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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
Kris Letang
Pens' Letang At 100 Percent In Advance Of Camp
Kris Letang, D, PIT
9/16/2014
News: Kris Letang, who suffered a stroke nearly eight months ago, has been working out without any complications this summer and should be a full participant for the start of training camp, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: In addition to the stroke, Kris Letang was limited to 37 games last season due to a knee injury and an elbow infection. Though he's the ultimate health risk after missing 99 games over the last three seasons, but few blueliners possess as much skill offensively as Letang, who still accumulated 11 goals and 11 assists in limited action in 2013-14. Letang compiled 50 points in his last full season in 2010-11, and that peak could be in reach again if he can avoid any long-term health complications.

Derrick Pouliot
Pens' Pouliot Not Expected To Be Ready For Camp
Derrick Pouliot, D, PIT
9/16/2014
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Tuesday that Derrick Pouliot (shoulder) likely won't be ready for training camp, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Johnston said that Derrick Pouliot, one of the team's top prospects, would likely be able to take part in some skating at the start of camp, but he'll be held out of contact drills until further notice. The former No. 8 overall draft pick accumulated 17 goals and 53 assists over 58 games last season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

Olli Maatta
Pens' Maatta To Receive Update Later In Week
Olli Maatta, D, PIT
9/16/2014
News: Olli Maatta could be cleared for physical contact Wednesday or Thursday, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Olli Maatta was ruled out for four-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery in May, but there seems to be legitimate optimism that he might beat that timetable and be ready to go for the start of training camp. Even if that materializes, expect the Penguins to limit Maatta's involvement in the early going, with the hope of preparing him for a full slate of minutes for the regular-season opener. The 20-year-old flashed a ton of potential as a rookie last season, accruing nine goals and 20 assists over 78 games.

Anthony Mantha
Wings' Mantha Suffers Injury At Prospects Tourney
Anthony Mantha, RW, DET
9/16/2014
News: Anthony Mantha suffered an undisclosed injury during the NHL's tournament for prospects and will not be available for the Red Wings' finale against the Hurricanes, MLive.com's Brendan Savage reports.
Analysis: Red Wings GM Ken Holland didn't offer any specifics on the nature of the injury other than saying Anthony Mantha was "banged up," but it appears he'll still be ready to return to the ice when training camp commences Friday. The 20-year-old was having an outstanding tournament with five points in three games and should be given a chance to win a spot on the Red Wings' 23-man roster in camp, though it's more likely he opens 2014-15 at the AHL level.

Ryane Clowe
Clowe Looks Ready For Devils Camp
Ryane Clowe, LW, NJ
9/16/2014
News: Ryane Clower (concussion) underwent tests for post-concussion syndrome on Tuesday and should be ready for training camp.
Analysis: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said the exams were "very positive" and expects that "everything is on track for him to be at camp." Ryane Clowe sustained several concussions last season while scattering, rather unevenly, 26 points over 43 games and expects to be in the lineup on Opening Day. Clowe will see some top-six minutes while in the lineup, but his inconsistency and propensity for injury do not make him the safest pick.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Succumbs To Ankle Injury
Josh Harding, G, MIN
9/16/2014
News: Josh Harding has been sidelined by an ankle injury, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Josh Harding was set to enter training camp at full health after missing the second half of last season due to a change in his medication for multiple sclerosis, but it appears the snake-bitten goalie has been dealt another setback. The team won't have an update on Harding's expected timetable until he visits with the team's orthopedic surgeon Wednesday, but it's generally believed that he will miss the beginning of training camp, if not longer. Harding was in the midst of a sensational season prior to succumbing to another complication from MS last December, and was thought to be a frontrunner to claim the No. 1 goalie job in camp. If he ends up missing the start of the regular season, either Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom would be called upon to assume starting duties.

Eric Gelinas
Gelinas Signs Before Devils Camp
Eric Gelinas, D, NJ
9/16/2014
News: Eric Gelinas signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $900,000 on Monday and will report to training camp.
Analysis: Getting Eric Gelinas, a restricted free agent, back under contract avoids a holdout by the 23-year old blue liner who snagged 29 points in a scattered 60-game campaign as a rookie one year earlier. The majority of Gelinas's points came before the All-Star break but he also saw himself shuttled between the NHL bench and Albany (AHL) in addition to having his ice time cut severely in some games. He played several games as a 13th forward and some as a seventh defensemen, seeing only power-play time. While Gelinas is under contract, he is, by no means, guaranteed a regular role on the team despite his considerable offensive upside. The team's coaching staff regularly made it known they want Gelinas to improve defensively before giving him a larger role on the team. Monitor his ice time in preseaon games but it's too early to go all-in on Gelinas considering the Devils, despite having an opening, had a tendency to play with his ice time, appearing noncommittal as to whether he would have a regular role on the team last season. Tread carefully.

Daniel Alfredsson
Daniel Alfredsson: Seeing Back Specialists
Daniel Alfredsson, RW, DET
9/16/2014
News: Daniel Alfredsson is visiting with back specialists and is not going to training camp with the Red Wings, Helene St. James of The Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: With Daniel Alfredsson's back ailing, it's looking more and more likely last year may have been his final season. Alfie has said he won't come back unless he's 100 percent, and although he wants to return to Detroit, it remains to be seen whether his body will let him.

Kevin Westgarth
Westgarth To Try Out With Oilers
Kevin Westgarth, RW, CGY
9/16/2014
News: Kevin Westgarth signed a professional tryout with the Oilers and will join the team for training camp, NHL.com's Aaron Vickers reports.
Analysis: Kevin Westgarth is nothing more than a checking-line pugilist, giving him value primarily in leagues that count penalty minutes. He'll first have to impress the Oilers in training camp before he gets the opportunity to reprise his enforcer role.

Danny DeKeyser
Red Wings' DeKeyser Signs Two-Year Deal
Danny DeKeyser, D, DET
9/16/2014
News: Danny DeKeyser singed a two-year, $4.38 million deal with the Red Wings on Tuesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: As expected, the Red Wings finally worked out a deal to bring the 24-year-old back to Detroit following a lengthy standoff. Danny DeKeyser appeared in 65 games for the Wings last season, registering four goals and 19 assists for 23 total points. He also posted a plus-10 rating and 30 penalty minutes.

 
 
 
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