The fantasy definition of “sleeper” is an under-the-radar draft pick with a lot of potential. Every year, there are several players that you kick yourself for allowing to slip past you. It happens to us all. We forget about the trade or signing that sets a player up in a perfect situation, or a young player ready to make the big leap from 30-35 points into the 55-60 range. Bottom line? Do your homework!
Here are five I’m keeping a close eye on in the coming days:
Patric Hornqvist, RW (Penguins): Talk about leaving the Nashville outhouse and entering the Pittsburgh penthouse! Hornqvist has been underrated in fantasy for the last several years because of playing in the offensive hockey version of Siberia known as Nashville. Hornqvist is projected to play on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin, and in all likelihood, play on Pittsburgh’s #1 power play unit. For a player that has scored 35% of his career points on the man advantage, the former Predator could be in for the best season of his career. Look for Hornqvist to blow his single-season career high of 53 points completely out of the water. Oh yeah, he plays with a little sandpaper too, so he’s got a legit shot at 50 PIM. My projection: 33 goals, 35 assists, +15, 20 PPP, 245 SOG, 38 PIM
Loui Eriksson, LW (Bruins): Someone will slide very comfortably into Jarome Iginla’s open wing spot next to David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and who better for the job than the slick, 29 year-old Swedish winger who is only two years removed from a streak of four consecutive 25-goal seasons and three straight 70-point campaigns? He missed more than 20 games this past season with injuries, including a nasty concussion courtesy of Brooks Orpik. A healthy season from Loui could result in a possible return to the 70-point range. Eriksson has fantasy steal written all over him, so draft the winger in the ninth round and beyond in standard drafts. My projection: 28 goals, 38 assists, +25, 13 PPP, 185 SOG
Chris Stewart, RW (Sabres): Remember him? Players like Stewart are extremely rare in fantasy hockey: 50+ point and 125+ PIM potential. Stewart fell way out of favor in St. Louis under Ken Hitchcock and was shipped to Buffalo. His arrival in Buffalo was to a rudderless ship, and his fantasy value plummeted accordingly. New season, new start, Stewart has big power forward upside, and that can be very tempting for fantasy owners if he is on his game. Depending on linemates (projected to play with Matt Moulson and Tyler Eniss on Sabres’ top line), Stewart is a low-risk, high-reward investment at the end of your draft. Another important factor for Stewart heading into 2014-15: he’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Those three letters, when put in acronym form for professional athletes, means monster performance = monster contract. Pair Stewart’s abilities with his contract status, and very few NHL players have the boom-or-bust capability like Stewart. My projection: 27 goals, 25 assists, -7, 13 PPP, 115 PIM, 185 SOG
Christian Erhoff, D (Penguins): Another new addition to the Penguins’ lineup (Like Hornqvist) that will see a nice jump in fantasy value due to an address change. I think we can all agree Pittsburgh is not Buffalo; for that reason, Erhoff should see a substantial bump right across the board in all statistical categories. Now toss in the potential to play on a top pairing with Kris Letang and also see significant time on the Pens’ #1 power play unit, and the 32 year-old German becomes a very attractive pick for your fantasy blueline. Draft him anywhere in rounds 12-14 and watch him blossom into a top-20 fantasy rearguard. My projection: 13 G, 36 Assists, +5, 17 PPP, 42 PIM, 174 SOG
Braden Holtby, G (Capitals): What, you thought I was gonna forget to include a goalie in my sleeper picks? Not a chance! New Caps’ head coach Barry Trotz has officially handed the #1 backstop job to Holtby, and at 25, he is poised to take control of it this year and several more. Another promising sign for Holtby was the hiring of goalie coach Mitch Korn, who was the Predators’ goaltending coach for the past 16 years alongside Trotz. Korn has a way with goalies and should be able to get Holtby back on track. The overall commitment to team defense from Trotz and his staff can only help Holtby return to his 2012-13 season of a .920 Saves Percentage. He finished last season as the 30th ranked fantasy goalie; that will not happen this year. Look to draft him anywhere around the 10th round, and sit back and enjoy his climb into fantasy hockey’s top 15 goalies. My projection: 36 wins, .920 SV%, 4 Shutouts, 2.52 GAA
Statistical credits: ESPN.com, CapGeek.com
Photo cred: isportsweb.com, bleachereport.com, gettyimages.com, USAtoday.com and CSNwashington.com
Derek Gibson is The Sports Script’s resident fantasy hockey guru. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @Extra_Attacker!