Under the radar: Fantasy players you don't know about
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Everyone knows the top names from Crosby to Ovechkin and beyond. They wind up on every fantasy team early in drafts and hardly need more contextualization beyond the fact they score goals aplenty and set up several more.
Where true value lies is in the diamonds in the rough, or the players who have yet to fully break through. This isn't about Auston Matthews or last year's Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Those players came into the league with a lot of hype surrounding them. This article is designed to highlight some players who will provide much-needed value despite not being household names.
LW/RW Cody McLeod, Colorado Avalanche
McLeod doesn't have enough firepower or finesse to make him worth consideration in most standard leagues, but in any bangers league (a focus on PIMs and hits) he's a must. While Maple Leafs W Matt Martin is in a class all his own, McLeod is a decent selection late for those who missed out.
While he won't notch many points -- he has 15 goals and 10 assists over the last two seasons -- he can help solidify a winner without resorting to a pick earlier than the last few rounds of a draft (I've picked him up off waivers each of the last two seasons).
McLeod finished fifth in the NHL in PIMs (138) and 12th in hits (24) while only playing 10 1/2 minutes per game. In 2014-15, he was second in PIMs (191) and sixth in hits (268). This plus the fact he has played a full 164 games over the last two seasons suggests durability despite the rough and tumble nature of his play.
C Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators faithful know Zibanejad. He has made strides with every season, increasing his totals in goals and assists each year. He'll be drafted, which goes without saying, but he's not going to be highly hyped.
He probably should be, as he moves from Ottawa to New York and possibly to a line with Rick Nash on the wing. It makes Zibanejad's career high in assists (30) seem potentially paltry. As much as Nash has struggled to find a consistent groove throughout his time in the Big Apple, Zibanejad could be the answer to his struggles.
D Connor Murphy, Arizona Coyotes
Chalk Murphy up as being of similar value to the aforementioned McLeod. While standard leagues certainly have their sleepers, banger leagues feature a wider variety of avenues to pursue success. There is a distinct possibility, likelihood even, of Murphy starting the season on the wire. Assuming the league tallies blocked shots, he stands to return outstanding value.
To make rostering defensemen more interesting, blocked shots are a must. It deepens the talent pool considerably and it gives some consideration to players like Murphy. He finished last season with 17 points -- more than McLeod -- and levied out 175 hits and blocked 139 shots while skating more than 20 minutes per game.
Think of Murphy as part of a defensive foursome at the end of drafts, entirely foregoing the position until the very end and loading up on hits and blocked shots exclusively. He'll add the odd point and penalty for good measure, too, as the Coyotes take what should be another step toward relevance.
C Elias Lindholm & W Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
With the new acquisition of W Teuvo Teravainen, the Hurricanes will feature some exciting, youthful options. Early reports from the Hurricanes' team website suggest Teravainen will skate with Aho and Lindholm in camp, and potentially form one of the team's top trios.
Lindholm hasn't shown much flash in his three seasons, but it's not out of the realm of possibility he tops the 39 points he's tallied in each of the last two seasons. He's taking more shots, and so far he hasn't seen the resulting success. Another year with a stronger supporting cast could be the answer.
Aho is more exciting because he hasn't set foot on NHL ice yet. He was a point-per-game player in SM-liiga a year ago, scoring 20 goals and adding 25 assists in 45 games. Neither will likely be targeted in drafts, at least not until late, making them interesting flier options.