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Fantasy Hockey: Riding the dark horses and last-round steals

Dobber checks in every week to force-feed you the latest fantasy hockey trends. The founder of DobberHockey.com and a columnist for The Hockey News website, he long ago immersed himself into this rollercoaster world and is unable to escape.

After trying, last week, to organize some of the mess that is the first round, it's time to delve into the latter rounds. Half of these players are going to be busts and get nowhere near where you were hoping they would get to. But that's why I slapped the header "Dark Horses" above them instead of "Sure Things".

Dark Horses (Rounds 12 to 22)

Start drafting these guys in the second half of your roto league…

Pierre-Marc Bouchard(notes), Minnesota Wild — In most leagues, he won't get past Round 14, but if you can snag him in that 12-14 range, it's a steal. I love multi-position eligibility and he has some real upside too. He had 18 points in the final 23 games last year as he slowly got his timing back after missing a year-plus due to concussion symptoms.

Zac Dalpe(notes), Carolina Hurricanes — In a season where Calder possibilities are as abundant as news releases from out of Winnipeg assuring us that Dustin Byfuglien(notes) really is in great shape, it's nice to find a player like Dalpe. This is a guy that many experts are pretty comfortable about not only making the team but eventually getting into the top six. A great centerman to put on your bench in the late rounds.

Devan Dubnyk(notes), Edmonton Oilers — The Oilers are going to win more hockey games this year, I don't care what anybody says. Not enough to get into the playoffs, but a hell of a lot more than last year's 25. And who will be between the pipes for most of those W's, Khabibulin? Pffft. Well. Maybe. But Dubnyk is the superior goaltender at this point and makes a great No.3 goalie to have come off the bench.

Michael Frolik(notes)/Dave Bolland, Chicago Blackhawks — I stuck these two together because how they perform will depend a lot on each other. Last season, Frolik was about as effective as Petr Prucha(notes), complete with the sudden regression. But all he was a lacking was a quality center and in the postseason he got that when Bolland returned. In four games together they combined for 10 points. Both of these guys have upside and if Bolland stays healthy they should each exceed the projections of many experts.

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Cody Franson(notes), Toronto Maple Leafs — Blah blah blah Liles blah blah Liles blah blah power play. Sorry, give me Franson over John-Michael Liles(notes) within two years. Fantastic upside and a wonderful pedigree. Maybe, just maybe, he takes that next step this year. Why not? Liles topped him by just 17 points and his point totals year over year bounce up and down enough to make Vinny Prospal(notes) a little envious. A hell of a steal in that 17-20 Round range, because even his "downside" is 30 points and a decent plus/minus.

Nathan Gerbe(notes), Buffalo Sabres — If he's still around when you start drafting to fill your bench, then he makes a great scoop. With experience comes confidence and he is gaining that quickly. Thirteen points in 19 games last year down the stretch. I think he breaks out either this season or next.

Jacob Josefson(notes), New Jersey Devils — With Travis Zajac(notes) out, the Devils are looking to Patrick Elias to feed Zach Parise(notes) pucks. That leaves Josefson to center Ilya Kovalchuk(notes). He'll have a good two months of helping Kovalchuk not post a minus-26 score a ton of goals before Zajac returns; and by then, he may have earned the spot for good.

Peter Mueller(notes), Colorado Avalanche — Mueller was returning from a concussion a year ago almost to the day, when he suffered a … um, concussion. Now he's back and taking hits without any symptoms. Hey, look on the bright side - it's been 18 months as a member of Colorado and his career points-per-game with them is 1.33. Another multi-position eligible forward, too.

Magnus Paajarvi(notes), Edmonton Oilers — I secured him as my No. 4 left wing, as the competition shied away from his plus/minus potential. But a healthy Taylor Hall(notes), Ales Hemsky(notes) (not yet, but soon), Shawn Horcoff(notes), Ryan Whitney(notes) (not yet, but soon), as well as the addition of veteran defenseman Andy Sutton(notes), I don't think Paajarvi will see that kind of plus/minus again this year.

Max Pacioretty(notes), Montreal Canadiens — He had 17 points in his last 20 games before the Zdeno Chara(notes) hit. His competition in the top six is Andrei Kostitsyn(notes). Yeah. Jekyll and Hyde himself.

