Sleepers can fall into multiple categories, depending on your league. For purposes of this column, I focused on those who either through line placement or opportunity may have a chance to exceed their usual projections. In addition, I included several players who could be bounce bank candidates as well as some that will need a bit of help to out-produce their projections. The column includes three at center, left wing, right wing, defense and goalie.
Mikhail Grabovski, C, WAS: Grabovski saw the wheels come off last year. After tallying back-to-back 50+ point seasons, Grabovksi felt apart, scoring just 16 points with a minus-10 rating while playing all 48 games for Toronto. The Maple Leafs used their amnesty buyout to get rid of Grabo, who had four years left on his deal. After waiting a month and a half to land somewhere, Grabovski ended up in a nice situation, signing a one-year, $3 million deal to be the Capitals' second center. He should be a nice bounce back candidate.
Alexander Killorn, C, TB: Killorn was promoted in early-February last year and did not look out of place. His four years at Harvard provided him maturity, which he showed last year in Tampa Bay. Killorn did not look out of place when paired with Martin St. Louis, as well as with both Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. With Jonathan Drouin now there as well, Killorn likely won’t see top line duty, but he could replace Ryan Malone, who suffered through injuries last year, on the second line.
Andrew Shaw, C, CHI: The image of Shaw's face late in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run was testament to what it takes to win the Silver Chalice. Similar to what Chicago did when they won the Cup a few years ago, key players, or in this case Dave Bolland, were dealt to open up cap room, which provided opportunities for others. In this case, it's Shaw who gets that chance to fill a key role, possibly as the second line center.
Beau Bennett, LW, PIT: Bennett bounced back and forth between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre, but when he was in the NHL team's lineup, he showed why the Penguins are so high on him. With Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow no longer with the team, Bennett and his solid hockey sense has a very good shot at seeing top-six duty, possibly alongside Evgeni Malkin.
Scott Hartnell, LW, PHI: 2012-13 was a lost year for Hartnell, as a broken ankle sidelined him after the third game of the season. When he came back 16 games later, he was never able to recapture the form he showed in 2011-12, when he had a breakout campaign. So which is the real Hartnell? Even if it's somewhere between the two extremes, he should rebound nicely and right now is slated to line up with Giroux and Voracek on the Flyers' top grouping, providing scoring and PIM.
Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL: Schwartz, selected in the first round in 2010, played the whole season for the Blues after getting his feet wet with seven games the year before. He tallied just 13 points in 45 games, but that experience will prove very beneficial, possibly as early as this season. Schwartz, normally a center, has the deck stacked against him there following the acquisition of Derek Roy, but he impressed the Blues in the playoffs and may get a shot at top-line left wing duty.
Nino Niederreiter, RW, MIN: Nino and the Islanders clearly needed to part ways as there was too much animosity built up between the two sides. While Cal Clutterbuck brings some toughness and should fit in well playing with John Tavares, Minnesota made out well in the deal, adding the talented Niederreiter. Nino resurrected his career, earning AHL All-Star status and playing well in the World Championships. He should play on the second or third line for the Wild with upside for more.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA: Palmieri had a breakthrough campaign last year, scoring 10 goals and 11 assists in 42 games. With Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne in Anaheim, sometimes supplemental pieces get lost in the milieu, which may be the case to a certain extent with Palmieri. With Selanne questionable to come back, and Bobby Ryan now in Ottawa, Palmieri and Jakob Silverberg, who came over for Ryan, will be counted on to pick up the scoring slack.
David Jones, RW, CGY: Jones scored 27 goals and 45 points in 77 games two years ago for Colorado, to earn a four-year extension with the Avalanche. Since then, he tallied only 46 points in 105 games to earn a ticket out of town, as he was sent to Calgary as part of a deal for Alex Tanguay. Jones gets a new lease in life with the Flames, who desperately need scoring and will give Jones every chance to fill the role as the team's top right winger.
Matt Donovan, D, NYI: There was strong speculation many times during last year that Donovan would be promoted. That never happened and Donovan used his time in the minors to improve his game seemingly nightly and make the AHL All-Star Team, leading the Bridgeport defensemen in scoring. With Mark Streit gone, there is an opening for an offensive d-man on the Island, even with Lubomir Visnovksy back, which could enable Donovan to break camp with the squad.
Victor Hedman, D, TB: Hedman, selected second overall in 2009, started his upward trajectory into an elite defender last year. While his overall numbers went stellar, he looked much more comfortable on the ice, blending size, speed and sense to begin that next step in his career. While he may not burst out this year, it's coming, and is just a matter of time before it happens.
Jake Muzzin, D, LA: All the focus on the growth by Slava Voynov and presence of Drew Doughty somewhat deflected attention away from Muzzin. He took advantage of injuries to open the year in the LA lineup and he never looked back. Muzzin showed that he can produce on the PP, using his hard short to notch 10 of his 16 points on the man-advantage. The upward swing looks to be in full motion for Muzzin, so jump onboard.
Jake Allen, G, STL: Allen, the Blues goalie of the future, was the goalie of the present last year, filling in for an injured Jaroslav Halak and ineffective Brian Elliott. Allen posted a stellar 9-4 mark with a 2.46 GAA and .905 SV% after getting the call. He is still behind Halak and Elliot, but if you’re looking for a late-round flier who has a ton of upside, you could so much worse than Allen.
Ray Emery, G, PHI: Who says you can't go home again? Emery, who played in Philly in 2008-09 and looked as if his career was over when he had to have hip surgery, was a huge part of the Blackhawks' regular season success last year, going 17-1 and at times outplaying Corey Crawford. Crawford backstopped Chicago to the Cup and Emery decided to head back to Philly on a ridiculously cheap one-year deal following two good years in the Windy City. At a minimum, Emery will split time with Steve Mason, but if he is even close to what he showed last year, look for Emery to solve - at least during the regular season - the Flyers' goalie woes.
Karri Ramo, G, CGY: With Miikka Kiprusoff hanging up the skates, someone has to play good in Calgary. As of press time for this column, all signs point to Ramo assuming the banner of the Flames' netminder. Ramo struggled in his first stint in the NHL, last playing with Tampa Bay in 2008-09, but he excelled the past four years at Avangard Omsk to earn the shot at being the main man in Calgary.