Every year fantasy hockey leagues can be decided by the gutsy, deep DEEP picks in the final rounds of the draft. Experts and armchair coaches love to predict who will be the surprises in the upcoming season. Here are seven players that I think have the potential to be much more impactful than expected. If I had to pick a couple to place bets on, they’d be Klefbom and Rask. Who are your top sleeper picks? Share in a comment below.
Oscar Klefbom – EDM – D (Yahoo rank #243)
Even at #243, Klefbom is Edmonton’s highest rated defenseman. This shouldn’t come as the biggest surprise given the Oilers’ inconsistency and struggles on the blue line. While many people might be looking to Adam Larsson as the team’s number one offensive defenseman, I am expecting Klefbom to be the quarterback on the power play and the team’s offensive spark from the back. Larsson will fill the role as the defender against opposing top lines. Klefbom, the 23 year old, has shown skill and promise when healthy. If the forwards in front of Oscar develop to their potential, led by Connor McDavid, the hockey world should expect Edmonton to significantly improve on the 2.43 goals/game achieved last year. The entire roster will benefit, but Klefbom will be the defenseman who will profit the most on the scoresheet. I’m expecting a minimum of 30 points but the ceiling could easily be 40+.
Carl Soderberg – COL – C (Yahoo rank #245)
Colorado has a lot of young offensive flare in their top forwards, MacKinnon, Duchene, and Landeskog, and a sprinkle of veteran offensive dependability in Iginla. Soderberg rounds out the Avalanche’s top 5 forwards and is positioned to move into the #4 spot as Iginla ages. Regardless, Soderberg will continue to benefit from playing alongside these top players. After two disappointing seasons following a surprise 2nd place finish in the Western Conference in 2013-2014, Colorado will be looking to right the ship under new head coach Jared Bednar. Last year the Aves averaged 2.59 goals for per game, 0.4 below their 2.99 goals/game rate from 2013-2014. If Colorado improves to 2.90 goals/game and Soderberg can cash in on 25% of those additional goals while showing additional improvement in his 4th full NHL season, the Swede could reach 60+ points in 2015-2016 compared to the 51 scored last year.
Victor Rask – CAR – C (Yahoo rank #265)
With the departure of Eric Staal, Carolina’s former #1 center, Rask should become the new #1. Rask reached 48 points in 80 games last season with only 17 minutes of ice time per game. Add another year of development for the young forward (23 years old) and a couple more minutes of ice time (and power play ice time) per game and you’ll likely see 55+ points. Forget about Lindholm, Rask is the real deal in Raleigh and will sit atop the Canes’ scorers list for years to come.
Mikael Backlund – CGY – C (Yahoo rank #366)
Backlund finished last season by scoring 8 points in his last 4 games and 16 points in his last 20 games. On a line with Michael Frolik and Joe Colbourne, chemistry was bubbling – something Flames fans would have loved to see much earlier in the year. If Mikael can continue this production as Calgary’s second-line center – likely playing with a combination of Frolik, Brouwer or Bennett (another potential sleeper) – over into next season, he will be deserving of a late round pick. The Swede scored a career high 47 points in 2015-2016 and could see 50+ points if Calgary improves year over year.
Bo Horvat – VAN – C (Yahoo rank #422)
Although management hasn’t committed to a full rebuild, the future of the franchise no longer rests on the Sedins’ shoulders. In only his second season (2015-2016), Horvat scored 40 points, some of which were highlight reel material, exemplifying his skill and potential. By the start of the upcoming season, the Sedins will be 36 years old and ready to pass the torch (at least part of it) onto the youth in Horvat, Baerschi, Sutter, and Virtanen. Of those three, Horvat seems to have the highest ceiling and could thus take advantage of additional power play time and generate fantasy points for your team next season.
Sam Gagner – CLS – C, RW (Yahoo rank #444)
Remember Sam Gagner? Formerly one of many promising youthful forwards on the Oilers, Gagner has disappeared from the fantasy relevant world over the past year and a half, bouncing from Edmonton to Phoneix to Philadelphia. But remember in 2012 when Sam scored 38 points in 48 games? Columbus could be the city where Gagner rediscovers his talent and breaks out production alongside other young talent in Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, and Brandon Saad. Furthermore, with dual eligibility significantly scaled back this year in Yahoo pools, Gagner could serve as a high-risk high-reward gamble while providing utility/flexibility in your nightly lineup card. With a one year $650,000 contract, the pressure is high for Gagner to show that he can continue playing at the NHL level and excel while at it. The Blue Jackets are taking a gamble, maybe you should too. After all, he has managed 352 career points in 9 seasons encompassing 615 games – not too bad.
Sven Andrighetto – MON – RW (Yahoo rank #574)
At just 23 years old, Sven was shown a significant amount of trust when given a chance to play on the first line and on the power play in Montreal alongside Pacioretty. In his last 13 games, Andrighetto scored 8 points while continuing to familiarize himself at the NHL level. However, with Radulov coming into the picture, Andrighetto may not get another chance at top line minutes in October 2016. Nonetheless, keep Sven in your back pocket in the event he has a strong training camp and outshines Radulov at the beginning of the season. This guy is my sleepiest of sleepers (lowest probability of panning out this year).
image source: thehockeywriters.com