Discussing NHL.com's list of fantasy hockey 'sleepers'

jamiebennsleeper.jpgIn the season premiere of the solid fantasy football focused comedy “The League,” one character’s adorable wife wants to be a part of the league very badly. Her husband fears her knowledge and eventually keeps her out, but her knowledge of “sleepers” is used against her spouse.

A sleeper is, quite simply, a player who coasts under the radar for one reason or another. NHL.com listed its 10 fantasy hockey sleepers, some of which I don’t necessarily agree with (the best example is potential dud Dustin Byuglien, although he could be very interesting if he is eligible to be a winger and a defenseman). Here are a few that I particularly see eye-to-eye with Matt Cubeta, though.

Jame Benn, LW, Dallas Stars

Benn came out of nowhere last season to chip in 22 goals and 41 points while playing in all 82 games for the Stars. After a full season in Dallas, Benn went back to the AHL and played for the Texas Stars in the playoffs, where he put up 14 goals and 26 points in 24 contests, helping the first-year team make the Calder Cup Finals. Benn has good hands and plenty of drive; for those of you who play in a league with the new “hits” category, Benn will be of help as he had 186 last season. While the Stars appear very deep offensively (Morrow, Richards, Ribeiro, Eriksson, Neal), Benn has a good chance at cracking the lineup as a top-six forward — and if that’s the case, he should easily improve on last season’s stat line. Look for the 21-year-old to score around 25 goals and 50 points with around 200 shots and 200 hits.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jonathanberniergoalie.jpgBenn gets lost in the shuffle with all of the attention paid to James Neal, but if you have hits in your league he could be a solid depth player … especially when you consider that LW is not a very deep position.

Jonathan Bernier, G, LA Kings

In what looks like the best goaltending battle as we inch closer to the start of the regular season, it’s possible that Bernier will take the starting job from Jonathan Quick in L.A. At just 22 years old, Bernier looks ready to carry the load, but with the job Quick turned in last season, it’s very possible the two goalies could find themselves sharing time. Bernier appeared in three NHL games for the Kings last year and was nothing short of spectacular, going 3-0-0 with a 1.30 GAA. In his first start he surrendered just one goal on 30 shots; he followed that performance with a 34-save shutout against the Predators. Even if Bernier is given the No. 1 job at the start of the season, temper your expectations as he’s still a rookie. Play it safe and expect about 35-40 starts while splitting time with Quick.

Thumbnail image for codyfransonhappy.jpgBernier could very well steal the starting job outright, but as much as he’s a sleeper many could fall into a trap of drafting Jonathan Quick too early this year. Chances are that Quick won’t get the same Brodeurian number of starts next season, so be warned. (Click here for more discussion of goalie tandems.)

Cody Franson, D, Nashville Predators

The 23-year-old defenseman will have the chance to shine in Nashville with the departure of veteran blueliner Dan Hamhuis. After finishing his rookie season with 6 goals and 15 assists in 61 games last year, Franson will likely be the third D-man in Nashville behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. As a rookie in the AHL in 2007-08 Franson posted 36 points, then notched 52 points in his second season before getting an NHL call-up last season. He averaged just 14:12 of ice time in his first NHL season, but should easily get 18 minutes per game this season. The talented defenseman was awarded a two-year deal in the off-season and could crack 10 goals and put up 35-plus points.

Thumbnail image for petermuellersigns.jpgHe won’t be an elite offensive defenseman, but he could be on that Lubomir Visnovsky/Marek Zidlicky tier of guys who can put up a nice amount of points on the powerplay while only requiring a very late round pick.

Peter Mueller, C, LW, Colorado Avalanche

After being selected by Phoenix with the No. 8 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, Mueller looked like he was headed for stardom early on in his career. He recorded 54 points as a rookie in the 2007-08 season, but then posted just 53 points in his next 126 games with the Coyotes. Phoenix gave up on the talented youngster at the trade deadline in March and shipped him to Colorado, where Mueller rediscovered his game, scoring 9 goals and 11 assists in just 15 games for the Avs before going down with a concussion. Heading into this season, Mueller could end up on Colorado’s top line alongside Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart. At 22, Mueller could be in line for his biggest season after the much-needed change of scenery. Lock him in for 20-plus goals and 50 or more points, but there’s potential for a lot more.

