Evander Kane leads a group of players looking to exceed expectations in 2013-2014.
While everyone would love to be able to draft players like Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby or John Tavares, many fantasy players will not be in prime position to draft these top players. Even among the lucky few who do have the opportunity to draft these fantasy studs, winning a fantasy hockey league requires much more than nailing the first pick.
Instead, the key to winning a fantasy league is finding sleepers in the draft. For example, Claude Giroux was rated the 37th overall player before the 2011-12 season by NHL.com, and he ended up third in the NHL in points with 93 points.
P.K. Subban was rated the 97th overall player by NHL.com for the 2012-13 season, and he made many fantasy owners happy as he cruised to 38 points and the Norris Trophy. Both of these players provided first-round value to owners and made many people very happy.
Based off ESPN's early rankings for the 2013-14 season, this slideshow will reveal 10 players who look to outperform their predicted draft position. These are players to target on draft night, as they will likely elevate their games to higher levels this upcoming season.
*Contract/salary information is courtesy of capgeek.com.
Evander Kane brings a well-rounded game as a potential third- or fourth-round pick.
Evander Kane brings loads of ability to the table for the 2013-14 season. As a former fourth overall selection in 2009, Kane seems to only be skimming his full potential. Kane is ranked 43rd overall by ESPN.com, but after a solid season in which he was second in the NHL in shots, 15th in penalty minutes and put up 17 goals and 147 hits, Kane looks to build on that success and outplay his preseason ranking.
Kane's future is sky-high, especially considering his comparison to "Mike Modano" by Hockey's Future due to his combination of goalscoring, speed and physical play. The Winnepeg Jets' trade for Devin Setoguchi will also likely provide Kane with a linemate who can keep up with him in the skating and scoring department. Look for this to be the year Kane finally ascends to the elite echelon at the NHL level.
Logan Couture will likely take the reins of the San Jose Sharks from the veteran Sharks in 2013-14.
Still only 24-years-old, Logan Couture has been remarkably consistent in his first three years in the NHL. After a 56-point first full year for the 2010-11 season, he improved to 65 points for the 2011-12 season. Last year he had 21 goals in 48 games, and he began he ascension to a leadership position in San Jose. The Sharks realized his value to their team by signing him to a 5-year, $30 million contact this offseason.
With many of the longtime Sharks becoming unrestricted free agents this upcoming offseason, such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, the Sharks will be inclined to further increase Couture's role on the team. He will likely begin to see more minutes and more power-play time, which will increase his fantasy value.
Also, Couture seems to be a top candidate to fill a bottom-line role for Team Canada in the Olympics so look for Couture to be further motivated to step up his game. Currently rated 48th in the draft by ESPN.com, Couture seems primed to outplay his draft ranking.
Still only 22, Matt Duchene is part of a talented young core in Colorado.
Like Logan Couture, Matt Duchene received a 5-year, $30 million deal this offseason. As a former third overall selection in the 2009 NHL draft, Duchene has already amassed 193 career points at the ripe age of only 22. Duchene possesses tantalizing speed and skill in his game, and he seems back on track after an injury-filled and inconsistent 2011-12 season.
With the selection of Nathan MacKinnon in the draft, Colorado now has an abundance of centers. With MacKinnon, Duchene and Paul Stastny, the Avalanche will likely move Ryan O'Reilly to wing on a line with Duchene. This move will add a very solid two-way player to help Duchene improve on his plus-minus of minus-12 last season.
Duchene already has the necessary skill and speed to completely exceed his draft ranking of 69th, and with the addition of O'Reilly to his line, Duchene looks to become a point-per-game and positive plus-minus player for the first time in his career. If this happens, Duchene will way surpass his expected sixth- or seventh-round ranking.
Wayne Simmonds looks to lead the Flyers back to the playoffs.
Ranked 85th by ESPN.com, Wayne Simmonds looks to be a real steal for fantasy players looking for a player who can fill multiple categories. Last year, Simmonds amassed 82 penalty minutes, 32 points and 16 power-play points in 45 games.
Like many Philadelphia Flyers last year, Simmonds struggled with plus-minus at minus-seven, but the Flyers look to turn things around this season. With the addition of Vincent Lecavalier to the team, Simmonds will likely play on a line with either Lecavalier or Claude Giroux, both players who would provide Simmonds with a top-notch playmaker.
Simmonds will likely not light up the scoreboard this upcoming year, but he is one of those players who will add depth to any fantasy team. A season of around 60 points, 20 power-play points and over 100 penalty minutes is certainly not out of the question for Simmonds, and it would make him an outstanding selection once the top echelon of players has been selected.
James van Riemsdyk will be motivated to step up his game another level in 2013-14.
James van Riemsdyk has been a very inconsistent player in the NHL ever since he was the second overall selection in the 2007 NHL draft.
In the 2010-11 playoffs with the Flyers, van Riemsdyk seemed to finally break out with seven goals, but he still has not fully reached the level that many have expected. However, last year, van Riemsdyk was on pace to shatter his career high of 40 points as he put up 32 points in 48 games.
This upcoming season looks to be a career season for van Riemsdyk, ranked 86th by ESPN.com. Van Riemsdyk looks to build off a successful playoffs, as he amassed seven points in seven games playing alongside superstar Phil Kessel. If van Riemsdyk continues to establish chemistry with Kessel, or even rising star Nazem Kadri, he might step up his game and become a star in the NHL.
Taking van Riemsdyk would definitely be a gamble for fantasy owners, but he does seem to be one of those calculated gambles that would potentially pay off big time for fantasy owners.
