Yahoo!'s NHL fantasy mock drafts have been live for a few weeks now, and because I am a bit of a fantasy nerd I have ran at least one every day since. What, it was just research! You know, so you wouldn't have to.
After a few mock run-throughs I noticed something—Yahoo's pre-draft rankings were pretty jacked in some places. Some guys were slipping toward the end of the first round when they should have been a top pick, and top-notch goaltenders were getting passed over until five or six rounds in.
I don't think that's because the fantasy community has suddenly gone brain-dead. Perhaps a little underprepared though (they were just mocks after all). And there will still be people like this when you go to do the real deal here in the next few weeks.
Out of site, out of mind as the saying goes. So when Yahoo! puts a solid forward or defender down in the mid-100s you obviously have room to make some lights-out picks. Here are 18 players that you should keep an eye on, as their current fantasy rankings make them prime for the stealing.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 17
I know saying that a guy is ranked a little low when he is sitting just outside of the first round in a 14-team format is kind of silly. But not when that guy is Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin was a top-three pick just last year before his injury, and there is no reason that he shouldn't be picked up in the first five or six picks this season (at the latest). With the injury to Sidney Crosby, Malkin is going to be the guy for the Penguins.
If you're chilling at pick No. 7 and he is still there for whatever reason, you'd be wise to snatch him up.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 36
Ilya Kovalchuk is a dual-position guy that can be in your left or right wing slot, and had been a 40-goal scorer in six straight seasons until he tanked a bit in New Jersey last year where he only managed 31.
The Devils should have their stuff together and be a much better hockey team this year. The second-half run they put together (a run that Kovie was a big part of) showed that this team has some promise. That this guy could slip deep into the second round or early third kind of blows my mind.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 35
We'll get to the deep round steals in a few slides, I promise. But according to Yahoo!'s rankings, there are a handful of players in the 30s that could really pay huge dividends for their owners.
In years gone by Ryan Getzlaf was a sure-fire first-rounder. This season has seen the multi-category stud slip a bit for some reason as he has generally been available in the latter part of the second and into the middle of the third.
If you land Corey Perry with a top-five pick or Bobby Ryan with a top-10, then scooping up Getzlaf at this point would be a huge boon for your squad. I've managed to do this rather consistently in my drafts, and owning two parts of the RPG line won't be a bad thing.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 54
Claude Giroux grew to be a very respectable offensive threat last season and he'll be even better this year.
The Flyers dealt away their top two forwards in part due to the growth they saw in some of their young players. Giroux is poised for a breakout year in Philadelphia, and he is ripe for the stealing while sitting in the mid-50s of the Yahoo! pre-draft rankings.
Giroux isn't like the other players on this list so far in that he isn't a fantasy mainstay in the minds of average drafters. He should be a third- or fourth-round guy, and is easy to pick up as long as no one else is targeting him.
Be that guy that has the target on Giroux in your draft. He will probably be the most offensively capable player available at this point, and when someone else picks up, say, Zdeno Chara at this point, feel free to gloat with your steal of Giroux.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 85
Every year there seems to be a blue liner that comes out of nowhere and puts up forward numbers from the back end. Think Mike Green and Dustin Byfuglien here.
Brent Burns is the sleeper(ish) defender most prime to see these kind of explosive numbers. He was a monster in Minnesota and he's only going to have more offensive talent to play with in San Jose.
Worth keeping an eye on in the preseason is where he skates on the power play. If he ends up on the Sharks' top unit with Dan Boyle, then this will be an especially outstanding pick.
There will be bigger names left on the board when you sneak out to pick up Burns, but don't be afraid to let him be your leading blueliner this year.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 107
I'm bullish on the St. Louis Blues this year, and you should be too. The team is loaded with young talent, and weren't better last year only because on the injury bug. Almost all of their important players have sank in the Yahoo! rankings because of this, and Alex Pietrangelo is no exception.
In his first year as an NHL blueliner he racked up 43 points. Do I really need to go on?
That kind of production from a defender that could still be available in Round 5 or 6 is pretty legit. Landing either Burns or Pietrangelo will assure that you have an offensive minded guy on your back end.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 73
If you're the kind of fantasy player that likes to go all offense early, then you could be in luck with Cam Ward. He's a workhouse netminder (74 games played last year) that has come close to 40 wins in three of his last four seasons.
And I've seen him drop all the way to the fourth round. I wouldn't wait quite so long, but long after more traditional top-end goaltenders are gone, Ward seems to still be available. It doesn't matter if he is your first goalie or your second, picking up a 40-win guy this late is pretty nuts.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 124
Christmas came early for Mikko Koivu this year. He landed one, and perhaps two, ultra talented linemates over the summer. He'll almost certainly be skating on a line with arguably one of the better finishers in the league in Dan Heatley.
Heater had an offseason last year, but trying to get in on the possible fireworks with a pick in the ninth or 10th round is not a big risk. This is a high-reward, low-risk move on a consistently underappreciated center.
At worst you get a 60-point guy, but I find it hard to believe that number won't jump a bit with his new teammates.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 113
Marian Hossa was on fantasy league fire last year before (another) injury derailed his hot start. He never seemed to get back into the same groove, but owners had first-round production from a third-round selection for five or six weeks, and that leads to a priceless few wins early.
