Fantasy hockey sleepers for the 2018-19 season
Looking for some late-round value in your fantasy hockey draft? Here are some undervalued assets with sleeper potential to consider this season.
Jordan Eberle, RW, New York Islanders (No. 183): While John Tavares gets himself sized for the Blue and White in Toronto, Mathew Barzal faces his first full campaign of running the show up front for the Islanders with Eberle on his wing. Competing most often with the Calder Trophy winner in 2017-18, the former Oiler collected 25 goals and 34 assists in his first run-through in Brooklyn. On Barzal’s top line and the No. 1 power play, he’ll surpass 65 points this season.
Kyle Okposo, RW, Buffalo Sabres (No. 216): On paper, the Sabres’ new top six is rounding out into promising form. Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary make for solid additions on the wing alongside a fully-fit Jack Eichel and rookie center Casey Mittelstadt, drafted eighth overall in 2017. Along with Sam Reinhart, Okposo fills a prominent role with that consortium. The days of the now 30-year-old power forward lighting it up alongside Tavares with the Islanders weren’t that long ago. However unfair it might be to compare Mittelstadt to Tavares in these early stages, there’s potential for a similar relationship here. Anticipate a Renaissance of sorts from Okposo this season.
Matt Duchene, C, Ottawa Senators (No. 223): While there’s less to like about what’s going on in Ottawa overall these days, the Senators are still going to score and win (some) games, presumably led by Duchene’s top line. After floundering for only four goals and four assists in the first 24 contests following his trade from the Colorado Avalanche, the speedy center then averaged a near point-per-game pace through the second half. With all awkward introductions over and settled, a similar rhythm is to be expected from the 27-year-old this campaign. Just be wary of his inevitable less-than-desirable plus-minus rating.
Alexander Wennberg, C, Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 243): Still only 23 years old, Wennberg is better than the perceived portrait painted by the 35 points accumulated through 66 games of recent. Playing through injury was likely the most significant factor in the production drop-off from the previous campaign (59 points). As it stands, the Jackets’ talented second-line center is healthy now and looking to make amends. He has value in deeper leagues, along with the potential to surprise.
James Neal, RW, Calgary Flames (No. 256): If the 30-year-old develops even decent chemistry with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the Flames’ new-look top line and power play, he’ll score 30 goals. If 30 goals means something in your fantasy league, don’t hesitate to invest in this perennially underrated asset. He scored 25 in 71 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 not playing with skaters of Gaudreau and Monahan’s caliber.
Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 271): Losing two months to a lower-body injury, Palat managed only 35 points in 2017-18. All healed up, the 27-year-old should collect 60 this campaign alongside either center Brayden Point (more likely) or Steven Stamkos (less likely). And look out if the 22-year-old Point erupts, as he very well might, in his third full NHL go-around.
Zach Parise, LW, Minnesota Wild (No. 282): Regular readers of ESPN’s NHL fantasy content will be plenty familiar with my enduring commitment to Parise as an underrated commodity. For those new to the scene, a reminder that after sitting out half of 2017-18 with a back injury, then taking some time to work off the rust, the veteran winger concluded with 16 points in 19 games, including 12 goals. If healthy, which he is now, Parise will score 30-plus goals on a Wild top-six scoring line and No. 1 power play.
Jesper Bratt, LW, New Jersey Devils (No. 284): The severe drop-off in production through Bratt’s final 30 regular-season games (five points), coupled with his benching in all but one postseason contest, was almost as surprising as the 30 points he amassed up until Jan. 20. Then again, the former Swedish pro, only 19 years old for all of his rookie campaign, wouldn’t be the first to eventually suffer from mental and physical exhaustion in his first season in the NHL. However, a full season on a top line with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier hints at a high ceiling for Bratt, if that’s where he sticks. The kid’s well worth a late-round gamble in most leagues.
Mikhail Sergachev, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 194): The then-19-year-old defenseman was clearly offered great opportunities to produce in his rookie campaign and will undoubtedly face the challenge of harder minutes this coming season. Still, Sergachev isn’t expected to regress on the production front. If anything, he should improve on his 40-point showing by seeing more ice time all around, sitting second only to Victor Hedman in the club’s offensive-defensemen pecking order. The 2016 first-round draft selection has even greater value in keeper leagues.
Shea Theodore, D, Vegas Golden Knights (No. 244): Like Minnesota’s Parise, Theodore is featured prominently (obsessively?) in my preseason content, largely because the underappreciated 23-year-old — not Colin Miller, not Nate Schmidt — already presents as the Knights’ top puck-moving D-man and No. 1 power-play quarterback. That’s how Theodore wrapped up 2017-18, collecting nine points in his closing 10 games.
Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton Oilers (No. 247): Just one of many frustrated Oilers, Klefbom is looking to benefit from a fresh start after an altogether dismal 2017-18. Still the favorite to anchor a No. 1 power play which includes Connor McDavid, Klefbom is in prime position to bounce back after collecting only 21 points in 66 contests. The 25-year-old flirted with 40 only a season earlier.
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers (Unranked): Before and after losing a large chunk of the season to injury, Luongo was pretty super, averaging a .929 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average. While that promising Florida team out front is on the upswing, the veteran goalie appears in position for another solid campaign. The 39-year-old isn’t likely to suit up for 60-plus games with the Panthers in 2018-19, but he could easily start 50.
Cam Ward, G, Chicago Blackhawks (Unranked): Acquired to back up Corey Crawford, Ward will be much busier than expected if Chicago’s No. 1 continues to suffer from concussion-related complications. The 34-year-old long-time Carolina Hurricanes netminder (decent with Carolina last season to the tune of 23-14-4 and a 2.73 goals-against average) still has the wherewithal to do his bit with a Blackhawks squad determined to improve on last season’s disappointing run. But again, Crawford’s recovery is key here. Don’t jump on Ward too early.
Robin Lehner, G, New York Islanders (Unranked): There’s a lot to like about the idea of new coach Barry Trotz molding Lehner into his best netminding self. For his part, the tempestuous 27-year-old has already enjoyed runs of impressive play with both the Sabres and Senators. That Islanders defense is a worry, though. Still, there’s enough promise here to merit investing in this volatile fantasy wild card. Again, not too early.