Jared Spurgeon(notes), Minnesota Wild — He's not just on this list to make Gerbe feel better. No, the 5-8 rearguard has been fantastic for the Wild, making it impossible for them to send him back down last season and in the last 30 games he had 11 of his 12 points. With Brent Burns(notes) out of the way, he should get at least 30 points but could top 40.

Fantasy Hockey: Riding the dark horses and last-round steals

24th-Round Picks

For your last round, grab one of these guys. This is your "throw away" pick, where you gamble on a player who likely won't could pay nice dividends. But if he doesn't, you will know within a week or two and can quickly and easily replace him via the wire.

Cam Barker(notes), Edmonton Oilers — The Oilers have a group of young, offensively skilled players who were high draft picks. Then they added Barker and paid him as if the last two years didn't exist handsomely. I guarantee that they'll keep throwing him out there with as much power-play time as possible.

Paul Byron(notes), Calgary Flames — He broke out in the AHL last season and when he was in the NHL with the Sabres, Byron did not look out of place. Calgary needs offensive forwards and they specifically went after Byron when they talked Robyn Regehr(notes) with Buffalo. I say he sticks and he could Michael Grabner(notes) his way into Calder conversations by January.

Joakim Lindstrom(notes), Colorado Avalanche — Lindstrom always had second-line potential. But injuries and opportunity conspired to keep him away from that potential. Now healthy, the Avs have him lining up with Paul Stastny(notes). The perfect final-round pick, because by Week 2 you can drop him if he fails you.

Nikolai Khabibulin(notes), Edmonton Oilers — I really just recommend this pick to you if you're drunk you drafted Dubnyk. Hedging bets is a great way to cover your ass. That lesson applies to life, too.

Jason Labarbera(notes), Phoenix CoyotesMike Smith(notes) has been struggling with injuries in recent years. He's bound to get hurt again, meaning Labarbera at some point will be in for a long string of starts. Now if only I could tell you exactly when that will happen…

Ryan Shannon(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning — Lots of untapped offensive talent, but pretty fragile. He's lining up with Steven Stamkos(notes) and Martin St. Louis(notes). The opportunity here is as plain as the nose on Shannon's 17-year-old face.

Eric Fehr(notes), Winnipeg Jets — We won't see him before November thanks to a wonky back. Draft him and stick him on IR. Because his goals-per-minute over the last couple of years were impressive — and he'll get a lot more minutes in Winnipeg.

Fantasy Hockey: Riding the dark horses and last-round steals

Fake Dark Horses:

These are players who make their owners say "Yes! What a steal in this round!" But the reality is, in most leagues they should have slipped further. They're not undraftable — they're just guaranteed to go three or four rounds higher than they should.

Sheldon Souray(notes), Dallas Stars — I like his situation in Dallas and I truly believe he will tally a point every two games, or better. The problem is, he may only play two games. He makes Rick DiPietro(notes) seem durable.

Michael Grabner, N.Y. Islanders — Since the lockout, about one-third of rookies aged 20 or younger failed to improve upon their points as a sophomore. Whereas that number doubles for those aged 21 or older. If you were to choose between Logan Couture(notes) (21 last year), Jeff Skinner(notes) (18) or Michael Grabner (23) to regress, Grabner is the one.

Michael Del Zotto(notes), N.Y. Rangers — Del Zotto is the most offensively skilled defenseman in the Rangers' system and he's played 127 NHL games. Given that they are as hungry for a puck-moving rearguard as the Leafs are for a No. 1 center, many poolies will point to Del Zotto as a "dark horse". And he just might be, for the first couple of weeks. But after storming out the gates in each of the last two seasons he hit a wall and I think we'll see that again.

Stephane Da Costa(notes), Ottawa Senators — One of the late-season's bigger free agent acquisitions, Da Costa has a fantastic college track record and an impressive training camp. But so did Bobby Butler(notes) last year and I think SDC will follow the same path and be a midseason call up.

Steve Sullivan(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins — Currently clicking on a line with Evgeni Malkin(notes), Sullivan's consolation prize if that doesn't work out is that he'll be stuck with Sidney Crosby(notes). But he does not belong in the first 15 rounds because he could miss half the season. His body is really starting to break down.

Pick up Dobber's sixth annual fantasy guide right here. And while you're at it, follow his fantasy hockey musings on Twitter.

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