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Fantasy Hockey Sleepers and Busts (2021)

by Mat Vilcek
Jan 8, 2021

It’s fantasy hockey drafting season, and with it brings a whole new season of potential bust picks along with those sleepers we come to regret not drafting when we had the chance. I felt this was a great article to combine both bust and sleeper candidates, knowing that we usually encounter a bust by picking someone too high and usually miss out on a sleeper for a similar drafting error. Do some research, and don’t be a rankings slave.

With the following listed names, I wanted to use the idea that every player I list below will be drafted, but which ones should you let fall, and which ones could you reach for. I must preface with the idea that rookies will not be drafted as high as in previous years. We just don’t know as much about them. Without the workouts during the offseason, an extremely shortened training camp, and no pre-season games, it will be tough to judge where the rookies stand, so I decided to put them in a separate article coming out soon. 

When I read articles of a sport with rankings, busts, or sleepers, I always want to know what criteria a writer used, and mainly, what the writer is thinking. Here is some insight into my thought process for both a bust and sleeper.

First, we look at sustained production over the last two or more years. It’s easy to have one good year sandwiched in between five seasons, but multiple years of success feels a lot easier to judge. Second, I like to look at whether a player is on the power play or not. I use this criterion for just about everything from rankings to buy or sell. Many leagues use power-play points, goals, and assists as categories for scoring, which is why I can justify weighing this criterion heavier than some others. Many other little factors can be used to justify a thought process, but for me, one of the last things I like to look at is the team as a whole. Did the team get better or worse during the offseason? Are injuries going to help or hurt a specific player? I bring these questions up because it leads right into our first bust player. 

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Sleepers

Mattias Ekholm (D – NSH)
If you are a more experienced hockey fan, you know the name, and even if you aren’t, you probably have heard of him. Ekholm is a quiet player that seems to flat out get it done. He may not be flashy, but his average of 37 points over the last three years coupled with an average of just over eight power-play points in the same amount of time makes him look a lot better than his average pick of 171. Ekholm is only 30 years old and still seems to be playing great hockey, so keep him on the radar. 

Jake DeBrusk (LW/RW – BOS)
His average draft position is 163. There is a growing list of players going in front of him that I could talk about, but instead, how about we get right to the point. DeBrusk is a young player who has had increased playing time over his first few years and learned from great veteran players on a good team. He has averaged 40 points over his first three seasons and double digits in power-play points except for his first year (9). Boston is starting the year with a few key injuries, which means DeBrusk could be the player we are looking for that jumps off to a hot start. If you want me to put a number on it, I would say go as high as five to seven rounds above where he is being drafted right now.   

Semyon Varlamov (G – NYI)
Although I do believe he will be splitting some time with rookie Ilya Sorokin. Varlamov is the veteran and the clear number one at this point. Over the last few years, we have seen management and the coaching staff of the Islanders use and mold the talent they have quietly yet, effectively. With a short camp, no preseason, and shortened season, I believe that coaches will use the time wisely to ease the rookie into action giving Varlamov another year to start. He is averaging the 157th pick, and some goalies have little to zero split time going before him. If you pull the trigger on Varlamov early, attempt to back him up with Sorokin, not necessarily for insurance, but because of the shortened season having many back to back games. 

Busts

Patrick Kane (RW – CHI)
Let’s start off with a bang, shall we? Right now, Kane’s ADP is within the nine to ten range, so many people will read this and think he has slipped enough. I don’t think it’s far enough. Patrick Kane is still an elite talent in the NHL, but hockey is one of the greatest team games out there, and right now, Kane does not have a supportive cast. Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely with an undiagnosed illness, Brandon Saad has been traded, and Kirby Dach has been sidelined with a wrist injury he sustained a few weeks ago at World Juniors. I know Kane is elite enough to support a team but let someone else take him high and hope for the best in a shortened season. 

Zdeno Chara (D – WSH)
I wanted to keep near the top of the draft for each pick of a bust, but after the news of a short-lived retirement and a subsequent signing with the Washington Capitals, I can’t help but notice Chara climbing draft boards. I get the ambiance that goes with the big name, but Chara is undraftable, and his 14 total points in each of the last two years prove that. He is averaging a 13th round pick and is going before guys such as P.K. Subban, Justin Faulk, and the next person to be named, Mattias Ekholm. Stay away from Chara. 

Mika Zibanejad (C – NYR)
I don’t get it. Centers are plentiful in fantasy hockey. If I asked ten fantasy hockey players what position comes up light every year, nine out of 10 would say right wing followed by left wing. The lone wolf would say goalie, but we don’t listen to him. So why are we drafting centers so high? Mika is only 27, and yes, he has had amazing point production over the last two years. I can not deny that. With word of him limping into the season and most likely missing all of camp, it will surely take time for him to get his legs under him. In what is already a shortened season, he will not get off to the crazy start he has in past years. We need to search for the player that will do just that, and he is not it nor worth the top second-round draft spot. 

Comeback Player of the Year Sleeper

Lastly, I wanted to give you my comeback player of the year sleeper. We all know I love goalies in fantasy hockey, so who else would it be but Sergei Bobrovsky. There is no excuse for what Florida put on the ice last year. Maybe it was getting used to the new coaching staff. The Panthers have more than enough talent, and with that great coaching staff look forward to coach Q to reign it in this year and get the Florida players up to speed with a fast-paced, hard-hitting game. With that, Bobrovsky will benefit and be valued way above his average 127th draft position and the 24th goalie off the board. 

As always, have fun hockey friends. 

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Mat Vilcek is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mat, check out his archive and follow him @Mat1Thockey.

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