With the NHL season winding down, it’s time to start getting your team ready for the upcoming 2017-18 season. This is a list of the top five players at each position that can help you win your league this year. To simplify things, this list will be based on points. You should be able to draft these sleepers late and come up big in the win column.
Christian Dvorak, Arizona Coyotes
Dvorak is a 21-year-old center that Arizona picked in the second round, 58th overall. In his last season with the London Knights (2015-16), he had 52 goals and 121 points in 59 games, helping the Knights win the Memorial Cup. Keep in mind that he played on a line that featured standout NHL rookies Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk. His fantastic season and Memorial Cup run helped him earn a spot with the Coyotes for the 2016-17 season. He started off as the third-line center, but he was promoted to the second line and then eventually the top line with Max Domi, his former London Knight teammate, after Martin Hanzel was traded. This helped Dvorak produce 15 goals and 33 points in 78 games. His vision and ability to finish around the net and increased confidence as the year went on leads me to believe that he will only get better next year as the Coyotes’ No. 1 center.
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Point is one of those rare third-round picks that looks like he could be a steal for the Lightning. He joined the team opening night and never looked back. Brayden played in 68 games and scored 18 goals and 40 points, eventually becoming the Lightning’s No. 1 center after an injury to Tyler Johnson, and he produced at the same pace Johnson did before his injury. Next season looks even better for the young Point. Steve Stamkos should be back from his injury, and if Johnson does not re-sign with Tampa in the offseason, he could find himself playing alongside Stamkos, which could only help increase his point total. Point is a very skilled player that can play both ends of the ice. He was heavily used by Canada in the World Championships and scored four points in five games, helping team Canada win the Silver Medal. Look to see him get top-line minutes in 2017-18, maybe even with Johnson re-signing and producing more points.
Pavel Zasha, New Jersey Devils
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks
The 22-year-old Horvat is already playing in his third season with the Canucks, and he has increased his point total every season. In 2014-15, he had 25 points in 68 games, followed by a 40-point campaign in 2015-16. Last year, Horvat increased his point total again (52) and became a 20-goal scorer for the first time. What’s impressive about his increase in points is that he is stuck behind Henrik Sedin and plays on the second line of a not very deep offensive Canucks team. With the Sedin twins getting older and their contracts being up at the end of next season, they could possibly be traded at the deadline or sign elsewhere if they don’t retire. Either way, this could be the opening Horvat needs to become the star of the team, or at least the leading point-getter and earn top-line minutes. He’s a name to target in the later rounds.
Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders
Beauvillier is a first-round pick (28th overall) that made his NHL debut last year for the Islanders. With a high-level skill and great hands, Beauvillier has the talent to become the No. 2 center on the Island. He has a good hockey sense, speed and can beat the opposition in many different ways. In 66 games last year, he had only nine goals and 24 points, playing mostly on the third line behind Ryan Strome and John Tavares. Don’t let the point total fool you, though. Beauvillier is a legit scorer and played well when he got his chance on the top line after injuries to both Tavares and Strome. He is strong with the puck but needs to be a little more disciplined, which will come with maturity and time. Look for Beauvillier get more time on the top lines and receive more minutes in 2017-28. This will give him the opportunity to put numbers on the board that he wasn’t able to get while playing on the third line last year. With questions surrounding Tavares’ time in New York, look to see the Islanders start seeing more of what this kid can do. There is some risk with drafting Beauvillier, but he could also turn into a big-time contributor as a late-round pick.
Here are a few other players worth keeping an eye on as potential sleepers. Keep tabs on Devin Shore, who is a natural center but played mostly right wing for Dallas, Nick Schmaltz in Chicago, Alex Galchynuck in Montreal, and Sam Bennett in Calgary. Granted, Schmaltz and Galchynuck will probably play more wing than center. Galchynuck in particular might not really be much of a sleeper, but he hasn’t yet played to his potential, either.