2017 Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Kevin Fiala, Jussi Jokinen have sleeper appeal in new roles
You need to hit on some late-round picks to succeed in Fantasy, so here are a few to target who could put up big seasons.
As the 2017-18 fantasy hockey season looms, you may find yourself lining up marquee players to imagine as the core of your virtual squad. However, once the McDavid's, Crosby's and Burns' of the world have passed by, it's all about filling your roster with depth and hoping to get the most bang for your buck.
This is where sleepers come into play. Sleepers, in this case, constitute players on the verge of realizing their full potential; or a class ready to climb out of the woodwork on the heels of a down year. Coaching changes, positive injury developments, an improved supporting cast -- there's a vast array of influences that could transform your next breakout star. With that in mind, here are some sneaky sleepers to look out for:
Fiala predictably struggled with consistency in his rookie year, but there are reasons to believe that the Swiss winger is poised to break out in 2017-18. For starters, the 21-year-old will have the opportunity to fill a hole in Nashville's top six with brawny sniper James Neal and the versatile Colin Wilson changing sweaters in the offseason. Better yet, Fiala's increased ice time toward the end of last season included action on the power play, and he boasted a 54.89 Corsi For Percentage -- vaulting him to near-elite territory in that ever-important possession metric. The promising flanker turned heads in the Predators' first-round playoff series against Chicago, scoring two goals on 11 shots, but his postseason was cut short having sustained a fractured femur in the second round against the Blues. All current reports suggest that he won't miss any time this season as a result, so don't shy away from the immense opportunity that Fiala has in front of him.
Jokinen slogged through one of the weakest seasons of his 12-year NHL career, as a 28-point output left him toiling outside the top-250 overall ranking. After his buyout from the Panthers, the 34-year-old landed in Edmonton -- a move that's shifted the veteran forward from the 23rd-ranked scoring offense to the eighth, and it puts him on the ice with all-world phenom Connor McDavid. Jokinen should be able to harness his excellent on-ice vision -- which led to three consecutive 36-plus-assist seasons prior to 2016-17 -- for the benefit of his understudies up front. Additionally, the Oilers' power-play units have been among the strongest in the league, and there's no reason to think that the Finnish man-advantage specialist won't be able to earn a spot with that group early on. Despite a ton of miles on the journeyman's body, Jokinen could very well experience a bounce-back campaign.
Following two consecutive sub-50-point campaigns, Pominville slipped to a mere 14:14 of average ice time with Minnesota in 2016-17, experiencing the type of career tailspin that won't be lost on fantasy owners. However, the shot-happy winger figures to be invigorated by his move back to Buffalo, where his career began 14 years ago, where he emerged as the Sabres' 16th full-time captain in 2011. While he's likely to be accompanied by Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons on the third line come Opening Night, Pominville should quickly manifest himself as a focal point for the Swords. And for good measure, he'll join Jack Eichel -- the new face of the franchise -- on the team's primary power-play unit. He's not the player he once was, but Pominville should at the very least reverse the annual trend of increasing his shifts in the defensive zone.
There's been a lot of excitement surrounding the Hurricanes following the emergence of playmaking winger Sebastian Aho and the offseason acquisition of goalie Scott Darling, so it would be easy to overlook Teravainen as the next great star of the franchise. But the Finnish forward emerged as a stalwart on Carolina's top even-strength and power-play lines this past season, developing a strong rapport with Aho and Jordan Staal on his way to posting a career-high 42 points --15 of which came with the man advantage. While scoring is always nice, it's important to note that Teravainen's underlying mechanics in the possession game are quite sound, as he recorded an astounding 55.33 Corsi For percentage last season. As a key offensive weapon on a team that's expected to make some noise this time around, Teravainen is a good bet for his first 50-plus-point season.
Weal only appeared in 23 games for the Flyers last year, but he made the most of it, notching eight goals and four assists -- which included a season-ending run of seven points in as many contests. When he wasn't playing for the big club, the 25-year-old terrorized opposing defenses in the minors, posting an eye-popping 47 points in 43 games for AHL Lehigh Valley. The Flyers' coaching staff has already shown interest in the young forward as a power-play contributor -- he averaged a respectable 1:34 with that unit last season -- and the offseason departure of Brayden Schenn opens a permanent roster spot for Weal, perhaps even in a top-six role. A projected value option, look for the "Weal Deal" to pay serious dividends by season's end.
With just 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) in 193 career games, Barberio is not the most appealing defensive option on the surface. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old is a sneaky talent with a golden opportunity to strut his stuff this season. While minor-league stats should be taken with a grain of salt, it's hard not to be impressed with the 61-point season that Barberio turned in with AHL Norfolk in 2011-12. Since then, the journeyman has mostly toiled in obscurity, but he was claimed off waivers by Colorado and instantly embraced a top-four role that included usage on the power play for the first time in his career. With teammate Erik Johnson chronically injured and Barberio taking on a more offensive, shot-heavy role, you have the makings of a banner year for the veteran blueliner.
After two mediocre seasons with the Bruins that saw him put up 29 points over the course of 103 games, Miller was selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. He's a strong two-way presence -- as evidenced by his leading all defensemen who played at least 61 games last season with an astounding 60.04 Corsi For percentage -- but Miller failed to emerge as a top talent in Boston due to his enigmatic ways and a playing style that often bordered on recklessness. Still, upon his arrival in Vegas, Miller is expected to slot into the top four with heavy minutes on the power play, making him a rather unsuspecting breakout candidate to the benefit of the NHL's newest franchise.
An undrafted prospect from the University of North Dakota, Stecher was quietly Vancouver's most productive defenseman last season -- he led his allied blueliners in assists (21) and points (24), having done so in 71 games as a rookie. The meager three-goal output can partially be attributed to his playing 64 feet away from the goal line, but it's worth noting that the 23-year-old had scored on a very low 2.4 shooting percent of his shots. It's conceivable that figure will increase this season, especially considering the Canadian will be more polished and eager to reprise his everyday power-play role. Plus, being in the mix of oft-injured defensemen -- Michael Del Zotto and Chris Tanev first come to mind -- should allow Stecher to see more ice time on the path to a breakout sophomore campaign.
Brian Elliott, G, Philadelphia Flyers
Elliott's only season in Calgary was not a pretty one, but it's important to note that the Flames incurred the most penalty minutes in the league last season, leaving the veteran goaltender and his defense to fight off numerous scoring opportunities shorthanded. In 2017-18, Moose joins Philadelphia, a team that ranked seventh in the NHL last season with 28.5 shots allowed per game, and he will look to steal the starting job from incumbent Michal Neuvirth. Although the Flyers signed Neuvirth to a two-year, $5 million extension this past March, his days as the starter could be numbered after he posted an awful .891 save percentage in 2016-17. Elliott is just one season removed from his All-Star-caliber 2015-16 with the Blues, so if he can rediscover his form in Philly, then a return to the upper class of fantasy goalies should follow.
James Reimer, G, Florida Panthers
Reimer's been a prolific backup goalie for much of his career and he was his typical steady self in 2016-17, posting a .920 save percentage over a career-high 43 games as a complementary option to Roberto Luongo. Speaking of the heralded vet, the 38-year-old is coming off a poor season by his standards, and he missed time to a lower-body injury after he'd already been recovering from offseason hip surgery. Reimer, on the other hand, is younger, healthier, and has done more with less throughout his entire career -- notably, he's posted at least three shutouts in five different seasons despite his relatively limited game action. With Father Time seemingly catching up with the generational talent in Luongo, Reimer is the heir apparent to the Florida net and his prior stats suggest that he is ready to blossom into a dependable starter.
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