Commentary

Fantasy Hockey preview: Sleepers

Updated: September 28, 2007, 8:04 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Regular Shallow Leagues (10-12 teams)

Centers

Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ducks Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer are leaving a massive leadership void on the defending champion Ducks. Getzlaf has loads of leadership and can step up to be the team's new face. Let's not forget he led the Ducks in playoff scoring last season en route to the Cup. He can be drafted as a No. 2 or 3 center, but will give you the stats of a No. 1.

Tim Connolly, C, Sabres: Connolly will have terrific linemates regardless of where the Sabres line him up. The concussion problems seem to be behind him and a breakout season as the team's No. 1-b center should yield about a point-per-game pace. Again, he can be drafted later but should be a borderline No. 1 center for fantasy.

Wingers

Brendan Morrow, LW, Stars: Last year he was ranked a little high and then had an injury-riddled campaign. That should devalue him to the point where the Stars captain will be a fantasy bargain. He fills the stat sheet across the board, including plus/minus and a decent amount of PIMs when he is on his game. He could be a solid No. 2 left winger, but drafted much later than others.

Alexander Radulov, RW, Predators: No reason to mince words here; Radulov is poised to lead the Predators in points this season. He'll be their go-to guy on the power play and will have an array of linemates to work with depending on what the Preds settle on as their top six. Oh yes, Rad-Dog is going to approach -- and possibly top -- 75 points, but he is not being drafted among the other middle-tier right wingers.

Petr Sykora, RW, Penguins: Sidney Crosby is good enough that talking about Sykora as a candidate for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer has to be taken seriously. Sykora has been anointed as Crosby's wingman and that warrants attention for fantasy, automatically. Throw in the fact he is a proven commodity and you have the chance for a huge impact if he can cement his role alongside Sid the Kid.

Nikolai Zherdev, LW, Blue Jackets: He is still a shifty wizard with the puck, and the move to center shows a commitment to developing Zherdev from the front office that wasn't there a season ago. If Zherdev can make the transition to center and play with Rick Nash and David Vyborny, we are looking at fantasy lightning in a bottle. He'll remain eligible on the wing and could provide stats of a low-tier No. 1 left-winger.

< b>Defensemen

Tom Poti, D, Capitals: As the unquestioned power-play quarterback for a high-powered Capitals offense, Poti is going to be one of the steals of the draft. He showed his quality last season with the Islanders and will bring that ability to a team that has not had an offensively gifted defenseman in the Alexander Ovechkin era.

Sergei Zubov, D, Stars: Zubov is highly underrated in leagues that count power-play points. Philippe Boucher is the higher pick because he also contributes PIMs, but 40 of Zubov's 54 points came on the man advantage last season. He is being overlooked this year and drafted as a No. 2 defenseman, but he is still a No. 1 on paper.

Erik Johnson, D, Blues: As long as you don't overvalue Johnson by taking him as a No. 1 or 2 defenseman, he is just too intriguing to pass up as a No. 3. He has the size and ability to step in and dominate games. The only question is how his play translates to fantasy hockey. He has a history of offensive output, but he'll be stepping from collegiate hockey right into the big leagues. Given the fact that the Blues lack other quality offensive defensemen, Johnson could pay off big time.

Andrei Markov, D, Canadiens: Markov, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect. He will have no issues approaching 50 points again, and his plus/minus may even take a jump, as the Canadiens will be a better defensive team with Roman Hamrlik in tow. Markov also has a chance to log between 60 and 80 PIMs. He's a No. 2 defenseman that can be had much later in your draft.

Goalies

Olaf Kolzig, G, Capitals: The Capitals are poised to make a run at the playoffs and nobody's stats will reflect that more than Kolzig. He's been waiting almost a decade for the team to turn around and his payoff is coming. Look for Olie the Goalie as a No. 2 netminder, but he'll give you solid No. 1 stats.

Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Blackhawks: Don't get me wrong. I have no visions of the Hawks legitimately competing for the playoffs, but that doesn't mean I don't envision a solid season. The Bulin Wall will have an emerging defense in front of him and a forward group that can keep the games close even if a few goals get in. If you want to sleep on picking up your second goaltender in shallow leagues, Khabibulin will be there at the end and should chip in decent numbers, especially in the 16 games against Columbus and St. Louis.

Medium-sized Leagues (12-14 teams)

Centermen

Dainius Zubrus, C, Devils: He'll play with two of Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise. He showed us he can in fact stay healthy last season and could have his best year yet now that he has more weapons to feed (not just Alex Ovechkin). Either way, he is available as a bench player in most drafts and will wind up as someone you play every time he's on the ice.

Viktor Kozlov, C, Capitals: Speaking of Ovechkin and his departed centerman. So far it looks as though neither Michael Nylander nor Nicklas Backstrom will center Ovechkin, as Kozlov has been working with Alex-O all preseason. It's easy to envision the Caps stacking the second line with Nylander, Backstrom and Alexander Semin to give them a two-pronged attack. So this Kozlov with Ovechkin revelation may be for real.

Wingers

Martin Erat, LW, Predators: Erat was a point-per-game player before being injured last season. He chips in PIMs and plus/minus as well. He is only underrated because his campaign was cut short by injury. He's still a strong No. 2 pick at left wing.

Tomas Holmstrom, RW, Red Wings: He'll give you close to 60 points, a plus-15 and 60 PIMs. That is not something to sneeze at from a cheap No. 3 winger. There isn't a lot of upside with Holmstrom, but he is underrated because his production is spread to all the categories.

