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Draft Guide

Top 10 Sleepers

by Corey Abbott
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

The term "sleeper" seems to mean something different depending on who you ask.  In a lot of cases, it is interchangeable with rebound players, potential breakouts or someone moving onto a new and better situation.  In the past, we've used sleepers to highlight players who may have slipped off your radar or disappeared from it completely.  However, that method ended up more or less highlighting the NHL's top rookies and sophomores - and there are still plenty of those players featured on the list - so now we've included the comeback and breakout crowds as well to give sleepers a wider scope.   
 
 
Patric Hornqvist (PIT) - RW - Hornqvist was traded to Pittsburgh at the draft, along with Nick Spaling, in deal that sent James Neal to Nashville.   He's projected to take Neal's spot on a line with Evgeni Malkin, which instantly raises his fantasy profile.  Hornqvist has been a forgotten man often in fantasy hockey circles despite reaching the 30-goal mark in 2009-10 and surpassing the 50-point mark twice.  That can be partially explained by his tenure with the Predators and some injury concerns during the lockout-shortened season.  However, he shouldn't be overlooked this season.  He'll jam the net, which will especially come in handy on the power play, and he'll shoot the puck with great regularity.  He has handily topped the 200-shot plateau in each of his four full seasons of NHL play and he's hit the 20-goal mark during all of those years as well.  That will complement the playmaking skills of Malkin or Sidney Crosby very nicely.  Hornqvist has the potential to enjoy a career year in 2014-15, while challenging 35 goals and around 60-70 points.   
 
Alex Tanguay (COL) - LW - Tanguay was hit hard by the injury bug during his first season back in Colorado.  He suited up in just 16 games and underwent season-ending hip surgery in late February.  Tanguay's hip issue contributed to a knee ailment, which was the primary reason for his absence prior to the procedure.  When he was in the lineup, the 34-year-old winger recorded four goals and seven assists.  He also had 24 shots and a plus-7 rating, while seeing the vast majority of his five-on-five playing time alongside Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny.  Stastny has departed the Avalanche for St. Louis via free agency, but Tanguay will either get Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon as his center in 2014-15.  He will aid the power play, while flirting with the 20-goal and 50-point marks, assuming he's made a complete recovery.   
 
Frederik Andersen (ANA) - G  - The Ducks made the decision late in the season to move on from pending unrestricted free agent Jonas Hiller.  Anaheim ended up putting their faith in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, which will probably be the goaltending tandem the team sticks with in 2014-15.  The team signed Jason LaBarbera to a one-year contract, which suggests that Gibson could start the year in the minors for more playing time.  However, it wouldn't be surprising in the slightest if Gibson earned an NHL roster spot and LaBarbera was shipped to Norfolk.  Gibson could be a dark horse for the starting gig and he's progress is worth watching at training camp, but he's slightly more of a gamble because even he lacks the limited experience that Andersen has.  Andersen may have the inside track on the number one job after he posted a 20-5-0 record, a .923 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average during the regular season.  He also started for the Ducks in the playoffs before a sprained MCL knocked him out during the club's second-round series versus Los Angeles.  Andersen appears to be poised to carry the load for Anaheim, which makes him a great mid-to-late round draft pick. 
 
Patrick Maroon (ANA) - LW - The sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007 appears to be ready to breakout as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in in 2014-15.  He displayed some promise last year when he registered 11 goals, 29 points and 101 penalty minutes in 62 games.  He also posted 124 hits, 93 shots and a plus-11 rating.  Maroon accomplished those totals, while seeing just 12:18 of ice time per match.  He skated primarily with Mathieu Perreault, who has left the Ducks for Winnipeg via free agency.  During the off-season, the Ducks showed their faith in his potential by signing him to a three-year extension worth $6 million.  This campaign, he'll earn $575,000 and he is primed for a top-six forward role.  Earning a spot alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry would be the ideal situation, but Anaheim's dynamic duo goes through linemates like a turnstile.  Playing on the wing of Ryan Kesler is another strong possibility for the 26-year-old forward and that would help him record a career season as well.  Maroon has the size, toughness and offensive ability to be a strong multi-category contributor. The upside for him to be a Milan Lucic or Wayne Simmonds type of player is there, so snatch him up late in your drafts.   
 
