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NHL Sleepers: Red Wings Ready to Take Off

George Kurtz

George Kurtz

George Kurtz writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

We all know that Alexander Ovechkin will reach 50 goals. It’s also virtually a guarantee that Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will post similar numbers. Generally the player you take in the first round will not make or break your team barring a serious injury. Thus, the key to a successful fantasy team is finding quality sleepers. These players that you find later in the draft will separate you from the rest of the pack. Here is a list of players at each position that may slide in your draft but still warrant attention when it’s your turn.

Centers

Brooks Laich, WAS – Laich’s numbers have increased in each of the past three seasons; and last season he set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59). What may be even more impressive is that Laich was also was plus-16, which depending upon your scoring system can be a big bonus. Though Laich may anchor the second line on the power play he still managed to pot 12 PPGs last season, making him quite valuable in most formats.

Valtteri Filppula, DET – When most people think of the Red Wings the names Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk come to mind, but Filppula is someone you don’t want to forget come draft time. Big things were expected from Filppula last season but a wrist injury curtailed his production. This season even bigger things could reasonably be expected given Filppula’s potential linemates. If Tomas Holmstrom plays on the first line, Filppula could be flanked by Johan Franzen and the returning Jiri Hudler on the second unit. That could be a top line for quite a few NHL teams.

Travis Zajac, NJD – Zajac set a career high in goals last season with 25, and his linemates this season could be Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk (once the Devils sign him to a contract the NHL can live with). With those two on the ice teams won’t be paying much attention to Zajac and he will be in position to set career highs across the board. We may have to drop Zajac a notch or two if Kovalchuk does not end up with the Devils, but he has developed chemistry with Parise and is certainly a guy to monitor.

Jordan Staal, PIT – Staal has scored 49 points in each of the past two seasons. While I would agree that’s not all that impressive, one has to remember that Stall is only 21 years old and is still growing as an NHL player. What has me climbing aboard his bandwagon, however, is that the Penguins have stated Staal or Malkin could play wing this season. If this were to happen Staal would be a top six forward, which would increase his value dramatically.

Wingers

Jiri Hudler, LW, DET – Hudler was just starting to come into his own as an NHL player when he decided to go back home and play in the KHL last season. Hudler will give the Red Wings something they were missing last season, secondary scoring. Hudler has all the skills necessary to put up a 30-goal season. The biggest question regarding Hudler is, what line does he end up on? Coach Mike Babcock hasn’t set anything in stone as of yet but Hudler could be the answer to who will score goals for Detroit besides the big three of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen.

Loui Eriksson, LW DAL – I could have placed any of the members of the Stars’ top line on this list because both Brad Richards and James Neal also tend to fly under the radar. Eriksson seemed to grow as a player last season even though his goal total fell to 36 from 29. He put up 214 shots on goal, 36 more than his previous season, and he increased his assist total by 15. More of Eriksson’s shots should find the net next season.

Nathan Horton, RW, BOS – Even though he missed 17 games due to injury in 2009-10, Horton still posted a career high in assists. What may even be better for Horton is that he was traded from the offensive wasteland that is Florida to the Boston Bruins. While Florida has been a playoff afterthought for quite a few years now, Boston is almost always in the mix. Perhaps a better atmosphere around Horton will finally allow him to put together the season most have been expecting of him since he came into the league.

Alex Frolov, LW, NYR – Like Horton, Frolov has much to prove after a disappointing season with the Kings. The Kings had a fantastic season, but Frolov didn't and found himself in the doghouse on more than one occasion. Frolov was forced to accept a one-year deal from the Rangers, but that should motivate him to have a big year, rehabilitate his image, and sign that big contract next season.

Tomas Holmstrom, LW, DET – Holmstrom rebounded from back-to-back below average seasons to post 25 goals, including 13 on the power play, last season. What made his rebound all the more impressive is that Holmstrom was being relied upon to score more with all of the injuries and free agent defections Detroit suffered. With Holmstrom lining up with Zetterberg and Datsyuk this season, it almost seems like he is being rewarded for being a good soldier last season.

Brian Gionta, RW, MON – When Gionta signed with Montreal last offseason, there was some question as to why the Canadiens would give such a big contract to a player who seemed to be on the decline. No one is snickering anymore after Gionta scored 28 goals in 61 games. Gionta also had a big playoff performance for Montreal, proving he is at home when the pressure is on.

Defensemen

Mark Streit, NYI – When one thinks of the Islanders they think of a team that has been buried in the Eastern Conference for most of the 21st Century, a team that may have the worst building in the NHL, and a team that hired their backup goaltender to be their general manager. All of this may be true but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a useful player or two for fantasy purposes - and their best may be Streit. He is the leader of the team and plays in every situation. He may not have reputation of a Sergei Gonchar or Dan Boyle but is just about as valuable and can be had a few rounds later in your draft.

Christian Ehrhoff, VAN – Talk about a player who responded to a change of scenery. Ehrhoff had eight goals, 42 points and was minus-12 in his last season in San Jose, but he had 14 goals, 44 points and was an amazing plus-36 in his first season in Vancouver while entering the Norris Trophy converssation. Canada definitely agreed with him.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, MON – After Andrei Markov went down with an injury early last season, Bergeron picked up the slack by scoring 13 goals in only 60 games. Bergeron has always been known for his tremendous shot, and it is a rocket when he has time to get it off. The knock on Bergeron is that he is not all that great in his own zone, but as fantasy players this is not our concern. We only care when he lights the lamp.

Alex Goligoski/Kris Letang, PIT – Sergei Gonchar is no longer a Penguin, which means that one or both of these players may step up and have a big season. Goligoski has never scored more than eight goals in a season, but he'll get more playing time on the power play on one of the most feared units in the NHL. Letang saw his goal total tumble to three last season, but that may have been a byproduct of his focus on the defensive end. Both of these players will be counted on to replace the offense that Gonchar provided.

Goaltenders

Pekka Rinne, NAS – At the beginning of last season Rinne was in the short side of a platoon with Dan Ellis, but his spectacular play won him the starting job and a two-year contract extension. He's now the undisputed starter in Nashville, and if he posts another season with a 2.53 GAA and 91.1 SV%, he will be a smart addition to any fantasy team.

Jimmy Howard, DET – The Red Wings were sputtering early last season thanks to the losses of Marian Hossa and Jiri Hudler and a seemingly unending string of injuries. It didn’t help that starting goaltender Chris Osgood just couldn’t handle the extra shots that were coming his way. Inserting Howard into the starting role turned things around for Detroit. Howard should lead the Red Wings back into the playoffs this season and may be the Wings’ best starting goalie since Dominik Hasek.

Jonas Hiller, ANA – For the past two seasons Hiller has been in a battle for the starting job with Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Ducks traded Giguere to the Maple Leafs last season, which means Hiller can relax knowing that one bad game won’t find him riding the bench. The Ducks may not be an elite team and there are certainly questions about their defense, but Hiller will still be a good option for fantasy owners.

Semyon Varlamov, WAS – Anyone who starts in goal for Washington knows they are going to get strong offensive support. The goalie does not have to worry about letting in one bad goal and losing the game. What’s even better for Varlamov is that he doesn’t have to worry about Jose Theodore either. Varlamov will still share some time with Michael Neuvirth, but Varlamov is expected to start more often than not.