Sleeper hockey picks come in all shapes and sizes. Below you will find 10 players undervalued in fantasy hockey, from well-established stars not getting their proper due, to players ready to break out.
Brayden Point, C/RW, TBL
Back-to-back clutch performances en route to two Stanley Cups sounds appealing, but with all due respect to Point, that doesn’t matter in fantasy hockey.
The good news is that you can still hope that “Playoff Point” makes an appearance during the regular season while balancing that with favourable additions and departures to the Tampa roster.
Outside of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, there may not be a more dangerous duo in the league than Nikita Kucherov and Point. Three of those players are expected to be taken in the top five of most fantasy drafts, whereas Point is the 17th player coming off the board on Yahoo, and is ranked an absurdly low 61 on ESPN. The difference this year is that Point will get to play with Kucherov, as the Russian only came back for the playoffs last year.
Tampa Bay’s entire third line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow in addition to fourth line centre Tyler Johnson are all out of Tampa Bay this year. While this is not a good news for the Lightning as a whole, it may help Point’s production across the board in fantasy land. Since Point’s breakout 2017/18 season where he played 19:37 per game, his ice time has gone down each season, until it reached a low of 18:26 last season, which ranked 54th among forwards in the NHL. With Tampa stretched for depth this year, do not expect that trend to continue.
He also possesses dual-position eligibility at both centre and right wing, which is always a plus in fantasy.
Alex DeBrincat, LW/RW, CHI
Goals are the most valuable fantasy stat for a skater, and DeBrincat scores with the best in the league.
Since entering the league in the 2017/18 season, DeBrincat has scored 119 goals, tied for 13th most across that span with his usual line mate Patrick Kane.
Playing on a Chicago team that never has trouble scoring goals, DeBrincat should benefit from the return of Johnathan Toews and a healthy Kirby Dach after playing with a variety of centremen over the past two seasons.
With a career of 15.6 shooting percentage, the winger should be a lock for 30 goals after scoring 32 in just 52 games last season.
DeBrincat is being drafted at 33 on Yahoo, and is ranked 19 on ESPN
Miro Heiskanen, D, DAL
Heiskanen has some factors that make him appear as an unattractive fantasy option for a defenceman. He plays on a very stingy team that consistently produces among the fewest goals in the NHL since he came to the NHL in 2018/19, and he plays a more cerebral defensive game that doesn’t translate to the most shot blocks or hits (ranked fifth among Dallas defencemen in both categories last year).
So, why should you consider him? Bet on talent. While the Finn has not produced more than 35 points in a season, his underlying puck-carrying numbers are among the best in the league.
While we have not seen Heiskanen match those underlying metrics with offensive production in the regular season, there were flashes of his potential in the 2020 playoffs. He put up 26 points in 27 games, finishing third in playoff scoring behind Kucherov and Point, and ahead of Conn Smythe-winning defenceman and perennial Norris Trophy favourite Victor Hedman.
The talent was obvious from his first shift in the NHL. The floodgates will open sooner rather than later, just try to get ahead of the curve to take him before that happens. He’s going 76th on Yahoo and is ranked 165th on ESPN.
The former third overall pick will get Tyler Seguin back this year as well, which should help his power play numbers.
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, WPG
An analytics darling for many years, Ehlers is still being undervalued by the fantasy hockey community.
The Danish winger posted 46 points in 47 games last season, despite playing only 16:55 a night.
Ehlers is among the best at zone exits, entries, and creating rush chances in the NHL, all beneficial to fantasy hockey and driving the talented Winnipeg offence.
Ehlers is ranked 58 on Yahoo and 85 on ESPN, and should be going no later than the fifth round in a 12-team league.
Anze Kopitar, C, LAK
Kopitar is a known commodity to the point where it has become boring. He’s been in the NHL for 15 seasons, playing 1,129 games, has missed a grand total of 29 games due to injury in his career. In addition to his durability, he has played more minutes than any other forward in that time, dipping below 20 minutes per game just once in his likely Hall of Fame career. The pride of Slovenia has also only gone below 0.8 points per game just twice in his career.
Nobody has played tougher, more grueling minutes than Kopitar. Every year, he’s the Kings top option at all strengths, matches top lines, and takes on a heavy load of defensive zone starts (he has not cracked above 50 per-cent offensive zones in the last four seasons). He is always on the ice, and always doing the heavy lifting.
The difference this year is that the Kings added Phillip Danault in free agency, one of the finest defensive forwards in the league, and a player that should be able to take much of the heavy lifting away from Kopitar, or at the very least share the burden.
A player of Danault’s calibre is a very rare complement to Kopitar, one which provides no threat to take away offensive opportunities, but instead only enhances them. Danault’s career best point per game in a season is 0.66, whereas Kopitar’s career worst year is 0.68 points per game.
ESPN has Kopitar ranked 46th, whereas Yahoo has him all the way down at 87.
Martin Necas, C/RW, CAR
In his second NHL season, Necas steadily improved, finishing with 42 points in 53 games, and earned himself time on Carolina’s first line.
His high skill, phenomenal skating ability, and the experience of two full NHL seasons make Necas an ideal breakout candidate and perfect mid-round target.
With a Corsi per cent of 57.5 and 54.9, Necas and the Hurricanes have controlled possession more often than not when he is on the ice.
Seemingly locked into the second line right wing slot to start the season, the 22-year-old should see time on both the first line and top powerplay unit.
The Czech is ranked at 91 on Yahoo and 111 on ESPN, but is being drafted a round or two later on both platforms, improving his upside.
Jack Hughes, C/LW, NJD
Hughes has some of the most interesting underlying statistics in the NHL, and it’s almost entirely born from his remarkable skating ability.
Maybe more than any player in the league, the 20-year-old defines being “all over the ice”.
Nobody rushes the puck up the ice more than him, and no one fails more than he does.
Even in his rookie year, he was so involved on the defensive side of the puck in retrievals and break-ups that he found himself among the likes of perennial Selke candidates.
When a player has the puck on his stick this much, one would expect it to pay off in terms of production, but that has not been the case yet, with Hughes only putting up 0.51 points per game last year, although that was a drastic improvement on his paltry 0.34 points per game in his rookie year.
If Hughes continues to add strength to his frame and get the green light to generate as much offence as he desires, the points will surely come. The Devils also added Dougie Hamilton to their blueline, who should help Hughes on the power play as well as even strength, as Hamilton has produced at the fourth best rate in the league among all qualified blueliners the last two seasons in terms of even strength points per 60 minutes, only trailing John Carlson, Cale Makar and Roman Josi.
The breakout candidate is being drafted 144th on Yahoo and is ranked 238th on ESPN.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, CLB
The second Dane on this list, Bjorkstrand is an under the radar scorer who should benefit from a new coach and a full season with centre Jack Roslovic.
With the departure of former Columbus Coach John Tortorella and his defensive system, the Blue Jackets should place a higher priority on offence.
During an injury-filled and tumultuous season for Columbus, Bjorkstrand had the worst season possession and PDO wise of his career, and still posted 18 goals and 44 points in 56 games.
With a spot on the second line and first line powerplay, the 25-year-old has the opportunity to reach 30 goals for the first time in his career and makes for an attractive late round pick for those looking for offence.
He is currently ranked at 127 on Yahoo and 151 on ESPN, but he is being drafted significantly later on both platforms.
Carter Verhaeghe, C/LW, FLA
Your chance to snag Verhaeghe off the waiver wire was the start of last year. That does not mean that you still can’t get him at value this season though.
The late-blooming forward was buried on an extremely deep Tampa Bay team in the 2019/20 season, playing just 9:22 per game. With the Panthers signing him last year, he broke out substantially on Aleksander Barkov’s left wing, potting 18 goals and 18 assists in just 43 games.
As is the case with any player that catapults onto the scene out of seemingly nowhere, the question becomes how much can one trust this type of production to continue. Both Yahoo and ESPN do not seem to be buying this jump in production, as he ranks 214th and 211th respectively on the big board for those two sites.
In the case of Verhaeghe, the combination of his speed and tenacity hunting down loose pucks and disrupting defenders on the forecheck in the 2019/20 season were something that boded well if he were to get increased opportunity.
That opportunity came by rocketing up the depth chart to Barkov’s wing. Not only did Verhaeghe produce, but his underlying numbers for chance generation were even better, ranking behind only McDavid in chances off the rush. While he clearly benefited from playing with a player of Barkov’s calibre, Verhaeghe’s puck retrieval also helped Barkov’s metrics ascend to a rate that the fantastic Finn had never achieved in the NHL before.
Add in newly acquired Sam Reinhart to that line, and you may be talking about Verhaeghe taking another step forward.
Claude Giroux, C/LW, PHI
Similar to Kopitar, Giroux has been one of the most dependable fantasy forwards for over a decade.
The Flyers captain quietly has 107 goals and 341 points over his last five seasons, the 19th most points in the league across that span.
Despite a down year last season where he only posted 43 points in 54 games, Giroux is poised for a bounce back season on a Philadelphia squad who added depth scoring and improved their defence.
Locked into a first line role with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny, the 33-year-old should have no trouble picking up points.
Giroux’s team dominated possession when he was on the ice, but his PDO and team on Ice save percentage were below average, this should balance out and result in more offence for Giroux.
He is ranked at 163 on Yahoo and 129 on ESPN, making him a perfect mid-to-late-round pick that will help you offensively.
Artemi Panarin, RW, NYR
Here is a bonus, in 2019/20 Panarin was an MVP candidate after posting 95 points in 69 games, finishing as the third overall skater in standard points leagues.
After missing some time last season due to a disagreement with the Russian government, he still finished the season with 58 points in 42 games.
The Russian superstar is being grossly undervalued by ESPN, currently being ranked number 32, while being valued properly at number eight by Yahoo.
He is absolutely worth a top ten pick in any fantasy league, so take advantage of ESPN’s ranking if you can.