Not everyone is lucky enough to become an NHL bench boss or front office manager, so fantasy hockey allows fans to live out their wildest dreams in a virtual setting. In most leagues, a newbie player can get by using consensus draft rankings, but the best players know how to find diamonds in the rough.
Stealing a good player late takes time and is also dependent on how your league is set up. With the NHL season around the corner, here are the five best steals at each position.
Grabovski is a great fit for Alex Ovechkin.
Vincent Lecavalier, Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers signed longtime Tampa Bay Lightning pivot Vincent Lecavalier this summer after he was bought out. He is coming off a down year, but has the potential to be a great fantasy steal. The former Lightning captain is slated to line up with Jakub Voracek, and that will do wonders for his numbers.
Derek Stepan, New York Rangers: Stepan just re-signed with the Blueshirts, and he is coming off a monster year. The former Wisconsin Badger led the Rangers in scoring last season and is going to thrive in Alain Vigneault's offensive system. People could be wary of drafting Stepan because he produced in a lockout-shortened season, but he could be one of the biggest fantasy steals this year.
Stephen Weiss, Detroit Red Wings: Weiss missed most of the 2012-13 season, and for that reason he was given a very low ranking. What needs to be considered is that for the first time in his career, Weiss won't be the best player on his team. For years Weiss carried the Florida Panthers, and he should break out in a big way on a team that has numerous secondary offensive producers.
Mikhail Grabovski, Washington Capitals: The Capitals' signing of Grabovski has to be considered one of the most underrated moves on the summer; he should explode offensively next to Alex Ovechkin. The Toronto Maple Leafs strangely decided to give up their offensive pivot, and Dave Nonis will end up regretting that decision this year. Expect "Grabo" to be an assist machine and a solid offensive producer this season.
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks: Pavelski is an extremely underrated player that will earn you points in multiple categories. He will score goals, tally assists, win faceoffs and pick up special teams points. Although he has been used on the wings at times, he is listed as a center by Yahoo!. This could be a big year for Pavelski; you will look very smart when you steal him early on.
ROR could be a fantasy beast this year at wing.
Ray Whitney, Dallas Stars: "The Wizard" still has a lot of game left despite being 41; he is a solid player to pick up in the later rounds. Whitney tallied 29 points in 32 games last season—12 of those points came on the power play. Once the top name players are off the board, things can get a little dicey, but Whitney is a solid pick to help pad the power-play points category.
Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche: Ryan O'Reilly appeared in 29 games last season and scored 20 points. He was given a low ranking because of his overall production, but it was pretty solid if you go by his points-per-game average of 0.689. This season ROR is going to play on the left wing of Matt Duchene, which could help him increase his offensive output.
Clarke MacArthur, Ottawa Senators: Although he has been a maddening player throughout his career, there is reason to believe that MacArthur will produce in spades this season. Over the summer MacArthur signed with the Senators, and he will have an opportunity to play with Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan. If MacArthur somehow slips to the second line, he will play with Kyle Turris, but he should still be able to produce at a reasonable rate.
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning: Drouin is an NHL rookie, but he is someone you should have no fear about drafting. The 2013 No. 3 overall draft pick could have the chance to play alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, which should be enough to sell you on this dynamic scorer.
Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks: Silfverberg was the main piece sent to the Ducks in the Bobby Ryan deal. He has an opportunity to have a monster season. The speedy Swede is a prime candidate to skate on the top line alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, which will enable him to pick up tons of even-strength and power-play points throughout the season.
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: Burns is a full-time right wing now, and he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. The 6'5", 230-pounder is going to be on a line with Joe Thornton or Logan Couture, which is going to help increase his offensive potential. Not many people will consider drafting this behemoth early, but be wary of missing out on him as the draft pool shrinks.