Michel Ouellet, RW, Lightning: He has a sniper's mentality and will be given the assignment of bringing Brad Richards back up to the 90-point range by giving him some scoring help. Ouellet and Richards will draw the weaker of opponent's checking lines, and as your third right winger, Ouellet could be a nice surprise.

Andrei Kostitsyn, RW, Canadiens: He's got speed, playmaking skills, a quick release and can dance with the puck. The Habs are still without a standout leader on offense, with Michael Ryder's 30 goals good enough to lead. They need a 70-80 point guy to step up, and Kostitsyn could be that guy... eventually. This season he should be given more responsibility and make a run at 50 points, with 60-point upside. Keeper leagues should be even more excited about him.

Defensemen

Michal Rozsival, D, Rangers: His breakout numbers in the postseason may be overlooked by fantasy players, but Rozsival will be the power-play quarterback on a very good Rangers squad. Paul Mara is the only other possible challenger to the power-play minutes, but Rozsival really did put up better than average numbers last season. He could provide value as a No. 3 defenseman, but be drafted lower than that.

Sean Hill, D, Wild: Even with a 20-game handicap because of his suspension, Hill should have a roster spot in semi-deep leagues. He'll fit in perfectly in Minnesota where they need anyone with even a little acumen on offense. He also plays well into the Wild's defensive style of play where his plus/minus should be above average. Hill also chips in PIMs. With a complete package like that, you can forgive the fact that he'll play only 60 games.

Francois Beauchemin, D, Ducks: Already Chris Pronger has an injured shoulder and Mathieu Schneider an injured ankle. With no indication that Scott Niedermayer is returning, it's easy to envision how quickly Beauchemin can become a sought-after fantasy commodity. Even with Pronger and Schneider in the lineup, Beauchemin is going to play a ton of minutes. He should be in line for good power-play minutes as well, considering that both Pronger and Schneider have heavy point shots. They'll need Beauchemin to be the puck-mover on the power play.

Filip Kuba, D, Lightning: With Dan Boyle out for a while following wrist surgery, Kuba is the Bolts best option on the power play. At the very least, he is a cheap addition for the first month or so. Deal him before Boyle comes back though.

Goalies

Jonathan Bernier, G, Kings: Bernier is falling far enough in drafts that he makes a very decent down-two, pull-the-goalie pick for fantasy owners that need help in net. A few things have to go right for the 19-year old to wind up with the starting job, but he'll have terrific value if he lands it. Jason LaBarbera is his only legitimate competition for the job, but he hasn't translated his AHL success to the NHL. The Kings are in a position to succeed this season and they may need to hedge their bets on LaBarbera by keeping Bernier around.

Carey Price, G, Canadiens: Price is in a similar position to Bernier as far as value is concerned, but should be your second choice only because the Kings are a stronger team than the Habs.

Deep Leagues (14+ teams)

Centermen

Erik Christensen, C, Penguins: He's got a booming shot and will likely line up with Evgeni Malkin. He may even earn wing-eligibility at some point this season. That's enough to take a gamble.

Travis Zajac, C, Devils: Zajac had great chemistry with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner, so he should continue to be their centerman. That should provide him with enough value to be relevant in many deep leagues.

Wingers

Drew Stafford, RW, Sabres: Stafford will have to fight for the ice time, but he has the ability to put up 60 points even if he doesn't consistently crack the top six. His upside is considerable if he can force his way into one of the top lines.

Jeff Tambellini, LW, Islanders: Tambellini is a prodigy in the AHL, but has yet to translate that success to the NHL. With the first-line left wing spot wide open, Tambellini only has to beat out Ruslan Fedotenko. Even the Islanders first line will have decent value.

Owen Nolan, RW, Flames: If Nolan is healthy enough for coach Mike Keenan, he is healthy enough to gamble on. He could slide into the top six if he can even bring even a portion of his glory-days production to the table.

Tuomo Ruutu, LW, Blackhawks: Sure his health is a concern, but the talent level in Chicago is going up big time this season. Ruutu will play a top line role, regardless of who fills out the unit. He could earn terrific value if Martin Havlat can stay healthy.

Defensemen

Marek Malik, D, Rangers:: Malik consistently puts up decent PIMs and a terrific plus/minus. He is a solid depth-defenseman for fantasy. Plus, he scored that wicked shootout goal two years ago against Washington. That has nothing to do with his fantasy value, but how can anyone pass up a chance to mention that goal.

Cam Barker, D, Blackhawks: Barker has the most potential among the young crop of defensemen in Chicago. If he can find his game, he could leapfrog Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith as the leader of the group.

Frantisek Kaberle, D, Hurricanes: Kaberle will miss the start of the season again because of offseason surgery. The Hurricanes don't have anyone to run the power play in his stead, so when he comes back the power-play quarterback job is all his.

Jack Johnson, D, Kings: And why don't the Canes have anyone to run the power play? Because they gave away Johnson for a sack of beans last season. Johnson is on a crowded blue line, but he has the talent to possibly break out. It's doubtful considering the players in front of him on the depth chart, but you never know.

Goalies

Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Ducks: Jean-Sebastien Giguere is no guarantee to stay healthy, and Bryzgalov is deserving of starts regardless. He may get a few extra starts in showcase for a possible trade as well. Overall, it's pretty easy for Bryzgalov to earn value.

Jimmy Howard, G, Red Wings: An immortal line that can be used every season in regards to Hasek's backup: "he is one twist away from fantasy stardom."

Sean Allen is a fantasy hockey and baseball analyst for ESPN.com.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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