Fantasy hockey season is in full flight and that means everyone is looking for that sleeper pick that will win them their pool. Our fantasy guru Matt Larkin has already posted his sleeper picks for the season, but I wanted to take a different approach to the concept (although there is one name on both lists who I just couldn’t leave off). Rather than pick guys who will outperform their average draft position, this list is about guys who could really breakout if given the opportunity to do so. It’s the players who’ve scored at a high rate with low ice-time that could do damage in a bigger role. Before getting to the list, though, it’s important to address some of the ‘controversy’ behind using rate stats like points-per-60. The biggest issue is usage. More minutes means tougher opponents and it’s harder to score points against
Zdeno Chara than it is against
Adam McQuaid. The problem with that line of thinking is the assumption that top players always find themselves against top competition. That’s not true. If it were, players who saw an increase in ice-time would see a decrease in their points-per-60 as a result of playing against all those tough opponents, right? In reality, there is almost no relationship between the two, and if anything, points-per-60 actually increases. (This is 5-on-5 and forwards only, by the way.)
Scoring is very situation dependent, but generally speaking it seems like an increase in ice-time doesn’t make things more difficult for most players. Of the 196 players in the last five years that have seen at least a one minute jump in their 5-on-5 ice-time from the season prior, roughly 60 percent had a higher points-per-60 with more ice-time. The slight increase could be the result of coaches allocating more ice-time to player's breaking out, but even if that’s the case sometimes the results are too scattered for it to be anything but an exception to the rule. That’s not to say that quality of competition doesn’t matter at all, it’s that moving up the lineup also means having better linemates. Just like facing tough opponents makes scoring more difficult, having better linemates makes scoring easier. Just ask Tyler Bozak. The quality of a player’s linemates will overshadow the effects of the quality of competition because a player’s teammates are much more consistent then the opponents they play against, making the spread of talent on the teammate side much larger than for competition. With all that being said, minutes still have to be earned with good all-around play. Scoring isn’t everything and that’s not reason enough to move up the lineup. Regardless, here’s five guys that could light up the scoresheet if they can earn more minutes this season. All numbers are at 5-on-5. For reference, the cut-off for a first liner is two points-per-60.
Ryan Strome 2014-15 TOI/G: 11.8 2014-15 P/60: 2.50 3 Year P/60: 2.17 In the same range: Phil Kessel, Eric Staal Strome was Matt’s No. 2 sleeper and for good reason. He had 50 points last season, but 40 of those were at evens where he was getting third line minutes. An extra two minutes would put him in between first and second line territory and at last season’s rate that would mean 47 points even strength points. If he can find his way to the first powerplay unit with John Tavares he could easily eclipse 60 points. The sky is the limit for Strome.
Marko Dano 2014-15 TOI/G: 12.7 2014-15 P/60: 2.70 3 Year P/60: – In the same range: Ryan Getzlaf, Jamie Benn Dano was the big piece coming back Chicago’s way in the Brandon Saad trade, and if last year’s short stint was any indication, he could be one of this year’s big surprises. Dano was sixth in points-per-60 last season among players who played at least 250 minutes, sandwiched right between Tyler Seguin and Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t play much last season, but that’s still good company. And while it’s unlikely he equals the mark, he’s on a better team now with a roster in flux and could be playing with some great players that might offset the regression.
Kevin Hayes 2014-15 TOI/G: 11.8 2014-15 P/60: 2.31 3 Year P/60: – In the same range: Steven Stamkos, Thomas Vanek Another rookie with a small sample size, but Hayes is tough to ignore after scoring 45 points last season. His on-ice shooting percentage was right around average, so there’s no need to fear any regression here. Hayes is the real deal, but where he fits on the Rangers is the question. Martin St. Louis’ retirement means there’ll be some minutes to spread around and Hayes has the talent to capitalize on it, but it’s no sure thing. He might not be worth a draft pick, but he’s worth watching on the wire to see if he gets more minutes.
Tyler Toffoli 2014-15 TOI/G: 11.6 2014-15 P/60: 2.45 3 Year P/60: 2.25 In the same range: Max Pacioretty, Kyle Okposo Toffoli has been steadily improving every season, but he’s still getting third line minutes. That should change this season as he’ll likely start on a second line anchored by Jeff Carter with the only right winger ahead of him on the depth chart being the ever fragile Marian Gaborik. It’s a big opportunity for the 22-year-old to show what he’s capable of, but all signs point to him having a coming out party this season. He’s struggled a bit on the powerplay, but that’s likely a product of being on the second unit with inferior linemates.
Jonathan Drouin 2014-15 TOI/G: 10.8 2014-15 P/60: 1.98 3 Year P/60: – In the same range: Jason Spezza, Gabriel Landeskog After a rookie season where he tallied 22 points, Tyler Seguin exploded with 67 the following year. That’s the benchmark here. Drouin was getting similar minutes to Seguin's rookie season, but was much more productive in them. And that’s with an absurdly low shooting percentage of 1.6 too. Getting even average shooting gives him four extra goals which would bring his points-per-60 up to 2.29. If he can earn a spot next to Steven Stamkos on the first line, Drouin can have one of the biggest breakouts this season.
Mike Hoffman, David Pastrnak, Anders Lee