Daniel Alfredsson, Detroit Red Wings: Alfie was a offensive fixture of the Ottawa Senators for 19 years and should continue to produce in Motown. The skilled Swede will be on a line with Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk, allowing him to fly under the radar while on the ice. Expect Alfredsson to have a strong season, and pick him up as late as you possibly can.
Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins: Eriksson has never been a top player in fantasy hockey, but things should be different this year. On a line with Patrice Bergeron, the former Dallas Star could push for 40 goals; he should finish with a great plus-minus rating. Eriksson should also be an active special teams player, and that will help you pick up some points each week. This year could be big for Eriksson, who should still be available in the later rounds.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators: Forsberg is a very talented offensive player who has a bright future. He was acquired by the Predators in exchange for Martin Erat. The 2012 first-round draft pick could be a big factor for the Predators this season. While he isn't expected to put up big numbers, he could be a solid secondary winger who helps pad your overall roster.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars: Nichushkin's amazing play has been one of the biggest stories of the NHL preseason; he is almost a lock to start on the Dallas Stars' top line. The 2013 first-round pick has tremendous hands, poise and solid instincts and could be a favorite to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie this season.
Bouwmeester should bounce back this season with the Blues.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings: In fantasy hockey it is important to have a strong blue line. Voynov is a budding blueliner with upside who projects to be a strong offensive contributor going forward. In 18 playoff games, the Russian rearguard recorded 13 points and was a consistent contributor for the 2012 Stanley Cup champions.
Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs: Franson is a sizable defender who had a strong 2012-13 campaign. In 45 games, Franson recorded 29 points as one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' most consistent defenders. This season, expect the 6'5" blueliner to improve and once again be a top offensive defender.
Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers: Over the past few years, McDonagh has been one of the league's top young defenders. Because of his shutdown role, McDonagh has received limited power-play time over the past few years; for that reason he has never put up premium point totals. Under Alain Vigneault, McDonagh will get a chance to flex his offensive muscle and could be a great pickup late in the draft.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators: Jones was selected No. 4 overall at the 2013 NHL draft and will have an opportunity to play alongside Shea Weber this season. The former Portland Winterhawk blueliner has significant offensive skills and should be able to take the league by storm this season.
Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues: The Blues acquired Bouwmeester at the trade deadline last season. He has a chance to return to top form this season. The 2002 No. 3 overall pick is going to be paired with Alex Pietrangelo, which should enable Bouwmeester to thrive offensively. Pietrangelo is one of the best defenders in the NHL today. His presence should have a huge effect on Bouwmeester's all-around game.
Luongo has the chance to redeem himself this season.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: Luongo's stock dropped significantly after his play last season, causing him to also drop out of a group of top-rated fantasy goalies. This season John Tortorella is behind the bench, and that is good news for Luongo and the Canucks. In New York, Tortorella helped Henrik Lundqvist by employing a strong defensive system; for that reason fantasy players should feel good about drafting Luongo this season.
Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils: Schneider has been great for the Devils thus far during the preseason. He has made a strong case to be the starting goaltender for the regular season. He had a solid career with the Vancouver Canucks and could be a great late pickup once the "top" goaltenders are off the board.
Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs: Bernier endeared himself to the city of Toronto when he fought Ryan Miller on Sept. 23. He has a good chance to win the starting job. Although he has been a career backup, Bernier has the talent to be a legitimate NHL starter who is capable of winning at least 30 games a year.
Viktor Fasth, Anaheim Ducks: Fasth made a name for himself last season as a "rookie" and could end up being the Ducks' starter this season. Jonas Hiller is in the last year of his contract, and Fasth has the potential to cement himself as the full-time starter. In many pools Fasth is considered a solid backup to have, but he is worth picking up to fill a starter's role.
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: The goaltending situation in St. Louis is an intriguing one, since there is no clear-cut starter. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen and Halak are all capable starters, with Halak having the biggest upside. He won't start as many games as Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick or Pekka Rinne, but he is a solid goaltender who should still be around in later rounds.