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.

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    Preds’ Forsberg becomes first player since 2010 to score back-to-back hat tricks

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    Remember when Predators forward Filip Forsberg couldn’t buy a goal at the beginning of the season? Yea, neither do we.

    It may be hard to believe, but Forsberg didn’t find the back of the net until the 14th game of the 2016-17 season. He didn’t score his second until game no. 19. But the 22-year-old has really put it together.

    On Tuesday night, he scored three goals in a 6-5 OT loss to the Calgary Flames and he netted a second hat trick in two games in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche (you can watch his latest hat trick by clicking the video at the top of the page).

    It’s the first time in Predators history that a player has back-to-back three-goal games and he’s the first player in the league to do it since Canucks forward Alex Burrows in 2010.

    Despite his slow start, the two hat tricks now put him on pace to hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive year, which is really impressive.

    “It’s tough to explain,” Forsberg said, per NHL.com. “Sometimes it feels great but you don’t score, and sometimes you feel bad but you still score. Tonight was a lot of fun.

    “I think I always felt a responsibility, and I think that goes for every player in this locker room. Everyone wants to contribute and help the team win. Obviously I can’t expect myself to score a hat trick every game, but I just try to work hard and if I can score goals, I’ll take that as well.”

    Not only has he been better, but the whole team is showing that the slow start they endured in the first few weeks of the season was just a fluke.

    The Predators are comfortably sitting in a playoff spot (if that even exists in today’s NHL) with 67 points in 60 games, which puts them in the first Wild Card position. They’re one point ahead of Calgary with a game in hand and five points ahead of Los Angeles, who’s on the outside looking in.

    Nashville is also neck-and-neck with the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central Division. Both teams have the same number of games played and points, but the Blues have three more regulation/overtime victories.

    PHT Morning Skate: Four trade deadline targets that may cost too much

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    –Every hockey fan remembers the Quebec Nordiques’ blue, white and red logo, but not many know that they were about to change it before they moved to Colorado in 1996. We never got to see the logo on the ice because the team ended up packing their bags for Denver. They were going to use a blue, white and teal jersey with a husky on it. (The Hockey News)

    –The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Ron Hainsey from Carolina on Thursday and the veteran couldn’t be happier. The 35-year-old has played 891 NHL games without ever making it to the post-season, so you can understand why he’s pumped about being moved to the defending Stanley Cup champions. “If you could pick a place, this would be the place. The group that they have coming off last year, there’s a lot of excitement when you hear you’re going to Pittsburgh.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    –After 15 seasons, the ECHL’s Alaska Aces will cease operations after this season. The ownership group cited the poor economy in Alaska as the main reason for closing up shop. “I think it’s an understatement to say this hurts,” co-owner Jerry Mackie said. “It’s like losing a family member because you can’t get them back. We tried every possible way to save this team and this organization for the community, despite significant financial loss. (Anchorage Daily News)

    –The Chicago Blackhawks got a hat trick from Jonathan Toews on Tuesday night, and  on Thursday, it was Patrick Kane‘s turn to deliver a three-goal performance. The ‘Hawks forward helped lead his team to a 6-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes. You can watch the highlights of that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

    –Trade deadline week is a crazy time of year for every NHL team. Sometimes contenders are able to acquire a player for just the right price and other times, they pay too steep a price for a rental player’s services. Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire says four players that might fetch way too high of a return are Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Drew Stafford. (Sportsnet)

    –For the first time in his career, Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored a goal in his home province of Quebec, and it brought his father to tears. What a special moment for the family. (BarDown)

    –The Winnipeg Jets were going to donate a jersey autographed by Dustin Byfuglien and a jacket signed by Dale Hawerchuk to charity, but both items were stolen. They’re asking fans to help get the items back:

    Report: Potential Shattenkirk trade fell apart over contract talks

    TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 9:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 9, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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    Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name has been floating around the NHL’s trade rumor mill for sometime now, and according to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Blues came very close to dealing him six weeks ago only to have the trade fall apart when the new team and Shattenkirk were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.

    It is not the first time that has happened over the past year.

    According to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues recently had a Shattenkirk trade in place with an Eastern Conference team that was believed to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. But when Shattenkirk turned down a long-term contract extension with the team that would have paid him $42 million over seven years, the trade fell apart.

    Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Thursday night that the Arizona Coyotes also had permission earlier this season to speak to Shattenkirk about a new contract but were unable to reach a deal. A similar situation unfolded in the offseason when the Edmonton Oilers also tried to acquire the veteran defenseman.

    The Lightning would make a ton of sense as a trade partner for the Blues here because they have been in desperate need of another big-time defenseman to add to their blue line along with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. They also have several restricted free agents (and a pretty tight cap situation) to deal with this summer that could have been part of a return in a Shattenkirk trade.

    If the reported contract terms are correct, it’s a pretty good sign that Shattenkirk thinks he can get a massive payday on the open market this summer as a free agent. And he is probably not wrong. Since the start of the 2011-12 season Shattenkirk has been one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL, currently sitting 10th among all blue-liners in points (241) and posting dominant possession numbers.

    A $6 million per year cap hit would put him in the same salary range as Mike Green, Johnny Boychuk, and Erik Johnson.

    He outperforms all of them.

    Even though Shattenkirk is one of their top players, and the Blues seem on track to make the playoffs, the team still seems determined to move him before the deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing over the summer.

    Blackhawks keep rolling with another dominant offensive performance

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    Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.

    On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.

    Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up two more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.

    Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.

    Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.

    It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.

    Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.

    The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.