2023-2024 Fantasy Hockey Sleepers
For the purposes of this episode, we are defining a “Sleeper” as a player that is being drafted on average at 150 or later in at least one of Yahoo or Fantrax. These players can be had at value, but have a real shot to make an impact at some point this season.
🎯 Nicklas Backstrom, C/RW
2023 Yahoo ADP: —, Fantrax ADP: 393.64 | PTS. PREDICTION: 15 Goals, 52 Points
Betting on a 35-year-old Nicklas Backstrom, who recently underwent major hip surgery, seems foolish, but this is not an average player. Leading up to the 2020-2021 season, Backstrom’s worst year saw him produce at a 69-point pace. At this stage it seems obvious that the long-time Capital’s recent lack of production can be attributed to his hip injury; but age-related decline may be creeping its way in as well.
A full offseason to recover and prepare should help Backstrom return to form. He should play a prominent role on the power play and can serve as a playmaker for either Alex Ovechkin or Max Pacioretty.
In just one pre-season game to date, Backstrom played 18:49 TOI, scored 1 goal, and was nearly 90% in the face-off dot (8 for 9). Essentially going undrafted in Yahoo and Fantrax this Fall, Backstrom is someone you will want to add to your watchlist.
🎯 Max Pacioretty, LW
2023 Yahoo ADP: 173.30, Fantrax ADP: 163.92 | PTS. PREDICTION: 25 Goals, 49 Points
Max Pacioretty underwent surgery after tearing his achilles tendon for the second time this past January. Washington’s new head coach, Spencer Carbery, was unable to provide a firm timeline on the 34-year old’s status heading into the 2023-2024 season; but “November or December” were mentioned. With that in mind, our projection for Pacioretty will assume that he does not play a game until Monday, December 4th against the Arizona Coyotes (followed by two off-days, then a two-game home stand). 22 games lost to injury obviously limits “Patches” upside, but at an ADP of 166.7, this man is certainly worth a stash in season-long redraft leagues.
This may be optimistic, but we’re projecting 49 points and 25 goals in 60 games played – a 67-point, 34-goal pace over a full 82-game schedule. Excluding the 5 games played with Carolina last season, Pacioretty has played at a 76 to 87 point pace over 82 games the three seasons from 2019-2022.
Lastly, for those of you that are unaware, the shot rate with Pacioretty is absolutely elite – SECOND among all skaters (5v5) from 2019-2022 at 11.64 SOG/60!
🎯 Sean Couturier, C
2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 207.3 | PTS. PREDICTION: 27 Goals, 71 Points
The big question for Sean Couturier this season is: Will his back be able to hold for the entire season? Couturier has not played a full 82-game season since 2017-18. If his back holds together, the Flyers have themselves a 1st line center that can produce at almost a point per game pace for the season and provide some valuable punch to an offense that was one of the league’s worst last season. In yahoo leagues Couturier is currently going UNDRAFTED. Could be a valuable late round pick if his health is back to 100%
🎯 Gabriel Vilardi, C
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 203.84 | PTS. PREDICTION: 26 Goals, 67 Points
Gabriel Vilardi played a career-high 15:36 for the Los Angeles Kings in 2022-2023, enroute to a career-best 41 points and 23 goals (53-point pace over 82 games). We are anticipating a big year for Vilardi in Winnipeg, including top 6 minutes and a role on the second power play unit.
UPDATE: Vilardi played 18:26 TOI, 5:01 PPTPOI and posted 1 assist in one pre-season game at the time of writing. It’s entirely possible that Vilardi claims a role on the top power play unit this season… in fact, Vilardi was working on the top PP unit this morning alongside Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Alex IaFallo, and Josh Morrisey.
🎯 Jakob Vrana, LW
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 187.53 | PTS. PREDICTION: 30 Goals, 56 Points
Jakub Vrana’s most productive season came in 2019-2020 as a member of the Washington Capitals, posting 52 points and 25 goals in 69 games (62-point pace). The 27-year old has faced some personal challenges, but it’s worth noting that Vrana has ranked 19th league-wide the past three seasons with a 2.73 Pts/60 – just behind Matthew Tkachuk (2.75 Pts/60) and ahead of both Artemi Panarin (2.71 Pts/60) and Steven Stamkos (2.68 Pts/60). If Vrana can secure top 6 minutes, and a role on the second power play unit, career-highs in goals and points could be achievable.
UPDATE: Vrana was on the third line this morning with Kevin Hayes and Sammy Blais, and in PP2.
