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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AHL Logo Ranking: No. 15 – Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Jared Clinton
Lehigh Valley Phantoms logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

It’s been a while since the once dominant Phantoms franchise has found its way into the post-season. Can 2015-16 be the year they make the jump from AHL pretender to Calder Cup contender?

Since 2009-10, the club has failed to make the playoffs and there has been quite a bit of change to the Phantoms roster in time for the new season. Gone are 12 regulars from last season’s lineup, including top-10 scorers Jason Akeson, Blair Jones and Zack Stortini. On the backend, Adam Comrie, Steve Delisle, Oliver Lauridsen and Brett Flemming are all off to new opportunities for the upcoming campaign.

The big names coming in are Chris Conner and Colin McDonald, who scored a combined 87 point in 101 games this past season. That should make up for the production lost this off-season and there’s also some youth that could be on its way to town. Young defenseman Samuel Morin, one of the Flyers’ top prospects, could start his campaign in the AHL, and Tyrell Goulbourne and Pavel Padakin might be able to provide some scoring up front as first-year AHLers.

In goal, the addition of veteran Jason LaBarbera provides some stability in goal, especially with how much Anthony Stolarz struggled this past season. It’ll likely be the combination of 35-year-old LaBarbera and 21-year-old Stolarz defending the net for the Phantoms in 2015-16.

Entering their second season in Lehigh Valley, a playoff berth would be a pleasant surprise for the Phantoms. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 16 – Springfield Falcons

Jared Clinton
Falcons logo featured

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

As part of the AHL’s big shuffle for the 2015-16 season, the Springfield Falcons lose their affiliation with the Columbus Blue Jackets and a squad that missed the post-season in the Eastern Conference by one point. In their place, the Falcons join up with the Arizona Coyotes and a club that made the post-season by in the Eastern Conference by one point. That’s quite the interesting swap.

Because of the affiliation change, there are obviously going to be a lot of changes to the Falcons lineup, but considering the amount of turnover in the Coyotes’ minor league system, there’s the chance this isn’t even a post-season team anymore. Really, it’s hard to tell what they’ll be.

This off-season alone, the Coyotes’ affiliate lost goaltenders Mark Visentin, Mike McKenna and David Leggio, forwards Justin Hodgman, Alexandre Bolduc, Darian Dziurzynski, Greg Carey, Francis Wathier, Phil Lane and defensemen Evan Oberg, Joel Hanley and Matt Lashoff. That’s more than half of a decent AHL team. That said, reinforcements were brought in.

Most notable of the new faces are Dustin Jeffrey and defenseman Dylan Reese, but there’s also the chance that should Anthony Duclair not make the Coyotes roster — which seems like a slim chance, at this point — he could end up in Springfield. This is a young, young roster. Only two players are 30 and not a single goaltender is over the age of 25.

One player who could make an impact, however, is Brendan Shinnimin. The 24-year-old finished second on the Coyotes in scoring with 22 goals and 47 points, but has improved his production steadily each year. He’s not a lock to spend the season in Springfield — he played 12 games for Arizona this past season — but he could breakout offensively this season. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 17 – San Diego Gulls

Jared Clinton
San Diego Gulls logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

The San Diego Gulls are preparing for the inaugural season, but it doesn’t appear as if it’ll be an incredibly successful one for the Gulls.

San Diego is inheriting the former Norfolk Admirals, which would have been quite the story were these the Admirals of the early-2000s. Unfortunately, the Admirals of the past eight seasons haven’t quite been the same club. Sure, the change in affiliation from Chicago Blackhawks to Tampa Bay Lightning to Ducks has had something to do with it, but the Gulls roster hasn’t been a top for any of its three seasons as the Anaheim affiliate.

In 2014-15, there was realistically only one team worse than the then-Admirals — the 50-point, basement-dwelling Iowa Wild. But no team was as offensively stunted as the Admirals, who scored only 168 goals over the course of the season, and were it not for netminding efforts Jason LaBarbera the season could have been much, much worse.

There are some new pieces that should make fans in San Diego feel a bit more hopeful, however. Anaheim scooped up Chris Mueller, Harry Zolnierczyk, Joe Piskula, Shane O’Brien and Matt Hackett this off-season, who will fight for starts in the AHL with either John Gibson or Anton Khudobin — whichever doesn’t land an NHL backup gig this season.

Mueller is coming off of a 40-point campaign with Hartford, which would have tied him as the leading scorer in Norfolk this past season, while Zolnierczyk’s 44 points would have made him the team leader. Piskula, 31, and O’Brien, 32, are veteran presences — and the only players to have celebrated 24th birthdays — on a very young D-corps that includes Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour.

