I'm a firm believer that fantasy hockey seasons are won or lost in the mid-to-late rounds.
The first two or three selections each team makes seem to be no brainers. Patrick Kane is still available? Snatch him up. Dan Boyle is still on the board? I'll take two. There isn't a whole lot of shaking and baking done in those first 45 picks or so.
Sure, someone may take a flier here and there, but mostly the same batch of players will go in those early stages. The goaltenders always tend to be a game within a game, but once the dominoes start, mostly everyone will pick up their first masked man.
But then, the fifth and sixth rounds roll around. This is really when the personality and research starts to come to the forefront. A lot of managers win and lose their seasons right here, within these 10 or 15 minutes. Scouring the waiver wire helps, obviously.
But what if you already have the players that others are scrambling for in November and December?
You win. That's what.
Here are seven players that can probably be had after the first two or three rounds that could very well be very effective. This article will deal only with skaters. Keep an eye out over the next few days for sleeper goaltenders.
I also have every intention of publishing even more slideshows about sleeper forwards, drafting strategies, which players to avoid and so on as the time to do homework and draft draws closer, so check back for that soon.
So no. This isn't it as far as my mid-rounders go. But I've been in the mood for some fantasy hockey talk lately. Please indulge me!
Chris Stewart has been one of my favorite fantasy players through the last few seasons, and anyone who follows the digital sport closely knows why. He's a multi-category threat that will bestow unto your squad goals, PIMs and a healthy dose of shots.
His downside is his plus/minus, but he was actually a plus-four through 26 games with the Blues last season—hopefully showing that he's turning a new leaf in that department.
Stewart is considered streaky, and his punches (and goals) tend to come in bunches. Managing him in a league where you're only allowed one starter at each position can be a tricky proposition. He can go cold for a few games and then pop off a two or three point night. Nothing is worse than seeing that kind of production go uncounted on your bench.
But in leagues that allow two or more starters, Stewart is golden. He's heading into his fourth season, and fourth years tend to be magic with players of this caliber. The Blues are a young team on the upswing, and Stewart assumes to be a big part of the future.
I'd be comfortable taking Stewart as early as the third round to be honest, and I probably will be trying to do so in the leagues that I play in. That's a bit of a reach, I know. He just brings too much to the table for me to be alright with letting him go elsewhere. He's got point-per-game potential, and the games where he falls short he is still spending some time in the box.
Get this kid early, and reap the benefits.
Patrik Berglund is another young St. Louis player who could blossom into a 70-point stud during the upcoming season. I was a bit sour on him last year after he left me hanging high and dry in 2009-2010. But he broke 50 points for the first time in his career and was a good looking pick if you nabbed him in the later rounds.
This year, I don't think he'll fall quite as far.
While I wouldn't consider picking him up as early as Stewart, Berglund is still worth a mid-round pick while there are some sexier names still floating around on the board. He has 30 goal, 40 assist talent, and as the Blues get better, Berglund's numbers will continue to improve.
He doesn't shoot a whole lot, and despite his size, really doesn't go for the rough stuff. But there is a lot to like in this package, and making him your fifth, sixth or seventh pick could turn out to be a boon for your squad. A manager in your league may be a bit more bullish on Berglund, taking him earlier.
But if he's still there in the middle rounds, you could do much worse than the big Swede. He's also heading into his fourth year—a year I tend to target these types of young players—and his upside should really start to show in St. Louis.
If he starts off slowly, he may also be a prime buy-low candidate.
I've made a lot of noise by picking Alex Goligoski in the later rounds during the last two seasons. I think it's safe to say that the secret is out on this kid, and picking him up this year will require a mid-round pick instead of a late rounder or even an early waiver wire move.
Goligoski's perceived value may have dipped in the eyes of some managers after being dealt away from the Penguins. Don't be one of them. He was a power play quarterback on one of the most highly talented offensive teams in the league—of course there will be that perception.
But his production remained steady in Dallas, where it appears he has found his goal scoring touch. Instead of being required to move the puck to the talented forwards, Goligoski is being allowed to shoot the puck more.
