Fantasy Hockey Playoff Pool: One sleeper pick to consider on every team

New York Rangers' Andrew Copp (18) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

In order to be successful in your playoff pool this spring, it’s paramount that you hit on a couple of sleeper picks.

Traditionally, those are players who are projected to drastically outplay their average draft position.

From pending contract status to gaining a promotion due to injury, there’s an abundance of factors that could ultimately help contribute to a player’s sudden surge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With that in mind, here’s one sleeper to target from each of the 16 playoff teams:

Florida Panthers – F Mason Marchment

No one, and I mean no one, expected this type of breakout from Marchment. Nevertheless, here we are. The 26-year-old, who conveniently enough is slated to become a UFA this summer, is coming off an 18-goal, 47-point output in 54 regular-season contests. Even though he’s utilized predominantly in a bottom-six role and sparingly on the power play, I still think it’s worth rostering the winger, the dude’s been a point machine this season for the juggernaut Panthers.

Washington Capitals – F Nicklas Backstrom

By his standards, Backstrom is coming off a very disappointing regular season where he tallied just six goals and 31 points in 47 outings. That said, the elite players in the league have a knack for turning things on at the appropriate time. In line with that, the 34-year-old centre has been a steady contributor in the post-season, historically tallying 36 goals and 108 points in 133 career playoff games. Bet on Backstrom.

Toronto Maple Leafs – F Michael Bunting

Assuming full health, similar to the regular season, Bunting should have no problem providing his owners with amazing value. At this point, he’s pretty much attached to the hip of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner five-on-five. Undeniably, those two played a sizeable role in Bunting’s breakout rookie campaign where he potted 23 goals and 63 points in 79 games. Talk about a garden seat.

Tampa Bay Lightning – F Ondrej Palat

After an inconsistent regular season where he netted 18 goals and 50 points, the winger has a chance to once again strengthen his stock ahead of unrestricted free agency this summer. Furthermore, the 31-year-old combined to pot 16 goals and 31 points in 48 total games over the past two post-seasons, helping the Lightning to back-to-back Stanley Cups. Most importantly, Palat’s been skating on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov a lot recently, both of whom have been blistering hot.

New York Rangers – F Andrew Copp

Following a deadline day trade from Winnipeg, Copp took off on Broadway notching eight goals and 18 points in 16 regular-season games with the Rangers. For the most part, the 27-year-old pending UFA has played predominantly with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, which is tremendous news for someone who's looking to get paid this summer. Full disclosure, Copp was dealing with a lower-body issue down to stretch, but it’s not thought to be serious.

Pittsburgh Penguins – F Bryan Rust

With 58 points in 60 games, was there a quieter point-per-game player than Rust this season in the NHL? Despite missing 22 games – mostly due to a lower-body injury – the 29-year-old still managed to pop in 24 goals. Furthermore, when it comes to line deployment in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t get much better than skating with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. For what it’s worth, Rust is another one of those pending UFAs with money on the mind. Be mindful.

Carolina Hurricanes – D Tony DeAngelo

As expected, the 26-year-old blueliner got his career back on track in Carolina, notching 10 goals and 51 points in 64 regular-season games. Not bad for a one-year, $1-million deal, right? Yeah, he’s hitting the bank this summer. From a pool perspective, considering how difficult it is to find elite production on the backend, targeting DeAngelo just makes too much sense. This dude is a point-producing machine.

Boston Bruins – F Taylor Hall

Even though it’s odd to label a former Hart Trophy winner as a sleeper, it’s more a testament to Boston’s star power upfront. Let’s face it, Hall’s an afterthought in Bean Town, which is great news if you’re looking for playoff pool value. All things being equal, the 30-year-old is coming off a steady regular season where he notched 20 goals and 41 assists in 81 games. In 25 career post-season outings, he has seven goals and 17 points. It’s time for Hall to prove his worth in Boston.

Colorado Avalanche – F Andre Burakovsky

Low and behold, Burakovsky’s another pending UFA looking to cash in big-time this summer. Tell you what, his career-highs across the board in the regular season (80 GP: 22 G, 39 A, 61P) will firmly help him achieve just that. Imagine what a strong showing in the playoffs could do? There are so many guys to worry about on the Avalanche roster, it’s really easy for opponents to forget about Burakovsky. Watch out.

Nashville Predators – F Matt Duchene

Even though Duchene scored 43 times in the regular season, there are plenty who believe this career resurgence is still too good to be true. Unequivocally, the Predators are viewed as massive underdogs against Colorado, especially with Juuse Saros’ status still a relative unknown. Again, all things being equal, I think this is another decent spot to take a flier on a top-10 goal scorer in the NHL this season.

Minnesota Wild – F Matthew Boldy

Had he played the full season, without question, Boldy would’ve been up for Calder consideration. Since being called up in early January, the 21-year-old has not looked back registering 15 goals and 39 points in 47 regular-season contests. That Boldy/Gaudreau/Fiala trio is going to give St. Louis fits in Round 1.

St. Louis Blues – F Robert Thomas

Excellent news for the Blues, Thomas was on a different planet in the month of April leading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 22-year-old playmaker, who had his 17-game point streak (29 points) snapped in St. Louis’ penultimate game of the regular season, finished up with 77 points in 72 games. If the Blues are going to make some noise this year, they’ll need their breakout star to continue ripping it up in the springtime. That Thomas/Tarasenko combo is lethal.

Calgary Flames – F Tyler Toffoli

Given how much firepower the Flames possess up front, it’s easy to overlook a veteran like Toffoli. That said, the 30-year-old’s the very definition of a sleeper. He’s played in 76 career playoff games, most notably in 2014 when he won a ring under current Flames bench boss Darryl Sutter with Los Angeles. Do not underestimate the trust factor, Sutter knows Toffoli well. This guy thrives under pressure.

Dallas Stars – D Miro Heiskanen

This one’s a long shot, but given how hard it is to find consistency on defence, it’s worth the risk. And after what we saw from Heiskanen in the 2020 bubble playoffs, anything’s possible. In 40 career playoff games, the 22-year-old has tallied eight goals and 22 assists for 30 points. At the very least, we know he has it in him. Also, Heiskanen’s coming off a career-high 36 points this season. Take the plunge.

Edmonton Oilers – F Evander Kane

Ever since joining the Oilers, Kane’s been providing some spectacular value, so why stop now? In 43 regular season games, the Vancouver native notched 22 goals and 39 points for the Oilers. Regardless of your playoff views on Edmonton, it’s hard for me to pass on someone who plays religiously with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Simply put, there’s tons of value to be found here.

Los Angeles Kings – F Adrian Kempe

There’s something about a contract year, just ask Adrian Kempe. Seemingly out of nowhere, the 25-year-old pending RFA erupted for 35 goals this season, 19 more than his previous high, by the way. They’re playing the Oilers, anything’s possible. Perhaps it’s time for you to invest in some contract year Adrian Kempe.

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