Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2014 [Print without images]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Taking advantage of late bloomers

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Ryan Johansen, Gustav Nyquist and Mikael Granlund
Ryan Johansen, Gustav Nyquist and Mikael Granlund have ramped up their production this season.

We are all guilty of it each and every fantasy hockey season. We select a group of dynamic young hockey players to pin our future hopes on as the next fantasy superstars. Scouting and information is so readily available that we are all usually right in selecting which young stars will have breakout seasons and become fantasy regulars.

But that's not a crime. What we can be accused of is often forgetting and setting aside those young players who don't break out right away. That can be a crime to our own fantasy hockey fortunes, as those players just needed a little bit more time to get rolling.

There are three who come to mind in particular that were at the top of sleeper lists before the 2013 season. They stayed on fantasy owners' minds for the start of this season, but not with nearly as much hype as the campaign prior. Then they slipped off radars early on in 2013-14 before finding themselves quite fantasy-relevant again. Let's take a closer look at all three players, in chronological order of when they jumped back on fantasy owners' radars this season:

The Top 200


Note: Sean Allen's top 200 players are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Sidney Crosby, F, Pit (1)
2. Alex Ovechkin, F, Was (2)
3. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (42)
4. Corey Perry, F, Ana (4)
5. John Tavares, F, NYI (3)
6. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (5)
7. Henrik Zetterberg, F, Det (11)
8. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (6)
9. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (7)
10. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (9)
11. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (8)
12. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (10)
13. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (13)
14. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (15)
15. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (16)
16. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (17)
17. Ben Bishop, G, TB (18)
18. James Neal, F, Pit (19)
19. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (20)
20. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (22)
21. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (39)
22. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (24)
23. Zach Parise, F, Min (28)
24. David Backes, F, StL (23)
25. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (14)
26. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (12)
27. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (25)
28. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (38)
29. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (21)
30. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (26)
31. Martin St. Louis, F, TB (35)
32. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (27)
33. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (30)
34. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (34)
35. Drew Doughty, D, LA (31)
36. Alexander Steen, F, StL (32)
37. Carey Price, G, Mon (33)
38. Eric Staal, F, Car (36)
39. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (37)
40. Rick Nash, F, NYR (47)
41. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (29)
42. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (40)
43. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (52)
44. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (44)
45. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (63)
46. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (60)
47. Matt Duchene, F, Col (43)
48. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (59)
49. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (46)
50. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (48)
51. David Krejci, F, Bos (69)
52. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (50)
53. Thomas Vanek, F, NYI (45)
54. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (41)
55. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (62)
56. Alexander Semin, F, Car (65)
57. Roberto Luongo, G, Van (53)
58. Logan Couture, F, SJ (55)
59. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (56)
60. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (57)
61. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (58)
62. Jaroslav Halak, G, StL (81)
63. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (54)
64. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (70)
65. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (61)
66. Ryan Suter, D, Min (64)
67. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (90)
68. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (77)
69. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (87)
70. Jeff Carter, F, LA (66)
71. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (68)
72. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (71)
73. Kris Letang, D, Pit (51)
74. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (72)
75. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (92)
76. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (75)
77. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (128)
78. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (85)
79. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (86)
80. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (96)
81. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (98)
82. Anton Khudobin, G, Car (79)
83. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (82)
84. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (83)
85. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (84)
86. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (67)
87. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (78)
88. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (89)
89. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (126)
90. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (49)
91. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (111)
92. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (93)
93. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (108)
94. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (95)
95. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (74)
96. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (80)
97. Matt Niskanen, D, Pit (105)
98. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (97)
99. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (99)
100. David Perron, F, Edm (88)
101. Victor Hedman, D, TB (121)
102. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (76)
103. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (100)
104. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (134)
105. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (91)
106. Paul Stastny, F, Col (94)
107. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (103)
108. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (113)
109. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (124)
110. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (112)
111. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (143)
112. Brian Elliott, G, StL (109)
113. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (110)
114. Brent Burns, F, SJ (101)
115. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (130)
116. Steve Mason, G, Phi (114)
117. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (104)
118. O. Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (115)
119. Johan Franzen, F, Det (73)
120. Ryan Miller, G, Buf (102)
121. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (116)
122. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (NR)
123. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (106)
124. Jaden Schwartz, F, StL (117)
125. Jason Garrison, D, Van (119)
126. Torey Krug, D, Bos (127)
127. Nathan Horton, F, Cls (180)
128. Jason Pominville, F, Min (157)
129. Evgeni Nabokov, G, NYI (151)
130. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (160)
131. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (125)
132. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (129)
133. Wayne Simmonds, F, Phi (118)
134. Vladimir Tarasenko, F, StL (177)
135. Tyler Bozak, F, Tor (154)
136. Justin Williams, F, LA (120)
137. Mats Zuccarello, F, NYR (131)
138. Shane Doan, F, Pho (132)
139. Brad Richards, F, NYR (107)
140. Mark Giordano, D, Cgy (158)
141. Dustin Penner, F, Ana (133)
142. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (135)
143. Josh Harding, G, Min (123)
144. R. Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (136)
145. Nick Bonino, F, Ana (137)
146. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (138)
147. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (140)
148. Gustav Nyquist, F, Det (NR)
149. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (159)
150. Mike Green, D, Was (122)
151. Erik Johnson, D, Col (145)
152. Radko Gudas, D, TB (139)
153. Andrej Sekera, D, Car (146)
154. Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI (147)
155. Reilly Smith, F, Bos (149)
156. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (150)
157. John Carlson, D, Was (169)
158. Mike Smith, G, Pho (153)
159. Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR (155)
160. Jacob Trouba, D, Wpg (165)
161. Ben Scrivens, G, Edm (194)
162. Cam Ward, G, Car (168)
163. Marian Gaborik, F, Cls (NR)
164. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (NR)
165. Matt Carle, D, TB (161)
166. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (162)
167. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (142)
168. Mark Streit, D, Phi (163)
169. Mike Fisher, F, Nsh (164)
170. Mike Richards, F, LA (141)
171. Teddy Purcell, F, TB (167)
172. Mark Scheifele, F, Wpg (178)
173. Braden Holtby, G, Was (156)
174. Christian Ehrhoff, D, Buf (NR)
175. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (171)
176. Alex Goligoski, D, Dal (172)
177. Tyson Barrie, D, Col (173)
178. Ondrej Palat, F, TB (193)
179. Jack Johnson, D, Cls (174)
180. P.A. Parenteau, F, Col (175)
181. Mikael Granlund, F, Min (NR)
182. David Legwand, F, Nsh (NR)
183. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (179)
184. Cody Franson, D, Tor (181)
185. Roman Josi, D, Nsh (182)
186. Frederik Andersen, G, Ana (183)
187. Nick Foligno, F, Cls (NR)
188. Frans Nielsen, F, NYI (185)
189. F. Beauchemin, D, Ana (186)
190. Hampus Lindholm, D, Ana (187)
191. Matt Moulson, F, Buf (148)
192. Devan Dubnyk, G, Nsh (176)
193. Tyler Johnson, F, TB (190)
194. Justin Faulk, D, Car (191)
195. Troy Brouwer, F, Was (192)
196. Cody Hodgson, F, Buf (196)
197. Derek Roy, F, StL (197)
198. Alexander Edler, D, Van (198)
199. Chris Stewart, F, StL (199)
200. Adam Henrique, F, NJ (200)

Ryan Johansen, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: Going into last season, