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2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers for Draft Day

by | Rotowire.com
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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 back candidates as well as some that will need a bit of help to out-produce their projections. The column includes three players apiece at center, left wing, right wing, defense and goalie.

Centers

Alex Galchenyuk, C, Canadiens: Galchenyuk has just scratched the surface of good he will be and how much he will produce. As a rookie, he had 27 points while playing all 48 games two seasons ago. Last year, in an injury-plagued campaign, Galchenyuk contributed 31 points, but his ice time rose two minutes a game, including 44 seconds on the power play. While he is listed as the third center, his upside is greater than that and it wouldn't be surprising to see him land on one of the top-two lines.

Sean Monahan, C, Flames: Monahan had a solid rookie campaign with 22 goals and 12 assists in 73 games while playing almost 16 minutes nightly, including two on the man advantage. With Mike Cammalleri now in New Jersey, Monahan should slide in as the first or second center in Calgary. In addition, now that Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett are on the Flames, Monahan may slide under the radar, but should produce nicely.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Capitals: This one is cheating to a certain extent. While Kuznetsov is listed as center, there is a more of a likelihood that he moves to left wing this season. More importantly, a position shift would mean he plays on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. If that doesn't give you a chance to exceed your projections, nothing will.

Left Wings

Dany Heatley, LW, Ducks: Heater has seen his career spiral downward the past few seasons, notching just 28 points with a minus-18 rating last season. We don't expect the 2005-2007 version of Heatley, but there has to be something left in that stick of his. In addition, there is a good possibly that Heatley gets a chance at some point to skate with Getzlaf and Perry, even though Patrick Maron is projected to play there now. If that does transpire, Heatley could easily end up back at around 40 points this year.

Brandon Saad, LW, Blackhawks: Saad went from 27 points as a rookie to 47 last year, largely due to a slight tick upward in his shooting percentage from 10.2 to 11.9 per cent. This season, Saad should benefit from playing a full campaign to the left of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, building off the 16 points he scored last postseason.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers: Huberdeau had a decent rookie season two years ago, with 31 points and a minus-15 rating for a weak Florida team. He was expected to take the next step in his development alongside Alexander Barkov, but that proved to be a pipe dream. Huberdeau suffered through a nightmarish sophomore campaign, notching just nine goals and 28 points in 69 games. This year, Huberdeau will be reunited with his former junior coach, Gerard Gallant, who is now serving the same role with the Panthers, and see copious ice time skating on the top line in Florida with Barkov.

Right Wings

Rick Nash, RW, Rangers: My esteemed RotoWire colleague Dan Pennucci wrote Nash up in his Busts column. I can understand the argument, especially coming off the post-season he had, in which the goal looked like miniscule and the puck like a tractor-trailer trying to get through it. But it is precisely that reason, along with 26 goals Nash scored in 65 games last year, putting him on a 32 goal-pace, that I highlight him here. Nash did everything in the playoffs but score. In my opinion, the memory of Nash's struggles will carry forward to many leagues, enabling him to slip and be a relative bargain this season.

Matthew Nieto, RW, Sharks: Nieto had a nice rookie campaign, scoring 10 goals and 14 assists in 66 games. He had a nice start to the playoffs, notching points in each of the first four games before the wheels fell off for San Jose. The Sharks are moving Brent Burns back to the blueline, opening up a spot on the top line alongside Joe Thornton. Nieto may get the first chance to fill that role, providing nice value for poolies if he does.

Radim Vrbata, RW, Canucks: How does a winger who scored 51 points last year end up a sleeper? Good question and the answer is line placement. Last season, Vrbata put up his production skating with decent talent around him. This year, he gets an upgrade to play alongside the Sedin twins, who will be looking for redemption after a subpar 2013-14 campaign. That duo gives Vrbata a boost that should enable him to exceed his career-high of 62 points, set in 2011-12.

