Post-hype sleepers: 3 players who deserve another chance in fantasy
Many experts and analysts pegged the following players as prime breakout candidates heading into last season. Instead, these players regressed, and are now flying under the fantasy radar. Those breakout predictions, however, could have been just one year off. Now that the hype around them has died down, these three are sleeper candidates whose disappointing recent performance could translate into great value.
Morgan Rielly, Maple Leafs
A 21-year-old Morgan Rielly set career highs in goals (nine) and assists (27) during Toronto's last-place finish in 2015-16. With another year of experience under his belt, and expectations that the Maple Leafs would improve offensively (though not as much as they actually did), he was an obvious choice to break out last season.
Things didn't go as planned. Rielly recorded 27 points despite playing 22:10 a night on a team with one of the league's most prolific offenses. Heading into 2017-18, Rielly isn't garnering much hype anymore, even though he's a 23-year-old defenseman who can skate like the wind and still oozes upside.
But there are encouraging signs despite the poor point total. Rielly led all Leafs blue-liners (and set a career high) with 171 shots, resulting in a low 3.5 shooting percentage. Moreover, 14 of his 21 assists were primary helpers. A 2-to-1 ratio of primary to secondary assists is very unlucky for a defenseman, suggesting he should get more secondary assists in 2017-18.
Offseason acquisition Ron Hainsey is Rielly's projected D partner. The veteran's stable presence should allow Rielly to join the rush more frequently than last season, when he was usually paired with rookie Nikita Zaitsev or the shaky Connor Carrick.
Rielly's biggest obstacle could be finding power-play time, since Jake Gardiner and Zaitsev are the lone D-men on Toronto's two units. If he can get some time with the man advantage, he could very well record 50 points.
Mikkel Boedker, Sharks
Boedker registered 51 points in 2015-16 between the Coyotes and the Avalanche. Many expected his production to spike in San Jose, where the Sharks offered the chance to skate alongside either Joe Thornton or Logan Couture - both better than any of the centers he played with in Arizona.
Instead, he tallied 26 points, played just 14:21 per night (his lowest average time on ice since 2011-12), and didn't see much time alongside Thornton at five-on-five or on the power play.
That could change this year. After Patrick Marleau's departure via free agency, there's a gaping hole on Thornton's left wing. Boedker and Tomas Hertl are the most logical candidates to fill the void, and it's very possible the latter will play his natural position of center on the club's third line.
Interestingly, Boedker had more individual high-danger scoring chances in 2016-17 than he did in any previous season, including either of his 51-point campaigns. This could indicate he was gripping his stick a little too tightly during his first year in San Jose after signing a four-year, $16-million contract.
With his role projected to expand, Boedker could get even more high-danger scoring chances, and if he can snag the spot Marleau previously occupied on the club's top power-play unit, he could theoretically record 50-60 points.
Connor Hellebuyck, Jets
Hellebuyck was sharp in his 26-game rookie season, posting a .918 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average. It all came crashing down in 2016-17: His save percentage plummeted to .907 and his GAA skyrocketed to 2.89 in 56 games.
The Jets' inability to keep their defense corps intact was partially to blame. Jacob Trouba and Toby Enstrom each missed 20 games and Tyler Myers only suited up for 11. If those three stay healthy, Winnipeg could have one of the best blue lines in the NHL, considering the club also added Dmitry Kulikov and expects a more mature Josh Morrissey in his second season.
Improved play in front of the crease and internal competition from free-agent acquisition Steve Mason could make Hellebuyck's third year in the league the year he comes into his own.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
(Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)