With the 2011-12 NHL season just beginning fantasy hockey players are frantically searching for late round sleeper picks and hidden gems. This list is your key to help with drafting those dark horse players. Some of these players may emerge from obscurity to fantasy hockey relevance this season.
10. Andy Miele, Phoenix
The Phoenix Coyotes won the sweepstakes to sign college sensation and last year’s Hobey Baker winner. Miele has begun to draw comparisons to players like Martin St. Louis and Derek Roy after his stellar performance with the US National team at last year’s World tournament. Not just because of his small stature (5-8, 175) but because of his skills and skating abilities and his tenacity. So far in preseason Miele has been very impressive. With Kyle Turris still unsigned, it increases the chances of Miele being in the lineup for Phoenix on opening night.
9. Anton Lander, Edmonton
Lander was the captain for Sweden at last year’s World Junior Tournament. Lander was also team mates with Paajarvi in Timra for three seasons. The duo may be reunited in Edmonton again soon. The 20 year old may soon be the perfect second line center as he plays a responsible and gritty all-around game. He has played very well and looks like he is NHL ready during the preseason games. With Sam Gagner out it would seem that Lander is likely to start the season with Edmonton.
8. Matt Frattin, Toronto
The Leafs signed Frattin out of college last year. Frattin was one of the finalists for the Hobey baker award. Frattin scored 60 points in 44 WCHA games last year. At the end of the season Frattin played one game for the Leafs. After the game Leafs GM Brian Burke declared “Frattin looked like an NHL player to me”. Frattin has had a very good preseason. At the moment it looks like a toss up between Kadri and Frattin as to who gets the left wing spot on the third line with Bozak and Armstrong.
7. Craig Smith, Nashville
The NCAA star played for team USA at last years World Championship and didn’t look out of place. Smith was tied with Blake Wheeler for scoring leadership on the US team. Smith also dominated at rookie camp scoring six goals and an assist in two games. Nashville GM David Poile listed Smith’s two games as one of the top rookie game performances he has seen in the last 14 years. “He was as dominant a player as I’ve seen in a rookie tournament in all the years I’ve been with the Predators.”
6. Paul Byron, Calgary
Acquired from Buffalo in the Robin Regehr trade Calgary has publicly declared Byron ready for scoring line duties in the NHL. Based on his 99 point season in the QMJHL and his point per game pace in the AHL, Byron may be just that. The preseason has allowed Byron the opportunity to confirm Calgary management’s confidence in him. Byron has reaffirmed that opinion with a sound showing in the preseason games. He should have a starting job as a result when the season starts.
5. Stephan Da Costa, Ottawa
Another prized NCAA free agent signing, Da Costa had a brief four game audition with the Sens last season that was underwhelming. Already 22 years old, Da Costa will try to force a full season audition and reward the Sens for signing him to the maximum entry level deal. He has looked good in the preseason. With Peter Regin out for a couple of months with a hip injury Da Costa’s chances of making the lineup have improved.
4. Evgeny Grachev, St. Louis
Grachev is a big talented winger who has been very impressive in preseason games this year, scoring three goals in three games to date. Grachev produced impressive OHL stats (80 points in 60 games) but was unable to dominate in the AHL. Grachev is now on his second NHL audition with St. Louis as he was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers.Competition for spots is tight in St. Louis this year but if Grachev continues to play the way he has so far in the preseason it will be hard not to open a spot for him
3. Fabian Brunnstrom, Detroit
Detroit has a knack for finding players previously considered to be done in the NHL and bringing them back (Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Modano, Larry Murphy, Dan Cleary, etc). Now Detroit has given Brunnstrom an opportunity by inviting him to training camp. Brunnstrom has played very well so far and the fact that his main competition Jan Mursak who has suffered an ankle injury a contract with Detroit seems inevitable. Look for Wings GM ken Holland to make it a one way NHL contract to avoid exposing Brunnstrom to waivers.
2. Matt Read, Philadelphia
Read is yet another small but supremely skilled college player. Read not only produced impressive WCHA stats (35 points in 37 games) he also posted over point per game numbers in a brief AHL audition (13 points in 11 games) In the NHL preseason Read is leading the league with six points in four games. Competition for lineup spots is very tough in Philadelphia but Read’s play is forcing management to keep a spot for him. If they can’t fit him in right now he will certainly be an early injury call up.
1. Joakim Lindstrom, Colorado
This summer Colorado signed Lindstrom to a one way $600,000 contract. Lidstrom has looked impressive in training camp playing on a line wit Paul Stastny and David Jones. At times the line dominated. Lindstrom has had other chances at a spot in the NHL with Columbus and Phoenix in the past that fell short. He has continued to develop his game since those early days. This continued progress was demonstrated by Lidstrom last year when he lead the Swedish Elite league by scoring 60 points in 54 games. This preseason Lidstrom has continued to impress. It looks like his spot with Stastny and Jones is solid as Stastny has played with no other wingers in the preseason.
It is important to remember when drafting that these players MAY have significant success this season but should be considered risky picks. Build your core with reliable and dependable proven assets before complimenting your bench with these players. These sleeper picks can help you win your pool but only if you draft them in the appropriate round. Good luck!
Peter Harling of Harling Fantasy Hockey covers the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Peter also writes for fantasy hockey coach contributing to the annual draft guide and author of the Fantasy Hockey in Canada column and Hockey Tracker