Special to Yahoo Sports
There's a long-standing theory in fantasy sports that leagues are generally won at the back end of drafts. After all, anyone even partially privy to pucks knows about the Sidney Crosbys and Connor McDavids of the world, so you'll need to hone in on sleepers in the mid-to-late rounds to get ahead of the competition.
With an emphasis on standard Yahoo scoring and a 12-team format, this article highlights seven NHL players poised to yield big returns in the 2019-20 campaign.
What do Dominik Hasek, Grant Fuhr, Pekka Rinne, and Braden Holtby have in common? All four of those elite netminders — with the first two enshrined in the Hall of Fame — thrived under the direction of goalie coach Mitch Korn during their respective careers. Now it's Varlamov's time to shine after having signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the Islanders this summer.
As a 31 year old with 11 years of NHL experience and international acclaim, Varly should be a low-maintenance reclamation project for Korn and bench boss Barry Trotz after the Russian relinquished his job to Philipp Grubauer in Colorado. New York ran the league's stingiest defense last season, permitting only 2.33 goals per game, and with the usual suspects returning, Varlamov is set to form a robust 1a-1b tandem with Thomas Greiss.
Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers
The question remains: Does Georgiev have the chops to be a long-term option for the Rangers? This year should be telling. Not only is Georgiev wrapping up the final year of his entry-level contract, but 2014 fourth-round pick Igor Shestyorkin is ready to embark on his professional career in North America, and he seemingly has better odds of succeeding Lundqvist once the curtain closes on the King's illustrious career. But that's just it — Georgiev already has 43 NHL games under his belt with respectable numbers, including an 18-17-5 record, two shutouts, and a 2.96 GAA and .915 save percentage. Plus, he was in goal for over 43 percent of the Rangers' wins last year. The bottom line? Georgiev should get every opportunity to land a contract extension in 2019-20 and fantasy gamers will want to be along for the ride.
Knowing full well that his team needs to better protect Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson, Canucks GM Jim Benning went ahead and added Ferland in free agency this offseason. The sixth-year winger, who is quite physical and strong on the forecheck, figures to skate on the top line with Pettersson and 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser in 2019-20. Ferland's never averaged more than 15:01 of ice time in a single season, but he's capable of power-play work and managed a respectable 0.40 points-per-game output in previous stops between the Flames and Hurricanes. Opportunity knocks for Ferland in Vancouver.
Strome's detractors typically point to his clunky skating as a significant impediment, but as we found out last season, his dreamy second-line assignment centering Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane easily offsets any perceived liability. In fact, that lethal forward combination accounted for 67-odd% of the Blackhawks' goals last year, despite a lackluster Corsi For percentage (46.65) in 5-on-5 situations. Strome exhibits strong hockey sense and anticipation, which was on full display after he left Arizona during the 2018-19 campaign. For those keeping track, his debut season in the Windy City included 17 goals, 34 assists, and 12 power-play points in just 58 games. Remember, too, that the Ontario native is entering the final year of his entry-level contract and trending toward a hefty pay raise next summer.
It's time to take Labanc seriously in San Jose's potent attack. The American winger's numbers have climbed for two straight years and just over 33% of his career points have taken place on the power play. Labanc claimed the Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy as the OHL's top-scoring right-winger in 2015-16 — he shredded the competition to the tune of 39 goals and 88 assists through 65 games — and the rising star required only 21 minor-league appearances before a full ascension to hockey's biggest stage.
Considering the Sharks have parted ways with Joe Pavelski, who served as team captain for three seasons, as well as established scoring winger Gustav Nyquist, it's easy to see Labanc working in a top-line capacity this year. It gets even better knowing he's in a contract year with the potential to emerge on the No. 1 man-advantage unit with elite defensemen, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.
Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators
Highly drafted prospects typically morph into ideal sleeper candidates, but the trick is figuring out when the player will surface at the top level. In Fabbro's case, the well-rounded defenseman with a wicked point shot arrived in the NHL late last season and wound up playing all six games versus Dallas in the conference quarterfinals. P.K. Subban's move to New Jersey opens the door for the Boston University product — who was drafted 17th overall in 2016 — to seize a second-pairing role alongside Mattias Ekholm this year.
So, why all the hype? Take a peek at Fabbro's resume and you'll see that he amassed 100 points (18 goals, 82 assists) over 91 games in the BCHL. Granted, that's a junior rank and the B.C. native very well could experience growing pains as a 20 year old, but he carries immense offensive upside playing for a team that has made the playoffs in five straight years. Snag him before he becomes a household name.
Filip Hronek, Detroit Red Wings
According to the NHL's official media site, Detroit defensemen collectively accounted for an astounding 136 man-games lost due to injuries and illnesses in 2018-19. Hronek was on the fast track to the NHL even before the team's blueliners started dropping like flies, but the dire situation helped him secure a spot on the Opening Night roster. While the 21 year old required additional seasoning with AHL Grand Rapids last season, Hronek ended up producing 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) through 46 top-level games during his rookie campaign. Considering no one on the Wings managed a point-per-game pace, this was an amazing feat for No. 24. Taking a flier on Hronek, who also has utility in shorthanded situations, checks out as a shrewd move.