Anyone can take Sidney Crosby with the second overall pick in a Fantasy Hockey draft, but it is the players that you can “steal” in the 14th or 16th rounds of drafts that go on to play like fifth or seventh round picks.
A sleeper can also be last year’s Claude Giroux, who was drafted in the early-to-middle rounds, but produced a 102-point season. Or a William Karlsson, who went largely undrafted but finished third in the league in goals (43).
Who will it be this season? Dylan Berthiaume joined me to share our lists of 2018-19 sleeper picks.
Bo Horvat — Canucks — C
ESPN Rank: #142 | Yahoo Rank: #145
Horvat had a strong start to the 2017-18 season, scoring 10 goals with 10 assists (20 points) in his first 28 games before fracturing his ankle. After a 18-game absence, Horvat failed to get back on that pace, finishing with 24 points (12G / 12A) in his final 36 games. Over that stretch Horvat played 19:55 TOI/GM, which ranked 21st among all forwards. He will play massive minutes atop the Canucks’ lineup with the sharp-shooting Brock Boeser. Over the course of a full season, Horvat should fire 200-plus shots, which makes 25 goals easily attainable. It will be difficult to find a centre with 30-30 upside in the 12th round or later, which is where Horvat is ranked right now.
Matt Duchene — Senators — C
ESPN Rank: #224 | Yahoo Rank: #162
The 2018 season was a weird one for Duchene. He opened the year as the Colorado Avalanche’s No.1 centre and registered 10 points (4G / 6A) in his first 14 games. At that point the Avalanche were 8-6-0. Over in Ottawa, the Senators were 6-3-5 but believed they were in “Win Now” mode after making a surprising deep run in the playoffs the year previous. In order to make a splash, the Senators gave up a boatload to acquire Duchene and it did not work out. Ottawa went 22-40-6 after the trade, finished second-last in the Eastern Conference and look like one of the worst teams in the NHL coming into this season.
As for Duchene, he will be overlooked on draft day for a variety of reasons.First, the Senators are going to be terrible and fantasy owners will shy away from him for players with a better surrounding cast. Secondly, Duchene had just five points in his first 21 games in Ottawa and that is seemingly all anyone remembers. What many people forget is that Duchene finished the year with 44 points (21G / 23A) in his final 47 games—that’s a 37-goal and 40-assist per 82-game pace. While the 27-year-old likely won’t continue that pace into the 2018-19 season, he is in line to play a massive role for the lowly Senators and someone has to put up some points. Ranked between the 14th and 19th round, Duchene’s ceiling will be one of the highest during that portion of the draft.
Kevin Fiala — Predators — LW/RW
ESPN Rank: #110 | Yahoo Rank: #144
Fiala showcased some huge breakout potential during the 2017-18 campaign. Before the Predators acquired Kyle Turris, Fiala had just six assists and 1.08 shots per game while playing just 13:50 TOI per night through 13 games. After the trade, Fiala had 30 points (18G / 12A) in 53 games while his shots per game jumped to 2.55 and his TOI was 15:27 per game. The duo played 655:33 5v5 TOI together and posted a superb 58.18 CorsiFor%, 58.65 ScoringChancesFor% and 67.31 GoalsFor%.
Fiala should see a big uptick in playing time as he is expected to play the majority of the season in the top-6—he is currently skating on the top-line with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen in the preseason. A bump to 17-plus minutes per night would allow Fiala to top 200 shots with relative ease, making him a safe 25-25 bet, with 30-30 upside.
Timo Meier — Sharks — LW
ESPN Rank: #146 | Yahoo Rank: #164
Meier and Fiala are very similar and they are two of my favourite picks this season. Meier is a former top-10 pick (No.9 in 2015) who owns a great size (6-foot, 215 lbs.), speed and skill combination.
Through Meier’s first 19 games of the 2017-18 season, he played just 12:03 TOI/GM and registered two goals, two assists (four points) and averaged 2.4 shots per game. After that he saw a bump in playing time (15:44 TOI/GM) and finished the year with 19 goals, 13 assists (32 points) and 2.7 shots per game in his final 62 contests.
This season, he should be a permanent fixture on the Sharks’ second line with Logan Couture and presumably Tomas Hertl. He could see his minutes increased to around 17 minutes per game and allow Meier to register 230-to-240 shots on goal. Like Fiala, that gives Meier a sturdy 25-25 floor with 30-30 upside.
Aaron Ekblad — Panthers — D
ESPN Rank: #138 | Yahoo Rank: #119
We are still waiting on Ekblad’s true breakout season, but his first four seasons are being disrespected in the rankings. Ekblad has scored double-digit goals each season and is tied for ninth among defensemen in goals (53) since breaking into the NHL. The thing that has held him back is his lack of assists—tied for 50th in four years.
Ekblad is behind Keith Yandle for power-play time, but still plays over two minutes per night with the man-advantage. The 22-year-old will play massive minutes on a good team and is a top-10 shot producing defenseman, giving him goal upside that very few defensemen possess. He is also capable of chipping in 100-plus hits and blocked shots.
