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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
Cam Talbot
Rangers' Talbot Silences Flyers
Cam Talbot, G, NYR
11/29/2014
News: Cam Talbot stopped all 26 shots he faced to blank the Flyers on Friday.
Analysis: That gives Cam Talbot back-to-back shutouts against the Flyers, who failed to get one by the netminder when the two teams met last week. Despite his extraordinary success against Philadelphia, coach Alain Vigneault will resist the temptation to go back to him in Saturday's rematch, as Henrik Lundqvist has already been announced as that game's starter. In any case, the back-to-back positive turns amount to a nice confidence boost for Talbot, who had mostly struggled in his other outings this season.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks To Start Andersen On Friday
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
11/29/2014
News: Frederik Andersen led the Ducks on to the ice and will make the start in goal Friday versus the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Frederik Andersen has reeled off three straight wins on the heels of a five-game losing streak, but he'll face a stiff test at home against Chicago. Friday's game will mark the first of a back-to-back set for the Ducks, so it's possible coach Bruce Boudreau will turn to backup Jason LaBarbera on Saturday.

Jesse Blacker
Ducks Recall Prospect Blacker
Jesse Blacker, D, ANA
11/29/2014
News: Jesse Blacker was recalled from AHL Norfolk on Friday, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner was officially diagnosed with the mumps virus and ruled out of Friday's game against the Blackhawks, forcing the Ducks to bring up Jesse Blacker for his NHL debut. The 23-year-old, who is considered one of the organization's better blue line prospects, has four points in 14 games with Norfolk.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Has Mumps, Out Saturday
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
11/29/2014
News: Clayton Stoner (illness) has been officially diagnosed with the mumps virus and will not play Friday against the Blackhawks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner practiced Thursday and seemed well on his way to returning to action, but apparently some late-emerging symptoms of the mumps will knock him out of action. The setback has to be concerning for the Ducks, who now might have to worry about further players potentially being infected by Stoner. Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin previously missed multiple games with the illness.

Mike Green
Caps' Green To Sit Again Friday
Mike Green, D, WAS
11/29/2014
News: Mike Green (upper body) will not play Friday against the Islanders, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Jack Hillen will spell him in the Capitals' lineup for the second straight game. It hasn't been reported that Mike Green has resumed skating since suffering the injury, so it's not clear when he might rejoin the lineup.

Johnny Boychuk
Isles' Boychuk Ruled Out Friday
Johnny Boychuk, D, NYI
11/29/2014
News: Johnny Boychuk will miss Friday's game against the Capitals with an upper-body injury.
Analysis: Johnny Boychuk had been missing practices recently with a suspected knee issue, so the fact that he'll sit out Friday with an upper-body injury comes as a surprise. The blueliner, who has been highly productive since coming over in a trade with the Bruins late in training camp, will be considered day-to-day for the time being. Brian Strait takes his spot in the lineup Friday.

Chad Johnson
Isles To Go With Johnson
Chad Johnson, G, NYI
11/29/2014
News: Chad Johnson will be in the crease Friday against the Capitals.
Analysis: Chad Johnson will spell the red-hot Jaroslav Halak in goal, but only because the Islanders are playing the first game of a back-to-back set. The move from Boston to Long Island hasn't proven overly kind for Johnson, despite the 5-2 record he carries into Friday's contest. His 3.33 GAA and .876 save percentage rank 38th and 42nd, respectively, among the 42 qualifying goaltenders.

Bryan Little
Jets' Little Heads To Locker Room With Leg Injury
Bryan Little, C, WPG
6:18 PM
News: Bryan Little left Friday's game with an apparent leg injury, Joe Haggerty of CSN New England reports.
Analysis: Bryan Little had to be helped off the ice and into the dressing room after taking a shot from Carl Soderberg off his right knee. He stayed down on the ice for a long time, and appeared to be in significant pain. The severity of the injury is unknown at this point in time. Luckily for Little, the team has a five day break before playing their next game on December 3rd.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Caps' Kuznetsov Scores Second Of Season
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WAS
6:09 PM
News: Evgeny Kuznetsov bagged his second goal of the season and added an assist in Friday's win over the Islanders.
Analysis: A much needed two-point effort for Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had been held off the scoresheet in his last nine games. While the 22-year-old has gushing fantasy potential, he is currently playing on the fourth line, averaging only 11:16 of ice time per game. While Kuznetsov is valuable in some deep leagues right now, he will need to play in the Caps' top-six to be valuable in shallower formats.

Colton Sceviour
Stars' Sceviour Playing Friday
Colton Sceviour, C, DAL
6:07 PM
News: Colton Sceviour (illness) is now officially in the Stars' lineup for their Friday night match-up against the Wild, NHL.com's Mark Stepneski reports.
Analysis: Colton Sceviour missed Friday's morning skate because he was feeling under the weather, but it appears as though the ailment wasn't serious enough to keep him out of Friday's game. Sceviour will look to break his scoring slump in Friday's game.

 
 
 
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