Alex Stalock (SJ) - G - Stalock isn't guaranteed to be San Jose's starting goaltender this year, but the team's confidence in Antti Niemi appears to be waning.  Niemi displayed some inconsistency during the regular season and he was part of the team's epic collapse in the Western Conference quarter-finals versus Los Angeles.  The Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead in which Niemi was pulled twice and Stalock started Game 6.  Stalock looked good in relief, while stopping all 26 shots he faced in about a game's worth of action, before he was lit up for four goals on 30 shots in his first career playoff start.  In the regular season, he appeared in 24 games and posted a mark of 12-5-2.  He turned some heads by posting a .932 save percentage, a 1.87 goals-against average and two shutouts.  Stalock's excellent play coupled with his two-year extension in the summer has led to speculation that Niemi could be moved, but the expectation now is that both netmnders will enter the 2014-15 season as options in the Sharks' crease.  Sometimes a lot of good work for a goaltender can be wiped out in an instant when a team keels over the way San Jose did in the postseason.  Look no further than the Toronto Maple Leafs and the situation that befell James Reimer after the Boston Bruins' historic rally in Game 7 during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.  There are differences between the two situations, but the uncertainty can create competition and opportunity for another to step up and Stalock could run with that.  If Niemi retains his role as the team's number one goalie, which he probably will, then Stalock still should see an increase in action because of the success he had a year ago.  Should Niemi falter or get injured then Stalock's fantasy value will increase dramatically.  He may prove to be a solid investment for your fantasy squad as a depth option and Niemi owners should strongly consider picking him up as a handcuff.         
 
Evgeny Kuznetsov (WAS) - C - The Washington Capitals waited patiently for Kuznetsov to finish playing in the KHL and he made his long-awaited NHL debut in March 2014.  He started the year with Chelyabinsk Traktor prior to skating in 17 games with the Capitals at the end of season.  Kuznetsov generated three goals and nine points along with 22 shots.  He averaged 13:28 of ice time per game and that will get a boost this campaign.  Coach Barry Trotz envisions using the 22-year-old forward at center, with some "hard-driving guys" on the wings.  That could place him on the second line with players like Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich or Tom Wilson.  There's also the strong possibly that Alex Ovechkin could end up being his linemate at some point, which will be a great time to have him on your roster.  Kuznetsov is just as good at setting up his teammates as he is at completing plays, so his offensive upside is tremendous.  He will likely be among the league's most productive rookies in 2014-15 after excelling in the KHL for years.  Kuznetsov has the potential to rack up 50-60 points, so grab him quickly if he's still around in the later rounds of your drafts.   
 
Matt Nieto (SJ) - LW - Playing on the same team as exciting rookie Tomas Hertl last season resulted in Nieto flying under the radar.  The 21-year-old Long Beach native was productive late in the year when he finally got a chance to log more minutes.  Nieto registered six goals and five assists in 15 games from Feb. 3-Mar. 24.  He produced most of his offense over that span while playing with star centers Logan Couture and Joe Thornton.  The Sharks have cut ties with Martin Havlat and Brent Burns will return to defense after the team allowed Dan Boyle to depart as a free agent.  That will open up plenty of room for Nieto to earn a position in San Jose's top-six forward group.  His chemistry with Couture and Patrick Marleau suggests he'll be a goo fit there.  Nieto produced alongside the duo during the regular season and in the playoffs when he accounted for two goals and five points in seven matches.  He's a good bet to record at least 40 points, which would be a significant improvement from the total of 24 he had in 66 contests a year ago.   Nieto has the potential to flirt with the 50-point mark if the Sharks stick to their plan to push their younger players in 2014-15.  Hertl is an intriguing fantasy target, even coming off his knee injury, but it would be a mistake to not include Nieto on your wish list as well.  
 
Christian Ehrhoff (PIT) - D - Ehrhoff suffered through a largely disappointing season with the lowly Buffalo Sabres last year.  The offensive defenseman produced six goals and 27 assists in 79 games after a sluggish start saw him earn just five points in his first 25 outings.  He picked up steam after that with three markers and 20 points in 30 matches going into the Olympic break.  Ehrhoff was bought out of his 10-year, $40 million contract by Buffalo during the off-season when he still had seven more years remaining on his deal.  He ended up signing a one-year pact with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $4 million.  During five-on-five situations, he may play alongside Kris Letang in Matt Niskanen's place.  Niskanen usurped Letang's spot on the top power-play unit last season and there's a chance that Ehrhoff could do the same this year, especially if Letang continues to deal with injuries and more medical issues.  Ehrhoff led the last-placed Sabres in ice time last season, averaging 23:54 per game, and he'll be a valuable member of the Penguins on what is essentially a show-me contract.  The 32-year-old blueliner hit the 14-goal mark twice and he tallied 40-50 points on three occasions before joining the Sabres.  Look for him to return to that point range in 2014-15, while hitting double digits in goals.  Ehrhoff will also improve his ghastly minus-27 rating with the Penguins.  
 
Loui Eriksson (BOS) - LW, RW - Eriksson arrived from Dallas as part of the blockbuster Tyler Seguin trade and he performed below expectations, with injury and unfamiliarity as contributing factors.  He topped 70 points in three straight seasons with the Stars before the lockout-shortened campaign, but he posted just 10 goals and 27 assists in 61 games during his first year with the Bruins.  Eriksson had some chemistry with Carl Soderberg, but he's projected to skate on the top line alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic this season after Jarome Iginla left for Colorado during free agency.  He was better after the Olympics, where he collected 17 points in 22 contests from Mar. 2-Apr.13, and he said he felt more comfortable with Boston's system at that time.  He expects to bounce back this year and it's likely that he will with a 60-point season.   
 
