Fantasy Hockey Sleepers: 2019-20 Central Division

One of the best fantasy hockey sleepers, Robert Thomas, kisses the Stanley Cup.
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Last Word on Hockey is starting a brand new series of fantasy hockey coverage. We’re kicking things off with a breakdown of each team’s biggest fantasy hockey sleepers to target in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft. The series will cover each division in separate articles. Note: All fantasy rankings, position eligibilities, and statistical categories are based off Yahoo standard leagues unless noted otherwise.

Link to Metropolitan Division here.

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Link to Atlantic Division here.

Chicago Blackhawks: Dylan Sikura, LW/RW

2018-19 stats: 33 GP, 0 G, 8 A, 2 +/-, 0 PPP, 53 SOG, 3 H

Former Northeastern University standout Dylan Sikura had a rough time in the NHL last season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Sikura was an absolute stud in the NCAA, scoring more than 50 points in each of his last two seasons. Since then, he’s appeared for Chicago in two separate stints, and neither time was much to write home about. His time in the AHL was much better, at least, where he scored 35 points (17 G, 18 A) in 46 games for the Rockford IceHogs last season. The Blackhawks have a good crop of youth waiting to make an impact, with names like Dominik KubalikAdam Boqvist, and Nicolas Beaudin on everyone’s radar. Sikura will have to prove himself leading up to opening night. However, he has a real chance to get time as a top-six forward. That means potentially getting time with stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat. He has goal-scoring ability to go along with excellent playmaking skills. His poor showing last season may scare off some owners in drafts; don’t let yourself be one of them, especially in dynasty and keeper formats.

Colorado Avalanche: Samuel Girard, D

2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 4 G, 23 A, 8 +/-, 9 PPP, 116 SOG, 65 H

The Colorado Avalanche have a wealth of current and future fantasy assets on defence. Cale Makar is set for superstar status right away. Bowen Byram is one step behind him. But another name to throw into the mix is Samuel Girard. Now, he hasn’t turned many heads from a fantasy standpoint so far in his career, evidenced by the fact that he mostly went undrafted in Yahoo leagues. Colorado is a deadly offensive team, and they’ll be even deadlier on the power play. Girard could be a new catalyst of the team’s power play. With Tyson Barrie being shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Avalanche power play will be looking for a smooth-skating defenceman to play alongside Makar or Erik Johnson. Girard fits this mold perfectly. This is especially if he bonds well with superstar Makar. If so, the duo could become a dangerous tandem on an already dangerous power-play. Girard racked up 64 and 66 assists in his final two QMJHL seasons respectfully – the playmaking ability is there. He’s a bit small as far as defenseman go, so don’t count on big numbers in the physical categories. Power play time is no guarantee either, but he seems to be the team’s best option for now.

Dallas Stars: Roope Hintz, C/LW

2018-19 stats: 58 GP, 9 G, 13 A, -11 +/-, 6 PPP, 99 SOG, 87 H

Versatile forward Roope Hintz broke out in the playoffs after a so-so regular campaign for the Dallas Stars. In 13 postseason games, Hintz scored five goals and recorded three assists. He had a couple of two-goal games in the series against the St. Louis Blues, ultimately becoming the biggest threat to the Blues. Interestingly, Hintz had the exact same stat line (9 G, 13 A) in the AHL last year, yet in only 21 games. He is incredibly fast and agile with the puck, at times blowing past defenders with ease. His hockey sense is exceptional as well and he showed it on the biggest stage in all of hockey during the playoffs. This offseason, Dallas has made big moves, signing stars Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. Hintz will likely skate alongside the latter on the third line, although both players could easily see top-six minutes. If Perry can even be a shadow of his former self when with the Anaheim Ducks, then Hintz could be in for a very big year. He’ll also be a solid source for hits, as he recorded 87 in only 58 NHL games.

