Top 10 fantasy sleeper picks for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
David Pastrnak.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

They’re back. Everyone’s favorite players to draft in fantasy pools. The sleepers.

There’s a special high that comes with being “the genius who predicted _______’s breakout season.” That’s why it’s so intoxicating to research sleepers every year. If you’ve already studied my most recent update of the top 200 overall players, now it’s time to dig for undervalued guys.

As I outlined in last year’s sleeper list, I identify them as follows:

(a) Players who will outperform their average draft position
(b) Players who will outperform some players drafted before them
(c) Players you can steal cheap at the ends of drafts to reap major profits

After taking last year’s feedback into consideration, I want to stress (a) and (b) a lot more than (c). There’s a misconception every sleeper has to be “that guy no one else knows about who’s still on the board in the final round of a draft.” Anyone looking for only that type of sleeper on this list will end up posting something like “Gee, thanks for the shocking insight on Teuvo Teravainen, I had no idea who that guy was, jerk.” But that person misses the more important point. Teravainen goes on average 172nd overall in fantasy drafts, according to Yahoo’s ADP (average draft position) numbers. My rank for Teravainen in the top 200: 139th overall. Essentially, I’m saying he should outperform 32 guys currently being drafted ahead of him. Savvy GMs may think it’s no big revelation to talk up Teravainen, but the general drafting public evidently hasn’t caught on yet. Teravainen’s a legit sleeper.

Of course, I’m not going to tout Ryan Johansen as a sleeper when I rank him 18th and he’s going 33rd. There’s a line to draw here. I still want to help you find guys you can actually steal in the mid to late rounds. With that, let’s begin the 2015-16 list:

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Fantasy hockey: the top 30 keeper league players by position

Matt Larkin
John Tavares (Getty Images)

It’s nowhere near time to panic. You aren’t behind on your cramming for fantasy hockey draft day. You can print out my latest top 200 player list and leaf through it at the cottage.

Keeper and dynasty league GMs, though, have to be a bit more on the ball. These folks are running long-term franchises. They technically never stop playing, as they’re free to make trades all off-season. They can also host their drafts earlier, as their leagues depend less on immediate health and up-to-date depth charts.

It’s thus an ideal juncture to explore some keeper league rankings. Doing so means dispelling the hell out of some myths. For one, keeper league rankings are not merely prospect rankings. Sorry, but Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and Aaron Ekblad do not automatically top these lists. Elite prospects like Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and William Nylander don’t make the cut at all here, as I think they’re still multiple seasons away from being impact NHLers.

And here’s the thing too many people forget about keeper leagues: they still have standings and championships this year, and the next, and the next. So as long as an established star player projects to stay dominant for the next few seasons, he warrants strong keeper league consideration over the youngsters. McDavid tops the ranks if we’re projecting for five or 10 years down the road. But will he outscore John Tavares in the next two or three years? Doubtful. That’s not a knock on Connor. That’s a compliment to Johnny T.

Some veterans, however, are punished in these rankings. The likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have reached their mid-30s and dealt with nagging injuries in recent seasons. They will outscore many of the players on these lists this season, but they could decline sharply within two years. Give me Mark Scheifele in 2016-17 over Datsyuk if I’m starting a keeper league team from scratch. That’s why you won’t see Detroit’s dynamic veterans make the list.

Here are my top 30 keeper league picks by position. Age as of opening night, Oct. 7, 2015, listed in brackets.

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THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
Pavel Datsyuk falls 10 spots from 43rd to 53rd. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

It’s never too early. Not even in the middle of summer.

The ideal image of fantasy hockey prep at this time of year might be curling up on a dock with THN’s Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide. That’s a great idea. It’s loaded with useful information, it projects the NHL’s top 300 scorers and it hits newsstands any day now.

But what happens when you’ve read that paper edition cover to cover? As the summer inches closer to fall and training camps start up, you’ll want another update in hockey pool expertise. That’s what this specialized list of rankings is for. I will update my top 200 players periodically, and with increasing frequency, until opening night of the 2015-16 season.

