Drafting is a very important part of each fantasy hockey year. I could make or break your season alone, regardless of who you are able to pick up off the free agent market. A key piece of drafting is selecting players that have the best opportunity to perform well, especially if you can get them later in the draft. Some of these players will be overlooked or just aren’t projected very high because they are newer to the league. Predicting breakout campaigns help out your team immensely and push you over the edge.
It comes as a low-risk, high-reward play too since late round picks are usually expendable early if they’re not performing. Most of these players have an above average drafted percentage, so make sure you are the one who selects them. You have options here, so don’t be too worried if one or two are taken before you. Keep in mind that standard Yahoo Fantasy Hockey leagues have 16 roster spots and standard ESPN Fantasy Hockey leagues have 22 with less restrictions on forward positions. The players’ average draft position (ADP) is listed beside their names for reference.
I’ve referred to Jesse Puljujarvi and Joel Farabee in previous articles, so I left those players off of this list. You can check those out here for team specific sleeper options.
5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, 173.3 ADP
The top performer on the Columbus Blue Jackets from last season, Bjorkstrand seems to always be passed over or forgotten about. This can be in part by the team he plays on, or other less efficient players getting more of the spotlight by the media and analysts. I personally have drafted him late for a few years now and he’s stayed on my roster the entire season due to his consistent production.
Bjorkstrand’s ADP is 173.3, or he’s generally selected in the 15th round of drafts. In Yahoo formats, that’s the second to last round. A player of his quality that is only proving to get better as he approaches his prime could generate a lot more than you could ask for as a fantasy owner if you have this player on your team. He is drafted by 88 percent of owners, but the numbers suggest people wait on him until the final couple of rounds. I suggest that if he is available at even round 14 of your draft, take a chance on this player. Sure he isn’t on the best team, but after a coaching change to get John Tortorella out of there, the mentality may be changed from defence first to a more offensive approach.
Just to prove that Bjorkstrand is worth drafting to your fantasy hockey team, he led the Blue Jackets by 10 points, and the next closest scorer was Cam Atkinson who isn’t with the team anymore. Over the past two seasons, he has raised his points per game to 0.73 and 0.78. He is a two-time 20-goal scorer and has reached 18 in three consecutive seasons and shoots more than not. He is not only worth adding because of his points, but a definite top-6 player who hits and plays top power play minutes is valuable, even on a team that should struggle.
4. Trevor Zegras, 175.8 ADP
Zegras joined the Anaheim Ducks for their final half of the season, and he didn’t disappoint. In just 24 games after the team was pretty much out of the playoff race, he played out his games with the second highest points percentage on the team, only trailing Max Comtois. This season, it’s all but certain that Zegras and Comtois will be linemates on the Ducks’ top line. Not only that, but projected to be the team’s leading scorer, Zegras will be one of five men on the top power-play unit. Though the Ducks still project to be a bottom feeder in regards to the standings, the offence should pick up a good amount from how they finished last year with all the youth they have injected into their lineup.
Zegras is drafted significantly less than Bjorkstrand, only selected 27 percent of the time. That percentage is decently low, but there are those people who have been thinking the same as me, taking a chance late on a player bound to be the top offensive producer on a team. Would you rather have a third-line player on a good team or a first line player on a bad team. There’s also no guarantee that the Ducks will be bad and the team you may have selected the third liner from will be good. At 27 percent of the time drafted, he will be able to fall a bit lower, and be worth the wait. Take a chance on this player in the last round. If he has been selected, it’s in the 15th round anyway. If he doesn’t work out, it’s not a huge hit on your fantasy team since the final rounds are best utilized for sleeper picks.
3. Tim Stuetzle, 176.1 ADP
This dynamic player had himself a solid rookie year turning heads and having people question why he was only the third overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft. The only fantasy stat that you won’t get much out of Stuetzle is penalty minutes. He can both score and pass the puck, plays in the top-6 of an Ottawa Senators team that was the only team not to get shut out last season, and plays on the top power-play unit along with other young talent teammates. He isn’t afraid to lay the body, but he could do with shooting the puck a little more, though he still shot nearly 11 percent.
Stuetzle is normally taken around the 15th round, and is drafted 59 percent of the time in Yahoo Fantasy Hockey Leagues. He will only build off of his performance as a rookie on a Senators team that looks to take the next step out of their rebuild. As he grows confidence at the NHL level, expect him to take off soon.
2. Conor Garland, 174 ADP
Garland joins a very offensively-talented top-6 group in Vancouver after being traded over from the Arizona Coyotes in a deal that also included Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes were 23rd in the league in goals for last season, and they would’ve been a lot lower if it wasn’t for the services of Garland. We all saw glimpses of what he could become as a player in 2019-20 when he put up 22 goals and 39 points in 68 games. Last year he stepped up in a major way and recorded the same amount of points in only 49 games.
It will be a major boost for Garland to play with players who have been known to put up points before, rather than on a Coyotes team that was only known for their defence. He could slot in with any of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Nils Hoglander, or Vasily Podkilzin. Whoever’s line Garland is on within the top-6 should be lethal, as he is very underrated and is dangerous with the puck.
Garland has been going around the 15th round and his ADP is 174. At a 79 percent draft selection rate, he is normally picked, but I would reach on a player of this skill set and a new team that will help him produce at a high rate. Not only that, but he projects to be on the first power-play unit with Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, and Quinn Hughes. He should not disappoint and be a steal late in every fantasy draft.
1. Calvin Petersen, 170.2 ADP
Petersen took a big step forward last season when he went from playing half the year in the American Hockey League and backing up for eight games, to appearing in 35 games last season for the Los Angeles Kings. With that number of games, he overtook Jonathan Quick as the No. 1 goalie on the team. A full season ahead on an improved team could prove to skyrocket Petersen in fantasy points. This team shouldn’t be the best in the league, but they won’t be the worst either. In a division that looks pretty weak, he should continue to produce good numbers as he has throughout his career thus far.
Petersen has 54 games of NHL experience behind him, and as the starter, he looks to play around that many games this year for the Kings. He owns a career .916 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.79 goals-against average (GAA). As an improved team and the addition of key two-way forward Phillip Danault, Petersen’s numbers should increase all around.
A good number of people tend to draft Petersen, but he looks to be a third goalie option, or perhaps they forget about goalies and go with a safe No. 2 option late in the draft. Either way, 79 percent of fantasy owners select him, but in the late 14th round or early 15th round. I would go so far as to say Petersen is a solid second goalie option for your fantasy team, and a great third option to add depth late in the draft.
You are going to need production from most of the players on your fantasy hockey team, not only the top picks, but late picks as well. There are always absolute steals in the final rounds of the drafts, as people are looking to fill the final positional needs or bolster their team with possible breakout or underrated players. If you jump on any of these players, you will be happy with your decision. The late rounds are always the most interesting anyways because you can test your luck and hope that it pays off in a big way.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. As a fantasy hockey veteran, he will be informing you on the best weekly options for your matchups to begin the week and mid-way. He will also keep you in the loop for weekly news and updates on the Oilers & Flyers.