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Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Sleepers

Continuing on with our Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit, Troy Langefeld provides his top sleeper picks for the upcoming NHL season.

Take a late round flyer on Alex Tanguay, you'll be happy you did - Photo Credit
Take a late round flyer on Alex Tanguay, you'll be happy you did - Photo Credit
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

We have covered a lot of ground so far as we enter the fourth week of our 2014 fantasy hockey draft kit. Week one served as an introduction to the year, outlined our draft kit schedule, league setup details, and a list of important offseason changes. We kicked it up a notch in weeks two and three and provided rankings for each position - center, left wing, right wing, defense, and goalkeeper - as well as a consolidated rankings list for the upcoming season. We released our breakout picks on Monday and will continue on with our sleepers today. If you missed anything, you can find it all here:

Fake Teams 2014 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit

Also, in case you missed it, I'm changing my schedule slightly. In summary, I'm going to do my draft recap and analysis on REAL drafts, not mock drafts. Then, as the year progresses I will base many of my articles on them and provide updates on each league as they will provide a good standard league from which to write on. As a bonus, we may have Yahoo! fantasy expert Scott Pianowski join the auction draft.

If you'd like to participate in either draft or just read about the changes, all the info is here:

Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Fake Teams Hockey Leagues

What are you waiting for, go sign up! The leagues are back and forth between full and not full as participants look at the draft date and time and have scheduling conflicts, so if you can't get in, keep checking in to see if a spot has since opened up.

Week four will concentrate on the breakouts, sleepers, and busts for the 2014 season. These terms are used liberally throughout fantasy sports, but everyone seems to have a different definition of what each term means. As such, before we start with the lists, I'm going to define how each of the breakouts, sleepers, and busts will be determined in this draft kit.

Breakouts - Many definitions will separate career years from breakouts. A career year would be defined as a player who will obtain the best year of their career and effectively defines their ceiling going forward, the best that player can be. Future years will be valued as if they cannot better that year. Breakout years are typically defined as the year that serves as a stepping stone for that player to develop into a significant asset. Typically these two definitions look the same at the time in question, the differentiating factor becomes what they do after the fact in the coming years. As such, a listed breakout player in this draft kit will not differentiate between the two and will simply be expected to perform at a level substantially better than their career average. Whether it is to be a career year or a breakout will be determined after the fact. And in accordance to the subjective nature of what is a breakout, public perception and recognition plays a part in determining if it is a breakout or not. Breakouts are frequently young, high upside and highly volatile, players where the range of outcomes for the season is significant. The high volatility nature and lack of a career base to compare against makes players in the early stages of their career prime candidates to breakout.

Sleepers - For the purposes of this draft kit, a sleeper will be defined as anyone who is likely to significantly beat their average draft position (ADP). Sleepers are often confused with breakouts as they are both seen as players to target in drafts and many players are both breakouts and sleepers. The differentiating factor is what the comparison is against. A breakout is a comparison of the player against themself and aims to project the career trajectory for that player. A sleeper is a comparison of the player against all others and aims to project value at their relative ranking. As such, it's true that many players bridge the gap and are defined as both breakouts and sleepers while others can be only one or the other. Sleepers aren't distinguished by any one type or factor, however many of my listed sleepers will be veterans as I will have already talked about some of the younger sleepers in the breakout section.

Busts - Despite the relative simplicity of what constitutes a bust player, there are still two predominant definitions. The first is defined as any player who has a poor year. The second, and more complete, definition is defined as any player who has a poor year relative to their ADP. Busts are the inverse of sleepers, instead of outperforming ADP, they underperform relative to ADP. As such, it's possible for a player to score 60 points (a healthy point total for a bench or reserve player) and be considered a bust if they were a first round draft pick and expected to score at least 82 points or a point per game.