Minnesota Wild: Ryan Donato, C/LW/RW

2018-19 stats: 56 GP, 10 G, 15 A, -15 +/-, 8 PPP, 139 SOG, 24 H

For fantasy purposes, the Minnesota Wild roster doesn’t look all that great. Aging players like Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu are at the point in their careers where production is slipping and injuries could pile up in a hurry. They did acquire Mats Zuccarello, and when he’s healthy and clicking, he can be a fantasy stud. Defenceman Mathew Dumba led the NHL in goals at his position before a pectoral injury sidelined him for the final 50 games of the season. Jason Zucker is another Wild player with upside, but a name to keep in mind as your fantasy draft draws nearer is Ryan Donato. His play since being traded from the Boston Bruins shouldn’t go unnoticed. With Boston, he scored six goals and had three assists in 34 games. After the trade, he had four goals and 12 assists in only 22 games. His spot in the lineup is up in the air. While he is guaranteed a third-line role, he’s likely to see top-six minutes regularly. Donato is versatile enough to play any forward position, earning him triple-eligibility in Yahoo leagues. Look for him to carry his end-of-season success into the new year.

Nashville Predators: Dante Fabbro, D

2018-19 stats: 4 GP, 1 G, 0 A, -1 +/-, 0 PPP, 5 SOG, 3 H

The departure of P.K. Subban gives 21-year-old Canadian defenceman Dante Fabbro a potential top-four role for the Nashville Predators. The youngster got in four regular-season games last year, scoring a goal. He impressed enough to earn playoff minutes, tallying one assist in the series against the Dallas Stars. Expect bigger things from Fabbro given more ice time and better linemates this season. Partnering with Mattias Ekholm and exposure to newcomer Matt Duchene should provide plenty of scoring chances. Power-play time won’t come right away, but Fabbro’s passing skills could earn him time down the road. Playing for Boston University, he scored seven goals and had 26 assists in his final season, earning a Hobey Baker nomination. Fabbro also shined in the 2018 Spengler Cup. He made the tournament’s All-Star team with two goals and an assist in four games for Team Canada. It’s only a matter of time before Fabbro turns into a useful fantasy contributor.

St. Louis Blues: Robert Thomas, C/RW

2018-19 stats: 70 GP, 9 G, 24 A, -2 +/-, 7 PPP, 80 SOG, 13 H

Something has to give for St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas; all he does is win. The just-turned-20-year-old already has a trophy case to retire on, with two OHL titles, a Memorial Cup, a World Juniors title with team Canada, and a Stanley Cup win in his rookie season. He managed all of this while he was still 19. He’ll look to build off a strong ending to his rookie season next year. Thomas scored four goals and recorded eight assists in 15 games in March of last season, adding a goal and five assists in the Blues Cup run. He can dazzle at times with stickhandling and seeing-eye passing, though he doesn’t shoot the puck much and there’s practically zero physicality to his play. Scouts rave about his hockey IQ, and that should lead to more success for the youngster. Expect an expanded role this season, especially more power-play chances. This increase in power-play minutes could be notable too, now that the Blues have hired power-play specialist Marc Savard to their coaching staff. Head coach Craig Berube praised Savard’s power-play ability during his playing career and will undoubtedly give him the reigns to the team’s power-play next year. All of these positives come with one downside, though. Thomas was held out of a handful of games during both the regular season and post-season last year, with various wrist injuries. He underwent surgery almost as soon as the post-season ended and is expected to be ready for the start of the year, though this is speculation.

Winnipeg Jets: Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW

2018-19 stats: 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 0 +/-, 0 PPP, 1 SOG, 1 H

Former 2017 1st-round pick Kristian Vesalainen did a fair bit of bouncing around during the 2018-19 season. He made the Winnipeg Jets roster out of training camp, was sent down to the Manitoba Moose (AHL), spent time in the KHL with Jokerit, then finished the season back in the AHL. He totalled 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 22 AHL games and 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 31 KHL games. Those types of numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but keep in mind Vesalainen is, like Thomas, barely 20 years old. Blessed with excellent size and a wide-ranging toolset, the Finnish winger should develop into a notable fantasy player sooner rather than later. He’ll battle for a top-nine spot to start the season, and there’s always a chance injuries could give him more opportunities later on. Dynasty and keeper league owners should especially consider his skillset.

Honourable mentions: Dominik Kubalik (CHI), J.T. Compher (COL), Jason Robertson (DAL), Jordan Greenway (MIN), Eeli Tolvanen (NSH), Jordan Kyrou (STL), Sami Niku (WPG)

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