With the NHL locked and loaded for an Aug. 1 restart, preparation and strategizing is fully underway for playoff pool participants.
Bottom line: if you’re going to be successful, you’ll need to hit on some sleeper picks. And what better than a revamped 24-team playoff format to inspire you to get creative with your roster selections. Rest assured, we’re in for a wild ride.
From money motivation, to netting favourable lineup assignments, to just plain old busting out of a long slump, there are numerous factors that could contribute to a player’s breakout performance in the post-season.
Here’s one sleeper from each of the returning 24 teams:
Boston Bruins – F Jake DeBrusk – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
Fresh off a 19-goal regular-season, the 23-year-old restricted-free-agent-to-be is hungry for a new deal. In addition to assuming second line duties alongside veteran David Krejci once again, DeBrusk could also see considerable time on Boston’s first power play unit. You know what that means.
Tampa Bay Lightning – D Mikhail Sergachev – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
This one’s a long shot. Because of who’s in front of him on Tampa’s blue line, the 22-year-old will be hard-pressed to see a jump in offensive production, at least in these playoffs. That said, the Russian defender is in a contract year and a strong finish could put him in line for some sizeable coin come the off-season. Never say never.
Washington Capitals – F Ilya Kovalchuk – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Even at the ripe age of 37, Kovalchuk still has a lot to bring to the table. In seven games with the Capitals following a deadline move from Montreal, the Russian winger tallied a goal and three helpers. Undoubtedly, he’ll see some time with the big boys in Washington’s top-six. Watch out.
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Philadelphia Flyers – F James van Riemsdyk – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
Nagging injuries and unfavourable line deployment led to a dip in production for the 31-year-old in the regular season. The former Maple Leaf is healthy and hungry – that’s bad news for the opposition, especially on the power play where he does most of his work. The winger has 18 goals and 29 points in 59 career playoff games.
St. Louis Blues – F Robert Thomas – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
In his second NHL season, the 21-year-old notched 42 points in 66 games, a 52-point pace pro-rated over 82 games. Initially, it looks like Thomas will begin the restart centreing the third line, but that could change very quickly.
Colorado Avalanche – F Vladislav Namestnikov – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
The 27-year-old tallied four goals and six points in nine games with the Avalanche after being acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline. He’s a steady depth piece that can play up and down the lineup. The Russian will be an unrestricted free agent following the season.
Vegas Golden Knights – D Shea Theodore – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Before play was halted back on March 12, the 24-year-old was rapidly progressing into one of the NHL’s premier point producers from the back end. In fact, from Jan. 1 onwards, the B.C. native registered 23 points in 28 games. With all the firepower up front for Vegas, look for the numbers to keep rolling in.
Dallas Stars – F Joe Pavelski – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
By his standards, the former Shark had a dismal first year in Dallas — 14 goals, 17 assists, 31 points in 67 games. In 134 career playoff games, however, the 36-year-old has 48 goals and 100 points. It’s time to prove his worth.
Pittsburgh Penguins – F Jason Zucker – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
The 28-year-old notched six goals and 12 points in 15 games after being acquired from Minnesota in early February. The winger will surely see a steady dose of power play time, but it’s the attachment to Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust five-on-five that makes him very attractive.
Montreal Canadiens – F Jonathan Drouin – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Due to injuries, the 25-year-old was limited to just 27 regular-season games this year. When he did play, the Quebec native was actually pretty productive tallying 15 points. Additionally, Drouin has 14 points in 23 career playoff contests. You never know.
Edmonton Oilers – F Kailer Yamamoto – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
After a Dec. 29 recall from the American Hockey League, the 21-year-old had 11 goals and 26 points in 27 games. He plays with Hart Trophy front runner Leon Draisaitl — that’s all you need to know. Value play!
Chicago Blackhawks – F Alex DeBrincat – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
After last season’s 41-goal explosion, the 22-year-old was only able to muster 18 this time around. With the initial pressure that comes with inking a big fat contract firmly now in the rearview mirror, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see DeBrincat return to form. There’s lots of potential value to be found here.
Carolina Hurricanes – F Vincent Trocheck – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Once upon a time, the 27-year-old was widely considered one of the best second line pivots in the entire league. Suffice it to say, the journey back from a gruesome leg injury in November of 2018 has been turbulent. After a shocking trade out of Florida at the deadline, the American is once again trying to establish himself with Carolina. Can you say revenge tour?
New York Rangers – F Ryan Strome – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Lots of value to be found here, too, especially with the firm attachment to Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin five-on-five. With all the headlining talent on Broadway, Strome’s career high 59 points in the regular season flew completely under the radar. He’s very dangerous and on top of that, he’s looking to get paid in the off-season. Be mindful.
Nashville Predators – F Mikael Granlund – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
Routinely a 60-plus point producer in his time with Minnesota, the Finn has struggled to find his offensive footing in Nashville so far. Once again, the 28-year-old will get every opportunity to flourish for John Hynes. Granlund is slated to become an UFA in the off-season.
Arizona Coyotes – F Phil Kessel – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Due to his tumultuous first season with the Coyotes, the two-time champ was a shoo-in for this list. Despite the fact that he notched a career low 14 goals, Kessel’s pedigree alone makes him a valuable sleeper. In addition to that, the 32-year-old’s playoff numbers speak for themselves — 33 goals and 77 points in 87 career games. Worth a shot.
New York Islanders – F Jean-Gabriel Pageau – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
The 27-year-old had just two goals in seven games after being acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline. Before that, Pageau potted 24 goals in 60 games with the Senators. Additionally, he has 12 goals in 35 career playoff games. Take a flier.
Florida Panthers – F Evgenii Dadonov – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
The 31-year-old UFA-to-be potted 25 goals in 69 regular season games. He’s a top-six fixture, plays tons on the power play and is looking to put himself in line for a monster off-season payday.
Vancouver Canucks – F Tyler Toffoli – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Another unrestricted free agent to be, the 28-year-old sniper averaged a point per game — six goals and four assists — in 10 contests with the Canucks after being acquired from Los Angeles. The two-time Stanley Cup champ has 21 points in 47 career playoff games. He’s skating with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller — need I say more?
Minnesota Wild – F Kevin Fiala – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
It was a long time coming, but Fiala finally broke out this season. From Jan. 1 onwards, the 23-year-old quietly registered 15 goals and 30 points in 28 games. There’s no question Fiala’s a monster. We’ll see if there’s anyone else around him to help out.
Toronto Maple Leafs – F Ilya Mikheyev – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
Before a gruesome wrist laceration in December put him out indefinitely, the 25-year-old was having a steady campaign tallying 23 points in 39 games. When play does resume, the Russian winger will likely slot back into his customary left-wing role alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner. The man loves his soup; poolies love his line assignment.
Columbus Blue Jackets – F Liam Foudy – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
Chalk this one up as a deep sleeper option, but considering Columbus’ dire need for offence, is it really? The 20-year-old started camp on the fourth line and has since progressed to the third line. The pedigree is there, that’s for sure. Some Foudy for thought.
Calgary Flames – D T.J. Brodie – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 1
Especially with Travis Hamonic opting not to participate in the restart, Brodie will need to step up if the Flames have any shot of doing something substantial. The 30-year-old is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on Nov. 1.
Winnipeg Jets – D Neal Pionk – SN Fantasy Pool Value: 2
Quietly, the 24-year-old had a strong first year in Winnipeg notching 45 points in 71 games. He’s really underrated and moves the puck supremely well, which is a perfect fit for a speedy team like the Jets. Pionk’s eligible for a contract extension in the off-season.