When drafting in any Fantasy sport, you usually fill out your starting roster first and then look for guys to fill out your bench.
While the conservative owner will take guys who he knows can be relied upon to produce a certain amount of points when called upon in the later rounds, picking those guys who might surprise with a big season can be the difference between a league championship and a disappointing campaign.
Finding these hidden gems is never an easy task, especially in a league that doesn't get the same amount of coverage as some of the other major sports.
But do not fear, as we at CBSSports.com will be paying full attention to things ice-related this season, starting with this look at 10 sleepers to keep an eye on in 2008-09.
Steve Bernier, RW, Vancouver Canucks
Remember when Bernier had 27 points in only 39 games during his rookie season of 2005-06 with the Sharks? Yeah, neither did we. He disappointed last year in Buffalo and found himself traded for the second time in as many years. The Canucks were down at the bottom end of the scoring charts last season, so the expectations on Bernier will be high, but he will likely get plenty of ice time on the top line in Vancouver with the talented Sedin brothers.
|Todd Bertuzzi could flourish with his return to his native Canada. (Getty Images)|
After two years south of the border, Bertuzzi returns to Canada in 2008-09. He put up some great numbers with Vancouver earlier in his career and expressed a desire to return to his home country this offseason. The Flames are a better offensive team than the Ducks, so Bertuzzi should get plenty of chances to put up points. If he can stay healthy, he can also be a solid contributor in the penalty minute department.
Kevin Bieksa, D, Vancouver Canucks
Bieksa was limited to only 34 games last season after tearing his Achilles' tendon, which could lead many to forget the fact he scored 42 points in his rookie year of 2006-07. That total would have put him in the top 20 defensemen last season, so don't let Bieksa slip past you in the middle rounds of drafts this year as a nice No. 3 Fantasy blue-liner.
Dave Bolland, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Bolland was facing another season on the lower lines with Chicago until mid-September when Robert Lang was traded to the Canadiens. That opened up a spot on the second line for Bolland, who scored 130 points in the OHL back in 2005-06. He'll have to beat out Petri Kontiola for the job, but Bolland has three times as many NHL games under his belt (39) than Kontiola (12) and so likely has the inside track.
Peter Budaj, G, Colorado Avalanche
The Avs got rid of Jose Theodore this summer, and for good reason. Colorado ranked fifth in fewest shots against last season but was the 10th worst in shot percentage allowed. A lot of that comes down to the goaltender, and Budaj will need to prove to the Avs that they didn't waste a second-round pick on him back in 2001. He probably knows this is his last shot at keeping a No. 1 job and that should inspire him to at least be a solid No. 2 Fantasy goaltender in most leagues.
Chris Clark, RW, Washington Capitals
Some players fall into the sleeper category because they were limited in the previous season with injuries and might get overlooked in drafts the following year. Clark hurt his groin in November and managed to play only 18 games. However, in 2006-07 he put up a career-high 54 points in 74 games and should see a ton of time with superstar Alex Ovechkin this season. That might take away some goals from him, but his assist total should be just fine.
Sergei Kostitsyn, LW, Montreal Canadiens
While his older brother, Andrei, broke out in a big way last season with 53 points, this could be the year that Sergei comes to the forefront. Two years ago, he put up 131 points in the OHL and will get a chance to play some wing and center this season with Les Habitants. While it's unlikely we'll see a Sedin-type combo with the Kostitsyns this season, that's definitely something the brothers would like to see down the road.
Filip Kuba, D, Ottawa Senators
Kuba hasn't dazzled offensively in his nine-year NHL career, but he also hasn't played on an offensively-gifted team like the Sens. He'll spend plenty of time on the ice with the likes of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, which makes you think he has a chance to at least break through the 40-point barrier this season, especially if he gets some looks on the power play.
James Sheppard, C, Minnesota Wild
After three seasons in junior hockey, Sheppard made the jump straight to the NHL in 2007-08 and produced 19 points in 78 games while playing on the lower lines. He will take another jump this season when he will center the second line in Minnesota. A nice scorer in the juniors, Sheppard will get plenty of ice time to show what he can do this season and will be alongside up-and-coming winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Boris Valabik, D, Atlanta Thrashers
Valabik is a monster at 6-foot-7 who won't bring you many points for your Fantasy team, but he will undoubtedly rack up the penalty minutes. In 58 games with the Sudbury Wolves last season, Valabik amassed 229 penalty minutes. Then, in seven games with the Thrashers, he picked up 42 minutes. That an average of six a game! If your league loves the bad boys, then Valabik could be a great late-round addition.
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