🎯 Kaapo Kakko, RW
2023 Yahoo ADP: 166.2, Fantrax ADP: 291.32 PTS. PREDICTION: 14 Goals, 47 Points
In Kaapo Kakko’s 4th season with the Rangers he put up 18 goals and 40 points. Everyone is hoping he can take another step this season. For Kakko to take the next step he will need top 6 deployment. Top line RW is a possible spot for him. He has been on the RW with Zib and Panarin in practice recently and a spot on PP2. If he can hold this spot he should be able to top his 40 point performance from last season
🎯 Yegor Sharangovich, C/LW
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 231.73 | PTS. PREDICTION: 21 Goals, 42 Points
Being the main trade piece of the return for Tyler Toffoli, Yegor Sharangovich looks poised to play top 6 and PP1 minutes in 2023-2024. The former Devil has just cleared the 200 game mark (205), and with the right deployment, may make good on his 200-game breakout threshold.
It has been a quiet pre-season for Sharangovich though, posting just 2 assists in four exhibition games; and averaging just 2:01 PPTOI/GM.
🎯 Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW
2023 Yahoo ADP: 171.3, Fantrax ADP: 222.02 | PTS. PREDICTION: 26 Goals, 50 Points
Bjorkstrand put up 55 points (20g, 25a) in his first season with the Kraken. He did this with a drop in TOI by 2.30 less than his last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. One thing that did improve was his SOG/60, which was up to 9.4 from 9.0 the previous season. He is projected to be on the 3rd line with Gourde and Tolvanen. He also has a spot in the 2nd powerplay unit.
🎯 Daniel Sprong, RW
2023 Yahoo ADP: 181.00, Fantrax ADP: –
Daniel Sprong sits third on the Red Wings this pre-season at 5.76 Pts/60. Yes, you read that correctly, the 26-year old has been more efficient offensively than Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, and David Perron. Sprong also sits 3rd in SOG (8), 5th in iSCF (7), and 4th in iHDCF (3). Similar to some other players on this list, power play time will be difficult to come by, but this man does the most with the time he is given. Add him to your watchlist!
🎯 Oliver Wahlstrom, RW
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 392.28 | PTS. PREDICTION: 22 Goals, 49 Points
Will this be Oliver Wahlstom’s year? Projected to be on the top line next to Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal, the 11th overall pick from 2018 has the opportunity to blossom this season. Wahlstrom may not see PP1 time, but could be in a prime position to put up points at even-strength this season. Will surpass the 200-game breakout threshold, and really just needs better deployment to provide some fantasy relevance. Wahstrom has been shooting at an impressive rate over the past three seasons, ranging from 10-10.7 SOG/60!
🎯 Jonathan Drouin, LW
2023 Yahoo ADP: 171.4, Fantrax ADP: 236.93 | PTS. PREDICTION: 12 Goals, 44 Points
We’re all asking ourselves the question – Can Jonathan Drouin resurrect his career playing alongside junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon? So far, so good. With two points (one on the PP) in two pre-season games, we can all continue to be cautiously optimistic. Time on the top power play unit will be hard to come by though, barring any major injuries to the Avs elite-level talent.
🎯 Arthur Kaliyev
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 301.9
The Los Angeles Kings have been stockpiling young assets for years. Now they’ve spent the last two offseasons peddling them for win-now players. Everyone is excited to see how the new Pierre-Luc Dubois fares in his new home. Kevin Fiala, Adrian Kempe, and Anze Kopitar are proven assets. Quinton Byfield still needs a moment to marinate. But the forgotten man is Arthur Kaliyev.
The 22-year-old has a long history as an elite finisher. He has wet his beak in the NHL for 150 games over two seasons, and will now have a chance to work with Fiala and Dubois on a vaunted second line. A trip to the top power play is not in the cards, so the top end of his upside remains somewhat limited. But a sneaky addition he could still turn out to be.
🎯 Michael Matheson, D
2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 169.5, Fantrax ADP: 116.64 | PTS. PREDICTION: 14 Goals, 47 Points
As we’ve mentioned previously, the Montreal Canadiens have plenty of high-quality, defensive prospects in the pipeline, including 2023 first rounder David Reinbacher, Lane Hutson, and Kaiden Guhle. For now though, Michael Matheson is the man you want for fantasy hockey purposes.
Last season Matheson played a career-high 24:27 TOI/GM and 3:11 PPTOI/GM (or 63.3% PP Share); exactly the kind of deployment fantasy managers look for when drafting a defenseman. Matheson also managed career bests in SOG/60 (6.4) and Pts/60 (1.7), to go along with a very serviceable 1.67 Blocks/GM and 1.10 Hits/GM.
There are a couple minor concerns with the 29-year old though. First, his nearly 54% IPP was not just a career-high, it was 9th among all defenseman last season. For reference, most defensemen have an IPP of around 30%. Second, just 9 PPPs last year is nothing to write home about, though that should increase as the Canadiens improve their 29th ranked power play, which converted at just 16% in 2022-2023.
