Sleeper picks to consider in drafts

Cam Talbot of the LA Kings
Cam Talbot of the Kings could surprise some fantasy folks this season. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images) (Darrian Traynor via Getty Images)

Having some sleepers in your back pocket for the later rounds of your fantasy draft is a great way to augment your roster. Identifying players who will benefit from a change of scenery or those who will receive increased roles is a great way to find value late in drafts.

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Keeping a list of potential under-the-radar gems is highly recommended so you can be the first to pounce on any players who happen to slip through the cracks on draft day via the waiver wire.

After being limited to just four games last season with Washington because of an ACL injury, Brown is positioned to bounce back in a big way in 2023-24. He joined Edmonton in the summer on a one-year, heavily bonus-ladened contract to reunite with former OHL teammate Connor McDavid. The ex-Erie linemates are projected to play with Evander Kane on what should be a productive line this campaign. Brown, who is slated to see action on the penalty kill and power play as well, could be in store for a career year offensively if he manages to avoid injuries.

Drouin supplied two goals and 29 points in 58 appearances for Montreal last campaign. He finds himself in a tremendous position to get back on track after signing a one-year, $825,000 deal with Colorado during the offseason. Like Brown, Drouin should benefit from a reunion with a former junior teammate. Drouin is slated to play alongside fellow QMJHL Halifax graduate Nathan MacKinnon and productive winger Mikko Rantanen during his first season with the Avalanche. If he can stay healthy, the 28-year-old Drouin should be able to pile up assists this year.

Mittelstadt has been flying under the radar a bit despite his partial breakout performance last year. He was nearly a point-per-game producer in the second half of the 2022-23 campaign, registering eight of his 15 goals and 31 of his 59 points in his final 32 appearances of the season. The 24-year-old forward compiled five goals and 12 assists in 11 outings to close out the campaign. Consistency has been an issue at times for Mittelstadt, but if he can lock down a spot on the second line, he could reach another level in 2023-24. The absence of Jack Quinn due to offseason Achilles surgery should put Mittelstadt in a great position to succeed out of the gate.

Barbashev proved to be a great addition for the Golden Knights last season after being acquired from St. Louis ahead of the trade deadline. He produced six goals and 16 points in 23 regular-season appearances prior to racking up seven goals and 18 points in 22 playoff outings. Following Vegas’ Stanley Cup victory, Barbashev was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract. He should be back alongside Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault this season. The 27-year-old Barbashev should be a great option for fantasy managers this year, especially if your league counts hits.

Vilardi flashed his potential in 2022-23 with 23 goals and 41 points in 63 outings for LA. He should be capable of finding another gear after being traded to Winnipeg in the offseason and signing a two-year, $6.875 million contract with the team shortly thereafter. Vilardi is projected to start his tenure with the Jets on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor. Vilardi should also see time on the top power-play combination. If he can stay healthy, Vilardi has the potential to reach new career highs offensively in 2023-24.

Sharangovich slipped from 24 goals and 46 points in 76 games in 2021-22 to 13 goals and 30 points over 75 contests last season. He was dealt to Calgary in the offseason in the trade that sent Tyler Toffoli to New Jersey. Sharangovich inked a two-year, $6.2 million contract with the Flames shortly after the trade. He is projected to play alongside Jonathan Huberdeau, who has plenty of bounce-back appeal, and Elias Lindholm on the top line this campaign. The 25-year-old Sharangovich should be able to improve on his career-low 9.9 shooting percentage from a season ago. He could be a very good value pick in the later rounds of your fantasy draft.

Coyle and Pavel Zacha stand to benefit the most following the offseason retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Coyle hasn’t been generating the same amount of interest as Zacha in fantasy drafts even though the former could skate alongside Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk this campaign. The 31-year-old Coyle had 56 points (18 goals, 38 assists) in 82 games with Minnesota in 2016-17. He stands a very good chance of topping those goal and assist totals this campaign thanks to an increased role with the Bruins.

Ekman-Larsson signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with Florida this summer after being bought out of the final four seasons of his eight-year, $29 million deal by Vancouver. His point production should receive a significant boost on the high-powered offense of the Panthers. It won’t be hard to improve upon his two-goal, 22-point effort over 54 games last season. Additionally, Ekman-Larsson’s brutal 2.2 shooting percentage should improve significantly. He has been a double-digit goal scorer seven times before and could return to that milestone again in 2023-24. Ekman-Larsson should also be able to pile up assists and hits as a top-four defender with his new squad.

With Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour set to miss at least the first two months of the season, OEL currently has the inside track to quarterback Florida’s top power-play combination to start the year.

Matheson managed to make an impression with the Canadiens last season despite being limited to just 48 games. He accounted for eight goals, a career-high 34 points, 126 shots on net, 80 blocked shots and 53 hits. The 29-year-old defender is projected to play on Montreal’s top pairing and see time on the top power-play unit. If he can stay healthy, Matheson’s category coverage could make him a steal for fantasy managers looking for depth on the blue line.

Cam Talbot – G – Kings

The 2022-23 season was a struggle for Talbot, who missed long stretches due to injuries and didn’t play particularly well with Ottawa when in the lineup. In 36 appearances last campaign, including 32 starts, he went 17-14-2 with one shutout, a 2.93 GAA and an .898 save percentage.

Talbot finds himself in a much better situation this season after agreeing to a one-year pact with LA that could have a value of $2 million if bonuses are met. The Kings allowed the fourth fewest shots against per game (27.9) last season. Talbot posted solid numbers in two seasons with Minnesota under similar goalie-friendly circumstances, so a return to form could be in the cards for the 36-year-old netminder. The only downside is he’ll probably share playing time with Pheonix Copley in 2023-24.

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