NHL.com identifies fantasy hockey deep sleeper candidates for the 2019-20 season. These players have sneaky upside but will likely be available in the final rounds or go undrafted in standard, 12-team leagues. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy and subscribe for free to the NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast.
NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast: Sleepers and deep sleepers
Nikita Gusev, LW, NJD
NHL.com rank: 202
The left wing finished tied for second at the 2019 IIHF World Championship with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 10 games for Russia. Gusev, who was acquired by the New Jersey Devils from the Vegas Golden Knights, led the Kontinental Hockey League with 82 points (17 goals, 65 assists) in 62 games last season. He is likely to play on the second line with either breakout candidate Nico Hischier or top rookie Jack Hughes and could also compete for a spot on the first power play, where he would gain exposure to elite left wing Taylor Hall and defenseman P.K. Subban. Gusev is worth drafting in one of the last rounds of standard 12-team fantasy drafts and has 60-point potential in his first NHL season.
Pavel Buchnevich, RW, NYR
NHL.com rank: 209
The New York Rangers right wing had an NHL career high in goals (21) and was on pace for 48 points, but multiple injuries limited him to 64 games. When healthy, Buchnevich saw time on the top line with valuable center Mika Zibanejad, who broke out for 74 points (30 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games. With the addition of elite left wing Artemi Panarin and rookie wing Kaapo Kakko (No. 2 pick in 2019 NHL Draft), the much-improved Rangers could have sneaky value in fantasy, and Buchnevich has renewed upside in a top-six and/or power-play role.
Andreas Athanasiou, C/LW, DET
NHL.com rank: 213
The Red Wings forward quietly had NHL career highs in goals (30), points (54) and power-play points (11) in 76 games last season. He was valuable on the second line despite playing away from high-scoring center Dylan Larkin and had 216 shots on goal, second among Red Wings skaters behind Larkin (287). Athanasiou could be in line for another successful campaign if rookies Filip Zadina and/or Taro Hirose make an impact on his line and/or power-play unit.
Marcus Johansson, LW, BUF
NHL.com rank: 216
The forward had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 58 games last season with the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils and 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games for Boston. Johansson, who has played mostly left wing in recent seasons, could gain dual eligibility if he shifts back to center for the Sabres, where he could skate on the second line with potential exposure to forwards Jeff Skinner or Sam Reinhart. New coach Ralph Krueger will be tasked with helping the Sabres’ defensive woes, which could have a positive impact on the plus/minus of their forwards. With a likely top-six and power-play role, Johansson is worth drafting in late rounds and is the most proven player among the deep sleepers.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, MTL
NHL.com rank: 243
The Montreal Canadiens center had 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 79 games as an 18-year-old rookie. Kotkaniemi skated mostly in a third-line role but also saw time on both power-play units with exposure to fantasy-relevant skaters Max Domi and Shea Weber. The No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft could move up in the lineup if Domi plays wing in the top six. With rookie center Ryan Poehling expected to join the bottom six, Kotkaniemi could find himself in a more prominent situation to start the season, potentially bringing exposure to Domi, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher or Jonathan Drouin at even strength.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, LW/RW, CBJ
NHL.com rank: N/A
The Columbus Blue Jackets right wing had an NHL career-high 23 goals in 77 games this season. Bjorkstrand alternated between the second and third line during the regular season but found a consistent spot in the top six during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he had five points (two goals, three assists) in 10 games. Bjorkstrand should see an elevated role after Panarin and valuable center Matt Duchene signed elsewhere in free agency. Bjorkstrand should compete with rookie wing Alexandre Texier for first power-play usage with valuable skaters Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
Filip Hronek, D, DET
NHL.com rank: 190
The Detroit Red Wings defenseman led the position with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 10 games with Czech Republic at the World Championship and could be a fixture on Detroit’s top power play next season. Hronek was a part of the Red Wings’ strong finish to the season, scoring seven points (two goals, five assists), two on the power play, over the final six games. With Mantha, Hronek, Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, Mike Green and Jimmy Howard all ranked in NHL.com’s top 250, the Red Wings are a potentially overlooked team that can pay fantasy dividends.
Devon Toews, D, NYI
NHL.com rank: 200
The New York Islanders defenseman emerged on the fantasy landscape with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 48 games and led them at the position with five points (one goal, four assists), four on the power play, in eight playoff games. Toews looks to have carved out a role as the Islanders’ No. 2 fantasy defenseman behind Ryan Pulock and ahead of Nick Leddy, who has struggled over the past two seasons. Toews could close the gap on Pulock after earning top power-play usage during the playoffs, and it’s worth noting the Islanders re-signed its top two wings in Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle and should have stable goaltending again with a tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss.
Juuse Saros, G, NSH
NHL.com rank: 188
The Nashville Predators goalie went 17-10-2 with a .915 save percentage and three shutouts in an NHL career-high 31 games. Saros also appeared in one playoff game, stopping 20 of 21 shots faced (.952 SV%) against the Dallas Stars in the first round. The increase in games was encouraging for Saros, who has had high upside for years but remains in the shadow of starter Pekka Rinne. Rinne will turn 37 on Nov. 3, so Saros, 24, will have another opportunity to return value in mid-to-late rounds. The signing of center Matt Duchene should lead to more goal support for Nashville’s goalies, giving Saros even more appeal in drafts.
Mikko Koskinen, G, EDM
NHL.com rank: N/A
The Edmonton Oilers goalie went 25-21-6 with a .906 save percentage and four shutouts in 55 games during his first full NHL season. Despite the Oilers inconsistency, Koskinen was streamable at times, and his four shutouts were tied for 10th in the NHL. The Oilers hired coach Dave Tippett on May 28, which could give Koskinen a significant boost in fantasy value within a better defensive structure. Tippett coached the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons and could have a similar effect on the Oilers, who had two of the NHL’s six 100-point scorers last season (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl) and signed veteran goalie Mike Smith for depth at the position.
Other deep sleeper candidates for 2019-20 (with NHL.com rank): Vince Dunn, D, STL (182); Sam Girard, D, COL (195); Alexandar Georgiev, G, NYR (210); Josh Anderson, RW, CBJ (214); Andre Burakovsky, LW/RW, COL (232); Oskar Lindblom, LW, PHI (233); Colin White, C/RW, OTT (242); Jesper Bratt, LW/RW, NJD; Kevin Fiala, LW/RW, MIN; Cam Talbot, G, CGY
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