2019-20 Fantasy Hockey: Sleeper candidates include goalie great Henrik Lundqvist
Most Fantasy leagues are won in the later rounds of drafts, so set your sights on these burgeoning players poised to fly under the radar as sleepers.
There are always tough decisions to make early on in Fantasy hockey drafts, but it's hard to go wrong when there are a plethora of superstars still on the board. However, things become much less straightforward in the mid-to-late rounds when big-name players become increasingly scarce. Finding a few diamonds in the rough is imperative to transforming a competitive roster into a championship-caliber team.
Here are a few sleeper candidates who could help you do just that in 2019-20:
Svechnikov posted a sneaky-good 20-goal, 37-point campaign in 2018-19, resulting in a seventh-place finish in the voting for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's rookie of the year. Impressively, all of his goals came at even strength, and while his 10.6 shooting percentage was rock solid, it could definitely improve during his sophomore campaign. Svechnikov will be locked into a top-six spot skating on a line with Jordan Staal or Sebastian Aho in 2019-20, and should be a staple on the Hurricanes' first power-play unit as well -- an improved role which should lead to a dramatic increase in scoring opportunities. For reference, a line of Svechnikov, Staal, and Teuvo Teravainen recorded an outstanding 62.9 Corsi percentage last year. Deploying that trio full-time should enhance each of their respective Fantasy values significantly this season.
Zuccarello may be a fairly well-known name, but he's still flying under the radar a bit ahead of the upcoming season. He'll be taking on a large role in Minnesota, likely manning the right wing next to Eric Staal on the top line. Although the Wild struggled to produce offense last season (fifth-fewest goals scored), the 5-foot-8 winger will be eating up even-strength and power-play minutes this year, which should give him plenty of opportunities to contribute on the scoresheet. Zuccarello notched 12 goals and 40 points in 48 games with the Rangers and Stars before a broken arm ended his regular season in 2018-19. That 68-point pace would've set a career-high for the 31-year-old. Despite the injury, the veteran forward was able to mount a come back and make some noise during the postseason, collecting 11 points in 13 contests. Barring another injury, Zuccarello should make a run at his career-best 61 points again in 2019-20.
Batherson got his first taste of NHL action at 20 years old last season, collecting three goals (two on the power play) and nine points in 20 contests. He took his offensive game to another level with AHL Belleville, racking up 62 points in 59 appearances. Entering his age-21 campaign, the 2017 fourth-round pick should make the Senators' roster out of camp, and could slot into a top-six role from the get-go. Due to Ottawa's deficiencies up front, it would hardly be surprising to see Batherson line up next to Colin White or Chris Tierney on one of the Senators' top-two lines on Opening Night. A late-round flier on the late bloomer could pay dividends this season.
Due to cap constraints, the Golden Knights were forced to send Gusev's rights to the Devils in exchange for a pair of draft picks this offseason. The 27-year-old winger then quickly agreed to terms on a two-year, $9 million contract with New Jersey. One of the most anticipated Russian players in recent memory, Gusev is expected to come to the NHL this season and immediately take on a top-six role in the Devils' retooled forward group. The Moscow native tore up the KHL last year, posting a career-high 82 regular-season points with KHL St. Petersburg before adding another 19 during postseason play. Gusev has the potential to quickly establish himself as one of the NHL's top wingers in 2019-20, similar to what Artemi Panarin did a few seasons ago. The 5-foot-11 forward should skate next to Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier while seeing significant time on the man advantage this campaign, giving him high-end offensive upside and Fantasy potential.
Since finishing in the top 10 in the voting for the Norris Trophy in 2016-17, Schultz has been a major letdown in back-to-back seasons. Last year, the University of Wisconsin product collected four assists in four games before a fractured leg put him on the shelf until mid-February. Once he returned, the 6-foot-2 blueliner was still able to register over a half-point-per-game pace despite spending most of his time next to the offensive black hole known as Jack Johnson. Entering his age-29 season, Schultz will be locked into a top-four role (possibly alongside youngster Marcus Pettersson), as well as a spot on Pittsburgh's second power-play unit. He'll also be first in line to quarterback the No. 1 power-play squad if and when the oft-injured Kris Letang misses time. Schultz' own health concerns will make him a risky pick in 2019-20, but his high-end offensive upside will make him worth the gamble.
Fabbro closed out his three-year career with Boston University with seven goals and a personal-best 33 points in 38 games before getting his first taste of NHL action with the Predators at the end of last season. In 10 contests split between the regular season and playoffs, the young defenseman tallied a goal and an assist while averaging just 12:20 of ice time per game with the big club. Now, with a P.K. Subban-sized hole to fill in Nashville, the 17th-overall pick from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft is poised to take on a full-time role with the Predators, likely on the second pairing. With increased ice time at full strength and a potential gig as the second power-play unit's quarterback, Fabbro will be in a prime position to enjoy a very strong rookie campaign in 2019-20.
An offseason trade from Ottawa to Toronto will give Ceci a new start and increased Fantasy value in 2019-20. The 25-year-old has eclipsed the 20-point mark in three of the last five seasons, but he's also posted an ugly minus-49 rating in 156 games over the last two campaigns. Suiting up in a top-four role on an elite team should help to fix that rating in a hurry. Also, given the wealth of scoring talent that he'll be surrounded with, Ceci shouldn't have any trouble surpassing his career-high of 26 points in 2019-20. Even if his offensive numbers don't improve dramatically, Ceci's contributions in the supplementary categories should make him a player worth owning. The 6-foot-2 blueliner has racked up 313 blocked shots, 283 hits and 275 shots on goal since the start of 2017. Ceci won't blow anyone away, but he'll make for a quality depth defenseman in most Fantasy formats this season.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
While he may not be a sleeper in the traditional sense, Lundqvist is definitely due for a bounce-back campaign after his disappointing 2018-19 performance. He posted a sub-par .907 save percentage and 3.07 GAA last season, both the worst marks of his career. Now in his 15th campaign as the Rangers' starting netminder, Lundqvist will have a rejuvenated group of skaters in front of him, including Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox on defense. The 37-year-old Swede also had a bit of bad luck last year, leading the NHL with 10 overtime/shootout losses, so it's safe to assume his win/loss total will improve pretty dramatically in 2019-20. Fair warning, though, Fantasy owners selecting Lundqvist would be smart to grab his heir apparent -- the 23-year-old Alexandar Georgiev -- as well.
Heading into the 2019-20 campaign, Blackwood is expected to be the Devils' backup behind Cory Schneider. However, that pecking order may not last long. A 2015 second-round pick, Blackwood made 23 NHL appearances last season, going 10-10-0 while posting a 2.61 GAA and a .918 save percentage to go with a pair of shutouts. Meanwhile, the injury-riddled Schneider registered a .903 save percentage and a 3.06 GAA -- the worst marks he's posted since the 2008-09 season. If Blackwood continues to outperform Schneider this year, coach John Hynes will be forced to make the switch to the 22-year-old. More playing time with an improved lineup could make Blackwood one of the biggest steals of this year's Fantasy drafts.
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