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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
Ondrej Pavelec
Goaltender Rotation Will Continue In Winnipeg
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
12:44 PM
News: Head coach Paul Maurice has stressed that the Jets' goalie rotation between Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson will continue after the NHL's three-day holiday break, Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Ondrej Pavelec will continue to split starts with Hutchinson for the time being. However, Pavelec has struggled as of late, losing three of his last four games while giving up at least three goals in each of those losses. Meanwhile, Hutchinson has gone 8-2-2 this season while posting a league-leading 1.67 GAA as well as a league-leading .944 save percentage. If Pavelec continues to struggle, and Hutchinson continues to dominate, Pavelec may find himself on Winnipeg's bench more often than he finds himself starting in net moving forward.

Michael Hutchinson
Goaltender Rotation To Continue In Winnipeg
Michael Hutchinson, G, WPG
12:09 PM
News: Head coach Paul Maurice has made it clear that the Jets' goalie rotation between Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec will continue after the NHL's three-day holiday break, Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Michael Hutchinson's fantasy owners don't have to worry about Pavelec getting the majority of starts in net for the Jets moving forward, as Maurice has clearly indicated that Hutchinson and Pavelec have both performed well enough this season to warrant an even split in playing time. In fact, Maurice may ultimately be forced to give Hutchinson the majority of starts in net in the second half of the season, as he bests Pavelec in both major goaltending statistical categories. Hutchinson boasts a 1.67 GAA and a .944 save percentage, while Pavelec has posted slightly less impressive figures, with a 2.34 GAA and a .913 save percentage. If Pavelec struggles in a few key games down the stretch, Hutchinson may suddenly find himself as the primary goaltender for the Jets. Hutchinson has been phenomenal this season, and fantasy owners lucky enough to own him can plug him into their lineups with confidence each and every time he starts.

Jimmy Howard
Red Wings Activate Howard
Jimmy Howard, G, DET
8:19 AM
News: Jimmy Howard (groin) was activated from injured reserve Saturday, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Jimmy Howard's activation almost surely indicates he'll get the start in net Saturday against the Senators, which would mark his first appearance since Dec. 19. The Red Wings should confirm Howard as the starter following their pregame skate, assuming coach Mike Babcock doesn't have him serve as the backup to Petr Mrazek as a precaution. To make room for Howard's return, Thomas McCollum was returned to AHL Grand Rapids.

Zachary Fucale
Canadiens' Fucale Unbothered In World Opener
Zachary Fucale, G, MON
8:11 AM
News: Zachary Fucale stopped all 12 shots faced in Team Canada's 8-0 win over Slovakia at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship tournament.
Analysis: Zachary Fucale was untested in Team Canada's opening game played at the Bell Centre.

Zach Sill
Pens' Sill Takes To Ice Saturday
Zach Sill, LW, PIT
8:07 AM
News: Zach Sill (upper body) was on the ice prior to the Penguins' morning skate Saturday, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Since Zach Sill didn't participate with the rest of the team during Saturday's session, he'll remain unavailable for the evening's match with the Capitals. Even so, the Penguins have to be encouraged by seeing Sill back on the ice in some capacity, especially while the team tends to a number of injuries and illnesses across the roster. He could be given the green light to practice within the next few days.

Dalton Thrower
Habs Assign Thrower To ECHL
Dalton Thrower, D, MON
8:06 AM
News: Dalton Thrower has been assigned to the Brampton Beast of the East Coast Hockey League, the Hamilton Spectator reports.
Analysis: Dalton Thrower, a second-round draft pick in 2012 (51st overall), has yet to play for AHL Hamilton due to offseason ankle surgery. He was cleared to play Dec. 19.

Craig Adams
Pens' Adams Works Out Saturday
Craig Adams, RW, PIT
8:05 AM
News: Craig Adams (undisclosed) was on the ice prior to Saturday's morning session, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Craig Adams didn't stick around to take part in any line work, and thus isn't expected to play during the evening's match with the Capitals. Still, Adams' mere presence on the ice is a positive development for the team's banged-up forward corps. He could in line to practice with the Penguins over the next few days.

Jeff Zatkoff
Pens Recall Zatkoff
Jeff Zatkoff, G, PIT
8:01 AM
News: Jeff Zatkoff was recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: After he was reassigned to the minors just a few days earlier in anticipation of Thomas Greiss' return to backup duties, Jeff Zatkoff will head back to Pittsburgh after Greiss was diagnosed with the mumps, becoming the fifth Penguins player to acquire the virus. A return likely isn't too far away from Greiss, who has been isolated from the team since Monday, which should only result in another brief stay for Zatkoff.

Jayson Megna
Penguins Recall Megna
Jayson Megna, RW, PIT
7:59 AM
News: Jayson Megna was recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Even after a timely three-day break in the schedule for Christmas, the Penguins are still quite banged up at the forward spot. As a result, Jayson Megna will again join the big club, with whom he has already suited up for in nine contests this season, contributing one point. He's expected to slot in on the team's third line Saturday against the Capitals.

Anthony Stolarz
Flyers' Stolarz Suffers Head Injury
Anthony Stolarz, G, PHI
7:57 AM
News: Anthony Stolarz suffered an apparent head injury while playing for AHL Lehigh Valley on Friday night, LancasterOnline.com reports.
Analysis: Anthony Stolarz saw his shutout streak against Friday's opponent (AHL Hershey) end at 120 minutes and 56 seconds earlier in the contest, and then suffered an injury on another Hershey goal late in the contest. The Flyers appear to be labeling Stolarz's injury as a day-to-day concern for now, but it's certainly not an ideal situation for the organization's top goalie prospect. Stolarz has posted a 2.32 GAA and .933 save percentage over 13 appearances with Lehigh Valley this season, his first as a professional.

 
 
 
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