With those definitions out of the way, lets get to this years sleeper candidates. Forgotten or unfairly discounted, these are the players that make the difference between a good season and a championship season. Here are the players that I think are draft day sleepers this year:

Highly Thought of Already, They're Still Ranked too Low:

Cory Schneider - Schneider has had to play second fiddle or split time in the crease with a couple of great goalkeepers in Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur and this will be his first full time gig. This makes him a riskier play when compared to the other workhorse goalies out there, but one look at his career stats should convince you that this is a premier goalkeeper. Schneider sports a 0.925 SV% and 2.12 GAA over his career and posted a 0.921 SV% and 1.97 GAA with 16 wins in 43 games started last year. If you give him the 60 starts that we expect out of a workhorse goalkeeper, these ridiculous stats would place him in the top five at the position. Granted, more playing time could lead to a decrease in his effectiveness, and this is a considerable risk, but there is also a good chance that it won't. Schneids is coming off the board as the 15th ranked goalkeeper which is ludicrous. I don't think his risk is any greater than the injury concerns of Ben Bishop, Kari Lehtonen, Pekka Rinne, or Jimmy Howard or the inconsistency issues of Marc-Andre Fleury, Corey Crawford, and Ryan Miller or the goaltending controversy that Antti Niemi finds himself in. All of these goalkeepers are being ranked ahead of him. I'll take him over each of the above suitors as well as Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov who I like but am just having a hard time trusting right now. You can mark Schneids down as a pick worthy of being the fifth goalkeeper off the board in the early third round, right after Carey Price is nabbed. Late fifth round is highway robbery. The Devils aren't a good hockey team, but they have consistently had solid goalkeeping and a quality defense for years to go along with a highly effective penalty killing unit. Expect that to continue this year and ride Schneider to a championship.

Nicklas Backstrom - Backstrom is a consistent point a game player, previous hundred point player, playing with the great Alex Ovechkin. He lacks in shots and comes with a minus rating, but produces elite numbers in points and powerplay points. And did I mention he plays with one of the most electric (at times) players in the NHL, Mr. Alex Ovechkin? Why, oh why is Backstrom being taken with the 70th overall pick? He finished last year as the 12th ranked player in the league. Plus/minus is a joke to rank players based on and it's a category with high potential to change significantly year over year. Sure, there are concerns regarding Barry Trotz coming to the Capitals, but he's still playing with Ovechkin and it's possible that newly promoted and highly anticipated prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov could play on the other wing making for a powerful trio. Besides, Trotz can only help the plus/minus issue, right? I like Backstrom in the third round, not the late seventh where he currently finds himself.

Ryan Johansen - I've talked about Johansen plenty before and it seems that his ranking is contingent upon him signing an offer with the Blue Jackets before we get too far into training camp. I am encouraged though that he has reportedly lowered his contract demands and instead of being $3.5m apart, they are now only $1.7m apart in negotiations. Still work to do, but it's progress. If the holdout lasts much longer, he'll have to be ranked lower in drafts, but he could be a sleeper regardless as I believe people will react too harshly and let him slip in drafts. Johansen is a 30 goal scorer and 60 point player with more development upside on a young and improving team. He could easily score 70-75 points this year with a full slate of games and won't hurt you in any category. I'll be looking at him in drafts this year and praying there is a contract resolution soon. I currently have him ranked as a late fourth round pick, with Yahoo! ranking him early eighth round, but both of those ranks are sure to drop the longer this goes.

Marian Gaborik - You can call this one blind faith in a playoff resurgence, but I'm on the Gabby train this year. Gaborik has been one of the most inconsistent, infuriating, and polarizing fantasy assets to own over recent years, only slightly better than Alexander Semin, but the Kings brought him in at the deadline last year and he immediately meshed with superstar Anze Kopitar on the top line. With the Kings, he's operated at nearly a point a game and finds his way back into my circle of trust for better or for worse. I can't blame you if you've been burned before and have forever forsaken him, and he does come with injury risk as well, but the value is too good to pass up at 80th overall in the late eighth round. I'd take a stab after the fourth round.

