 35 games of 2011-12. He's also been playing hockey these last three months, posting 23 points in 24 games for Kladno of the Czech League.
8. Tyler Ennis, Buffalo
I'm finding that a lot of poolies are frothing at the mouth about Cody Hodgson's opportunity – and not enough of them are excited about Tyler Ennis, who was drafted 16 picks after Hodgson in 2008. I agree that Hodgson will put up points, but Ennis was on a tear at the end of last season, while Hodgson took a while to adapt. Ennis had 27 points in 26 games to end the campaign.
7. Bobby Butler, New Jersey
Butler is good at one thing – and that's scoring. It's top six or bust for the 25-year-old, so there is a lot of risk here. Definitely a late-round selection in your fantasy league. But after a slow start with Albany of the American League he turned on the jets and ended up scoring 15 goals in 32 games. If Butler can push Dainius Zubrus out of the top six, he could flourish. Zubrus has the skill set to play on the third line, but Butler doesn't.
6. Peter Mueller, Florida
In the past 32 months, Mueller has played just 32 regular season NHL games. Pulling out the ol' calculator and doing some quick math here, that works out to an average of one game per month! OK, I'm stretching the stats a little. But the point remains – fantasy owners are scared away. He'll fall deeper in the draft and if he is going to ever comeback from his concussion woes it will be this year.
5. Roman Josi, Nashville
Josi was fantastic as a freshman a year ago, impressing everyone with his poise and showing his offensive flair beyond his years. The 22-year-old could play the point on the power play alongside Shea Weber. I think he could replace Ryan Suter's 46 points (pro-rated, of course) that the team lost in the off-season.
4. Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia
Claude Giroux extended Jaromir Jagr's career last year, as Jagr would have had 60 points were it not for his groin injury. Now it's Voracek who will be taken above the 60-point mark by Giroux. Voraeck may not be on Giroux’s line all the time, but he'll be there some of the time. That, combined with the fact it’s his fifth NHL season, creates the perfect storm for Voracek owners.
3. Damien Brunner, Detroit
The only reason Brunner isn't No. 1 here is because we’ve seen this act before. Jiri Dopita, Fabian Brunnstrom, Janne Pesonen, Ville Leino…the list goes on. And although Leino worked out, it took him two years after he came over. However, Brunner offers more hope than any of them. All the stars seem to be aligned this time. He played for Zug in the Swiss League during the lockout and dominated. To this day, he still holds an 11-point lead in the scoring race with 57 points in 33 games. As a comparable, John Tavares in the same league had 42 points in 28 games.
What's more exciting- Brunner lined up with Henrik Zetterberg. The two just clicked. They created magic together and it is certainly a pairing that will continue on at the start of Brunner's NHL career. As training camp opens up, Brunner is on the top line with Zetterberg and this fellow named Pavel Datsyuk.
2. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton
This year or next, the Oilers will take that big step forward to surprise many. If it's this year, then Dubnyk will be a 20-game winner (in a shortened season) and top fantasy asset. If it's next year, well, then he'll be the goalie everyone expects him to be. He’s worth drafting this year in the hopes the breakthrough comes sooner rather than later.
1. Cam Atkinson, Columbus
Opportunity, talent and a track record of meeting challenges. Atkinson polished off his college career by posting 105 points in his last 81 games for Boston College. Yawn. We see a handful of players do that every year in the NCAA and it doesn't always translate to a successful NHL career. But then he ended 2010-11 with five AHL games and posted five points. Good start to a pro career, but again – we've seen it before. Last season his hot AHL production continued and during his NHL stints he did not look out of place. In fact, he ended the season in Columbus with five goals and six points in two games.
The Blue Jackets need scoring on the wing and Atkinson fits the bill. What's more, he would have made the team in October had the season started on time. Instead, he got further development time with Springfield, posting 38 points in 33 games. That was good for third in the league behind Edmonton's Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz.
From a personal standpoint, I put a lot of stock into this sleeper pick. I'm in three keeper leagues and Sunday night I drafted Atkinson for the third time. So I own him in all three, something I've never done before. Atkinson has Dobber's stamp of approval, but if you want another one, here's a quote from TSN's Bob McKenzie on Twitter:
I don't go in pools/fantasy drafts but if I did I'd want CBJ's Cam Atkinson on my team. 7G in 27GP in NHL. 49G in 89GP in AHL.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.