When you head into your fantasy hockey draft, it’s probably wise to have a couple of sleepers in your back pocket.
I know a lot of people like to set up their fantasy drafts closer to the beginning of the regular season, but I typically find that the best time to find value is right around the start of the pre-season.
The average draft positions (ADP) you see in mid-September aren’t based off a large sample size, mainly because people typically wait to draft. That means the numbers available earlier are more heavily influenced by oddities that may occur in drafts. For example, let’s say your buddy, who is a massive New Jersey Devils fan, drafts Taylor Hall in round one. That will have a bigger impact on his ADP now than it will when many other drafts have taken place.
That’s why now is the best time to set up a Yahoo Fantasy Hockey league and draft those late-round gems before their stock rises.
With that in mind, here is my all-sleeper fantasy hockey team based off of Yahoo Fantasy Hockey ADPs.
Center - Dylan Larkin (Yahoo ADP: 128.7)
Honestly, the fact that you can start a league today and draft Dylan Larkin this late is absolutely ridiculous.
The list of centers that scored 30 goals and had 40 assists last season is not very big, as you can imagine. Just 17 middlemen were able to reach both plateaus last season with Larkin being one of them.
So why is it that the 23-year-old is currently going as the 37th center in drafts? Plain and simple, it doesn’t make sense.
On a young Detroit Red Wings team that should be improved this upcoming season, feel great about where you can get Larkin.
Left Wing - Jeff Skinner (Yahoo ADP: 105.1)
People, don’t discredit the player just because the team he plays on hasn’t been good. Come on.
While people are shying away from Jeff Skinner because he plays on the Buffalo Sabres (Full disclosure: I hope hockey returns to Western New York for more than half a season), you should be jumping all over him given how late you can nab him in your draft.
At just 27 years old, Skinner is still firmly in the prime of his career. Finding players with his type of goal-scoring talent is near impossible outside the top 100 picks of your draft.
In his first season with Buffalo, he was just one of four left-wingers who tallied 40 goals or more, joining Alexander Ovechkin, Alex DeBrincat and Jake Guentzel as the only others at the position.
Being paired once again on the team’s top line with Jack Eichel means Skinner should produce similar numbers in 2019-20.
Right Wing - Cam Atkinson (Yahoo ADP: 115.3)
Just because Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky ditched the Columbus Blue Jackets this off-season doesn’t mean you have to, too.
I’m sure a lot of people think that losing Panarin will greatly affect Atkinson’s goal total, but the 30-year-old should be just fine without him.
Before the ‘Bread Man’ even laced ‘em up for the Jackets, Atkinson potted 35 goals during the 2016-17 campaign, proving that he’s not dependant on him for production. Having Panarin did help, however, as Atkinson hit a career-high with 41 markers last season.
Columbus’s top line will hurt a bit given the absence of Panarin, but Gustav Nyquist is a decent replacement-level player who should get the first crack at filling the void. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is slated to be the team’s No.1 centre should also take a step forward as he enters his third year.
He may not have an elite playmaker on his line, but Atkinson has proven that he has enough talent to make things happen without one.
Defenceman - Jacob Trouba (Yahoo ADP: 115.4)
This guy right here may just end up being the steal of the draft.
Moving from the Winnipeg Jets to the New York Rangers was possibly the best thing that could’ve happened to Jacob Trouba’s fantasy prospects.
The two-way blueliner should get every opportunity imaginable in the Big Apple, as the team really doesn’t have the greatest defence core.
Despite splitting time with Dustin Byfuglien on the No.1 man-advantage unit in Winnipeg, Trouba finished 16th in power-play points amongst defencemen with 18. The former first-round pick also recorded his first-ever 50-point campaign, thanks to a whopping 42 assists.
Likely manning the blueline on the first power-play grouping with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad should help lift his point total from last year’s numbers.
The math behind this is simple: Trouba is going to get lots of minutes in all situations, that should equal a premier performer on the backend.
Defenceman - Cale Makar (Yahoo ADP: 112.8)
Now that Tyson Barrie has exited the picture in Colorado, the lucrative position of being the Avalanche’s power-play point man is Cale Makar’s for the taking.
While there’s no question that Barrie is one of the best offensive blueliners in the league, it certainly helped that he had players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog on the man-advantage with him. The now Maple Leafs rearguard is coming off of back-to-back 50-point seasons in this environment.
If all goes well for the 20-year-old Makar, we could be looking at someone who returns top-15 defenseman numbers. He is currently being selected as the 27th blueliner in Yahoo Drafts.
The youngster flashed his potential in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. In 10 games, he registered six points. His development is probably a big reason why general manager Joe Sakic made Barrie expendable this off-season.
Sure, as an unknown commodity, Makar poses some risk. But I think given the opportunity he’s walking into, he’s worth buying while surrendering relatively inexpensive draft capital.
Goalie - MacKenzie Blackwood (Yahoo ADP: 175.5)
Essentially, all MacKenzie Blackwood has to do in order to become the New Jersey Devils’ No. 1 netminder is outplay Cory Schneider.
That shouldn’t be too difficult considering he already did it last season.
Blackwood finished with a .918 save percentage across 23 games, oppose to Schneider who recorded a mark of .903 in 26 contests. And sure, Schneider dealt with an abdominal strain in 2018-19 but he hasn’t posted a SV% higher than .910 since 2015-16.
Going into the new season with additions such as P.K. Subban, Jack Hughes, Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev, as well as a fully healthy Taylor Hall, the Devils are ready to compete. If Schneider does get the first crack at the job, I’d imagine he’ll be under close watch.
New Jersey needs some stability between the pipes, and I predict Blackwood will give them a better chance to win on a nightly basis than Schneider, which should translate to quality fantasy production.
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