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 sleepers 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.
Anaheim Ducks: Troy Terry, RW
2018-19 stats: 33 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 8 +/-, 6 PPP, 25 SOG, 4 H
One of the worst teams in the NHL last season has a lot to look forward to in the near future. The Anaheim Ducks are bursting with promising youth. Trevor Zegras is one of the biggest names on dynasty radars. Winger Troy Terry should take huge strides forward this season along with players like Ondrej Kase, Sam Steel, Max Jones and Max Comtois. Terry had a mix of NHL and AHL playing time last season, but he finished the NHL season with 11 points in 18 fourth-quarter games. Terry had 41 points in 41 AHL games. He also impressed in the 2018 Olympics, recording five assists in five games.
The youngster has proven he can play against professionals. He’s a lock for top-six minutes, conceivably even cracking the top line. Power play minutes will be there, but it’s tough to say at this point if it will be first or second unit. His PPTOI was 1:49 last season, but he was given top unit minutes as the season drew to a close. Expect Terry to be right in the thick of top unit competition. As his confidence grows, expect his shooting to increase, as he only had 25 attempts in 33 games. The physical aspect of his game is lacking, but in points leagues especially you should keep your eye on him.
Arizona Coyotes, Conor Garland, LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 47 GP, 13 G, 5 A, 1 +/-, 6 PPP, 118 SOG, 33 H
In his rookie season, Arizona Coyotes winger Conor Garland looked very good at times. The former QMJHL monster didn’t experience the same type of point-per-game pace when moving up to play against grown men, however. Despite that, he’s shown he can hold his own and has plenty of room to develop. The better news for fantasy owners is overall the Coyotes are looking much better heading into the new season. Superstar Phil Kessel joined this offseason, and breakout favourite Nick Schmaltz seems primed for a big year. Injuries killed the Yotes’ surprising postseason push, but expect them to make a run again if health can hold up.
Line combinations are difficult to predict and they can change at any point. Garland has an opportunity to play second line alongside Schmaltz, immediately increasing his fantasy value. He racked up 118 shots in about half a season with only 12:47 TOI. More minutes and more games should drastically improve those totals. He’s not the biggest guy on the ice, but he throws his body around at a decent clip, too. Power play time looks good for him, and don’t be surprised to see top minutes if he starts clicking with Schmaltz.
Calgary Flames, Dillon Dube, C/LW
2018-19 stats: 25 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 2 +/-, 0 PPP, 22 SOG, 11 H
Dillon Dube is a name to keep in the back of your head. The Calgary Flames prospect has done just about all he can do to prove he’s NHL ready. The problem for the foreseeable future is how much ice time he’s going to get; however, it’s only a matter of time before he makes his way into top-six consideration. If you’re prepping your dynasty and keeper league list, make sure Dube is on it. Toss him on your watch list in a redraft league since it’s unlikely he’s going to get drafted.
The 21-year-old Canadian is expected to make the team this fall. He dominated the WHL and had a point-per-game pace in his first full season in the AHL. Unfortunately, for now, there are several players in his way on the second and third lines: Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic, and Mark Jankowski to name a few. The good news is it’s very possible Dube simply forces one of them out of the way. Time will tell, but ultimately the two-way forward should be worth the wait.
Edmonton Oilers, Zack Kassian, RW
2018-19 stats: 79 GP, 15 G, 11 A, -6 +/-, 0 PPP, 111 SOG, 191 H
For fantasy purposes, the Edmonton Oilers are a tricky bunch. Two of the very best point-getters are superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Outside of that, the only valuable assets are in peripheral categories like hits and PIM. Veteran winger Zack Kassian‘s status as a bona fide sleeper rests purely in the hands of the line combination gods. The new man in town is former fantasy staple James Neal. Either Neal pairs on the top line with McDavid and Draisaitl, or Kassian does. Whichever combination it is, at any given time, will astronomically affect their fantasy stock.
Two things are at work in Kassian’s favor: Neal has been pretty terrible lately and Kassian boosted his scoring significantly in the second half of last season after getting top-line minutes. Neal had a disgusting 19 points in 63 games with Calgary last season. His numbers since his Pittsburgh Penguin days have been pretty mediocre. Kassian, on the other hand, had 21 points in the final 40 games. It’s also worth noting that, even if the Oilers bank on Neal’s offence returning, they may decide to spread the talent and shift Neal down to the second line anyway. Kassian is a lock for high PIMs and lots and lots of hits. He has good value in multi-category leagues, but first-line minutes would increase that tenfold.
Los Angeles Kings, Tyler Toffoli, RW
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 13 G, 21 A, -16 +/-, 5 PPP, 226 SOG, 39 H
Every year it seems expectations are high for Los Angeles Kings veteran Tyler Toffoli. Ever since his 31 goals in the 2015-16 season, experts and fantasy owners alike have been waiting for a breakout. He started out strong last year, scoring 11 points in 19 games. But during the second quarter of the season, he plummeted to only five points in 24 games. He bounced back with 11 in 18, then again fell to seven in 21. Toffoli has racked up at least 200 shots in four of the past five seasons. His shooting percentage was well below his career average as well (5.8% and 10.1%, respectively), so it’s reasonable to expect him to improve in that area this season.