In Pittsburgh, he notched nine goals in 60 games. In only 23 games in Dallas, he put up five. That's shy of a 20 goal pace from a blueliner that may be available in the fourth or fifth round. If that doesn't scream steal, then I don't know what does.
Even if Goligoski doesn't keep that same pace, he's good for 50 points without the terrible plus/minus that can accompany young, puck moving blueliners.
This is a guy who is definitely on my radar heading into his first full season with the Jets.
Blake Wheeler has all the makings of a mid-round steal. After being more of a depth forward in Boston, he climbed up the charts quickly with his new team. Wheeler averaged nearly four more minutes of ice time per game after the move, and rewarded Atlanta (this could get confusing...) with rock solid play.
While he was good for 40 or 50 points with the Bruins, he could morph into a 60 or 65-point guy with his new club (that's better). In Boston, Wheeler put up 27 points in 58 games. After the move he put up 17 points in 23 games, and finished the season with a 70 percent owned rate in ESPN leagues.
Some lesser managers may have short memories, however. This kind of "second season" turnaround is a perfect opportunity to pounce on. He won't require a pick before the fifth or sixth round, and Wheeler has all the talent and opportunity that makes him a possible boom pick in the later rounds.
Evgeny Dadonov may be so far off the radar that he won't require a draft pick to secure. Don't let him hit the waiver wire, though. At least one other manager in your league will have read this article (a guy can dream, right?) and will be eyeballing him there.
Burn one of your last three or four picks on this goal scoring winger. It's a roll of the dice pick, but they all are at that point. And this is one that could really turn out for you.
The 22-year-old is super streaky and has almost as many multi-point outings as single point games. Depending on your viewpoint, that may be a good or bad thing.
He laced up the skates for 36 games for the Panthers, scoring eight times to go along with his nine helpers. Seventeen points in 36 games for a rookie on last year's Florida team isn't half bad and deserves a look in some deeper leagues.
With all the decent players heading to Florida, the team should be better on the ice, and Dadonov is a player who could benefit from the extra talent around him. Before being called up to the Cats, he had 40 points in 76 games in the AHL. The moves are there to be sure.
Dadonov is a flier in every sense of the word. If you don't want to pick him up late, then keep him flagged in the free agent pool. If he starts off with a few good games don't be afraid to jump on him. The talent is there, and he could help a team in deeper leagues. Forty-five points with 15 or 16 goals isn't out of the question for the young Russian.
Kyle Okposo is primed for a breakout year; mark my words.
He is my favorite kind of sleeper because he isn't ranked low due to a lack of talent or questions about his game. Okposo was limited last season because of injuries, suiting up for only 38 games for the Islanders. The season was overall a disappointment for Okposo and his owners.
But these kinds of players tend to bounce back, and with a vengeance.
He's surrounded by gobs of talent in New York and is part of the young core that will be moving this team up the standings over the next few seasons. Depending on who he is playing with—a situation that needs to be watched by his owners—Okposo has a 30 goal upside, and he takes a lot of shots as well.
Making a move for the winger in the fifth or sixth round may be a good idea for a manager that has already isolated themselves against offensive dips by going forward-heavy in with their first three or four picks. Don't move on Okposo to be the guy for your squad. But he could turn out to be a very good supporting player for his managers next season.
James Neal was acquired by the Penguins to be Sidney Crosby's winger.
Sid was, of course, injured during Neal's entire tenure with the Pens, so that hasn't quite worked out yet. Crosby is finally back on the ice (again) participating in a tougher workout regimens. If Sid can return, then Neal should be a guy you target in the fourth or fifth round.
I know. I know. Neal only had 55 points in his best season and only notched six points in 20 games after being dealt to the Penguins. But it's that kind of backwards thinking that gets you nowhere in fantasy hockey. Picking Neal early is gutsy, but all the elements for a boom pick are right there.
He will be ranked low due to his poor play towards the end of last season. But he's projected to play alongside one of the top two centers in all of hockey—aye, lets not forget Evgeni Malkin. If Neal can secure a spot on one of those top two lines (and given the Penguins lack of talented wingers, that's a given in my eyes), then the sky is the limit for the young power(ish) forward.
Go out on a limb and draft him early, but only as long as it appears that Sidney and Malkin are fully on the road to recovery at the time of your draft.
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