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.
Link to Metropolitan Division sleeper picks here.
Boston Bruins: Karson Kuhlman, C/RW
2018-19 stats: 11 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 +/-, 0 PPP, 15 SOG, 6 H
We begin our fantasy hockey sleeper picks from the Atlantic Division with the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins. It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Bruins so far. For the most part, the lineups should be similar to last season’s, but one notable change lends us our biggest sleeper: Karson Kuhlman will likely play on the second line alongside veteran David Krejci. Krejci’s ability to make plays (53 assists in 2018-19) will no doubt boost Kuhlman’s value. Kuhlman doesn’t have a ton of NHL experience to his name, though. He spent the majority of last season in the AHL, totalling 28 points (12 G, 16 A) in 55 games. He was utilized some in the postseason, scoring a goal and adding two assists in eight games. As of right now, it doesn’t look like Kuhlman will be a power play option, but expect plenty of scoring opportunities on the second line regardless.
Buffalo Sabres: Lawrence Pilut, D
2018-19 stats: 33 GP, 1 G, 5 A, -8 +/-, 0 PPP, 37 SOG, 20 H
The Buffalo Sabres have quite a few options at the defensive position. Former Vegas Golden Knight Colin Miller joins up-and-coming defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen. All three of those could be valuable options for fantasy. But sitting in the shadows is 23-year-old Lawrence Pilut. Pilut saw only 33 NHL games last season, and he wasn’t spectacular. Taking a look at his AHL stats is another story, however: 25 pints (4 G, 21 A) and +22 in only 23 games last year. Additionally, when you take into account advanced metrics, a Pilut/Ristolainen pairing was very effective. The Sabres have a brand new coach in Ralph Krueger, so it’s difficult to say exactly what his arrangements will be. Pilut has stiff competition for power-play minutes. Still, he could very well see top-line even-strength action alongside Ristolainen (if he’s still in Buffalo). If that’s the case, his fantasy stock should soar with exposure to Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Sam Reinhart.
Detroit Red Wings: Filip Hronek, D
2018-19 stats: 46 GP, 5 G, 18 A, -10 +/-, 5 PPP, 73 SOG, 66 H
Our next sleeper pick is another defenceman on another team with good youth depth: Filip Hronek of the Detroit Red Wings. Hronek split time between the NHL and AHL last season, but he was effective at both levels. He scored 23 points in 46 NHL games and 24 points (7 G, 17 A) in 31 AHL games. The 21-year-old will be primed for top minutes for Detroit this season and should be given plenty of power playtime. Most impressively, Hronek was given top defenceman honours representing the Czech Republic at the World Championship. In 10 games in the tournament, he scored three goals and had eight assists. The 21-year-old’s juniors and minor leagues stats are impressive, as well. At such a young age, he’s already shown he can be an asset in the NHL. He probably won’t help your fantasy squad in the plus-minus department, but he’s a lock for bargain value in all other categories.
Florida Panthers: Brett Connolly, LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 81 GP, 22 G, 24 A, 13 +/-, 2 PPP, 139 SOG, 53 H
Former Washington Capitals winger Brett Connolly signed with the Florida Panthers this offseason. The eight-year veteran saw a career-high in points last season, despite playing mostly on the fourth line. Connolly should see second- or third-line minutes, which should boost his offensive numbers significantly. The Panthers have had a big offseason thus far, nabbing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and head coach Joel Quenneville, who is second in NHL history in wins. Many expected big things from Florida last year, but ultimately they fell short of the playoffs. With the key additions this year, the Panthers are poised to take a big step. A 50-point season and strong plus-minus should be in the cards for Connolly.