Think of this ranking set as a companion piece to the pool guide. The former focuses on points, while this list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Did last year’s list steer you right? It helped me win both my pools, so hopefully that buys your trust. Remember, these rankings are about fantasy, not real life, so a few stars will be listed lower than you might expect. Enjoy, and feel free to debate the rankings – and let me know about any glaring omissions – in the comment section below.

Aug. 14 UPDATE: Time for the rankings’ second draft and what will likely be the final update before training camps begin in the coming weeks. For this edition, the tweaks are minor, but I’ve taken into account a few reader comments that swayed me. I’ve also pondered the Patrick Kane situation.

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This Week in The Hockey News magazine: Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide 2015-16

The Hockey News

PBK15 Ovechkin_EN-400Get the edge in your pool with THN’s Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide. We’ve got point projections and insights for more than 600 players, full-page previews of every NHL with depth charts, top 10 prospects and points-o-meter, plus specialized stats breakdowns by category to keep you ahead of your competition.

In the issue you’ll also find:

– what’s happened in the 20-years since our first pool guide?

– how to deal with the growing pack of middle-tier goalies

– which fab freshmen should you look at, other than Connor McDavid, of course

– the undrafted prospect to grab NOW in your keeper league

– this year’s “buyer beware” and “buyer believe” players

– the 10 pending UFAs primed to have a big season in their contract year

– why possession numbers are key in picking defensemen, and which ones you should look to

– our “Ask The Expert” feature, where we ask, Jamie McLennan, Matthew Barnaby, P.J. Stock, Louis Jean, Eric Fichaud & Cassie Campbell what they think of the upcoming season

– top to bottom statistics from the 2013-14 season

– are advanced stats ruining hockey pools?

– and much, much more.

Pick up a copy at your local newsstand, buy it from the THN store or digitally through Zinio. The issue is also available in French.

Fantasy hockey Q&A: Should you trade Evgeni Malkin?

Matt Larkin
Evgeni Malkin

A thought that occurred to me while we finished up our Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide, which hits newsstands in the next few weeks: we’ve entered a golden age of fantasy hockey. Traditional, pen-and-paper office pools still exist, but we also have massive online league engines and keeper formats that let us track salaries and trade draft picks. The latest revolution, daily fantasy sports, has players changing their lineups seven times a week based on matchups. We’ve never had so many options.

All the different modes of play complicate roster decisions and led to many questions submitted from readers over the past several weeks. They were supposed to run in the magazine, but our 2015-16 Pool Guide is so packed with content that there wasn’t room. I’ll answer them online instead. Here goes…

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Who has lost the most fantasy value this off-season?

Matt Larkin
Antti Niemi. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

On Monday I explored which players have gained fantasy value based on off-season trades and signings so far. Some NHLers, however, lose value based on roster moves, whether it’s because they’re pushed down the depth chart by a new addition or because they’ve lost their key linemate to a trade or free agency.

Which players stand to produce less in 2015-16 based on summer transactions so far? Consider these names.

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Who has gained the most fantasy value this off-season?

Matt Larkin
Phil Kessel (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

With every off-season comes a flurry of trades and signings, which alter many players’ fantasy values. It’s not just the guys switching teams who change in fantasy pool worth, either. There’s a ripple effect. Player X may skyrocket in projected production after being dealt to Team Y, but the roster spot he leaves behind may open a hole for a certain prospect to climb the depth chart.

Which players have ascended the most in 2015-16 fantasy draft rankings so far? Here are some names to consider.

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Fantasy hockey mailbag: deciding whom to cut from your keeper league team

Matt Larkin
Kris Letang (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

May and June allow most fantasy hockey poolies to put their feet up. Their regular seasons are over, and most of them are eliminated from their playoff pools by this stage, too.

For the diehard keeper league players, though, there’s never really a break. They must decide which players to retain for next season before a deadline. They must assess how the post-season and the NHL draft affect player values and the overall talent pool.

Today, I take questions from that demographic. The fun part about keeper league inquiries is that they are essentially hockey questions about the long-term value of player A versus player B or C. The answers can spark debate among fantasy players and general hockey fans alike. Let’s get started!

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