2016 NHL Draft Guide: Fantasy Sleepers
While it's tough to call anyone a sleeper these days, here's a list of players who should exceed fantasy hockey expectations in 2016.
This is often where fantasy leagues are separated between the pretenders and the contenders. The ability to identify and draft bargains who turn into fantasy gold is what makes fantasy sports fun for a number of passionate fans. Finding sleepers takes muscle memory, research and some luck, but it is worth the extra effort. Injuries are usually what cause a player to go from must-have to must-avoid, but the recovery process can certainly help players regain their fantasy value. Here are 20 sleepers to keep an eye on for this season:
1. Nick Bonino, C, Penguins
The solid center anchored the best third line in the NHL late last season, between Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin, en route to helping Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup. If that line remains intact in '16-17, and it is not a guarantee that it will, Bonino's sleeper status will be entrenched. There is a lot of risk here but he might be worth it.
2. Elias Lindholm, RW/C, Hurricanes
Whether he plays center or wing, Lindholm should again be a big part of the Hurricanes' offense this season. He is coming off back-to-back 39-point campaigns and may be ready to bust out offensively, especially if Carolina's infusion of young talent pays dividends. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft is both versatile and talented.
3. Vladislav Namestnikov, LW/C, Lightning
Perhaps the biggest loser in the decision by Steven Stamkos to re-sign with the Lightning was Namestnikov, a burgeoning talent who will still have to fight for his playing time this season. The versatile Russian forward produced 35 points last season, despite uneven playing time and a backseat role. He is a player to watch.
4. Michal Neuvirth, G, Flyers
Late last season, and then again in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Neuvirth supplanted Steve Mason as the No. 1 goaltender for the Flyers. The Neuvirth-Mason goaltending battle should be among the best from NHL training camps this year (and it might last throughout '16-17). For now, give Neuvirth the slight edge.
5. Calle Jarnkrok, C/W, Predators
Now entering his third full season in Nashville, Jarnkrok has been used in several different ways and has made slow, steady progress at the NHL level. Last season, he missed only one game and produced his first 30-point campaign. The versatile Swede, who turns 25 this month, could be on the verge of a breakout seasons.
6. Joe Colborne, W/C, Avalanche
Now 26, Colborne produced a career-high 44 points with Calgary last season and should be capable of doing even better this season. His size has always appealed to NHL scouts, but now his production is beginning to appeal to fantasy leaguers as well. He should play an important top-nine forward role in Colorado this season.
7. Jason Zucker, LW/RW, Wild
The Wild decided to buy out Thomas Vanek's contract partly to give wingers such as Zucker more ice time in 2016-17. The 24-year-old speedster, who was drafted in the second round (No. 59 overall) in 2010, needs to start producing better numbers at the highest level. That may happen this season, provided he stays healthy.
8. Ryan Spooner, C/LW, Bruins
The Bruins added veterans David Backes and Dominic Moore in the off-season, so there is a chance Spooner will open 2016-17 on the wing. He clearly prefers the center position and was quite productive (49 points in 80 games) as Boston's third-line pivot last season. Spooner needs a decent amount of ice time to produce.
9. James Reimer, G, Panthers
With Roberto Luongo recovering from hip surgery, Reimer stands a decent chance of receiving significant playing time early on this season. In fact, Reimer should be among the No. 2 goalkeepers with the most fantasy value in 2016-17. The only caveat is the presence of solid backup Reto Berra as the team's third stringer.
10. Joonas Korpisalo, G, Blue Jackets
Last season, Korpisalo was a great story buried because of the Blue Jackets' failures as a squad. He appeared in 31 games in '15-16 and produced 16 wins and a .920 save percentage. He is talented enough to win the backup job from Curtis McElhinney and Anton Forsberg, and may even challenge No. 1 man Sergei Bobrovsky.
11. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Senators
Pageau exploded for 43 points last season and just missed reaching the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Still only 23, Pageau could improve on his 2015-16 breakthrough performance but there is some risk here. For one thing, the Sens have a new head coach (Guy Boucher), so Pageau has to reestablish himself.
12. Zemgus Girgensons, C/W, Sabres
The Sabres have used Girgensons in a variety of ways since drafting him 14th overall in 2012. He was limited to 18 points in 71 games in '15-16 but collected 30 points in just 61 games the season before. The strapping Latvian may be asked to play the third-line center role this season, which could hurt his overall fantasy value.
13. Viktor Arvidsson, RW/LW, Predators
A Swedish energy winger, Arvidsson was a constant presence during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. His work ethic will be appreciated in Nashville but Arvidsson can also score (18 points in 17 AHL games last season). If he gets enough quality ice time, he could surprise many with solid production at the highest level.
14. Thomas Greiss, G, Islanders
It is never easy to be part of a goaltending threesome but that is what the Islanders have right now. Veteran Jaroslav Halak is the projected starter, while Jean-Francois Berube may be considered the goaltender of the future. In between them there is Greiss, a journeyman who has worked hard to solidify his 1A goaltender status.
15. Joel Armia, RW, Jets
Acquired from the Sabres in the massive Evander Kane trade in 2015, Armia was impressive in his first true NHL test last season. He produced good numbers at the AHL level and displays enough all-round ability to be used in any game situation. That should help Armia make the opening night lineup, though Winnipeg is deep at forward.
16. Calvin Pickard, G, Avalanche
The Avalanche traded Reto Berra to Florida in the off-season, which now makes Pickard the undisputed backup netminder behind Semyon Varlamov. The 24-year-old Pickard is good enough to challenge Varlamov for the starting job at some point, which is why he has a lot of sleeper appeal. He is also a great handcuff for Varlamov.
17. Erik Haula, C/LW, Wild
Haula's blazing speed has been on display in the Twin Cities, but mostly in a defensive (shorthanded) role. He enjoyed his best offensive campaign in 2015-16, producing 34 points in 76 games. He might receive an expanded offensive role this season, so it will be up to Haula to seize the opportunity. The talent is there.
18. Colin Miller, D, Bruins
Miller enters training camp with a very good chance of replacing Zach Trotman as a blueline regular in Boston. He might even draw captain Zdeno Chara as his regular defense partner. If Miller cracks the Bruins' lineup and is used on the power play to some extent, he should produce interesting fantasy numbers. He has a lot of ability.
19. Derrick Pouliot, D, Penguins
The mobile blueliner seems in line to replace Ben Lovejoy in the Penguins' lineup on most nights. Pouliot has struggled with inconsistency so far in his young NHL career, but the offense is clearly there. He needs a bit more polish but is expected to play regularly in Pittsburgh this season. His offensive upside is rather high.
20. Louis Domingue, G, Coyotes
Arizona still has plans to start veteran Mike Smith as its No. 1 goaltender this season, but do not sleep on Domingue. The 24-year-old Domingue appeared in 39 games in 2015-16 and was impressive on most nights. He seems to be a late-blooming netminder who could challenge Smith for appearances as '16-17 wears on.