Identifying sleepers early can have a tremendous impact on your fantasy squad even if they aren't drafted right away. If someone slips under the radar and comes out firing when the season starts don’t hesitate too long before picking them up because they could very well be the next big surprise performer. Look for players who will getting more opportunities and have the talent to break through.
Some players who could be undervalued because of previous injuries or a rough year the season before are included here as well because their situations will be better and they may slip in drafts.
Jonathan Drouin (TBL) - LW - Drouin was exiled to the minors last January after he notched eight points in 19 games. He started the year in good shape with one goal and five helpers in his first five outings, but then his ice time declined and he suffered a lower-body injury. Drouin requested a trade in November and he was suspended by the Lightning after he walked away from the club’s AHL affiliate. He didn’t feel like he was getting a fair shake, but everything changed after Steven Stamkos was diagnosed with a blood clot. Drouin rejoined Tampa Bay and made an immediate impact with two goals in two games to end the regular season. He was also a force for the Bolts in the playoffs with five goals and 14 points in 17 matches. Judging a player from his postseason performances can be a slippery slope, but the offensive potential is there for Drouin, who was the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. With Stamkos staying put with the Lightning a team-up with Drouin is expected for the 2016-17 season. If Tampa Bay reunites Nikita Kucherov with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat then Stamkos will need a skillful winger to play with and Drouin fits the bill nicely. He proved that he is capable of flourishing with a higher profile role and has a great chance to break out this year with 50-55 points if he lands a permanent spot as a top-six forward.
Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG) - LW - Ehlers generated 15 goals and 38 points in 72 matches during his rookie year in 2015-16. He played very well in spurts and disappeared for some stretches, but his offensive upside and strong finish has pundits believing he is ready to take a significant step forward in his sophomore season. Ehlers played alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler late in the year and he was impressive on the Jets’ top line even though he didn’t finish many of his chances. His average ice time increased from 14:39 prior to the All-Star break to 19:11 in his last 23 appearances and he picked up 16 points during that span. Ehlers should improve on his 2.32 shots per game average after he racked up 304 total shots attempted last year. The 20-year-old should get plenty of chances on the power play as well as a spot in the top-six forward group. Playing with Scheifele and Wheeler for an entire season has the potential to result in around a 55-point campaign and if he plays with Bryan Little instead then 50 points is still possible.
Brendan Gallagher (MTL) - RW - Gallagher was generating points at about a 60-point pace in 2015-16, but injuries limited him to 53 games. He picked up 19 goals and 40 points for the Canadiens last season. Gallagher registered 12 markers and 26 points in his first 33 appearances. He also improved his shots per game to 3.26 after he posted 3.10 in 2014-15. Gallagher is projected to play with Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk in 2016-17, but the addition of Alexander Radulov via free agency could create some line shuffling. If he can lock down a spot on the top power-play unit, where he scored seven goals and added three assists, then he could reach the 60-point plateau. Even if he records 50-55 points with around 30 goals then it would be a largely successful season, which makes him worthy of sleeper status.
Seth Jones (CBJ) - D - Columbus acquired Jones from Nashville in January and gave his fantasy profile a serious upgrade. He produced two goals and 20 points in 41 games with the Blue Jackets after he had 11 points in 40 matches with the Predators prior to the move. His average ice time also increased from 19:38 minutes per game with Nashville to 24:27 minutes in a Columbus uniform. Jones was behind Shea Weber and Roman Josi on the depth chart, with Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis closing in on his minutes as well. With Columbus for a full season, he will be granted every opportunity to shine and he will likely quarterback the team’s power play. The Jackets invested in Jones’ potential in the off-season with a six-year, $32.4 million contract and a 40-point campaign should follow in 2016-17.
P. A. Parenteau (NYI) - RW - Parenteau agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Islanders as an unrestricted free agent. The contract could be a steal for New York after the 33-year-old winger posted 20 goals and 41 points in 77 games for the offensively weak Maple Leafs last season. Parenteau enjoyed the best years of his career as a member of the Isles in 2010-11 and 2011-12 when he generated 53 points and 67 points, respectively. Parenteau clicked with John Tavares during his last stint with the team and he should get a look there again this year. A spot on the top line with Andrew Ladd joining the trio could lead to a resurgence. He has great potential as a late-round pickup.
Mike Hoffman (OTT) - C, LW - Hoffman is expected to get a boost with Guy Boucher behind the bench. They had a very good relationship in the QMJHL with Drummondville and Boucher feels he knows the 26-year-old winger. Hoffman went through some growing pains with former coach Dave Cameron, who under-utilized him at times during the 2015-16 season. Still, he notched 29 goals and 59 points in 78 games. Hoffman is projected to get an increase in power-play time after the Senators ranked 26th overall last year. The return of Kyle Turris from injury should help Hoffman out as well, as they have displayed great chemistry over the past two years. Look for Hoffman to hit 30-plus goals and surpass 60 points.
Sam Reinhart (BUF) - RW - Reinhart tied Dylan Larkin for third in goal scoring among all rookies last season with 23 and he finished with 42 points in 79 games. He potted eight goals on the power play, which co-led the Sabres, and he had great success alongside Jack Eichel. Reinhart and Eichel combined for 12 goals and 29 points in 18 games after joining forces in March. The move helped Reinhart record 14 points in his last 19 games of the year. They could grow into one of the NHL’s top duos together. Look for Reinhart to produce around 50 points with the potential for more if Eichel gains steam in his sophomore campaign.