Defensemen

Danny DeKeyser, D, Red Wings: DeKeyser had a decent first full season with the Red Wings, notching 23 points and a plus-10 rating in 65 games. He might have broken 30 points, but he missed close to a month with a shoulder injury. With no other great blueline options besides Niklas Kronwall, DeKeyser should see an uptick in minutes, both at even strength but especially on the power play, putting 30+ points in reach.

Sami Vatanen, D, Ducks: Vatanen very quietly put up 21 points in 48 games with a plus-nine rating for Anaheim, with seven of those points coming in his last seven games. The one negative for Vatanen is the Ducks' depth on the blue line - he was a healthy scratch five times last season. However, at the trade deadline and this offseason, his massive upside potential was the reason why he was so highly sought after by others teams in trade talks. Vatanen will have to battle another youngster, Hampus Lindholm, to see who will play across from Cam Fowler on the point of the power play. But even if Vatanen loses the battle, his spot in the lineup should be secure while he at worst sees second-line power play duty.

Calvin De Haan, D, Islanders: De Haan got a chance last year with the Isles and made the most of it, scoring 16 points in 51 games. What might have been more impressive is that De Haan, who had the reputation in the minors of being injury-prone, had 114 hits and 104 blocked shots. This season, with lots of talent around him and the Islanders looking for another point man on the man advantage, De Haan could see a major uptick in power play time that should net a solid rise in points.

Goalies

Anton Khudobin, G, Hurricanes: Let everyone else go after the big name in Carolina, those in the know realize that Khudobin was by far the better goalie for the Hurricanes last year. Khudobin did have some stinkers, but he finished with the fifth-best goals-against average in the NHL at .926 while playing 36 games. Cam Ward likely will begin the year as the number-one goalie in Carolina, largely due to the two years remaining on the six-year contract extension he signed with Carolina in late-September, 2009, worth $37.8 million. Just because he has that big deal doesn't means he ends the year as the #1 goalie, as injuries and/or ineffectiveness will cost him the job, opening the door again for Khudobin.

Jake Allen, G, Blues: Allen, the Blues' goalie of the future, was profiled last year but he spent the entire season in the AHL behind Jaroslav Halak and then Ryan Miller at the parent level. With Halak and Miller both gone, Brian Elliott will open the year as the starter in the Arch City, but Allen will be the No. 2. It's only a matter of time before Allen overtakes Elliot, who signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal to remain in St. Louis. At worst, Allen should get 30 starts and post solid across the board numbers.

Braden Holtby, G, Capitals: Holtby suffered through a nightmarish season last year, posting career-worst numbers in goals-against average (2.85) and save-percentage (.915). He lost his starting job during the season but ended the year on a high-note with four straight wins. Washington revamped their whole infrastructure and new Capitals GM Brian MacLellan gave Holtby a vote of confidence, saying he envisions Holtby as the starter. That view coupled with the hiring of Barry Trotz, a noted stickler for defense, as coach along with longtime Predators goaltender coach Mitch Korn, who had success with the netminders in Nashville, seems to bode for Holtby's prospects this season. If he falters, Justin Peters will be waiting in the wings.

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Player News
Jhonas Enroth
Sabres Coach Confident In Enroth
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
11:09 AM
News: Sabres head coach Ted Nolan believes Jhonas Enroth can be a starting goalie in the NHL, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: Jhonas Enroth will battle Michal Neuvirth for the starting job, but if one of them has the edge, it's Enroth. Despite his lack of wins the previous season, Enroth still had a respectable .911 save percentage on the league's worst team and made the Swedish national team for Sochi. He has been Ryan Miller's understudy for the past few seasons, but Neuvirth is also reunited with Arturs Irbe, his goaltending coach in Washington. Nolan will split starts between Enroth and Neuvirth for the time being. The Sabres have six exhibition games this season.

Tyler Bozak
Leafs' Bozak Dealing With Lower-Body Issue
Tyler Bozak, C, TOR
11:05 AM
News: Tyler Bozak is dealing with a lower-body injury, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun reports.
Analysis: Tyler Bozak reportedly skated in full equipment before the Leafs' practice Saturday, but didn't participate with the team. He and David Clarkson both suffered the injuries in pre-camp workouts, but both are believed to be minor injuries.