Looking deeper, Toffoli’s advanced metrics are impressive. He gets deployed against tougher opponents and he still creates chances. Relative Corsi For Percentage effectively measures how well a player maintains possession and creates chances in relation to teammates. Toffoli ranked 14th overall among forwards who played at least 50 games. It stands to reason that eventually things will go Toffoli’s way. He has spent the bulk of his team with capable veterans like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter. The Kings lines could shuffle quite a bit this coming season. Toffoli could play more with Adrian Kempe and Carl Grundstrom. Grundstrom scored five goals in 15 games at the end of last season, making him a good linemate if he’s able to carry that throughout a full season. The bottom line is this: have faith in Toffoli, as other GMs in your league are likely to pass him by.
San Jose Sharks, Kevin Labanc, LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 17 G, 39 A, -1 +/-, 20 PPP, 130 SOG, 66 H
Entering his fourth season with the San Jose Sharks, winger Kevin Labanc is ready to shoulder big-time minutes as part of a formidable offensive unit. Each of the past three seasons, Labanc has grown exponentially, scoring 20, 40, then 56 points. In the playoffs, Labanc added four goals and five assists in 20 games. At only 23 years old, the American’s career is off to a fantastic start. From a Sharks fan’s perspective, losing Joe Pavelski is not a good thing. From a fantasy perspective though, it’s a great thing for Labanc. Top six minutes are guaranteed. He’ll either skate second line with Tomas Hertl at centre or first line with elite centre Logan Couture. Labanc should also enjoy top unit power play time. Despite being second unit last year he was able to net 20 power play points.
If you’ve been paying attention to Labanc, you should know big things are in store for 2019-20. The average fantasy GM will likely see a player who only scored 56 points and 17 goals. What most won’t see is the fact that he produced 2.9 points-per-60-minutes. That’s higher than Couture. Labanc finished the season with an excellent ratio of 32 points in 39 games (82-game pace of 67 points). Keep in mind that’s mostly with linemates not named Couture, Hertl, Pavelski, or Timo Meier. This year he’ll be with the big guns. Sit back and enjoy.
Vancouver Canucks, J.T. Miller, C/LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 75 GP, 13 G, 34 A, 8 +/-, 20 PPP, 108 SOG, 115 H
At only 26 years old, veteran forward J.T. Miller is about to begin his eighth season in the NHL. Miller packed his bags and moved a long way this summer, going from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Vancouver Canucks. On the surface, that may look worrisome to fantasy owners. Even though Miller has never posted more than 58 points in a season, anyone playing for a team as good as Tampa is going to be a fantasy target. He first moved to the Bay at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, tallying 18 points in 19 games. Last year his production fell to 47 points in 75 games.
His fantasy stock doesn’t pop out at first when you consider Vancouver didn’t make the playoffs. But, he should immediately fit into the top line alongside Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson. As good as Pettersson was, he’s only going to get better. Again, Miller is only 26. He’s in the prime of his career and he’s playing for an exciting up-and-coming squad. Players like Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes have Canucks fans expecting Cup runs in the near future. Miller is going to get first-team power play minutes as well. Plus he loves to throw his body around, collecting more than 100 hits four times in his career. Additionally, he holds extra value in leagues that differentiate the forward positions.
Vegas Golden Knights, Shea Theodore, D
2018-19 stats: 79 GP, 12 G, 25 A, -4 +/-, 9 PPP, 202 SOG, 27 H
Closing out our fantasy hockey sleeper series is Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Shea Theodore. The 24-year-old has quietly put together a solid career so far, scoring a career-high 37 points last year. Theodore has thrived in the desert. As a member of the Anaheim Ducks, he had a paltry 17 points across two limited seasons – he has since scored 29 and 37 points in his two seasons with Vegas. The offence-minded defenceman put up a whopping 202 shots last year, a big increase from the year prior when he launched 144.
Theodore should get serious consideration from fantasy owners due to the fact that Colin Miller is off to the Buffalo Sabres. Daily Faceoff currently projects Theodore as the top power-play quarterback. Keep an eye on this, as Nate Schmidt is also in the mix. Regardless, power play time is a guarantee, so an improvement on nine PPP should be in the cards. In fact, in seven playoff games, he racked up almost half of his regular-season total (four power-play points, all via assist). He had himself a dandy of a series, scoring eight points. Theodore isn’t just an offence-only player, either. His hit totals are very low, but he was fifth on the team with 91 blocks. In the final quarter of the season, Theodore had 10 points in 17 games. He carried that momentum into the playoffs, and he’ll be ready to get going on opening night.
Thanks for reading Last Word on Hockey’s fantasy hockey sleepers series! Do you agree? Disagree? Be sure to check out each division’s article and let us know in the comments!