I continue my list of all-star teams with the top sleepers by position this season. It’s fair to say that all except one player on this list were not expected to be sleepers this season. But that’s part of the fun of fantasy hockey – if you look past the name of the player and what numbers he is supposed to post, you’ll find a surprising player that turns out to be an incredible fantasy asset.
First Ian Gooding from Kukla’s Korner will give his take and then we bring the usual crazy sleepers that somehow worked.
Brian Elliott, G, STL
Of all the players on this list, Elliott probably fits the true definition of sleeper the most. Left for dead in fantasy leagues after a disastrous season split between Ottawa and Colorado, Elliott edged Ben Bishop for the role as Jaroslav Halak’s backup. However, Elliott burst out of the gate with wins in his first four starts while Halak was struggling. Even when Halak found his game and forced a timeshare, Elliott didn’t let up. With 38 starts Elliott simply didn’t start enough to earn goaltender of the year honors, but his numbers (23-10-4, 1.56 GAA, .940 SV%, 9 SO) rival any modern-day goalie in his prime.
Brian Campbell, D, FLA
Campbell is more of a comeback player than an actual sleeper, given that he seemed to be an afterthought during his final two seasons in Chicago. With 53 points in his first season in Florida, Campbell finally turned out to be what the Hawks were hoping for when they signed him to that albatross long-term contract – only for the wrong team. One downside to owning Campbell, however: his six penalty minutes (yes, you read that right) will probably put him in contention for the Lady Byng but not your league title.
Kevin Bieksa, D, VAN
Likely the Canucks’ top defenseman in their Stanley Cup run last season, Bieksa was able to continue his solid all-around play into this season. His point total doubled from 22 points last season to 44 points this season. A late-round flier in most leagues, Juice turned out to be a fantasy contributor in most categories, most notably assists and penalty minutes. An honorable mention goes to his defense partner Dan Hamhuis, who almost reached 40 points himself while leading the Canucks in plus/minus. Hamhuis is a stronger defensive defenseman than Bieksa, but I’d rather have Bieksa for my fantasy team.
Ray Whitney, LW, PHX
The honor of top sleeper at left wing would have belonged to point-per-game All-Star Joffrey Lupul if not for his season-ending injury. However, a much older near point-per-gamer has found the fountain of youth in the desert of Arizona. At age 39, Whitney actually improved his point total by 20 points from last season, leading the Coyotes in scoring with 76 points while attaining a +26. There’s no reason to think Whitney can match that next season, unless he is drinking from the same Gatorade bottle as Teemu Selanne.
Tyler Seguin, C, BOS
The second overall draft pick in 2010, Seguin was one of the league’s top potential sleepers this season. After being eased into an NHL role during his first season, Seguin became the youngest player to lead the Bruins in single-season scoring. He finished one goal shy of 30 along with 67 points, but most impressive was probably his +34 earned at the tender age of 20. Don’t be surprised if the young phenom improves on his goal and assist total again next season.
Radim Vrbata, RW, PHX
There must have been something in the water in Phoenix this season, given the representation of two Coyotes’ players on this list. Not even the most optimistic of Coyote-centric prognosticators would have projected Vrbata to score 35 goals with a +24 this season, but that’s what you earned if you grabbed Vrbata late in your fantasy draft or from your waiver wire. In fact, Whitney and Vrbata were a 1-2 tandem that turned out to be a major reason for the Coyotes’ unexpected Pacific Division title this season. Speaking of which, Mike Smith would have been the top goalie sleeper if not for the out-of-nowhere performance of Elliott.
Now here is Our All-Sleeper Team:
This is where we go in a bit of a different direction. There is a reason to keep this simple because of the nature of the term sleeper. When you look at what the player is supposed to do and then what he actually does, there are some amazing differences in the plus direction. When one takes a look at positional sleepers, it does become a different animal.
For this part, we go by position and kind of conform, for now. The bottom line is sleepers come in many different forms in fantasy hockey. If you look at it from a waiver wire standpoint, the answers may just be a little away from the norm. Here are my picks…..
Joffrey Lupul, LW/RW, TOR
It is a shame he got injured at a crucial time but point a game guys like him are hard to find especially when many had questions going into this year. The chemistry with Phil Kessel was undeniable but there was even debate on who would be their pivot. It did not matter. 67 points in 66 games does not lie. The two were able to, particularly Lupul, create their own offense. Joffrey Lupul is not given enough credit for turning his life around and that may be even more reason for his hockey resurgence.
Chris Kelly, C, BOS
If anyone expected a guy like Chris Kelly to produce nearly 40 points and be a +33, raise your hand! The projections were potentially there but Kelly had to fight quite a bit for ice time which was something he did not always have to do in Ottawa. The center worked hard to improve his two way game even more in the offseason and the result was self-explanatory. Kelly even became a bit of a shorthanded threat as well. It was not just the two shorthanded goals that impressed but all the chances generated. He had one minus game from the middle of March until the end of the season. Consistency is sometimes a very good trait to have in fantasy.
Nick Foligno, LW, OTT
Just imagine what Foligno would do with a little more ice time and a hair more discipline. His hair like trigger does get him in trouble at some rather inopportune times. As it is the guy was physical, could score timely goals, and has better hands than most give him credit for. Maybe the name Foligno just exudes that. The forward had 46 points and 15 goals with 122 PIMS. If you toss in almost 150 shots and the fact that his persence in front of the net on power plays could have been used better, maybe he does even more fantasy damage. It turned out he really was quite the sleeper.
Nikita Nikitin, D, CBJ
Granted the finish to his season was not the greatest but Nikitin showed some flashes of what he could be as a #2 or #3 defenseman at his highest upside. No one will likely confuse him with ever being a #1 but with a guy like Jack Johnson in the mix, it will be interesting to see what he does next year. He was a point every other game player which for defenseman is solid. The +/- was a -11 but considering how bad Columbus was (they were 30 points out of a playoff spot), that number could have been a lot lower. This youngster will improve and not be just a waiver wire pickup as soon as next year.
Travis Hamonic, D, NYI
The Isles never seem to know what they have with their younger players far more often than a team should. However, Hamonic can be many things all at the same time. The two goals is a bit of a concern but the defenseman can let that shot fly. His 22 assists and a +6 rating are respectable. Honestly that latter number is a bit of an eye popper given how bad the Isles were defensively for good sized chunks of the year. He should play even more next year as a potential #1 or #2 defenseman in all situations. There is just something in him that screams 35-40 points next year and at least 10 power play points or more. This year was not too bad either.
Johan Hedberg, G, NJ
If you had told me that Johan Hedberg would be a more stable choice in net over Martin Brodeur, I may have literally thrown the kitchen sink out the window. Yet Hedberg was amazing for New Jersey as he spelled Brodeur and honestly outplayed the future Hall Of Famer. This is a goalie who was brought in for maybe 10-15 spot starts a year then goes 17-7-2 with a 2.22 GAA and .918 save percentage. “The Moose” added four shutouts along the way. Maybe he sees a start in the playoff perhaps but either way give Hedberg his due. The goalie was a life saver for many in need of that “solid start” and no one saw this one coming.