Which fantasy players will vastly outperform their draft position? Matt Larkin offers 10 potential steals to target in your pool.
It’s September. And if you don’t think that means fantasy hockey time, check the weather in the Alberta Rockies. Whoa.
If you’re a keener, you’ve probably gotten ahead already and checked out the top 200 players. Now it’s time to look at sleepers. I identify sleepers as follows:
(a) Players who will outperform their average draft position
(b) Players who will outperform some players drafted before them
(c) Players you can steal cheap at the end of drafts to reap major profits
All three points essentially mean the same thing. The later rounds are all about value, and the sleepers are guys who deliver more value than others picked just before or after them. Some are overlooked rookies – especially rookies who weren’t drafted this past June. Some are guys earning new roles. And some are young guys about to break out and deliver on the promise that made them high draft picks. Two great examples from 2013-14 are Ben Bishop (a guy given a new role) and Ryan Johansen (a high draft pick realizing his potential).
Onto the 2014-15 sleeper list. Keep these fellas in mind and enjoy making your friends mad. I’ve included their overall rankings in brackets to provide a sense of when to draft them. There’s a such thing as a third-round sleeper and a 15th-round sleeper, so it’s important to know the difference.
I’ve also included each guy’s average draft position in Yahoo leagues. Note that each guy’s ADP is way lower than my ranking. in other words, when you get to the end of this list, I’m telling you the player I rank 81st overall is available on average 149th overall. Now that’s a sleeper who can turn a profit.
10. Christian Ehrhoff (THN rank: 98; Average Yahoo draft position: 108.7)
Ehrhoff’s new teammate, Patric Hornqvist, almost made this list, but the secret is out on Hornqvist and the hype is out of control. Ehrhoff is approaching that point — he still has to contend with Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Paul Martin for power play minutes — but has a great chance to wind up quarterbacking the first unit, especially if Letang gets injured again. Ehrhoff is a strong bet for 40-plus points, but still comes relatively cheap.
9. Johnny Gaudreau (THN rank: 130; Yahoo ADP: 164.1)
Young guns like Sean Monahan and freshly drafted Sam Bennett steal much of the spotlight in Calgary, opening the door for pint-sized Gaudreau to sneak through. He’s a dynamically skilled player who knows how to win in big games, as he’s shown with Boston College and the U.S. world junior squad. He even scored in his first NHL game. He defies the odds again and again. I like him to make a serious run at the Calder Trophy.
8. Jake Allen (THN rank: 156; Yahoo ADP: 177.9)
Allen can be had 178th overall in most drafts. In a 12-teamer, that makes him a late 14th-rounder. If you wonder whether he and teammate Brian Elliott can both be draftable and effective in fantasy leagues, just ask yourself whether Elliott and Jaroslav Halak were useful fantasy goalies over the last two seasons. Allen will be, too, and because he’s unknown among laypeople, he’s available late. He should post outstanding ratios, and I predict he’ll be the Blues’ true No. 1 by season’s end.
7. Tyson Barrie (THN rank: 96; Yahoo ADP: 114.4)
Barrie always had considerable offensive upside. It just took him a few years to grow into his body and get his all-around game up to NHL standards. He’s still no defensive whiz, but the kid can quarterback a power play and make things happen off the rush. He had 30 points in his last 39 games of 2013-14, putting him at better than a 60-point pace over a full season. If he approaches that production again, he’ll be an elite fantasy defenseman.
6. Evgeni Kuznetsov (THN rank: 127; Yahoo ADP: 135.8)
Kuznetsov is a great example of why rookie sleepers don’t have to be players just drafted. Would you rather bet on teenager Sam Reinhart, who has never played a minute of pro hockey, or Kuznetsov, 22, who excelled for multiple seasons against men in the Kontinental League and already has 17 NHL games to his name? He should emerge as Washington’s second-line center after the Caps let Mikhail Grabovski walk. They need him. A 50-point season is realistic, and he has the talent to accomplish more than that.
5. Tyler Toffoli (THN rank: 126; Yahoo ADP: 164.3)
This kid can snipe. That was true three years ago, two years ago, one year ago. It was always just a matter of the Kings giving Toffoli a shot. They did last year, especially in the playoffs when he played on their outstanding second line with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson. Toffoli should enjoy a top-six role all season and get more opportunities on the power play, as shooting the puck is what he does best. I expect a leap into the 25-goal range. He’s a huge bargain at his current ADP.
4. Alex Galchenyuk (THN rank: 118; Yahoo ADP: 166.8)
Galchenyuk is this year’s Ryan Johansen if you ask me. The Habs drafted him as an elite forward to build around. He drew comparisons to Ron Francis. So far in his career, injuries and a crowded depth chart have prevented him from fully blossoming. He’s 20 now, and his talent can only stay down for so long. He’ll force his way onto a scoring line and become an integral part of Montreal’s attack this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he exploded for 60 points. It’s only a matter of time.
3. Jacob Trouba (THN rank: 109; Yahoo ADP: 134.0)
Trouba reminds me of what Dion Phaneuf was when he entered the NHL: a toolsy youngster who could hammer the puck and dish out punishment. Even as a rookie, Trouba flashed the ability to dominate games from the back end. In the long term, he projects as an all-around monster who can score 15 goals and rack up penalty minutes, hits and blocks. He’ll be a Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber-type commodity in fantasy leagues. The great news is that the ADP of 134 suggests not many people know that yet. If you land him as, say, your third defenseman, you’re in amazing shape. It’s not often a rookie blueliner misses 17 games and still pots 10 goals.
2. Brandon Saad (THN rank: 57; Yahoo ADP: 132.6)
I won’t blame anyone who thinks I’ve rated Saad too aggressively. It may be the bias of what my eyes have told me, which is funny since I’m an advanced stats proponent. But, boy, if you watched Saad in the 2014 playoffs, you saw him emerge as a dominant power forward who can take over games. He’s big, strong, smart, and he’ll play on one of Chicago’s top two lines. His center will be Jonathan Toews or Brad Richards. His other winger will be Marian Hossa or Patrick Kane. Sign me up. He had 47 points in 78 regular season games and 16 points in 19 playoff games. I see Saad scoring at his playoff pace all season. That would pro-rate him to 69 points.
1. Mikael Granlund (THN rank: 81; Yahoo ADP: 148.6)
Granlund was a darling in THN Future Watch before he made the NHL. Our scouting panel pegged him as an eventual star. Last season, he did what all great sleepers do: produce like a star late enough in the year that his final stats looked pedestrian. That keeps him a secret in most fantasy drafts. The slickly skilled Finn returned from the Olympics (methinks playing with that Teemu Selanne guy rubbed off in a good way) with new confidence. A hot second half gave him 30 points over his final 40 games. He’s a big part of Minnesota’s offense now, all but guaranteed to center two of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. A key reason why Granlund is such a good sleeper? In hockey pools, talent eventually trumps role. He has more raw scoring ability than Wild captain Mikko Koivu, and that’s why I like Granlund to emerge as Minny’s No. 1 pivot by season’s end. Don’t believe me? Watch him score this overtime winner in the playoffs:
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin