For hockey fans, the best part about a lonely boring September is getting together with your best buds and engaging in a fantasy hockey pool and trying to draft your perfect team. Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos are the usual favorites to go first and second; beyond that is like playing musical chairs with hockey players. One thing’s for certain, every season some sleepers emerge, leaving pool owners to further question their respective picks. This season we saw a couple of sleepers rise to the occasion, Tyler Johnson from the Lightning was one of those guys, finishing 1st tied with Nathan MacKinnon in rookie goals, teammate Ondrej Palat also finished only 4 points back of MacKinnon in rookie points with an impressive 59 points. Some other players were who were also impressive include: Joe Pavelski, who finished the year 3rd in league goals with 41, Max Pacioretty, almost cracking the 40 goal plateau, finishing the year with 39 goals, Ryan Johansen came out of nowhere scoring 33 goals, along with 63 points, leading his Blue Jackets into the post season and finally, converted defensemen to forward, Bret Burns was impressive on a line with Jumbo Joe, playing a real power forward game. Burns came out of nowhere to score 22 goals in 69 games. Pretty impressive for someone who wasn't necessarily on anyone's radar. These sleepers look to continue their breakout seasons and will more than likely be recognized for these achievements. For now, let’s check out this season’s top 10 affordable sleeper picks that can make some noise on your fantasy teams.
10 Mika Zibanejad, $894, 167 cap hit
With a massive youth movement going on in Ottawa this season, the young Swede may in fact, be a worthwhile sleeper pick in the final rounds. The Sen’s have been projecting big things for Zibanejad. This season, more so than ever, Mika will see his ice time increase and will see some powerplay minutes as well. Mika is very versatile for your fantasy team, he can play the wing or center. With the Sen’s being younger than ever, and really having only three real scoring threats in Michalek, Turris and Ryan, look for Zibanejad to potentially take care of the secondary scoring on this team, especially with the likes of David Legwand and Zack Smith being the other centers. These players typically play a checking line center role, so look for Zibanejad to move up in the ranks of the team. My advice is, if Zibanejad is available as your final pick, he may be worth your investment at a cheap cost.
9 Filip Forsberg, $ 925, 000 cap hit
As the years go by, this trade looks worse and worse, for the Capitals gave up on this guy for Martin Erat. Martin re-payed the favor to the Capitals by scoring a mere 2 goals in 62 games, in a span of two seasons. Yes, you read correctly, 2 goals. On the other end of the spectrum, Forsberg looks ready to go. Judging by the pre-season, this kid is ready to burst and can potentially be a major sleeper in this year’s fantasy draft. Forsberg has enjoyed big minutes on the first line during the pre-season, playing with the 2 newly acquired players, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro. Seeing in the past how much confidence Peter Laviolette has with young players playing big game minutes, look for Forsberg to potentially start the year on the first line with the Preds. This team needs some help scoring, and Filip can be the answer in Nashville this season.
8 John Gibson, $682, 500 cap hit
The Ducks are really excited to showcase this guy, and they also have the means to back him up this season. The Ducks organization has been sky high on Gibson, thus leaving Hiller to look elsewhere for a job this past off season. Gibson was a perfect 3 and 0 in the regular season, and also took Hiller’s job in the post season. Judging from his play as a rookie in the playoffs, my oh my is this kid going to be good. Gibson and Andersen will share the net this season, and undoubtedly really push each other and elevate their game. Look for these goalies to pick up a lot of wins and let in few goals because of not only their goal-tending skills, but also the team in front of them. Despite splitting the load this year, Gibson may rack up a lot of wins for his team. My advice, take the risk and pick up Gibson as your 3rd goalie, it’ll be worth it.
7 Evgeny Kuznetsov, $ 900, 000 cap hit
Evgeny Kuznetsov will finally enjoy his first entire regular season in the NHL, as there is no doubt this kid can be an impact player and put up some points this season. The potential of Kuznetsov centering a line with Alex Ovechkin is mouth watering to fantasy hockey team owners. You just may want take this risk and hope this happens but as it stands, the newly appointed Capitals coach, Barry Trotz, may slay Evgeny as the team's second line center. My advice is not to bite on Kuzentsov early, and maybe save him for the end, this is a risky pick, knowing how much Barry Trotz pays attention to detail, especially with his young players. This maybe a learning curve season for Kuznetsov, in where he pays particular attention to his game in his own zone, as well as improves on his face-off ability. Despite this, Kuznetsov is still a worthwhile risk at a very cheap price.
