February 24, 2024

Last chance fantasy hockey draft – Sleepers, advice and picks

Does your NHL Fantasy team stink? Beyond a reasonable point of redemption? Or maybe your current gaggle is humming along just fine, but you still feel the urge to start fantasy-fresh, armed with all the wisdom you’ve gathered since mid-October? Whatever the inspiration, it’s not too late to join some like-minded managers and form a new league, clean slate and all, launching this very minute and lasting until spring. Here at ESPN.com, you have until Feb. 5 to do just that.

If so, there’s obviously a brand new draft in play. In addition to all the on-ice intel you’ve gathered to date, our updated ESPN Fantasy Hockey top 250 rankings – based on expectations of fantasy points produced until the end of the season – serves as a valuable guide in helping steer the construction of your new roster. To start, don’t overthink your first pick: if Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, or Nikita Kucherov is available, that’s your top selection, and probably in that order. The next pack of my favorite star skaters – David Pastrnak, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Elias Pettersson, Leon Draisaitl – is then followed by a greater glut of very good assets who should nicely pad your roster. Barring injury, all of them near-nil risk/high reward commodities.

Between the pipes – it’s been a strange year, no? – one trio of assets rises above the rest, consisting of Connor Hellebuyck, Stuart Skinner (knock wood he doesn’t exhaust himself), and Thatcher Demko. All of them solid, busy goalies for teams that win a lot more than they lose. Following those three, Adin Hill leads the charge of ‘tenders ready to pile up the fantasy points after spending (essentially) almost two months in the infirmary. Vegas’ No. 1 appeared his best self in consecutive wins over the Rangers and Islanders in New York, heading into the All-Star Game break. Plus, the Golden Knights should have a healthy Shea Theodore (this is huge) and Jack Eichel back sometime in February. William Karlsson is due to imminently return as well. Vegas could serve as quite the handful for opponents in the weeks to come, benefitting Hill. Elsewhere, Dallas’s Jake Oettinger is also one to target after a so-so, injury riddled first chunk of 2023-24.

On the blue line, don’t disregard persistent shot-blockers in fantasy leagues – such as ESPN.com’s standard – that reward the category. There are only so many well-rounded stars (Cale Makar, Noah Dobson etc.) to grab otherwise. Colorado’s Samuel Girard, Montreal’s David Savard, Vegas’s Alec Martinez, and Anaheim’s Radko Gudas present as rich commodities with the extra charm of being available in later rounds of most drafts. In that spirit, here are a few more sleepers, at all positions, to consider in rounding out your roster once the more popular assets are already spoken for.

Sean Monahan, F, Winnipeg Jets: Freshly traded from Montreal to the Jets, Monahan is initially slated to center a scoring line with Cole Perfetti and Nikolaj Ehlers – as reported by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. That’s an upgrade in role from his 5-on-5 slot with the Canadiens, with whom the veteran has already been experiencing a productive resurgence. Available in more than 80% of ESPN.com leagues – where he’s earned an average of 2.2 fantasy points/game in January – Monahan projects to play on Winnipeg’s power play as well.

Charlie Coyle, F, Boston Bruins: He’s only centering a top line for one of the best teams in the league with Brad Marchand – and often David Pastrnak – and riding an eight-game points streak comprising four goals and eight assists. Yet Coyle remains off-radar for many ESPN.com fantasy managers. He’s one of my favorite, fantasy game-changing outliers at present.

Brayden Schenn, F, St. Louis Blues: Guess what? St. Louis wins more often when their veteran center contributes to the scoresheet, as he has lately, to the tune of five goals and six assists in 11 games. Schenn also blocks more shots than your average forward, adding extra sparkle to his daily fantasy haul. If the Blues are going to give the charge to the postseason a true go, they’ll need the 32-year-old to extend his productive pace – at even-strength and on the power play – well beyond January.

Adam Henrique, F, Anaheim Ducks: Like Coyle, Henrique is enjoying a productive start to 2024 without garnering sufficient fantasy attention. Five goals and nine assists since Jan. 7 works out to a nifty average of 2.5 fantasy points/game in ESPN.com standard leagues. The veteran might also be traded to a contender before the Mar. 8 deadline.

Andrei Kuzmenko, F, Calgary Flames: While tucking Kuzmenko under the Super Sleeper heading, the trade flipping Elias Lindholm to Vancouver for the underused forward (and more) merits mentioning. A fresh start on a scoring line and power play with Jonathan Huberdeau and/or Nazem Kadri and/or Yegor Sharangovich could serve as remedy to what’s unfolded as a rather sickly season for last year’s 39-goal scorer. A much-needed divorce from Rick Tocchet, regardless of how much success the Jack Adams candidate is enjoying with the Canucks otherwise, should also help.

Then there’s Kuzmenko’s expiring contract. If the KHL-export wants to continue earning an impressive paycheque playing in the NHL, the next 10 weeks or so will prove crucial. I’m not suggesting you reach for the fallen forward in most drafts – last year’s inflated 27.3 shooting percentage remains telling – but if he’s kicking around late in deeper leagues, why not?

Brock Faber, D, Minnesota Wild: Maybe it’s because he plays in Minnesota, or perhaps because there’s still an air of unfamiliarity about the rookie. Whatever the case, the Wild’s top defender and power-play anchor remains under-respected and under-rostered across the ESPN.com spectrum. While many managers first pursue other blueliners based on name recognition, keep Faber in mind. Averaging 3.2 fantasy points/game since the start of the new year, he ranks second in value only to Colorado’s Cale Makar.

Thomas Harley, D, Dallas Stars: Like Faber, Harley should serve as a valuable piece on his team’s blue line for years to come. The 22-year-old already has 12 goals and 17 assists, while contributing in other fantasy-friendly defensive facets, in his first full NHL season. No other Dallas defender has more fantasy points this season – not even Miro Heiskanen. Unlike Heiskanen, Harley remains underappreciated by many managers. Which could benefit your own fantasy team.

Ilya Samsonov, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: The start to the 2023-24 season was ugly indeed for the Maple Leafs netminder, and, of course, he could fall apart again. But if not – and Samsonov was great to outstanding in his three wins leading into the break – the final stretch could offer up one the league’s greatest redemption stories of the year. Plus, Toronto is a playoff contender and Joseph Woll doesn’t appear ready to return anytime soon.

Alex Lyon, G, Detroit Red Wings: Riding a 13-6-2 record, with a .922 SV% and 2.51 GAA, Lyon owns the starter’s job in Detroit right now. Even once Ville Husso is expected to return post-All-Star Game, that scenario shouldn’t much change. While there’s concern this not-there-yet Red Wings club could slide back to earth a bit after running 9-2-2 to launch the calendar year, they should remain competitive most nights. Plus, Patrick Kane is set to return from injury soon.