The 2014-15 RotoRob NHL Draft Kit continues today with another of our top 10 lists. So while you wonder how much better the Blues are now t hat they have brought restricted free agent Jaden Schwartz back for another couple of seasons, let’s turn our attention to some sleepers!
Sleepers are fun because not only can they make or break your Fantasy hockey season, but you’re also bound to get some interesting reactions from other Fantasy GMs. Hopefully, because you’re reading RotoRob.com’s Fantasy content religiously — as you very well should if you aren’t already — those reactions will be of disbelief and jealously rather than guffaws and scorn. Onward.
1. Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota Wild: We’ll be the first to admit we’re Minnesota Wild fans. However, a new offensive power is rising in the north woods, helped in no small part by dynamic Finnish phenom Granlund, who we slotted just inside the top 50 in our Centre Rankings. The days of fourth liners skating on either side of captain Mikko Koivu are done. The Wild’s top six forward corps now includes Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle and Granlund in addition to Koivu. After being nearly left for dead as a bust after a disappointing rookie season, Granlund rebounded with a terrific sophomore campaign, scoring eight goals and 41 points in 63 regular season games, including 29 points in his last 39. These weren’t sheltered minutes, either. Koivu missed significant time with a broken ankle halfway through the season, meaning his young protege had to step in and take his place between Parise and Pominville. The trio, and head coach Mike Yeo, never looked back and could very well be Minnesota’s top line to start the season. In addition, Granlund discovered a new thing in the Wild’s 13-game postseason run — it’s called driving to the net (see video below), which he took great pleasure in doing, tying Parise and rookie Erik Haula for the team’s playoff goal-scoring lead with four apiece. With a full NHL season under his belt and renewed chemistry with his talented linemates, a 15-to-20 goal, 70-point season isn’t out of the question for Granlund if he stays healthy.
2. Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara may be the big man in Beantown (actually, we don’t think anyone would argue against that), but Hamilton is the future of the organization’s historic blueline. From Eddie Shore to Bobby Orr to Ray Bourque to Chara, the torch will soon be passed to Hamilton, who isn’t far away from realizing the potential the Boston brass saw in him when selecting him ninth overall in 2011. Until that torch passes, the towering young defender is content to develop and learn alongside the even more imposing Chara. Not only did former Niagara IceDog Hamilton receive more ice-time last season, he also ended the season as the club’s best puck possession defenseman. As such, he will be a familiar face on the Bruin’s top power play unit this season, and it won’t take much to see his point totals jump into the 40-range after notching 25 last season. By the way, if plus-minus rating is one of the categories in your league, he finished with a plus-22 rating, as well. But, you know, whatever.
3. Brad Richards, C, Chicago Blackhawks: Richards’ days of thoroughly dominating the opposition are long dead and gone, but he could see a serious boost in point production as a complimentary piece to an offensive juggernaut in the Windy City. Last season was his worst yet as he scored 20 goals (not bad) and just 51 points (not good) in 82 games for the Rangers. However, having a dynamic scorer like Patrick Kane on his wing should get Richards back in the 60-to-70 point range for a team almost always a favourite to hoist the Cup heading into the postseason.
4. Brandon Dubinsky, C, Columbus Blue Jackets: We love this guy. Whether it’s physicality, his scoring potential or his relentless determination, Dubinsky is a player. Without Ryan Johansen (RFA holdout) in the fold, Dubinsky may have to carry the weight of the rising Jackets on his shoulders. Fortunately, Dubinsky is up to the task and will probably be good for 15-to-20 goals and 45-to-55 points this season. Plus, if you need penalty minutes, he’ll probably be good for at least 100.
5. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s a no-brainer when it comes to Fantasy hockey draft day. However, don’t be surprised if he plateaus just a bit after a fantastic 24-goal/63-point freshman campaign. Remember, Paul Stastny switched sweaters, and the club didn’t exactly get better in free agency while the rest of the division stocked up on nuclear warheads. Still, we feel it’s safe to expect at least 20 goals and 50 points from the reigning Rookie of the Year and while so many are shying away from him because they feel he’s become overvalued, MacKinnon could wind up being a sneaky sleeper as a result — just make sure he slides enough before grabbing him as he’s still a season or two away from superstardom.
6. Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dallas Stars: The Stars are a team on the verge of exploding back into NHL greatness. When they do, the 10th overall pick in 2013 out of Russia will have most likely played a key role. A monstrous youngster at 6′4″ and 205 pounds, Nichushkin can easily manhandle his way around the offensive zone, finishing a dominant physical performance with a sniper’s touch. With the addition of All-Star centre Jason Spezza and winger Ales Hemsky, 19-year- old Nichushkin winger could see a serious boost in production from the 14 goals, 34 points and plus-20 rating he collected in 79 games as a rookie last season.
7. Tomas Hertl, C, San Jose Sharks: Hertl did the unthinkable last season. Having already scored a hat trick against the New York Rangers in just his third career NHL game, the big Czech pivot did one better — scoring top shelf from between his legs after coming in on a breakaway on Rangers goalie Martin Biron to make it 8-2 San Jose. It was beyond cheeky. So, if you didn’t know, this kid is quite talented apparently. Hertl ran into the injury bug along the way, but still finished the season with 15 goals, 25 points and a plus-11 rating in 37 regular season games. If healthy, he has the potential to completely blow down the doors this season. If Granlund is the heir to Teemu Selanne’s Finnish hockey legacy, Hertl is certainly the equivalent to that of fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr. Yes, we’re serious.
8. Devin Setoguchi, RW, Calgary Flames: With 11 goals and just 27 points in 75 games, Setoguchi is without a doubt coming off the worst season of his career in a failed experiment with the Winnipeg Jets. After spending his career with the San Jose Sharks, the Minnesota Wild and, most recently, the Jets, Setoguchi finds himself signed to a cheap one-year contract with the rebuilding Calgary Flames. There’s not much risk in this signing by the Flames — another poor season will greatly increase the club’s odds of winning the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel Sweepstakes. That said, Calgary isn’t about to willingly ice poor showing game after game, and neither is Setoguchi. Given that he’s a former 30-goal scorer, you can believe he is unwilling to settle for mediocrity, which means he’ll likely be playing with fire in his eyes. Take him as a last resort or snatch him off the waiver wire.
9. Dany Heatley, LW, Anaheim Ducks: We know — we can’t believe we’re typing this, either. Before you get all mad and shut your browser, rest easy knowing we’re also including Heatley in our busts list. Trust us, he’ll more likely be a bust than a sleeper, but head coach Bruce Boudreau has put the pylon… err… 2000 second overall pick in an intriguing situation on the Ducks’ top line with captain Ryan Getzlaf and former league MVP Corey Perry. Not that preseason performance matters much, but Heatley (a two-time 50-goal scorer) did score just 48 seconds into Anaheim’s 4-0 win over Colorado last Monday. He’ll get some points, but his cement block skates have ensured his NHL days are numbered.
10. Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Free Agent: Say what you want about the enigmatic netminder, but the guy’s still got it. Acquired by Minnesota the day before the trade deadline last season, Bryzgalov experienced a resurgence in his career, posting a 7-1-3 record, a 2.12 goals against average, a .911 save percentage and three shutouts in 12 starts for the Wild. He struggled in the playoffs, but Fantasy GMs don’t need to worry about the NHL’s postseason, and he seems to be attacking the 2014-15 preseason with a focused determination on a tryout with the Wild. Minnesota may choose not to sign Bryz once camp is over, but odds are good he’ll find work somewhere else in the league. Hey, at least he’s not Martin Brodeur, okay?
Now it’s your turn. Who’d we miss? Who did we absolutely flub on? Let us know in the comments below.