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Left, Right & Center: NHL Playoffs Sleepers & Busts

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When heís not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evanís work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Just when you thought you were done with fantasy hockey until October, the postseason comes along and tempts you to keep going. But thereís no need to worry, because playoff pools are supposed to be fun. A couple categories are changed to add interest, there are fewer players to worry about, and it only lasts for the equivalent of one-third of the regular season. Whatís not to love?

In theory, picking players for the playoffs should be a simple process; just take as many from the teams you believe will go the furthest*. However, in a non-repeating draft format (i.e. where a player canít be chosen more than once), reality dictates you wonít be able to get all your top options. So youíll need to implement additional strategies to gain an edge.

(*For what itís worth, I have Conference Finals of Washington/Montreal and Chicago/Edmonton with the Caps beating the Blackhawks in the Final to take their first Cup.)

Fortunately, RotoWire has plenty of postseason resources to help, including a series-by-series preview and player rankings. This column will cover potential sleepers and busts for all positions. Use these suggestions wisely and enjoy the excitement that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Gin and Druce

In almost every postseason, someone significantly exceeds expectations. The following examples wonít be as dramatic a shock as John Druce (14 goals in 15 games with the Caps during 1989-90) or Chris Kontos (nine goals in 11 for the Kings in 1988-89), but theyíre set to surprise based on usual performance and/or not receiving much attention.

Who has the potential to do the same this year?

Artem Anisimov, F, Chicago

As playoff pool drafts arrive so quickly after the regular season, itís easy to forget about players who have been out for a while. Take Anisimov (45 points in 64 games), who missed the last 13 games but is on track to return Thursday and resume his role centering Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin (163 combined points). Hey, itís a tough job but someoneís gotta do it.

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh

Matt Murray (32 wins, 2.41 GAA, .923 SV%) is set to continue being the main man between the pipes, looking to duplicate last seasonís impressive Cup run. But should the youngster falter, the Pens have an adequate backup in Fleury to step in. Despite the subpar season (3.02 GAA, .909 SV% in 38 outings), the 2003 first overall pick has made 100 career playoff appearances and backstopped Pittsburgh to the 2009 Stanley Cup (and got real close the previous year).

Clarke MacArthur, F, Ottawa

MacArthur pretty much lost the last two seasons due to concussions, which doesnít necessarily make him an enticing option. But weíre entering a shorter schedule where almost anything can happen. Even though he went without a point in the final four outings, the winger has a history of producing (62 points with Toronto in 2010-11, 55 with Ottawa in 2013-14). If MacArthur is placed with decent linemates, there will be chances for him to succeed.

Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston

Thanks to the losses of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo for Game 1, the Boston University product was signed to an NHL contract Monday. The injuries arenít believed to be serious, so thereís no telling if McAvoy will even receive sufficient minutes. Since nothing has been announced regarding this, then itís up to you to decide if you want to use a late pick on an offensively gifted D-man (51 total points over 75 NCAA matches) with tremendous immediate upside.

Brandon Montour, D, Anaheim

With Sami Vatanen struggling (two assists in 12 games) and Cam Fowler gone for at least the next two weeks, someone will need to shoulder the load from the back end. After an impressive AHL showing (32 points in 36 after 57 in 68 last year), the Ducks called up Montour in late December for his debut. While the NHL stats (six in 27) look mediocre at best, he has never had any issues when it comes to finding the scoresheet and shouldnít here if asked to log more minutes.

Vladimir Sobotka, F, St. Louis

Like Alexander Radulov, Sobotka left North America to boost his career in the KHL and seems to have returned as a more mature player. He scored in his first game after inking a new three-year contract, working on the third line and seeing plenty of power-play time (4:22). Sobotka enjoyed excellent point-per-game numbers in Russia (.074 over 138 contests), as well.

Jimmy Vesey, F, NY Rangers

While Veseyís rookie campaign hasnít gone as planned (27 points, minus-13), he has the opportunity to make amends. His game-winner Sunday may have meant nothing in the standings, but it probably boosted his confidence. If Vesey ends up working on a line with veterans, itíll make his playoff transition much smoother and earn him more scoring chances.

(Others to consider: Connor Brown, F, Toronto; Drake Caggiula, F, Edmonton; Kevin Fiala, F, Nashville; Dmitry Orlov, D, Washington; Mark Streit, D, Pittsburgh; Antoine Vermette, F, Anaheim)

Tainted Glove

A few solid achievers will inevitably fall during the second season. Whether this is due to exhaustion, playing injured, or more of a statistical correction, identifying these players becomes important to your success. Here are some to consider:

Mikael Backlund, F, Calgary

Backlund was able to improve this season (53 points in 81 games), thus proving his breakout 2015-16 (47 in 82) was no fluke. The Swede also significantly increased his man-advantage haul (from nine PPPs to 16). However, Backlundís only trip to the postseason proved lackluster (two points in 11 two years ago) and heíll be hard-pressed to do any better versus a stingy Anaheim back line (ranked third with a 2.37 GAA).

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Columbus

Finishing as the league leader in both GAA (2.06) and SV% (.932), Bobrovsky appears to be the favorite to win his second Vezina. Unfortunately, he comes in riding a four-game losing streak and will be facing a formidable Penguins attack (although he went 2-1-1 against them this season). Bob has been known to stand on his head to win a game, but expecting him to do so over an entire series is probably asking too much.

Alex Galchenyuk, F, Montreal

Injuries limited Galchenyuk to 61 games, although the output (44 points, including 15 on the power play) remained consistent with recent numbers (56 in 82, with 16 PPPs the previous season). Despite the Habsí success over the final stretch (winners in six of eight), the 23-year old didnít fare as well (four points in his last 12, minus-6). Galchenyukís latest drop in ice time and projected spot on the fourth line are also concerns, and may not change unless he shows immediate improvement.

P.K. Subban, D, Nashville

Itís easier to downgrade one of the leagueís best blueliners after a disappointing last few weeks (five points in 13 contests despite averaging over 24 minutes) and the fact other Nashville defensemen have been producing (Roman Josi with 11 in 15, Ryan Ellis with eight in 11). In addition, factoring in the matchup against Chicago makes it difficult to endorse Subban as a top selection, let alone one at all.

(Others to avoid: Mike Hoffman, F, Ottawa; Mitch Marner, F, Toronto; Jason Pominville, F, Minnesota; Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D, San Jose)