As important as it is for your early-round draft picks to pay off, you can really make your money by picking up gems later in your draft who break out or bounce back and reward you with season-long output.
That’s what we’re here to help with.
This article focuses on some deep sleepers — guys ranked outside the top 170 on Sportsnet’s official player rankings heading into the 2019–20 fantasy season. There are even a few guys in here we don’t have ranked at all. But each has the potential to put up goal and point totals that would make you look like a drafting genius.
Basically, we don’t want you to get caught sleeping on these names:
ONDREJ KASE, ANAHEIM DUCKS
SN Rank: 232
Position eligibility: RW
In July of 2018 we identified Ondrej Kase as a breakout candidate for the 2018-19 season, but injuries got in the way of that. He didn’t play his first game until November and just two months later, a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. But the good news is that his breakout seemed to be happening.
Kase managed 11 goals and 20 points in 30 games and for the second season in a row he led all Ducks forwards who played at least 11 games in goals scored per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. In fact, Kase ranked third in the league behind only Viktor Arvidsson and John Tavares in goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 in 2018-19. Kase’s even strength and power play ice time both increased in 2018-19 and could do so again this season if he cements his spot alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell on the top line. If he’s still flying under the radar in your league, nab him, because his potential payoff his huge.
ROOPE HINTZ, DALLAS STARS
SN Rank: 195
Position eligibility: C/LW
As last season went on and Hintz earned more opportunity and games in the lineup, it became clear there was some fantasy relevance in there. He managed just three points in 16 games over the 2018 portion of the schedule, but in his last 30 regular season games Hintz posted 17 points. In the playoffs he took another step, scoring five goals and eight points in 13 games.
Part of the reason behind Hintz’s improvement is that Dallas’ big line got split up so he got to skate with each of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn at times. The Stars’ addition of Joe Pavelski in the summer is a big development for Hintz — whether or not he plays with the former Shark, the added depth will ensure his regular linemates are better in 2019-20.
The other important factor with Hintz is his positional flexibility. If your league counts faceoff wins, he took 400 of them last season (winning 54.3 per cent) and that could rise with more wingers on the roster and Jason Spezza out of the picture. But he can also be used in the far more scarce left winger spot, giving him a bit more of a value boost.
ONDREJ PALAT, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
SN Rank: N/A
Position eligibility: LW
It’s been five years since Palat broke out with a 47-assist, 63-point season, but he hasn’t been able to approach that again. In fact, his points per game have been in decline three years in a row now, while his average time on ice in 2018-19 dipped by more than two minutes per game from the 17:00 he averaged in 2017-18.
So why exactly is he a sleeper worth taking a shot on? Being a member of the highest-scoring team two years running certainly helps, but what really puts him on the map as a worthwhile late-rounder is that he played with at least one of Steven Stamkos or Nikita Kucherov at even strength for the vast majority of last season. He’s a great bet to be a solid top-six player and, if healthy, his minutes should tick back up again.
Palat’s floor is relatively safe, though he’s missed at least 18 games in three of the past four seasons so he may find his way to your IR at some point. But the upside Palat brings late in drafts makes him a great value target.
VINCE DUNN, ST. LOUIS BLUES
SN Rank: 229
Position eligibility: D
Thirty NHL defencemen finished with at least 40 points last season and there’s good reason to believe Dunn will join that club in 2019-20. He won’t be a gem for you in regards to categories such as hits, blocked shots or penalty minutes (he won’t hurt you in the latter either) if your league counts those, but if you have confidently covered off those categories with players chosen earlier and just want offensive upside, Dunn is a nice target late.
Currently ranked as the 48th defenceman on Sportsnet’s Top 250 (compiled by Nick Alberga), Dunn has already seen a leap from 24 to 35 points in his sophomore season and is in a great position to take another jump. Dunn averaged 17:32 of ice time last season (fifth-most among Blues defencemen) and it’s entirely possible that number rises should he secure a more prominent role at even strength — perhaps leap-frogging Jay Bouwmeester. Dunn was the fifth-most used St. Louis blueliner at 5-on-5 last season, but the 27 points he scored at even strength led his team.
On the power play Dunn is already a big minute eater and that should keep his points at a respectable floor. Alex Pietrangelo was the only Blues back-ender who earned more power play time than Dunn and the two scored the same amount of goals on the league’s 10th-best power play unit. Should the captain miss time to injury, Dunn’s stock would shoot up some more.
JOONAS DONSKOI, COLORADO AVALANCHE
SN Rank: N/A
Position eligibility: RW
Keep an eye on developments in Colorado’s training camp to get a feel for where Donskoi will slot in the lineup. If you look at his point totals from the past four seasons in San Jose, nothing is going to jump off the page at you: 36, 17, 32, 37. Seems like a consistent player, if underwhelming for fantasy. But as we know, the Sharks have always been deep with forward talent so there wasn’t much opportunity for Donskoi to graduate from a third-line role.
In Colorado, his situation could be more favourable for fantasy.
We’ll figure that after searching for, and failing to find, a suitable second line centre all last season that Nazem Kadri will fill that spot for Colorado in 2019-20. If Donskoi can earn a spot on the left side of that second unit and get the increased minutes that come with it, his track record of being an excellent possession player and shot creator could lead to a career year.
