Marcus Johansson is one of the biggest fantasy hockey sleepers entering this shortened NHL season.
Analysis: Johansson is a former first round pick and he has the most pure talent on the Capitals outside of Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstom. But will all this talent surface in his third year and after a 46 point season as a twenty-one year old?
It is likely that Johansson will land on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom which is great news especially with what MoJo’s average draft position will be. But even if Johansson lands on the second line his value is still solid. In a shortened season most young players will see increased minutes and secondary lines will be more heavily relied upon. 48 games in 99 days will take its toll on all players and especially those star forwards who get twenty plus minutes of ice time per game. In contrast MoJo was on the end of about seventeen minutes of ice time per game last year, expect that to bump up regardless of the line he is playing on. He won’t give you many penalty minutes but expect his shots, power play points and his overall offensive production to increase as he establishes himself this year.
After a 30 goal, 57 point season in 2010-11, Nikolai Kulemin posted just 7 goals and 28 points last year. Kulemin was obviously a huge fantasy disappointment last season which means he’s a draft day steal for many fantasy owners this year.
Analysis: It appears that Kulemin’s game is back on track. He has 38 points in 36 KHL games this year which is seventh best in the league ahead of guys like Datsyuk, Zherdev and Frolov. The most important takeaway here is that next to nothing is expected from Kulemin this year and his ADP will be incredibly low for a twenty-six year old who is only one year removed from a 30 goal season. Some sites are only projecting Kulemin to score 13-15 goals this year in a full 82 game season… big mistake. He may score 13-15 goals in the 48 game shortened season with his talent and the way he has been playing in Russia recently.
Keep in mind that Kulemin’s shooting percentage(6.5%) had a huge impact on his disappointing 2011-12 campaign. His career shooting percentage is north of 12% and has been at least 11% in three of his four NHL seasons. The twenty-six year old winger is entering his prime and he makes one hell of a fantasy sleeper this year(and he may even go undrafted).
Jordan Staal will no longer be playing in the shadows of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby as he enters his first year with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Analysis: Staal’s biggest fantasy problem with the Pens was that he is an elite two-way center on a team with elite offensive centers. He did not see much time on the top power play unit during his six years in Pittsburgh but that changes with his arrival in Carolina. Jordan should be paired with his brother Eric on Carolina’s first line(unless the Ruutu injury changes things) which will translate into more time on ice and more power play opportunities this season. Another negative(in terms of fantasy numbers) is that Jordan Staal was the top center on Pittsburgh’s penalty killing unit, but in Carolina his minutes on the penalty kill will decrease a bit.
Jordan Staal will continue to be solid in the goals and plus/minus departments but playing with an elite forward like Eric he will see a boost in his assist total this year. Jordan has yet to post a single 30 assist season but he just may come close this year in a significantly shortened season. In addition to the assists expect a big increase in his shot total and power play points which will make him a legit top twenty fantasy center.
With the NHL lockout finally over it’s time to take a look at some key players on the verge of big seasons.
Analysis: Victor Hedman is now twenty-two years old and has yet to perform up to his second overall pick status. But if we take a look at what Hedman has done over the past year and a half we can clearly see his play is improving. Last year Hedman only put up 23 points but he did so in just 61 games. Had he played a full 82 game season Hedman would have posted 31 points which would not have been bad for a then twenty-one year old defenseman who was also 39th in time on ice last year among defenseman.
Fast forward to this season in the KHL and we have ourselves a rising star. Hedman is 10th in the KHL in points among defenseman despite playing at least ten fewer games than all nine players in front of him. He’ll return to a Tampa squad that was 8th in goals last year and upgraded their goaltending situation in the offseason. ESPN has Hedman as the 55th best defenseman this year behind Dmitry Kulikov(also a rising D-man) who is 39th in ESPN’s rankings. Kulikov is 103rd among KHL defenseman this year with 6 points in 22 games. If these awful rankings stick(one has to think ESPN will copy more informed experts at some point) Hedman is one of the big draft day value picks.
Cane’s forward Jiri Tlusty is having his best professional season to date. Tlusty’s last two weeks have been especially impressive.
Analysis: Jiri Tlusty has amassed three goals, five assists and is a plus seven in his last eight games. This is definitely the best stretch of Tlusty’s young career. He was once considered a bust in Toronto and with good reason, Tlusty only scored twenty points in seventy-four games with the Leafs. He is a former top fifteen pick and he has finally put it all together.
Jiri is available in over eighty percent of fantasy leagues. Tlusty’s ice time has been a major factor, he’s averaging eighteen minutes of ice time over the past two weeks. He’s been getting some time on the power play and his shots on goal have been consistent and solid. His numbers will take a hit when his play comes down to reality but he still makes a solid deep league add. His only fantasy weakness is his penalty minutes and most owners can look past that. The Canes don’t have much depth at forward so expect Tlusty’s minutes to remain relatively high for the duration of the season.