John Carlson looks to help Washington finally take the next step in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Along with Mike Green, John Carlson helps to form a dynamic duo at defense for the Washington Capitals. However, unlike Green, who is injury-prone, Carlson has played every game in his three full seasons in the NHL.
While Green certainly is an explosive defenseman, he is ranked 44th overall by ESPN, while Carlson is ranked 104th. Considering Green has not played in more than 49 games since the 2009-10 season, Carlson seems to be the Washington Capitals' defensemen to hedge your bets on this upcoming season.
At only 23 years, Carlson already has achieved great success in the NHL, with a career plus-28 and two 30-plus-point seasons. He successfully rebounded from a disappointing 2011-12 season with a very solid 2012-13 season.
He gained the trust of the coaches late in the season, and along with the late-season emergence of Alex Ovechkin, Carlson was a big part of the Capitals' surge to the Southeast Division title. Look for Carlson to receive even more ice time than his 23:01 minutes per game during the 2012-13 season, as he continues to ascend to the level of a top NHL defenseman.
Alex Galchenyuk already excelled in the NHL as a 19-year-old.
After a wildly successful rookie season, Alex Galchenyuk looks to be the next American hockey star.
After dominating the OHL and World Junior tournament, Galchenyuk surprisingly made the Montreal Canadiens, and he continued to build on his great year. Only 18 years old at the beginning of the lockout-shortened season, Galchenyuk put up 27 points and was plus-14 in only 12:19 minutes per game for the Canadiens in the playoffs.
This upcoming year, Galchenyuk looks to earn even more ice time, especially on the power play. He only had one power-play point last year, and for a player as talented as Galchenyuk, increased power-play time will lead to a huge payoff in points. After proving his capabilities as a two-way player already, Galchenyuk will benefit from his first NHL offseason and take a huge step forward.
At the very least, Galchenyuk looks to continue to post a solid plus-minus and amass 50-60 points next year. If he can take a Steven Stamkos-like leap in his second year, Galchenyuk could very easily be the steal of the draft, ranking 125th, and a secret weapon for Team USA in the upcoming Olympics.
Sven Baertschi looks to play big minutes on a rebuilding Calgary team.
Even though he will be playing on a Calgary Flames team that will likely be very bad next year, Sven Baertschi will likely post solid offensive numbers at a draft ranking of 143rd.
Described as a player with good hockey sense, speed and defensive awareness before he was drafted by ESPN, Baertschi is exactly the type of player that a team like Calgary needs. Baertschi is already arguably Calgary's most talented player, and he only needs to add some toughness to become a solid NHL contributor.
Baertschi's fantasy expectations for this season revolve around his point production. While playing on a bad team will likely result in a negative plus-minus, Baertschi will receive top-line minutes, unlike most 20-year-olds. He will also likely receive substantial time on the power play.
Considering the optimism surrounding Baertschi in Calgary, Baertschi looks like he will be given every opportunity to succeed. Although he likely will be only helpful in a few categories, he will be a solid late-round pick for those who are looking for a potential scorer.
Justin Faulk already is the top defenseman in Carolina.
Ranked 149th by ESPN, Justin Faulk possesses great value for fantasy owners. Even though he turned 21 during the season, Faulk easily was the best defenseman in Carolina as he played 24:00 minutes a game and put up 15 points. He played a shutdown role for Carolina very well, as he was able to post a positive plus-minus (plus-1), while Jordan Staal, a more well-known star, posted a minus-18.
This year, Faulk will continue to log the tough minutes, but he will also take over more power-play time with the departure of offensive specialist Joe Corvo. He will likely be playing on the top unit with the Staal brothers (Eric and Jordan), which should increase his points for the upcoming season and make him an ideal sleeper pick for the 2013-14 season.
Jakob Silfverberg looks to take off flying with the Anaheim Ducks.
Jakob Silfverberg came basically out of nowhere as a rookie in 2012, as he put up 19 points and 134 shots in 48 games. He had such a solid season for the surprising Ottawa Senators, who shocked everyone by making it to the playoffs and then beating the Canadiens in the first round. His success eventually led to his centerpiece role in the trade to the Anaheim Ducks for Bobby Ryan.
There are two major reasons that Silfverberg appears ready to build on his rookie success.
First, he will be escaping the defensively orientated system of the Senators for a more wide-open system in Anaheim. Secondly, Silfverberg appears to be the leading candidate to play on the first line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, according to Corey Masisak of NHL.com If this happens, there is absolutely no way Silfverberg does not prove worthy of a pick way before his ranking of 168th.
Mike Smith will enjoy the newfound stability in Phoenix.
As the first, and last, goalie on this list, Mike Smith breaks away from the theme of youth preceding him in this list. Smith has proven to be a late bloomer for Phoenix, and at the age of 31, he does not seem to be full of upside like the others on this list. However, Smith looks to return to his 2011-12 level in which he set career records in nearly every category.
Many fantasy owners will point to his drop-off in the 2012-13 season as proof that his 2011-12 season was a fluke, but they should remember that Smith struggled with injuries much of last year. Also, the uncertainly about the future of Phoenix dragged over the team's head all season.
This year, Smith and the Coyotes look to enjoy stability as they return much of their team that made it to the Western Conference Final for the 2011-12 season. Dave Tippett, one of the top coaches in the NHL, will return and bring his fantastic defensive-orientated system.
Also, players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle will lead a deep group of defensemen. Look for Smith to outplay his ranking as the 15th-ranked goalie at the most volatile fantasy hockey position.