Kukla's Korner

The Goods on Fantasy Hockey

Sizing Up the Sleepers

In order to win a fantasy league, it’s not the early-round picks that matter (unless you choose Sidney Crosby and he misses half the season). The difference between winning and losing a fantasy league lies in making savvy mid to late round picks whose production level matches that of earlier-round picks.

With that strategy in mind, I’ve listed twelve players that I believe have the potential to exceed their current ranking on Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, or any other sites that host fantasy hockey. I’m not suggesting that you draft all of these players. But timing is everything, so these are names that you can consider if they appear at the right spot for you. I no longer enter drafts thinking that I must draft a particular player, since I could end up drafting the player earlier than I need to. Rather, I ensure that the player fills a particular need on my team (positional, statistical) before I add to my roster. Understanding player values is a critical component in winning any fantasy league – whether it be hockey, baseball, football, or fishing (yes, there is such a thing).

James van Riemsdyk, LW, PHI
JVR could stand to be this season’s version of Claude Giroux – a young forward on the verge of breaking out. With plenty of scoring depth, the Flyers have kept the training wheels on their young forward during his first two NHL seasons, limiting his icetime. However, the surprising offseason departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have created two golden opportunities on the top 6, one of which is probably reserved for JVR. Expect significant improvements on the 21 goals and 40 points as he begins to fulfill his vast potential. Coincidentally, Giroux is expected to be one of his linemates at the start of the season.

Taylor Hall, LW, EDM
Hall was unquestionably the Oilers’ best player and one of the few reasons to watch Oilers televised games before he sprained his ankle in an early March fight with Columbus forward Derek Dorsett. If not for the injury, Hall may have been one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy with 22 goals and 42 points in just 65 games. With a young stable of forwards – Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, and possibly Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – the Oilers are only going to get better in the scoring department each season. The plus/minus of playing for a rebuilding team might be a concern, but Hall could be in the top-50 by season’s end while being available outside of the top-50 now.

Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL
Of the big four drafted in 2011 (Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson), Landeskog is possibly the most big-league ready. With comparisons already being made to Mike Richards, Landeskog will attempt to make the Avs forget about a 200+ pound forward they let get away in Chris Stewart. In fact, his junior team (Kitchener Rangers) is so confident that he’ll make the NHL that they decided to release him from the roster (they can keep only two European-born players). The Avs are not stockpiled on the left side, since David Jones is currently listed as the top option, so Landeskog could very well slot into a top-6 role right away.

Tyler Seguin, C, BOS
We received perhaps our first glimpse into the future with Seguin during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, when Seguin scored two goals and added two assists. He had been seldom used until that point and only in the lineup because of an injury to Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins didn’t use Seguin much after that during the playoffs, but he stands to see an increased role this season because of the probable early retirement of Marc Savard. The 2010 second overall pick is a must-own in keeper leagues and a solid late-round flyer in single-season drafts.

Cody Hodgson, C, VAN
Many Canucks fans already consider Hodgson to be a bust, which is very shortsighted considering that he is only 21 years old. Still, if you buy into the “post-hype sleeper” theory, Hodgson could be there for the taking. Expect the Canucks to give Hodgson a long look on a scoring line once the season starts, especially since Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. Hodgson will probably be fighting for top-6 and power-play minutes with forwards such as Chris Higgins, Marco Sturm, and Owen Nolan, who is at Canucks’ camp on a tryout. If Hodgson can make the most of his opportunity, expect Canucks coach Alain Vigneault to keep him on a scoring line even once all the forwards are healthy.

Jaromir Jagr, RW, PHI
If Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom can still be stars at age 40, then why can’t Jagr be one at 39? Back in the NHL after three years in the KHL, Jagr is expected to play on one of the Flyers’ scoring lines alongside Claude Giroux and the aforementioned van Riemsdyk, who was still in diapers when Jagr was drafted. Jagr’s KHL numbers were around a point per game, which doesn’t necessarily mean the same output in the NHL. However, Jagr is a decent mid-round pick who could produce 60-70 points, possibly outproducing players picked at around the same time.

Nino Niederreiter, RW, NYI
El Nino began the 2010-11 season with the Islanders, playing eight games before returning to the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. If you’re a fan of the World Junior Championships, you’ve probably already been impressed with Niederreiter’s skill playing for the Swiss team. Even though he has decent size, Niederreiter is a finesse player who can find the net seemingly at ease (41 goals in just 55 WHL games last season). The Islanders are finally starting to assemble a talented group of young forwards such as John Tavares, Michael Grabner, and Kyle Okposo, so it’s not as if Niederreiter would be doing the work all by himself. At the very least, he’s already worth securing in keeper leagues.

Cam Fowler, D, ANA
The Ducks must have felt like they had struck gold when they were able to draft Fowler 12th overall last season. He repaid the team that showed the confidence in drafting him with a 40-point rookie season. Although Lubomir Visnovsky is the power-play QB for the Ducks, coach Randy Carlyle rewards his better defensemen with major minutes – something that you should expect from Fowler starting this season. He may have some defensive shortcomings, as evidenced by his (-25) in his rookie season. However, he will provide his share of power-play points should you draft him. In other words, this fowl is no foul.

Ian White, D, DET
Having played for four teams over the past two seasons, White’s fantasy value had seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. However, a solid playoffs last season (nine points in 17 games) led to White receiving a significant multi-year contract with his fifth team, the Red Wings. White will be counted on to at least partially fill the shoes of the retired Brian Rafalski, with Jonathan Ericsson also expected to see an increased role. White should receive more sleeper consideration than Ericsson because he is a more proven scorer who has experience playing on the forward lines. However, White fantasy owners should hope he doesn’t move from his initial role with the Wings as Nicklas Lidstrom’s new defensive partner.