Chris Kreider (NYR) - LW - Kreider came a long way for a player who started the 2013-14 season in the minors.  The demotion was a surprise even though he struggled to score during the lockout-shortened campaign.  In 66 games last year, he notched 17 goals and 37 points, while seeing most of his five-on-five action alongside Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.  The trio remained together in the playoffs when Kreider's game took off once he returned from a surgically-repaired hand.  He netted five goals, including three on the power play, and generated 13 points in 15 contests to help the Rangers make it to the Stanley Cup Final.  If Nash rebounds from a disappointing year in 2014-15 then it will benefit Kreider as well.  The 23-year-old winger has a much better understanding of what coach Alain Vigneault expects of him now and that should help him elevate his game.  His speed and size will make him dangerous off the rush and during power-play situations.  Kreider will also record plenty of hits (1.5-2 per game) and he'll chip some penalty minutes.  Look for him to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time this season and for him to surpass 50 points. 
 
Honorable mentions:  
 
Nathan Horton (CLM) - He was limited to just 36 games in his first season with Columbus because of shoulder surgery and an abdominal injury.  Horton will be a key member of an up-and-coming Blue Jackets team and a big comeback year is expected from him.   
 
Alexander Edler (VAN) - A minus-39 rating in 63 games? Edler was the victim of some bad luck, but his defensive game has been seriously lacking.  Where he's more likely to rebound is offensively, especially after the Canucks traded Jason Garrison in the off-season.  Edler will be the team's primary option to produce points from the back end.   
 
Tyler Toffoli (LA) - Toffoli showcased his goal-scoring ability in the playoffs when he recorded seven goals and 14 points in 26 games.  He generated plenty of buzz on the 'That 70's Line" with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson.  If the trio remains together then Toffoli could be in line for a big year.  He has great offensive upside and is worth watching.   
 
Jake Gardiner (TOR) - He received a five-year deal during the off-season and that confidence in his abilities may go straight to his legs in 2014-15.  Gardiner is projected to have a larger role this campaign as a top-four defender and he may see time on the first power-play unit.   
 
Braden Holtby (WAS) - The Capitals have a new GM, bench boss and goalie coach this season and they all have been very supportive of Holtby during the summer.  He'll enter the last season of his current contract as the starting goaltender and he's primed for a comeback year after showing flashes of brilliance in the past.    
 
Mike Ribeiro (NAS) - Ribiero was bought out by the Coyotes for behavorial issues, but Nashville decided to take a chance on him with a one-year deal.  The potential for a high reward is big here if Ribeiro can flirt with the 60-point plateau on the top line alongside James Neal.   
 
Sam Gagner (ARI) - Gagner will get a fresh start in Arizona after seven seasons in Edmonton.  The motivation should give him a boost, but the Coyotes' lack of offensive depth could limit him to around 50 points.   
 
Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) - After winning the Calder Trophy, Huberdeau suffered through a sophomore slump in 2013-14.  He scored just nine goals in 69 games, but he should bounce back nicely this season with his former QMJHL coach, Gerard Gallant, behind the bench with the Panthers.   
 
Nail Yakupov (EDM) - Yakupov also took a step back in his second NHL season, but he has too much offensive upside to ignore on draft day.  Just be aware that he is a gamble, as his spot as a top-six forward isn't guaranteed.   
 
R.J. Umberger (PHI) - Umberger could be someone to watch if he can earn a top-six forward spot with the Flyers.  There are spots available in that group and he would be an intriguing pickup if he was placed on the top unit with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.   
 
Charlie Coyle (MIN) - Coyle was thought to be a possible solution for the Wild as a second-line center, but now it's more likely that he'll be on one of the top two lines. He played well with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu last year, which could be a line to keep an eye on in 2014-15.  
 
Jori Lehtera (STL) - Vladimir Sobotka's all-purpose value may shift to Lehtera this season, which means he could play in a variety of different roles for the Blues after playing the last four years in the KHL.  He's a skilled center who excels in the faceoff circle, so he could worth keeping an eye on. 
 
Mark Scheifele (WPG) - Scheifele was developing a rhythm before a sprained MCL sidelined him for the last 19 games of the season.  He will be the Jets' second-line center in 2014-15 and he'll continue to make positive strides forward.   
 
Jaroslav Halak (NYI) - He was acquired in the off-season to be the number one goalie on an improved Islanders team.  Defense is still a problem there, but his save percentage will be solid and he'll see plenty of action on a squad that could end up surprising.   
 
Colton Sceviour (DAL) - Lots of attention in Dallas is being paid to Ales Hemsky and Valeri Nichushkin as potential breakout candidates and for good reason.  They are locks as top-six forwards.  Thinking outside the box, Sceviour fits the mold as a high-risk sleeper if he can earn a spot alongside Jason Spezza this season.  He's viewed as a candidate for the job, but he could just as easily start the season in the minors. 

Corey Abbott

Corey Abbott is an Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @CoreAbbott.