Fantasy Hockey: The top 7 post-hype sleepers to target in your drafts

By Mike GayRotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Did you know that the Simple Minds song, "Don't You (forget about me)" is about post-hype fantasy hockey sleepers? Okay, I lied — although that is the topic at hand. Considering more than 1,000 players carve up NHL ice each season, it's all too easy to overlook some gems. But as unpredictable as hockey can be, I'm confident the following names deserve attention in standard fantasy drafts as we eagerly anticipate the 2019-20 campaign.

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Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

The silver lining for Anaheim's depleted forward corps from last season is that several prospects ascended to the big stage. Maxime Comtois put up two goals and 10 assists through his first 10 top-level games. The Ducks unleashed even more head-turners in Troy Terry, Max Jones, Kiefer Sherwood, and Sam Steel. Still, that's no reason to overlook an eight-year veteran like Rakell. The top-line winger has a clean bill of health after an ankle injury stole a good month from his 2018-19 campaign. He finished the year with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in the final 18 games, and a bit more puck luck should help him rebound from an uncharacteristically low 9.3 shooting percentage in 2019-20. Rakell produced back-to-back 30-plus-goal seasons before fading into relative obscurity, so it'll be important to keep tabs on his availability in fantasy drafts.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

Contrary to popular belief, Connor McDavid isn't the only show in Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl is supremely talented in his own right and has the luxury of sharing the ice with the show-stopping pivot, but let's not forget about Nugent-Hopkins, who has justified his No. 1 overall billing from the 2011 draft. Like McDavid, Nuge is coming off a career-high point total, ripping the twine 28 times to complement 41 assists in 2018-19. Early signs point to No. 93 joining forces with stalwarts Sam Gagner and James Neal. Considering those players have been around for a decade-plus — with Gagner providing the vision and newcomer Neal some much-needed gumption — expect RNH to make serious noise in his ninth year.

Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit Red Wings

If you’ve rostered Athanasiou, then you are probably well-practiced in patience. In a bold move that seemingly backfired, the versatile, fleet-footed forward let his agent play hardball in contract negotiations with long-time Red Wings GM Ken Holland before franchise legend Steve Yzerman stepped in this year. Athanasiou consequently started the 2017-18 campaign late, and he's still chasing a long-term deal from the Original Six club on the heels of a career-best output composed of 30 goals, 24 assists and 11 power-play points over 76 games. But the scary part about the soon-to-be restricted free agent is that he's only scratched the surface of his potential. Athanasiou could be in store for a monster season if he tightens up defensively and adapts to the “Yzerplan."

Andreas Athanasiou has only scratched the surface of his potential. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Andreas Athanasiou has only scratched the surface of his potential. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Defensemen

Will Butcher, New Jersey Devils

Butcher's excellence at the University of Denver led to the 2017 Hobey Baker Award, but he appears to be flying under the radar with the Devils after experiencing a 14-point drop compared to his debut season — one that consisted of five goals, 39 assists and 23 points on the man advantage. But fret not, as New Jersey won the draft lottery with Jack Hughes, and GM Ray Shero added even more high-caliber contributors like Wayne Simmonds through free agency with the hopes of jump-starting a stagnant offense.

This will have a concomitant effect on Butcher, who sees the ice extremely well and thrives with the extra attacker. Naysayers will point to P.K. Subban's arrival in the Garden State as a key roadblock to a top-pairing role for Butcher, but as long as the American defenseman is situated on the No. 1 power-play unit, he should have no trouble producing at a fast clip. Health permitting, expect him to put up 45-50 points in Season Three.

Mathew Dumba, Minnesota Wild

Dumba was off to a career-best offensive pace before rupturing his pectoral muscle in mid-December, consequently wiping out the final 50 games of his 2018-19 campaign. However, he looked really good in his preseason debut, sending five shots on goal and committing to two hits over 26:57 of ice time in a loss to the Stars. You could argue that Dumba skates better than most NHL forwards, and his fiery playing style creates an abundance of opportunities in the attacking zone. Since Dumba missed so much time last season, the top-pairing defenseman should be discounted slightly on draft day, but keep in mind that his surgery was a success, and he reportedly worked out all summer to prepare for the upcoming season.

Goalies

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Gibson is not what you'd call a lucky goaltender. He's cracked the 30-win barrier just once in his career despite playing for an organization that has made the playoffs in four of the past five years. Anaheim had to face more than 400 man-games lost due to injuries/illnesses last year, and that certainly didn't help Gibson's cause as he went 26-22-8 with underwhelming ratios, including a 2.84 GAA and .917 save percentage over 68 contests. The good news for the American backstop is that his team has a healthy crop of blueliners ahead of the new season, plus there's a strong sense of continuity among the top four, as there aren't any newcomers within that group. Once high-flying winger Ondrej Kase (upper body) gets up to speed, the Ducks should pose a formidable attack to the benefit of Gibson and those of you depending on him for fantasy points.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

Bobrovsky's tenuous relationship with the Blue Jackets littered headlines last season, but the slate is clean now that he's procured a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Panthers. Bob will be the heir apparent to Roberto Luongo, one of the best goaltenders the league has ever seen, and having burgeoning puck plugger Samuel Montembeault as an understudy suggests the Russian will log 60-plus starts for a fourth straight year. There won't be a dramatic learning curve for Bobrovsky, either. We're talking about a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2013, 2017) who, despite all the drama, managed a career-high nine shutouts with Columbus last season. Florida's penalty kill has been superior to the league average as measured against a three-year span, and that drums up even more excitement about Bobrovsky's potential with the Cats.

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