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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
Ryan O'Reilly
Sabres' O'Reilly Extended For Seven Years, $52.5M
Ryan O'Reilly, C, BUF
7/3/2015
News: Ryan O'Reilly's contract extension with the Sabres will be for seven years and $52.5 million, Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reports.
Analysis: The $7.5 million annual average value on the deal makes Ryan O'Reilly one of the game's highest-paid players. The Sabres and O'Reilly structured the contract in an atypical fashion, as the salary for each season is only $1 million, with the remainder of the money coming in the form of a signing bonus. It's a steep price to pay for Buffalo, but one the franchise deemed necessary in order to continue its overhaul of one of the league's weakest forward corps. It's worth noting that O'Reilly has scored over 20 goals just once in his career, and the Sabres' previous big money signings - including Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Hodgson - haven't panned out at all. Still, O'Reilly figures to get a lot of ice time in Buffalo and should provide some decent fantasy value.

Joel Ward
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Joel Ward, RW, WAS
7/3/2015
News: Joel Ward signed a three-year, $9.825 million contract with the Sharks on Friday, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: After the Capitals replaced him with Justin Williams on the first day of free agency, Joel Ward ended up finding a home on the West Coast, where he'll join a veteran forward corps. Ward skated primarily on the third line with the Capitals in 2014-15, notching 19 goals and 34 points in 82 games. Historically, Ward has saved his best work for the postseason (14 goals, 21 assists in 53 playoff games), where the Sharks have infamously failed to come up in the clutch in recent seasons. The 34-year-old Ward probably isn't alone going to get them over the hump or even back in the playoffs, but he'll at least provide the Sharks with a serviceable third-line sniper.

Yann Danis
Devils Sign Danis To One-Year Deal
Yann Danis, G, PHI
7/3/2015
News: Yann Danis signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Devils on Friday, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Yann Danis will likely begin the season in the AHL, and he's unlikley to make much of an impact at the NHL level.

Byron Froese
Froese Signs With Toronto
Byron Froese, C, CHI
7/3/2015
News: Byron Froese signed a two-year, two-way deal with Toronto on Friday.
Analysis: Byron Froese spent last season in the AHL and ECHL, most notably appearing in 46 games for the Toronto Marlies. The 24-year-old will likely remain in the minors to begin next season.

Blair Jones
Canucks Sign Jones To One-Year Deal
Blair Jones, C, PHI
7/3/2015
News: Blair Jones signed with the Canucks on Friday.
Analysis: Blair Jones spent most of last season in the AHL, playing 33 games and scoring 21 points for Lehigh Valley. He saw time in four NHL games for the Flyers, recording two penalty minutes and a minus-4 rating.

Dmitrij Jaskin
Blues, Jaskin Agree To One-Year Deal
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, STL
7/3/2015
News: Dmitrij Jaskin signed a one-year deal with the Blues on Friday.
Analysis: As a rookie last season, Dmitrij Jaskin scored 13 goals to go with five assists in 54 games. The 2011 second-round pick had a plus-7 rating and 16 penalty minutes.

Brandon Saad
Saad Signs Six-Year Deal With Jackets
Brandon Saad, LW, CLB
7/3/2015
News: Brandon Saad signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jackets on Friday, Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: Brandon Saad, who was acquired in a trade with the Blackhawks earlier in the week, will make roughly $6 million per year despite never reaching the 30-goal plateau. He's just 22 years old, however, so Buffalo is betting that he'll continue to improve. Saad should team with Ryan Johansen to form a formidable tandem on the Blue Jackets' first line.

Carlo Colaiacovo
Sabres, Colaiacovo Agree To One-Year Deal
Carlo Colaiacovo, D, PHI
7/3/2015
News: Carlo Colaiacovo agreed to a one-year deal with the Sabres on Friday.
Analysis: The defenseman appeared in 33 games for the Flyers last season, notching eight points and 10 penalty minutes. The veteran has also spent time with the Blues, Red Wings and Maple Leafs during his 12-year career, and will likely be a depth player for the Sabres. He's not a factor in fantasy games at this point.

Andrew Desjardins
Blackhawks Re-Sign Desjardins
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7/3/2015
News: Andrew Desjardins re-signed with the Blackhawks on Friday, ESPN reports.
Analysis: Andrew Desjardins will return to Chicago on a two-year deal that will pay him an average of $800,000 per season. The 28-year-old came over at the trade deadline from San Jose last season and was a plus-1 in 13 regular season contests. In 21 playoff appearances, Desjardins notched a goal and three assists.

John Ramage
Ramage Signs Two-Way Deal With Columbus
John Ramage, D, CGY
7/3/2015
News: John Ramage signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Blue Jackets on Friday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: John Ramage was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Flames last month, making him an unrestricted free agent. The defenseman spent the majority of the season at AHL Adirondack, tallying three goals and 12 assists in 57 games. He'll likely spend the bulk of 2015-16 in the AHL.

 
 
 
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