6 Tomas Tatar, $2.75 million cap hit
Red Wing fans are expecting big things from the young Slovak this year, in his second full season. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist lead the way for the Wings during an injury riddled campaign last season. The 23 year old finished second on the team with 19 goals, quite impressive for a starting year. This year, Tatar will look to further his goal tally, playing on a top line, centered by Pavel Datsyuk, meaning that the potential for Tatar to explode is huge. To think that he put up those numbers last season, despite playing on a line with rookie, Riley Sheahan for most of last season, Tatar is projected to score 20 to 25 this season. My advice, Tatar will see his minutes increase and knowing Detroit’s injury problems the last couple of seasons, Tatar will surely be relied on heavily this year to score more goals than last season. This mixed with the possibility of playing on a line with Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas is certainly worth the pick for fantasy owners this year.
5 Mikael Granlund, $ 900,000 cap hit
Mikael Granlund can be the boldest and best pick of your entire fantasy draft, as he is projected to have a tremendous season in Minnesota. Granlund caught some big time heat at the end of last season, recording 33 assists in 63 games. But the time Granlund really got it going was when it mattered most: in the playoffs, scoring a beauty goal in first round against the Av’s, aiding his team to a surprise elimination victory against the favorite Colorado team. This season, expect Granlund to really break out, centering the second line with newly acquired teammate, Thomas Vanek. Mikael will have the luxury of not playing against the oppositions best, and have quite a bit of room to operate with his new sniping line mate. My advice, take Granlund as your 3rd center and don’t wait too long to do so, because at his price, he will be an absolute steal for your fantasy team.
4 Valeri Nichushkin, $ 925, 000 cap hit
Fantasy owners take note, Valeri Nichushkin has the potential to explode this season, as the Stars organization has incredibly high hopes for this guy. The 19 year old is coming off of an excellent rookie campaign, even Jaromir Jagr called him one of the best young players he’s ever played against (high praise coming from the young Russian). Nichushkin is slated to play on either a top line with Benn and Seguin, or on the second line with Jason Spezza and Ales Hemskey, but no matter which line he ends up on, he will certainly have the proper sources to explode. My advice, the Stars are really high on this player, and he will definitely see some big powerplay time, as well as have either Spezza or Benn center him, so at $925, 000 cap hit, don’t even think twice about putting this guy on your team.
3 Jonathan Drouin, $925, 000 cap hit
This is an extremely risky pick, that can pay massive dividends for your fantasy hockey team. The former 3rd overall pick has yet to play a game in the NHL, but despite his injury, GM Steve Yzerman confirmed he will still be making his debut for the team this season. Drouin is at a point in his career where playing in the QMJHL is no longer necessary or competitive enough for the 19 year old. Last season, Drouin collected a staggering 108 points in only 46 regular season games, and 41 playoff points in 16 games, this kid is absolutely ready for the NHL. The Lightning will give Drouin the tools to explode this season, so my advice, if you feel like making a bold pick that has huge potential to pay off, take Drouin; this kid is hungry to play and has the proper environment to succeed, after-all, the Lightning organization has succeeded greatly in the past season with young players fitting in.
2 Tyler Toffoli, $ 716, 667 cap hit
Tyler Toffoli enjoyed a tremendous first season as a part of the Stanley Cup winning LA Kings, and looks to continue that trend in his second season with the team. Toffoli is coming off a playoff run, in which he might have registered the biggest assist of his career, taking the shot that rebounded off Lunqvist’s pad, landing straight on Martinez’s stick for the OT clinching Stanley cup winning goal. Toffoli and teammate, Tanner Pearson enjoyed a terrific post season run together, playing the majority of the run with Jeff Carter, and it will be no different this upcoming season. My advice, count on Toffoli to hit at least 20 goals this season, as the Kings organization are huge on this sniper and believe he will be hungry for success and extremely motivated. Don't hesitate to pick him if the opportunity rises, low risk, guaranteed reward.
1 Dany Heatley, $1 million cap hit
Finally free of that horrendous 6 year, $45 million dollar deal, Dany Heatley looks for some new life in Anaheim. What can make Heatley such a sleeper this season are his line-mates, as Heatley is scheduled to play on the Ducks top line with captain Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The Ducks auditioned a number of players for this line last season, Boudreau even claims the Ducks tried out at least 10 different players for a left wing spot with Perry and Getzlaf. This season, the Ducks believe they got exactly what they need, and they did it by only spending a million dollars. My advice, with the pressure off Heatley's shoulders and with no more contract burden following him around, Dany can now go back to playing his game and doing so with the likes of superstars, Getzlaf and Perry. This line certainly has the potential to be truly dominant against any other line in the league. If you’re feeling risky and want to make a huge sleeper pick, Heatley is probably your best option.