2012 NHL Playoffs: A Sleeper Pick for Each Team in the Western Conference
Picking sleepers to come out and shine may be part luck and part skill. Ether way, a couple of good sleepers on your team can be the difference between finishing at the top or finishing out of the money.
There's no better feeling in a hockey draft than picking a player that no one has thought of or heard of and then watching as he tears up the league. Here's one player from each team in the West who could be that guy you'll be bragging about for years to come.
Vancouver Canucks: Marc-Andre Gragnani
Gragnani had a coming-out party during the first round of last year’s playoffs, posting seven points in seven games for the Sabres. He came to the Canucks at the trade deadline and will likely operate as a power-play specialist.
If Gragnani finds himself on the top power play working with the Sedins and Kesler, he could rake in the points just by being in the right place at the right time.
St Louis Blues: Andy McDonald
Usually a player of McDonald’s caliber doesn’t classify as a sleeper, but because of injury problems, McDonald is exactly that: a sleeper, and probably the best across the league.
McDonald has posted 22 points in 25 games, giving him a points-per-game average high enough to lead the Blues. He’ll be seeing considerable time on the power play and is a consistent threat at even strength as well. Look to take him in the middle rounds, because if someone else notices him, they'll draft him with little hesitation.
Phoenix Coyotes: Antoine Vermette
With Ray Whitney, Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata attracting most of the attention from opponents’ top defensive pairing, look for Vermette to chip in with much-needed secondary scoring this postseason.
While Vermette’s numbers have been ordinary since coming over from Phoenix, there's no doubt he has the talent to push himself to the next level come playoff time. Phoenix has a tough matchup against the Blackhawks so look for Vermette in the later rounds.
Nashville Predators: Alexander Radulov
It’s hard to call a guy who won the KHL scoring earlier in the year a sleeper, but if you’re looking at a stats sheet sorted by points, Radulov falls in between Brandon Yip and Jack Hillen. It is entirely possible that he gets overlooked.
With seven points in just nine games, Radulov has proven that he is still capable of being an elite player in the NHL.
Detroit Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall
Due to the presence of another Nicklas (Lidstrom) on Detroit’s blue line, Kronwall often gets overlooked. He has an absolute cannon from the point and has underrated playmaking abilities on the power play.
His 36 points is respectable, but when you’re averaging nearly 23 minutes of ice time per game like Kronwall, the points are bound to pour in eventually.
Chicago Blackhawks: Andrew Shaw
Talk about a pleasant surprise. Shaw was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and came out of nowhere to post a very respectable 23 points in 37 games for the Hawks. He’s been logging some serious ice time, and with speculation surrounding Toews' return, it seems like he’ll continue seeing a lot of ice.
I’d be willing to bet that not too many people have heard of Shaw, so save him as your last-round pick if you already have a few Chicago players.
San Jose Sharks: Martin Havlat
Like McDonald, Havlat has experienced injury problems throughout the year and falls into “sleeper” status. With 27 points in 39 games, Havlat hasn’t been as productive as San Jose hoped when they traded him straight up for Heatley, but he’ll still see considerable ice time especially on the power play.
Since San Jose is the seventh seed going up against the favoured Blues, look to pick up Havlat late in the draft if you’re looking for an underdog to cheer for.
Los Angeles Kings: Dwight King
Dwight who? Yes, Dwight King. At 6’3’’, 234 pounds, King is what people like to call a power forward. He’s tallied 14 points in only 27 games while playing top-line minutes with some of Los Angeles’s elite players.
Look for King to see some power-play time parking his caboose in goalie’s creases. He is a physical presence that will be tough for opponents to handle. Kind of like Dustin Penner when he was actually, you know, good.