Realistically, things can’t get much worse for the franchise after what was their worst season since affiliating with the Ducks. Or we hope not, at least. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 18 – Bakersfield Condors

Jared Clinton
Bakersfield Condors logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

The Bakersfield Condors have lived up to their billing as one of the most fun teams in all of professional hockey over the past few seasons, but the on-ice product hasn’t exactly been as successful. That could all change with 2015-16’s jump to the AHL, however.

In the four years prior to 2015-16, the Condors were an ECHL club of the same name and only made the playoffs once in the past four campaigns — albeit that was a run to the third round of the post-season. Only once have they eclipsed the 60-point plateau. But they’ve never ceased to be entertaining.

For 2015-16, the year the team becomes the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors thanks to the league’s shift to the West Coast, things look promising. Bakersfield is inheriting an Oklahoma City Barons club that has made the post-season in each of the past five seasons and hasn’t seen many major changes to the roster this off-season.

Leading scorer Andrew Miller will be back, as will Matthew Ford and rookie Joshua Winquist, who were re-signed in the off-season. That’s not to mention young guns like Bogdan Yakimov, Iiro Pakarainen and Leon Draisaitl are all likely to play in Bakersfield this season. Add to it newly acquired defenseman Griffin Reinhart, top prospect blueliner Darnell Nurse and goaltending standout Laurent Brossoit and the on-ice product might be just as fun as the promotions in the building. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 19 – Texas Stars

Jared Clinton
Texas Stars logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

The Texas Stars’ Calder Cup championship defense didn’t quite go as planned this past season, as the Dallas Stars’ affiliate came into the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the league but were swept in three straight games by the Rockford IceHogs. Can the Stars get back to championship form in 2015-16?

One area of interest will be how the club fares without defenseman Maxime Fortunus, who had been a fixture of the Stars blueline for the past six seasons. On top of Fortunus’ departure, the Stars will also be without defenseman Cameron Gaunce, who signed in Florida, and John Klingberg, who will be once again spending an entire season in Dallas. However, the Stars may have gotten a boost from the trade that brought rearguard Stephen Johns into the organization. The AHL could very well be Johns’ destination in 2015-16, which would be a boon for Texas. The AHL Stars also brought in Jesse Blacker and Brennan Evans to round out the backend, so maybe the loss of Gaunce and Fortunus won’t hurt at all.

Up front, veteran Travis Morin will be back to lead the way offensively with the same crew of Brendan Randford, Derek Hulak, Greg Rallo and Radek Faksa. Gone, however, is Scott Glennie — or at least for now. Glennie is currently an unrestricted free agent and has yet to sign a deal for the upcoming campaign. A return to Texas would give the Stars depth scoring that could really help.

In goal, Jussi Rynnas has left North America for a job in Europe, so Jack Campbell could get his first full season as the sole starting netminder in the AHL. However, he’ll have competition from John Muse, who posted better numbers in 29 games with the Charlotte Checkers in 2014-15. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 20 – Binghamton Senators

Jared Clinton
Binghamton Senators logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

Life hasn’t been easy for the Binghamton Senators since their championship run in 2010-11. Since then, the Senators have failed to make the post-season twice — including misses this past season and the season immediately following their championship — and have been booted from the playoffs twice in the first round, winning only one playoff game along the way. That’s not exactly the type of sustained success the franchise was after.

But things might be looking up in 2015-16. Shane Prince, the club’s leading scorer in 2014-15 with 28 goals and 65 points in 72 games, should be back for a full season and be looking to build on last year’s successful campaign. Standout defenseman Chris Wideman will likely spend at least one more full season in the AHL. And this season Nick Paul, who was rated as the Senators’ best prospect, should be suiting up in Binghamton.

Add in Eric O’Dell and Mike Kostka, two depth signings Ottawa made this off-season who should contribute on the farm, and the roster is rounding out quite nicely.

The one loss that might be felt is that of Matt Puempel. The 22-year-old played 13 games with Ottawa in 2014-15 and he could be ready to have a full rookie campaign in the NHL. If he’s back in Binghamton, however, expect improvement on his 12-goal, 32-point output this past season.

The biggest question for Binghamton will be goaltending, where top NCAA free agent Matt O’Connor and 21-year-old Chris Driedger will likely split time. Driedger has a total of eight AHL games to his name, and that’s the most AHL experience any of any of the Senators’ options for the starting job in Binghamton. Read more

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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