Stefan Elliott, D, COL
If Elliott isn’t quarterbacking the Avs’ power play this season, he will be very soon. The 49th overall pick in 2009, Elliott posted some staggering numbers in his final season in the WHL (81 points and a +62 in 71 games for Saskatoon). There’s no guarantee that Elliott will start the season in Colorado, so I may have to recommend Elliott strictly in keeper leagues right now. But with Erik Johnson and maybe Kyle Quincey as the only other Avs’ blueliners with proven scoring value, it will only be a matter of time before Elliott is a mainstay on fantasy teams.

Cory Schneider, G, VAN
Schneider has one year left on his inexpensive entry-level contract with the Canucks, meaning that the Canucks must make a decision about their goaltending by then. With Roberto Luongo and his mammoth contract unlikely to be moved, Schneider will probably fetch the missing piece that the Canucks need for another run through the playoffs. If Schneider stays with the Canucks all season, he will probably play at least 25 games and post solid ratios again. However, a team that would trade for Schneider would likely make him the starting goalie, which would boost his value significantly. For what it’s worth, I don’t see Luongo having a rough year, even though many will argue that the Canucks should give up on him and make Schneider the starter.

Evgeni Nabokov, G, NYI
I usually don’t mention goalies in “three-headed monster” situations in my sleeper articles, but what have you got to lose in the final round? Nabokov has decided that he is willing to be an Islander after all and is expected to attend training camp. Everyone knows that Rick DiPietro is just one paper cut or hangnail away from the IR, which would mean that Nabokov would be battling for playing time with Al Montoya. If the Islanders shock the world and become an Eastern Conference playoff team, then you won’t look like the fool for drafting Nabokov. But if the Isles hold true to previous form and stumble again, Nabby will likely be the first player shipped to a contender in need of goaltending help, no doubt rejuvenating his value. I’m not saying that he should be the goalie you build your fantasy team around. I’m just telling you that he still exists.

Do you agree or disagree about my sleepers? Do you have any other suggestions out there for sleepers? Be sure to leave your comments below, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or follow me on Twitter.

Filed in: fantasy hockey, Ian Gooding, | The Goods on Fantasy Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: cam+fowler, cody+hodgson, cory+schneider, evgeni+nabokov, fantasy+hockey, gabriel+landeskog, ian+white, james+van+riemsdyk, jaromir+jagr, nino+niederreiter, sleepers, stefan+elliott, taylor+hall, the+goods, tyler+seguin


John W.'s avatar

In order to win a fantasy league, it’s not the early-round picks that matter (unless you choose Sidney Crosby and he misses half the season).

What is your opinion on Crosby this year?  I grabbed him with the 2nd to last pick in the 5th round and was pretty happy to get him there.  I wouldn’t touch him in the 1st 2 rounds, but couldn’t pass him up after all the other elite level forwards were gone.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 09/18/11 at 12:36 PM ET

Ian Gooding's avatar

What is your opinion on Crosby this year?  I grabbed him with the 2nd to last pick in the 5th round and was pretty happy to get him there.  I wouldn’t touch him in the 1st 2 rounds, but couldn’t pass him up after all the other elite level forwards were gone.

I’d say you got him in a good spot. I think Yahoo has him ranked at around 75 now because of the recent news. I agree with you, I wouldn’t touch him in the first two rounds. But if Saturday’s skate is any indication, he’ll be back sooner rather than later. I still don’t think he’ll start the season. But if he plays only half the season (40 games), I could still see him scoring 50-60 points. Too much upside to let him fall too far.

Posted by Ian Gooding on 09/18/11 at 01:55 PM ET

Puck's avatar

I’d take a pass on drafting either of those goalies. Schneider will probably be picked up only by the Luongo owner and they’re too many goalies to suss out what will happen in New York, so good chance Nabby on the wire as well after the draft. Either way maybe sleeper to keep an eye on, but I wouldn’t waste a roster spot on either.

White might be a good sleeper pick but I’m sure most are aware of his possible partnering with Lidstrom and top power play potential so I wouldn’t expect to draft him in late rounds. Good pick but don’t over reach.

With the change up in Philly Giroux will struggle a bit and not see same points as last year so not quite sure how Jagr or JVR will pan out, again if they’re around late, might be worth a grab.

Landeskog might get a good look early with the Avs, but the dude’s 18. Doubt he’ll last an entire season. If he’s on the board late, maybe give him a month and see if he turns into a sell high trade bait to some Avs homer.

Posted by Puck from San Francisco, CA on 09/18/11 at 04:47 PM ET

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About The Goods on Fantasy Hockey

My name is Ian Gooding, and this is The Goods on Fantasy Hockey. Given my ability to understand numbers, write sentences, and follow hockey, it’s not a surprise to those who know me that I became a fantasy hockey writer. I started writing about fantasy hockey in 2006 for fantasyhockey.com and became the site’s content editor in 2007. Looking to expand my audience, I joined Kukla’s Korner in the summer of 2011 to create the site’s first fantasy hockey blog.

A few times each week, I’ll provide an article called “Pick Six” where I will write about six players that should either be in your fantasy team’s starting lineup or bench for the upcoming game. As well, I’ll provide the fantasy takes on important hockey developments. You can also email me your questions or comments to gooding74@shaw.ca, or follow me on Twitter.

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