At the beginning of the season, I picked 7 potential sleepers rated below #240 (Yahoo rankings) that I saw might be pleasant surprises for managers across the great realm of fantasy hockey. Some have really paid off while others have been disappointing. There are also a few who haven’t really been big sleepers but have still become fantasy relevant, especially in deeper leagues. Here’s the December update on my pre-season 2016-2017 sleeper picks:
Sam Gagner – CLS – C, RW (pre-season rank #369, current rank #58)
I received a few questions about my sanity when I pegged Gagner as a potential sleeper for the upcoming season. A fresh start on a young and exciting team in Columbus seemed like Gagner’s best shot at returning to his former offensive prowess back in Edmonton. The signing of a one year $650,000 contract with the Blue Jackets has definitely lit a fire as Gagner seeks to prove he will be worth more the next time he signs a contract. In 28 games so far, Sam has scored 13 goals and racked up an additional 10 assists, going +9 with 11 PPPs to boot. He has really taken advantage of his powerplay icetime on the league’s top powerplay (27.7%). Despite this success, I am cautious going forward: Gagner is 9th in time on ice among Colmbus forwards at only 13 minutes and 34 seconds per game. He is also riding a shooting percentage of 17.8% which is likely unsustainable, even if his shots are in higher scoring areas due to his time on the powerplay. Gagner is still a proven sleeper so far, and will remain fantasy relevant pending injury (only 54% owned though), but I don’t expect him to maintain his current pace without an increase in ice time.
Victor Rask – CAR – C (pre-season rank #265, current rank #69)
I drafted Rask (155th overall) given he was the sleeper that I had the most confidence in – he has not disappointed me since. Rask is second on the Hurricanes in points with 10 goals and 15 assists in 30 games played. He is also first among Carolina forwards in ice-time per game at just under 19 minutes. Ice time can be a huge indicator of production sustainability and therefore I believe that his 34% ownership is baffling. Rask is 34th in the NHL scoring race and isn’t weighed down by a negative +/-. I projected 55+ points from the #1 center this season and he is currently on pace for 66. I doubt that he’ll slow down, so hurry up and pick him up already!
Mikael Backlund – CGY – C (pre-season rank #361, current rank #120)
Backlund is having another quiet but good season for the Flames. He has 16 points in 34 games with 83 shots on goal, 3 short-handed points, and 5 PPPs. He is dependable and should continue the season at a similar pace, possibly trending upwards given his currently low shooting percentage (7.2%) combined with overall stronger performances from Calgary since the start of December. Mikael’s 10% ownership is a surprise to me, I expect it to increase as deeper leagues recognize his consistency.
Bo Horvat – VAN – C (pre-season rank #510, current rank #158)
Who is tied for 2nd on the team in points with Henrik Sedin (only one point back from Daniel Sedin for 1st)? Bo Horvat is. Through 32 games he has 9 goals and 11 assists with a -2 rating which I think is very good given how bad the Canucks are. However, the “current rank” is a bit misleading – this is likely driven by a strong number of points but doesn’t give appropriate weight to lower periphery stats like SOG (54), blocks (10), PIMs (14), and PPPs (2). Horvat does have 2 short-handed points though, and he’s definitely fantasy relevant in deeper leagues. His 13% ownership reflects relevance but not true sleeper status.
Oscar Klefbom – EDM – D (pre-season rank #243, current rank #166)
In my most recent article, I discussed Cam Talbot’s strong fantasy performance so far this season which has proven (thus far) how undervalued he was to begin the season. Klefbom is another example of an Oiler that was underrated to begin the season. Although Oscar only has 12 points in 34 games played (and zero penalty minutes), his fantasy value is boosted by 82 shots on goal and 56 blocked shots. He is only 8 seconds shy of 1st in time on ice among all Oilers and will continue to benefit from an improved team in Edmonton. I expected a bit more from Klefbom at the beginning of the season but the defenseman has still proven his value and should continue to be valuable in deep leagues for the remainder of the season. Keep in mind that Sekera is currently the Oilers’ number one defenseman.
Carl Soderberg – COL – C (pre-season rank #245, current rank #362)
I thought (and honestly I was pretty confident about it) that Colorado would turn things around this season under a new head coach. Boy oh boy was I wrong. The Aves are last place in the standings and 2nd last in the league in goals for per game. I still expect the team to turn things around at least a little bit (perhaps a new new head coach is on the way?) but I’m not ready to bet on it. Soderberg has 9 points in 30 games and just isn’t fantasy relevant despite averaging almost 16 minutes of ice-time per game. He’s currently listed on the 4th line and probably doesn’t even deserve a spot on watchlists in deep leagues.
Sven Andrighetto – MON – RW (pre-season rank #765, current rank #676)
Sven who? Although he was given time on the first line and on the power play in Montreal alongside Pacioretty at the end of 2015-2016, Sven has not been used this season. The Canadiens have had a very strong start to the season and have therefore had no rationale for toying with the lineup and inserting a young prospect like Andrighetto. In 8 games played, the youngster has managed 2 assists – he’s also currently DTD with an injury. Keep an eye on Sven in the future, he eventually could be a sleeper but he definitely isn’t one yet.
*Disclaimer, some “pre-season” rankings seem to have changed from the time I originally wrote the sleeper article. The listed “pre-season ranks” in this article are what Yahoo currently lists as pre-season.
image source: edmontonjournal.com