Last Word on Hockey is starting a brand new series of fantasy hockey coverage. We’re kicking things off with a breakdown of each team’s biggest fantasy hockey sleeper picks to target in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft. The series will cover each division in separate articles. Note: All fantasy rankings, position eligibilities, and statistical categories are based off Yahoo standard leagues unless noted otherwise.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jaccob Slavin, D
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 8 G, 23 A, 0 +/-, 7 PPP, 146 SOG, 70 H
This Hurricanes finished with four players in the top 100 among Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues for the 2018-19 season. These four were Sebastian Aho (19th), Teuvo Teravainen (46th), Dougie Hamilton (87th), and Justin Faulk (93rd). Way down the list at 325th overall was defenceman Jaccob Slavin. For the third consecutive year, Slavin played in all 82 games during the regular season, kept his plus-minus in the black, and recorded at least 30 points. If nothing else, the 25-year-old has been very consistent. However, he really amped up his production in the surprising postseason run for Carolina, where he was second on the team with 11 points in 15 games. All 11 points were assists, good for team best. He led the entire squad in ice time during the playoffs, which bodes well for his usage in the future. If he can translate his postseason success into the upcoming regular season, he could far surpass his career high of 34 points, set in the 2016-17 season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW/LW
2018-19 stats: 77 GP, 23 G, 11 A, 8 PPP, 3 +/-, 161 SOG, 43 H
Columbus lost a legitimate fantasy superstar in Artemi Panarin when he signed with the New York Rangers, but winger Oliver Bjorkstrand could step in and fill those shoes pretty nicely. Bjorkstrand finished the season well outside of the top-200 overall skaters but still recorded a career-high 23 goals. This was more than double his previous high of 11, set the year before last. He likely won’t double his career best again but he’s poised for a more consistent time spent as a top-six forward with both Panarin and centre Matt Duchene out of the way. He could even see a bigger role on the power play to build on his low power-play-points total. And of course, the added bonus of dual-winger eligibility is extremely useful for any fantasy team.
New Jersey Devils: MacKenzie Blackwood, G
2018-19 stats: 23 GP, 10 W, 2.61 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SHO
The new-look New Jersey Devils look ready to improve upon their status as the Metro Division bottom-dwellers. The acquisitions of stud defenceman P.K. Subban, winger Wayne Simmonds, and No. first overall pick Jack Hughes have fans thinking happier days are right around the corner. Former second-round pick MacKenzie Blackwood could be a sneaky goalie to target in the upcoming season. He showed flashes of excellence, posting back-to-back shutouts during a seven-game stretch in December and January. In that same stretch, he earned five wins, allowed 2.25 GAA, and had a .936 SV%. Cory Schneider is by no means a lock to be the team’s starter. In addition to his lengthy injury history, Schneider’s numbers were much less than ideal (7 W, 3.06 GAA, .903 SV%, 1 SHO in 26 appearances). Look for Blackwood to ultimately be the lead netminder behind a vastly improved Devils lineup, making him a worthy pick later in your draft.
New York Islanders: Devon Toews, D
2018-19 stats: 48 GP, 5 G, 13 A, 7 +/-, 4 PPP, 81 SOG, 24 H
The Isles surprised many with a second-place finish in the division, going on to sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. Defenceman Devon Toews came into his own in the postseason. He recorded five points in eight contests. More importantly, all but one of those points came on the power play. Toews’s regular-season totals are in large part due to only playing 48 games – in fact, he was the second-best blueliner on the team with 0.40 points-per-game. Furthermore, he scored 19 points in only 24 AHL games last year. The second-year player could be in for a much bigger season after he saw a bigger role in the playoffs.
New York Rangers: Pavel Buchnevich, RW
2018-19 stats: 64 GP, 21 G, 17 A, -10 +/-, 12 PPP, 119 SOG, 60 H
Keeping right in step with the offseason splashes by New Jersey, the New York Rangers have made plenty splashes of their own. Three potential fantasy studs enter the mix: elite playmaker Artemi Panarin, second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko, and defenceman Jacob Trouba. Projected to line up opposite of Panarin is Pavel Buchnevich. He’s coming off a career-best 21-goal season despite playing in only 64 games. Buchnevich ended up as the 338th ranked skater in Yahoo, falling well short of his preseason rank of 180th. Top-line minutes alongside Mika Zibanejad and Panarin will no doubt boost his production. If he gets slotted into the top power-play unit as well, look for Buchnevich’s value to skyrocket throughout the 2019-20 season. The sky is the limit with a linemate like Panarin.
Philadelphia Flyers: Oskar Lindblom, LW
2018-19 stats: 81 GP, 17 G, 16 A, -9 +/-, 3 PPP, 161 SOG, 68 H
In his first full season in the NHL, Oskar Lindblom showed some flash. Excluding the month of December where he went completely missing, recording zero points in 13 games, he had a pretty solid year for a youngster. He was also much better after the All-Star break. The winger totaled 18 points in 34 games after the break, as opposed to only 15 points in 47 games prior. He saw more consistent ice time as well, averaging upwards of 17 minutes over the final few months. Lindblom likely won’t start the season seeing top power play minutes but a key injury could see him slotted in. The Flyers can rack up the points in a hurry when everything is clicking and Lindblom is trending upward heading into the new year.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Dominik Kahun, C/LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 13 G, 24 A, 10 +/-, 2 PPP, 137 SOG, 13 H
Oh, that sweet, sweet triple-position eligibility. Sophomore winger Dominik Kahun moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh this offseason, potentially lining up alongside Evgeni Malkin and fellow newcomer Alex Galchenyuk on the second line. Phil Kessel left town to play in the desert, giving the perfect opportunity for Kahun to shine. An elite talent like Malkin will make any linemate better, but there are some downsides to Kahun’s fantasy value. He lacks the physicality to contribute hits and barring injury there doesn’t seem to be room for him at all on the power play. Still, he’s worthy of attention in the latter stages of a draft to add some value in the other categories. And again, you can slot him in either of the three forward positions, adding even more bargain value.
Washington Capitals: Dmitry Orlov, D
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 3 G, 26 A, 3 +/-, 1 PPP, 101 SOG, 137 H
Rounding out the Metro sleepers is veteran defenceman Dmitry Orlov. Orlov has quietly put together four straight seasons with at least 21 assists and a positive plus-minus rating. He tallied four assists in the seven-game playoff series against Carolina. Additionally, he recorded nine assists in the final full month of the regular season, so there’s a potential upside, especially if he ends up partnering with fantasy stud John Carlson to start the season. He probably won’t see top power play minutes, though it’s not out of the question. Either way, consistent assists, and hits are both nice bonuses at the end stages of a fantasy draft. Orlov ranked in the top 50 in hits among defenceman last season.
Honourable mentions: Andrei Svechnikov (CAR), Alexandre Texier (CBJ), Jesper Bratt (NJ), Anthony Beauvillier (NYI), Alexandar Georgiev (NYR), Scott Laughton (PHI), Marcus Pettersson (PIT), Michal Kempny (WSH)