Antti Raanta — Coyotes — G
ESPN Rank: #210 | Yahoo Rank: #170
Raanta wasn’t great during his first three months in Arizona, posting a 2.87 GAA, .912 SV% and winning just five of 20 games. However, after January 1st, Raanta was first in the NHL in GAA (1.92) and SV% (.939) while being 13th in wins (16). Across the entire season, Raanta ranked third in Goals Saved Above Average, further suggesting that he is one of the best goaltenders in the league.
The only reason he isn’t ranked among the top-10 in Fantasy is the team he plays behind. The Coyotes should be an improved team from last season, but they will continue to limit Raanta’s win total. However, he should post some of the best splits in the league along the way and still has 30 win potential.
Ryan O’Reilly — Blues — C
ESPN Rank: #150 | Yahoo Rank: #137
O’Reilly heads to the Blues fresh off the second-highest point total of his career (61) and four straight seasons with at least 35 assists. He posted a career high 230 shots on goal in 2017-18, flying past his previous best of 201. It netted him 24 goals with a modest 10.4 SH%, right in line with his career mark. He should have no problem replicating that this year, especially considering his new role and team. He is projected to start 2018-19 on the Blues’ top line with Vladimir Tarasenko, a major improvement over his former linemates in Buffalo and Colorado. Yahoo! ranked him No. 137 to start the season; that would be the 11th round in a 12-man league. Great value for a guy that could flirt with 70 points this season.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Oilers — C/LW
ESPN Rank: #135 | Yahoo Rank: #118
Nugent-Hopkins is expected to make the full time move to the wing this season and is projected to start the year on the top line with Connor McDavid. The two of them averaged 32 scoring chances per 60 in their limited time at 5v5 together in 2017-18. RNH seemed to regain his scoring touch last season, picking up 48 points in 62 games, a 63-point pace over 82 games. That would have eclipsed his career high (56) and he now gets the added benefit of playing with the best player in the game. Breaking 70 points isn’t out of the question for Nugent-Hopkins if he spends the full year with McDavid. There is a lot to like about RNH this year. He’s one of the few viable options McDavid has left to play with and it should help him easily surpass that previous career high of 56 points. He might finally start producing like a first overall pick.
Mike Hoffman — Panthers — LW/RW
ESPN Rank: #116 | Yahoo Rank: #98
Hoffman is coming off a season that saw him net just 22 goals despite firing a career-high 257 shots on goal. Simply applying his career SH% would give us an expected goal total of 28 goals this season, and that’s before you even factor in the change of scenery. Moving to the Panthers is obviously a huge boost to Hoffman’s fantasy value. He’s projected to start the year next to Vincent Trochek and Jonathan Huberdeau on the Panthers’ second line. They put up 75 and 69 points last year, respectively, averaging right around 30 scoring chances per 60 at 5v5 together. Hoffman’s never played with that kind of production before. Given Head Coach Bob Boughner’s tendency to lean heavily on his top-six, Hoffman’s ice time might not even suffer despite moving to a much deeper team. He is a proven goal scorer who fires a ton of shots. The move to Florida sets the stage for a career year from Hoffman.
Brendan Gallagher — Canadiens — RW
ESPN Rank: #144 | Yahoo Rank: #130
Someone must score for the depleted Canadiens in 2018-19, and Gallagher’s 278 shots last year suggest he’s the guy to do it. Gallagher will almost certainly spend the entirety of this season on the Canadiens top line. Those 278 shots came despite an ATOI of just 16:09, meaning Gallagher could easily push 300 shots in a larger role. There’s absolutely no one to compete with him for ice time on the right side, and there’s worse guys to skate with than the playmaking Jonathan Drouin. 300 shots would make Gallagher a lock for another 30-goal season, great value for a guy going in the 14th round of standard leagues right now.
Colin Miller — Golden Knights — D
ESPN Rank: #216 | Yahoo Rank: #255
Miller put up 10 goals on 177 shots in 2017-18 despite an ATOI of 19:21. He possesses one of the most underrated shots in the league and mans the point on Vegas’ first powerplay unit. He was already due for an uptick in 5v5 ice time, and the 20-game suspension to the also right-handed Nate Schmidt only further validates that. Miller should have no problem building on his 10-goal, 41-point campaign in 2018-19. He’s been criminally underrated this pre-season and is going undrafted in most leagues. He’s an ideal guy to have as your third or fourth defenseman and you should be able to get him with one of your last few picks.
Justin Faulk — Hurricanes — D
ESPN Rank: #225 | Yahoo Rank: #209
After three straight seasons with at least 15 goals, Faulk mustered just seven goals in 76 games last season. He did still manage to fire 211 shots on goal, suggesting the drop in goals was a bit of a fluke caused by his 3.8 SH% (career mark of 6.2%). The newly-acquired Dougie Hamilton was thought to be a threat to Faulk’s powerplay time, but the Hurricanes opened training camp with both of them on their top unit. Given Carolina’s struggles to produce at 5v5, Faulk needs that powerplay time to be productive. Should he maintain it, we like his chances of getting back to 15 goals in 2018-19. Not bad for a guy going in the 13th round of standard leagues right now.