Mueller could be one heck of a sleeper, especially if he has C/LW eligibility (I’m a sucker for guys you can put in two different positions because it gives you a lot of day-to-day flexibility). He probably won’t sustain the pace he achieved after the trade deadline, much like Lee Stempniak won’t be able to do the same for the Phoenix Coyotes, but that doesn’t mean he cannot produce some nice results himself.

Expect some of my own picks for sleepers in the next week.

Scroll Down For:

    PHT Morning Skate: What’s holding the Islanders back?

    Getty
    Leave a comment
    Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

    • University of Alabama hockey player Jon Lovorn is dedicating this season to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. (SECCountry.com)

    • It’s time for the NHL to give all 31 teams an outdoor game next season. (Vice Sports)

    • Philly.com takes a look at Sean Couturier‘s “well-balanced” life and how it got him to the NHL. (Philly.com)

    • A strong end to 2017 could help the Predators land home ice advantage in the playoffs (Predlines)

    • If/when Seattle makes it to the NHL, there might be too many teams in the Pacific Division. How would realignment look? (Five for Howling)

    • One of the reasons the Oilers have struggled for so long is because of their inability to select solid players late in drafts. (OilersNation.com)

    • The only thing that appears to be holding the Islanders back is goaltending. (The Hockey News)

    • The Hershey Bears released their 2018 Outdoor Classic Jersey for their game against Lehigh Valley next month. (RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com)

    • The Rangers’ recent struggles prove that they need to be sellers before the trade deadline. (NY Post)

    • The Devils and Coyotes swapped minor-league forwards yesterday. New Jersey got Michael Latta while the Coyotes got Ryan Kujawinski. (NHL.com/Coyotes)

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    The Buzzer: Saros, streaks, shutouts

    Getty
    2 Comments

    Player of the Night: Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

    You can criticize the Edmonton Oilers for taking too many perimeter shots and/or having their defensemen fire the puck far too often, and you’d probably have a point.

    Still, on nights like these, you also have to acknowledge that the Oilers have also run into some tough luck and even tougher goalies. When it came to Thursday, Saros was that tough goalie, and he reminded the NHL that’s he capable of being more than “just a backup.”

    The Finnish goalie set a new Predators record by making 46 saves for a shutout, collecting the second goose egg of his blossoming career.

    The Predators (specifically Kyle Turris‘ new second line, which might need to be called a 1B line at this rate) are on a roll, beating Edmonton 4-0 to grab at least one point (7-1-2) in nine of their last 10 games.

    Highlights of the Night

    Nice play finished by Patrick Kane, as the Blackhawks cooled the Jets:

    Jakub Vrana‘s goal was pretty sweet, and a taste of the Capitals’ recent dominance of the Bruins.

    Josh Bailey‘s hat trick is worth watching here, even if it wasn’t enough to propel the Islanders to a win against the Blue Jackets.

    Scary moment

    Here’s hoping that Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan Callahan are OK:

    The Lightning kept their hot streak going with a W over the Coyotes.

    Factoids

    Brayden Point gets the Lightning their … well, you probably know. Their points.

    The Wild are picking it up, and it’s not just the power of Bruce Boudreau. Probably.

    The Flyers are weird, and so is hockey.

    Scores

    Capitals 5, Bruins 3
    Flyers 2, Sabres 1
    Blue Jackets 6, Islanders 4
    Canadiens 2, Devils 1 (OT)
    Ducks 3, Blues 1
    Wild 2, Maple Leafs 0
    Blackhawks 5, Jets 1
    Avalanche 2, Panthers 1
    Sharks 3, Flames 2
    Predators 4, Oilers 0
    Lightning 4, Coyotes 1
    Golden Knights 2, Penguins 1

    Fleury gets revenge against Penguins, Vegas grabs 20th win

    Getty
    2 Comments

    If you’re the fussy type, you might object to the word “revenge” in the headline.