I'm not saying that he'll do that again, but this is the most talented player that is ranked in the early 100s by far. Most probably don't have the stomach to swing him as early as the fourth round, but the eighth should be a much different story.
Even if he does only skate in 65 games, he's close enough to a point-per-game player to make the pickup worth it.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 165
The Bruins are going to have to step up their games across the board as defending Stanley Cup champions. The bull's-eye is now squarely on their collective backs—a fact that won't be lost on this group of savvy players.
Nathan Horton has a respectable campaign in Boston during the regular season, putting up more than 50 points split just about evenly between helpers and goals. He then exploded for 17 points in 21 games en route to the Cup, and was consistently one of the most dangerous players for the Bruins.
I think he'll improve upon his 50-point season by a large enough margin to make selecting him in the 10th round(ish) kind of a no-brainer.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 217
This may be my favorite late-round sleeper pick of them all, and I almost didn't share it with you. I'm competitive like that. But Kyle Okposo is so far off the board that he may sink to the waiver wire. Not because he isn't an outstanding player though.
He was injured through all but 38 games last year, in which he scored 20 points—not nearly enough production to put him on the radar of most fantasy owners. But don't sleep on this guy.
Okposo is going to be skating on the Islanders' top line with John Tavares, and the two have already developed chemistry and pizazz. You don't have anything better to do with one of your last four picks in the draft. I promise.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 137
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been playing with sub-par wingers ever since Marian Hossa left town.
That all changed when the Penguins went out and acquired James Neal from Dallas. Even if Crosby isn't healthy to start the season, Neal and Malkin could form quite a formidable duo on the top line in Pittsburgh.
Some may look at the six points he scored as a Penguin last year and chuckle at this pick. Don't be one of those detractors. Neal came into a Pittsburgh team that was limping, and never really got acclimated to his new squad. After a full training camp with his teammates, Neal should be primed for a 30-goal campaign.
Keep an eye out for him in the fifth or sixth round.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 172
I remember reading somewhere that the days of being able to pick up Michael Grabner on the waiver wire are over. That very well may be true, but he still isn't on the minds of a lot of fantasy owners who seem content to draft Theo Peckham while a 30-goal guy is still on the board.
I haven't been involved in a draft yet where someone goes off the board and selects Grabner with respect to where 30-goal scorers go. Roll the dice a bit late and grab this kid.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Rankings: 163
James van Riemsdyk is on this list for the same reasons as Claude Giroux. The Flyers will be counting on this young pair to produce at a higher rate, and JVR will improve upon his 40-point season from a year ago in an increased role.
Unlike most of the players around him in the rankings, van Riemsdyk has been targeted by managers. They've been going off the board a ways to secure him, so don't be afraid to do the same. He will not be there in the 10th or 11th rounds like his ranking suggests.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 183
It isn't official by any means, but I feel like Teemu Selanne is going to play for another year in Anaheim. It seems to me that he would have mentioned by now that he was retiring, giving the Ducks ample time to pick up another player or two.
But from what I understand he is still training and working out, preparing for an NHL season. The only reason Selanne is not a top-25 ranked player is because we don't know for sure if he'll be back. If he's still sitting there after the 10th round (which he probably will be) take a flyer on him and reap the benefits of a late-round, 70-point selection.
Even if he does end up retiring, he probably won't cost cost you a top-notch player to select. Hold off on your third goaltender and scoop up the Finnish Flash.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Rankings: 245
After the retirement of Brian Rafalski the Red Wings are hurting a bit on the blue line from an offensive standpoint. Nicklas Lidstrom will still be a force, but the big question in Detroit is circling around who he'll pair with.
If the answer is Ian White, then he'd see a huge boost in value.
Even if he doesn't end up on the top pairing for the Wings, the team is still going to be looking for a blueliner that can run the second power-play unit. Again, if White ends up in this slot then his value takes quite a nice jump.
Given his ranking and low profile, there is no reason that he White won't still be there during the last round or two. If you are looking for a fifth defender, then consider this guy. There is a lot of opportunity in Detroit for White.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 297
When you pick Zenon Konopka you're only after one thing: his penalty minutes. But my, does he rack up a lot of them. Unless you select a team that all plays like Pavel Datsyuk, adding Knopka can all but assure at least one "offensive" stat victory per week.
If your league doesn't count PIM or even halves their value, then this guy is useless. But if you are in a head-to-head league that counts a PIM victory as valuable as a goals victory, then Knopka could be a valuable asset moving forward.
Yahoo Pre-Draft Ranking: 196
Obviously the Bruins need to get Brad Marchand signed first before picking him makes any sense. And I am typically very weary of guys who suddenly explode in the playoffs after a 40-point regular season. I have laughed a few times at owners who reach for Joel Ward before the 10th round.
But there is just something special about this player, and after his coming out party en route to a Cup, I think Marchand could be poised for more than a 40-point season. Taking players this late in the draft is all about hunches.
If you're on board with the Marchand hunch, then don't be afraid to pick him up with one of your last few picks.
Well, that makes two of us.
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