Matt Hackett
Sabres' Hackett Could Skate Soon
Matt Hackett, G, BUF
11:00 AM
News: Matt Hackett suffered an ACL injury on April 12 and could start skating soon, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: There is still no return date for Matt Hackett though he is expected to return midway through the season, perhaps in late December or early January. Hackett is coming off a tough season, losing the starting job in the AHL to Nathan Lieuwen. He is in a contract year and faces an uphill climb on a team deep with goaltending prospects. The 24-year-old goalie may not figure into the team's long-term plans. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are battling for the NHL job while Andrey Makarov and Lieuwen will handle the duties in the AHL.

David Clarkson
Leafs' Clarkson Dealing With Lower-Body Injury
David Clarkson, RW, TOR
10:52 AM
News: David Clarkson is dealing with a lower body injury, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun reports.
Analysis: David Clarkson joined Tyler Bozak as the two out for the practice, with both reportedly dealing with lower-body injuries. They both ocurred during pre-camp workouts, and coach Randy Carlyle believes the injury is minor.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby (Undisclosed) Held Out Saturday
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
10:41 AM
News: Sidney Crosby (undisclosed) was held out of practice for precautionary reasons Saturday.
Analysis: Sidney Crosby was held out after reportedly having a good practice Friday. The star doesn't appear to be in danger of missing any regular season time barring a setback or another injury.

Alexander Wennberg
Jackets' Wennberg Already Impressing
Alexander Wennberg, C, CLB
9:22 AM
News: Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards was very impressed with his initial look at Alexander Wennberg during the first day of training camp, the Columbus Dispatch reports. "To me, he was at a level above a lot of guys that were (at the Traverse City prospect tournament), which says a lot, because there is some good talent up there," Richards said Friday. "You watch him out here and he fits right in. It's the first day (with) lots of energy, lots of excitement. But he comes across as a ‘headsy' player."
Analysis: Ryan Johansen's contract dispute could open up a spot at center in Columbus on one of the top three lines if it extends into the regular season, and the Jackets would love to see Alexander Wennberg step up and seize it. There's a lot of camp left yet, and the club has plenty of depth with NHL experience to compete with their prospects, but last year's 14th overall pick has the talent, hockey IQ and drive to force the Jackets' hand.

Ryan Murray
Jackets' Murray Has Lingering Knee Issue
Ryan Murray, D, CLB
9:12 AM
News: Ryan Murray was held out of the first day of training camp due to some soreness in his knee following an offseason scope, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The Jackets aren't treating this as a major issue, but given Ryan Murray's history of lower body injuries so far in his brief NHL career this is worth keeping an eye on.

Corey Potter
Flames' Potter Still Recovering From Surgery
Corey Potter, D, BOS
8:22 AM
News: Corey Potter is still a couple weeks away from being cleared for contact following shoulder surgery, the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Corey Potter is hoping to nab one of the final blue line spots available in Calgary, as the first five spots are pretty much locked down. Potter played sparingly with Edmonton and Boston last season, but the Flames like his game.

Tyler Wotherspoon
Flames' Wotherspoon Awaiting Contact Clearance
Tyler Wotherspoon, D, CGY
8:16 AM
News: After offseason shoulder surgery, Tyler Wotherspoon still has yet to receive medical clearance, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Tyler Wotherspoon is one of the contenders for the final few defenseman spots, so he's hoping to get cleared soon so he can show what he can do. He had a couple of points in limited action last season but has shown a lot of potential in both the AHL and NHL.

Mikael Backlund
Calgary's Backlund Has Abdominal Strain
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
8:13 AM
News: Mikael Backlund has been limited in his practice with an abdominal strain, according to the Calgary Sun.
Analysis: Mikael Backlund should be fine for when the season starts, but be does have a history of being plagued with injuries. He's coming off a 39-point season, his best in the NHL so far.

 
 
 
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