🎯 Bowen Byram, D
2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 169.3, Fantrax ADP: 150.49 | PTS. PREDICTION: 14 Goals, 42 Points
Is this the year that Bowen Byram finally breaks through? Last season the 22-year old played at a 47-point pace through 42 games, while averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game. Like a number of key personnel on this Avs roster though, health has been a major concern for Byram. The lack of power play deployment (just 26.2% PP Share, 1:19 PPTOI/GM) and shot volume (1.5 SOG/GM, 4.2 SOG/60), along with a career-high 15.4 iSH% will surely hamper his totals for this season; but if healthy, the 22-year old is an interesting depth option.
🎯 Cam York, D
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 218.5 | PTS. PREDICTION: 7 Goals, 37 Points
Cam York appears to be the main man in Philadelphia now with the off-season departures of Ivan Provorov and Tony DeAngelo. York responded well to being sent down to the AHL after training camp last season, and his minutes continued to climb through the season as he gained the trust of head coach John Tortorella. Could be in for a career year with limited options on the backend in Philadelphia.
🎯 Calen Addison, D
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 219.35 | PTS. PREDICTION: 6 Goals, 40 Points
Calen Addison played at a 38-point pace in 62 games last season, while receiving a 71.2% PP Share (3:29 PPTOI/GM). Addison only played 16:07 per game though; so the hope for this season is that the 23-year old sees an increase in ice time, maybe closer to 18 or 19 minutes a night along with continued PP1 deployment.
🎯 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D
2023 Yahoo ADP: –, Fantrax ADP: 390.69
It has been a while since Oliver Ekman-Larsson was fantasy relevant; but early in pre-season ‘OEL’ is seeing ideal deployment with injuries to Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad. Largely going undrafted, the long-time Coyote has potential to be a valuable depth add; at the very least for the first few months of the season.
We spoke with Nate Groot-Nibbelink at length last week about finding value late in drafts, specifically at the goaltender position. For more late-round options, be sure to give that episode a listen, or read the blog post – Zero G & Zero D, Finding Value Late In Drats.
🎯 Philipp Grubauer, G
2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 161.2, Fantrax ADP: 185.61 | PREDICTION: 54 Starts (65% Net Share), 29 Wins
From January 1st to the end of the regular season, Philipp Grubauer posted a 14-7-3 record with a very serviceable 2.53 GAA and .902 SV%. It’s certainly worth mentioning that Grubauer’s 2.53 GAA ranked 14th over that stretch – ahead of Igor Shesterkin, Juuse Saros, and Connor Hellebuyck! Grubauer’s winning percentage would also project to a 30-win season based on our expected net share of 65%.
In Seattle’s first-round, 7-game series win over the defending Stanley Cup Champions (COL), Grubauer was excellent; posting a 2.44 GAA and .926 SV%. Unfortunately, the Dallas Stars were just too much for Grubauer and the Seattle Kraken in the second round.
Seattle is going to be very competitive again this season, and if you can stomach the odd ‘Really Bad Start’ (RBS), then you have a netminder that can provide valuable coverage in two (Wins, Goals Against Average) of Yahoo’s four standard categories. That is incredible value if you can draft the 31-year old in the 14th round, or later, in 12-team redraft leagues.
🎯 Jack Campbell, G
2023 Yahoo ADP: 167.9, Fantrax: 213.8 | PREDICTION: 35 Starts (43% Net Share), 20 Wins
Year one in Oil Country was not a pleasant one for Jack Campbell. Although his record was good at 21-9, his save percentage (.888) and GAA of 3.41 were not. Most of Campbell’s wins this season came agaisnt non-playoff teams, and he was eventually benched in favour of rookie Stuart Skinner down the stretch and into the post-season.
It’s worth noting that prior to last season Campbell had a .917 SV% with a 2.50 GAA. Campbell’s .830 PKSV% was well below the league average of .860, so we can expect to see positive regression in that area; and the 31-year old should be more comfortable with his new situation. One thing is certain, Campbell will be better than he was last season, and that is absolutely worth a gamble in the 18th round (12-team draft in Fantrax).
UPDATE: Through two pre-season games, Jack Campbell has stopped 65 of 67 shots – .970 SV%, 0.98 GAA.
🎯 Elvis Merzlikins, G
2023 Yahoo ADP: 169.4 (Fantrax: 194.94) | PREDICTION: 52 Starts (63% Net Share), 22 Wins
Elvis is in the building, the question is which one? Last year Elvis Merzlikins struggled for the Columbus Blue Jackets. A 7-18-2 record with a 4.23 GAA and .876 SV%. Columbus upgraded their defense in the off-season by adding Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov; and a healthy group of forwards, including goal-scorer Patrik Laine, will have an impact as well. Elite rookie prospect Adam Fantilli should help move the needle too.
In 120 games played from 2019-2022, Merzlikins posted a 48-44-20 record with a .913 SV% and 2.88 GAA. I’m betting on a significant bounce-back for the 29-year old.