Donskoi was also never much of a power play guy in San Jose, and that’s another role that could open up new point streams if he can get it. If it ends up that Donskoi continues playing on the third line and doesn’t get any power play opportunity, simply move on.
J.T. MILLER, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
SN Rank: 170
Position eligibility: C/RW
The Canucks risked potential long-term disaster when they traded for J.T. Miller, sending a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 back to Tampa Bay (if the Canucks are in the 2020 draft lottery, the Lightning will get the 2021 pick without any conditions). So the team as a whole needs to succeed here in the next two years, and management must believe Miller can be an influential piece.
He’s already starting from a good spot — Miller has hit the 50-point mark in two of the past three seasons, and while he failed to get there in 2018-19 he missed it by only three points. Take that player with near-certain 20-goal, 50-point upside and put him potentially on a line with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser or both? Now we’re talking a monster power forward in the later rounds.
Miller will also help you in the hits category if your league counts the stat. He had 115 last season and 124 the season before. He’s six-foot-one and a sturdy 218 pounds, so he should also be a strong net-front presence on Vancouver’s power play. The Canucks as a whole should improve to some degree in 2019-20 and if Miller is riding shotgun with even one of the two young studs up front, he’ll be a great find for a shrewd fantasy owner.
MATHIEU JOSEPH, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
SN Rank: N/A
Position eligibility: RW
The Lightning are a powerhouse that has developed young talent very well over the years and has a nice track record of finding gems, from Tyler Johnson, to Palat, to Yanni Gourde and more. So if you as a fantasy owner can find that next Tampa Bay gem before they breakout, it could give you a nice little advantage.
Enter Mathieu Joseph, who scored 13 goals and 13 assists in his rookie season. But his issue is the same as it was for Donskoi in San Jose — Tampa Bay is so deep in excellent forward talent that it’s not clear if his opportunity will really be enough to make him a fantasy relevant player.
In 70 games last season, Joseph averaged just 11:22 per game, making him a fourth line player without any special teams exposure. According to Natural Stat Trick, though, Joseph’s 1.09 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play trailed only Johnson, Stamkos and Kucherov on his own team. League-wide, that number ranked 37th and in a tie with Johnny Gaudreau.
Now, we’re not making the case here for why Joseph is the next Johnny Hockey, but rather if he can find his way to more ice time Joseph could be that next breakout Lightning star. He was a fourth-round pick just four years ago and followed up that selection with a couple strong QMJHL seasons, a 53-point AHL rookie season and then his rookie NHL year. Joseph even earned a spot on Canada’s World Championship team this past fall, so NHL eyes are on to him.
He also amassed 129 hits in 70 games so there’s some insurance that he’ll give you something in a category outside of scoring as well. But what we’re really looking for out of Joseph next season from a fantasy perspective is if his strong rookie numbers translate to greater opportunity — and if that’s enough for a true break out.
ALEXANDAR GEORGIEV, NEW YORK RANGERS
SN Rank: N/A
Position eligibility: G
The Rangers have done a lot to try and immediately improve their fortunes and make a run back to the playoffs in 2019-20 and if you believe they belong in that conversation it would be wise to scoop up Henrik Lundqvist’s backup goalie late.
It becomes more clear with every year that it’s important for NHL teams to not lean on their starting netminder the same way they used to. Only two of the 17 goalies who started at least 50 games last season even made it to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and neither of the finalists played more than 45 games. Two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists played less than 46 games, while the winner played 53.
Lundqvist has traditionally been one of those heavy usage netminders, but as the game changes around him and he enters his age 37 season, the Rangers would be wise to limit his starts if possible. Backup Georgiev is fully capable of keeping the charge to the post-season going.
In 2016-17, Georgiev had the lowest GAA in Finland’s Liiga before joining the Rangers organization and last season he got into 33 NHL games, posting a .914 save percentage and two shutouts. New York should be an improved unit after acquiring veterans Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin on top of second overall pick Kaapo Kakko. This should improve Lundqvist’s numbers after he posted a career-worst .907 in 2018-19, and Georgiev could experience that bump as well. It’s not out of the question for him to get 30 starts again.
Depending on how big your league is and how many goalies are required on your roster, Georgiev is an interesting sleeper.
JOSH MORRISSEY, WINNIPEG JETS
SN Rank: 215
Position eligibility: D
Last season, for the first time, Morrissey became a factor on Winnipeg’s power play. His average time on ice per game with the man advantage rose by nearly a minute-and-a-half from 2017-18 and he accumulated a career-high 10 power play points. Morrissey played only 59 games last season, but still had his best offensive output with 31 points — that’s about a 43-point pace over a full slate.
So his role was already growing in an area that’s key for offence and there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll get even more power play time in 2019-20. Trouba logged the second-most power play time among Jets defenders last season and with him now out of the picture Morrissey is the most likely to fill that hole. On top of that, Dustin Byfuglien (who averaged the most PP time) has missed 53 games over the past two seasons and is entering his age 34 season. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to miss time again.
When Byfuglien was out of the lineup from Feb. 15 – March 29 last season, Trouba averaged a whopping 3:44 of power play time per game. If Morrissey is ever afforded that type of opportunity he will outperform his current late-round value with ease.