    It feels wrong to say that Marc-Andre Fleury got “the last laugh” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being that this game happened in mid-December. So feel free to soften the verbiage; maybe you’d prefer to say that Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights merely “got the best” of the Penguins.

    Either way, round one goes to “MAF.”

    The instinct might be to ding this game because it came in Vegas instead of Pittsburgh, but you could say that there was a healthy offering of Penguins fans tonight:

    Whatever way you slice it, there was reportedly a fascinating atmosphere in Vegas, even if the game was a bit “low-event” at times, at least when you consider sheer pucks on net; Fleury stopped 24 out of 25 shots on goal while Murray gave up two goals on 26.

    This odd-angle goal by Ian Cole was the only puck to beat Fleury, who was lights out in a second straight victory since returning from concussion issues that … we thought might have been the end of the Golden Knights’ hot start.

    If the scene wasn’t nostalgia-laced enough, consider that Fleury evoked the save he made against Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final:

    Sheesh, some of this stuff almost seems on the nose, doesn’t it?

    Remarkably, the Golden Knights improve to 20-9-2 while the Penguins fell to 16-14-3. Writing that almost made me pass out from the unlikelihood of it all; honestly, if someone told Golden Knights management that their record could be 16-14-3, they’d probably take it, right?

    In case you’re wondering, yes, this marks another record.

    So, the Golden Knights are 12-2-1 in Vegas so far. This doesn’t guarantee that there’s some sort of … sickness that comes from playing a team located in Sin City, yet it doesn’t exactly slam the door shut on such a conversation, either.

    Now, Marc-Andre Fleury? He’s done quite a commendable job of shutting the door so far for the Golden Knights. His old buddies found out the hard way tonight.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Now Flyers are on a five-game winning streak

    Getty
    2 Comments

    It wasn’t pretty, but every NHL coach prefers the aesthetic value of a “W” over an “L.”

    After a bewildering 10-game losing streak, the Philadelphia Flyers are now on a very different run, as a 2-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres makes it five straight wins. Fans probably aren’t calling for Dave Hakstol’s head right now, not with his team a mere two points out of a playoff spot.

    Interestingly, it seems like the Flyers may be approaching things in a way that would make Bill Parcells nod in approval: lifting themselves up when down (see GM Ron Hextall’s optimism during the losing streak) while keeping heads straight amid success.

    Really, it might just come down to Thursday’s win being “no frills,” as the rest of their five-game run has been pretty impressive:

    Dec. 4: 5-2 win at  Calgary
    Dec. 6: 4-2 win at Edmonton
    Dec. 7: 4-1 win at Vancouver
    Dec 12: 4-2 home win vs Toronto
    Tonight: 2-1 home win against Buffalo

    A three-game road trip through Western Canada can sometimes be deadly; instead, the Flyers buckled up and turned things around, including winning games on back-to-back nights (and three victories in four evenings).

    To some extent, the players who’ve been performing well all season are showing up during this winning streak. There have been strong outputs from Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and others who we’ve come to expect to produce.

    The most interesting hot streak might be that of Brian Elliott.

    Elliott is responsible for all five of the Flyers wins during this run, allowing eight goals in five contests. Early on, he had to put on a show at times (stopping 43 shots against the Flames), yet he’s only needed to turn aside 39 of 42 shots for his last two wins.

    Overall, it’s been an up-and-down first season in Philly for Elliott, a goalie who teams seem almost strangely eager to give up on.

    Last season, Elliott played a huge role in the Calgary Flames turning their season around to make the playoffs, including generating 10 wins in the month of March. Ultimately, the team saw enough between a tough start and some postseason struggles to cast the veteran netminder aside.

    Perhaps Elliott is a lot like his still-new team in the Flyers: best when people leave you for dead.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.