Available in the Middle Rounds, These Guys will Perform like Early Rounders:

Paul Stastny - Stastny could have a very sneaky year with the Blues this year. Typically the Blues like to spread the scoring around, so I don't see lack of opportunity to be an issue here, but neither will he be a top tier center. He should be relied upon more than he was with the Avalanche where he was often the third center. Despite his situation before, he was remarkably productive and I think you can expect similar point totals with slightly better category coverage. Around 60 points feels right, but the powerplay points, plus/minus, and shots should all increase I'd expect. He won't blow you away, but will be a safe contributor that you can get in the mid thirteenth round and yet contribute at a ninth round value.

Jason Pominville - Pommy has gotten a bump down in rankings with the addition of Thomas Vanek to the Wild, but I believe Vanek has been added to provide scoring depth on the second line. Vanek's natural position is LW (where Zach Parise currently resides on the top line) and while he can play RW, I don't expect them to move him just to get him on that line. Charlie Coyle or more likely Jason Pominville will likely assume that first line RW role. If it is Pommy as I expect, you can expect nothing less than what he provided for you last year (and seemingly every year for the last eight years). A thirty goal, sixty point, category coverage year is in store for the amazingly consistent and unappreciated Pommy. Similar to Stastny, he is a thirteenth round player with ninth round value.

Dustin Byfuglien - I've raged throughout this draft kit whenever I get the chance at the incomprehensible, appalling, and offensive ranking that seems to have plagued Dustin Byfuglien this year. Ranked 40th for the full season last year, he comes into the new season ranked 132nd. I'm projecting some regression and ranking him 59th which seems harsh to me still. I simply can't understand why he isn't respected among the fantasy community. An elite contributor for a defenseman in all categories except for plus/minus (don't expect much better, the Jets aren't very good), he will easily return his value and then some in the fourteenth round. I'd take him as early as the sixth round and in my drafts, there is absolutely no way he'll last past the tenth round and I'd be ecstatic to get him there. I have nothing left to say on the matter. Fix your ostensible transgressions Yahoo!... please...

Your Late Round Gems will be Solid Contributors:

Brad Richards - By now everyone knows that I love the top two lines for the Blackhawks as they really operate as a 1.a) and 1.b) without being able to tell which is which. Anyone on these lines will be significant fantasy contributors and should easily contribute 50+, and more likely 60 or so, points this year. In addition, the Blackhawks are stat stuffers and Richards will contribute everywhere but penalty minutes. If you can find Brad Richards in the sixteenth round where he is currently being drafted, you are in for one of the steals of the draft. He should be a lock to contribute tenth round value and I'd look for him as early as the eighth round as he can produce even better results than that. I think he'll be a guaranteed top 100 player this year and could even be a top 50 player if things go well (think Hossa production last year).

Mike Ribeiro - Ribeiro is a talented player who can easily crack the top 150 playing back on the top line with James Neal in Nashville. The Predators are becoming a more offensive team with Peter Laviolette at the helm and Ribeiro and Neal will be the prime beneficiaries. Heck, he has potential to be a top 100 contributor this year. I wouldn't bank quite that high, but that's where he could wind up. Being drafted in the late eighteenth round based on rankings, he is probably better served in a bench role around the fourteenth round with the upside to become a starter on your roster.

Alex Tanguay - Tangs has been forgotten about in the Flames organization for the last three years, but he's returning home to the team that drafted him where he'll receive a shot in the arm and play on one of the top two lines with the Avalanche. Both lines have an abundance of talent and should see Tanguay return to fantasy respectability. His dual wing eligibility further increases his value and you could do far worse than making Tangs your final pick of the draft. Ranked 290th and often not even drafted, he has the potential to return to a 60 point year with sufficient category coverage to make him a top 100 player. I've ranked him just outside, to be taken in the eleventh round, but probably wouldn't take him until the bench wingers start being taken around the twelfth or thirteenth round.

I'm new to the twitterverse, but I'd love to hear your feedback and questions. Follow me on Twitter @HockeyGauntlet for more of my thoughts and all of your fantasy hockey needs. And don't forget to sign up for the Fake Teams hockey leagues! #IsItOctoberYet