Andre Burakovsky (WSH) - LW - Burakovsky had unproductive start to the year with three goals and six helpers in his first 34 outings. He racked up 10 goals and 21 points over his next 24 contests before cooling down a bit down the stretch. When Burakovsky was red hot he recorded an eight-game point streak, which included a five-game goal spree. He was clicking with Evgeny Kuznetsov during that span. If he stays in the top-six group, which is expected, then he will play with Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom during even-strength situations and could get regular time on the second power-play unit. That will put him an excellent situation to succeed in his third full season in the NHL, which should lead to 45-55 points as a base. The Capitals’ offense can do plenty of damage and Burakovsky is ready to join the fray.
Robby Fabbri (STL) - LW - Fabbri impressed during his rookie season and is primed to reach another level in 2016-17. He registered 19 points over 25 contests down the stretch and racked up 15 points in 20 matches during the playoffs. Fabbri meshed well with Paul Stastny, but coach Ken Hitchcock may pair him with Jori Lehtera if he stays at left wing. They spent most of 2015-16 together during 5v5 situations. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be discouraged by that because that could change and Hitchcock does like to shuffle his lines. Fabbri will also see time on the second power-play unit and could jump to 20 goals and 50 points in 2016-17.
Mikael Granlund (MIN) - C, LW - Granlund set personal bests in 2015-16 with 13 goals and 44 points in 82 games. He has not lived up to expectations after the Wild made him the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. The 24-year-old forward has squandered opportunities before, but this year has the potential to be different. Granlund is expected to shift to left wing, where he looked good at the end of the 2015-16 season, and he will slot into a second-line role alongside Mikko Koivu. The duo starred for Finland at the 2016 World Championship with a combined 22 points in 10 games. Granlund will also be looking for a new contract after the 2016-17 campaign and he will be playing to impress new coach Bruce Boudreau, so he has plenty of motivation to turn it around.
Matt Dumba (MIN) - Dumba potted 10 goals and 26 points in 81 games last year. He was better in the second half when his ice time increased and he picked up 15 points in 29 games during the months of February and March. Dumba should keep trending in the right direction in 2016-17.
Victor Rask (CAR) - Rask turned up the volume offensively in 2015-16 with 21 goals and 48 points in 80 games. He formed a solid pairing with Jeff Skinner and they are expected to be joined by Lee Stempniak on what could be a dependable scoring line for the Hurricanes in 2016-17.
Elias Lindholm (CAR) - Lindholm could play between talented Finns Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho this year. He has recorded back-to-back seasons with 39 points, but the 21-year-old has the potential for much more going into his fourth year of NHL action.
Nick Bonino (PIT) - Bonino was a stud for the Penguins after he was placed between Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin. He concluded the regular season with 18 points in 21 contests and he posted 18 points in 24 playoff matches. If the HBK line remains intact then a career year should be in the cards for Bonino.
Mikkel Boedker (SJS) - Boedker produced 17 goals and 51 points in 80 games with Arizona and Colorado last season. He signed with the Sharks in the summer and is poised to play with Logan Couture, which should drastically improve his career minus-47 rating. Boedker has 50-plus potential as a member of the Sharks and he could finally reach the 20-goal mark of the first time.
Robin Lehner (BUF) - Lehner spent most of the 2015-16 campaign on the sidelines with an ankle issue, but he played well for the Sabres when he was healthy. Buffalo is an improving squad and Lehner will get plenty of action this year if he can stay off the sidelines. He shouldn’t be the top option on your fantasy roster because there is still some risk involved, but he could be a good value pick for some depth.
Kevin Fiala (NSH) - Fiala is hoping to crack Nashville’s lineup out of training camp and if he does then he will see time as a top-six forward. The Predators still need to find a fit for Ryan Johansen and James Neal. Enter, Fiala who saw some time with the talented duo last season and will probably be looked at in that role again.
Logan Couture (SJS) - Couture was limited to 52 games last season and he produced 36 points, which could lead him to being undervalued on draft day. Injuries have disrupted him in two of the last three years, but a return to 60 points should be in the cards if he can play in a full campaign.
James van Riemsdyk (TOR) - LW - JVR has the potential to be undervalued as well after he played in only 40 contests last year due to a foot injury. He accounted for 14 goals and 29 points along with 129 shots before getting hurt. Van Riemsdyk will be an important contributor for the Leafs in 2016-17.
Tyler Johnson (TBL) - Johnson earned just 14 goals and 38 points in 69 matches last year, while struggling through injuries. He should bounce back in 2016-17 with 60-65 points.
Colin Wilson (NSH) - Can Wilson perform the same way in the regular season as he does in the playoffs? The Predators expected much more from him in 2015-16 and he collected just 24 points in 64 games. Wilson is a risky bet going into the year, but he remains an intriguing player to watch because he has teased poolies with his offensive upside.
Alexander Radulov (MTL) - Radulov will return to the NHL in 2016-17 as a member of the Canadiens. He is expected to be plugged into a top-six forward role and he could be a 50-point producer on a Montreal team desperately looking for some depth scoring.
David Pastrnak (BOS) - Pastrnak has the potential to be a 50-point performer in 2016-17 after recording 53 points in his previous 97 NHL contests. He is expected to take on more responsibilities as a top-six forward and he has the talent to finally break through.
Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) - Hellebuyck outperformed Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson last year, so he is a popular pick to become the team’s starter out of training camp. Pavelec is unlikely to have the job security he used to, so training camp will be interesting. Hellebuyck should be owned in fantasy leagues if he is on the roster.