Montreal Canadiens: Artturi Lehkonen, LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 11 G, 20 A, 10 +/-, 0 PPP, 176 SOG, 120 H
24-year-old Artturi Lehkonen of the Montreal Canadiens already has three full NHL seasons under his belt. Montreal re-signed the winger to a two-year deal recently. Lehkonen has shown some ability to score and be a playmaker, but he hasn’t exactly been a fantasy-worthy player up to this point. His career-high is 18 goals from his rookie season, but last year he set career marks with 20 assists and 31 points. From a fantasy standpoint, dual-wing eligibility is always a plus. It’s possible Lehkonen will see time next to Max Domi, who put up 28 goals and 44 assists last season. He shouldn’t be ignored if he starts on the third line, either, but of course, his stock rises that much higher next to a star player like Domi.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Brannstrom, D
2018-19 stats: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 +/-, 0 PPP, 0 SOG, 1 H
There are a lot of zeroes above this sentence, but don’t let that fool you. Swedish defenceman Erik Brannstrom is one of many young bright potential stars on the Ottawa Senators. The Sens finished dead last in the NHL and don’t look to be much better this season. It’s almost a given that most Ottawa players will hurt you in the plus-minus category, but there’s still plenty of fantasy value to be had. Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Thomas Chabot are prime examples. Brannstrom is another name to look out for. He was traded from the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Mark Stone last season. In 50 total AHL games (split between the Chicago Wolves and Belleville Senators) he recorded seven goals and 25 assists. As captain of the U20 Sweden national team, he scored four goals in five games in the World Juniors. Brannstrom has the skating and passing ability to become a diamond-in-the-rough fantasy pick. Look for him to earn more playing time sooner rather than later, getting power-play minutes as well.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Anthony Cirelli, C
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 19 G, 20 A, 25 +/-, 1 PPP, 123 SOG, 94 H
One of the greatest teams in NHL history boasts a wealth of fantasy options. Stellar offensive numbers and stellar goaltending made the Tampa Bay Lightning look simply unbeatable for most of the season. That is until the Columbus Blue Jackets swept them in the first round. Luckily for fantasy owners, only the regular season counts. A name many may not be very familiar with is 22-year-old Anthony Cirelli, a 3rd round pick in 2015. Cirelli has made an impact at every level. Three years ago, he scored 64 points (25 G, 39 A) in 51 OHL games (split between the Oshawa Generals and Erie Otters). That same year for Canada’s U20 team he had three goals and four assists in seven World Juniors games. The next year, Cirelli impressed in the AHL (37 points in 51 games) as well as the NHL (11 points in 18 games). This past season was his first full stint for Tampa. Any Lightning player is going to help you in the plus-minus department, but Cirelli isn’t afraid to throw his body around either. Even as a third-line center, there’s plenty of value to be had here.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Ilya Mikheyev, RW/LW*
2018-19 stats: 62 GP, 23 G, 22 A, 21 +/-, 8 PPG, 197 SOG, 28 H (Avangard Omsk, KHL)
*positions via CapFriendly.com
Our biggest sleeper for the Toronto Maple Leafs is a true unknown sleeper pick. Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev has never played an NHL game in his life. Who his linemates are will have a significant outcome on his lasting fantasy value. Mikheyev may end up on a line with elite fantasy juggernauts John Tavares and Mitch Marner (assuming Marner stays in Toronto). Alternatively, he could skate alongside another elite option in Auston Matthews. The potential there doesn’t need to be stated. Still, even if he’s a third-line option, you never know if he’ll earn more minutes in the top six or who may go down with an injury. The Maple Leafs have a potent offence much like Tampa Bay. The scoring opportunities will be there. Mikheyev has had solid numbers in the KHL and for the Russian national team, but there’s no telling how those will translate to the NHL. Over the past couple seasons in the KHL, he has played 116 games, scored 42 goals, and tallied 41 assists. There will likely be growing pains, but the upside is worth the risk. Keep a close eye on Toronto’s lines as the season draws near.
What do you think of our fantasy hockey sleeper picks for the Atlantic Division? Leave a comment below! Be sure to tune in for our coverage of the Central Division next.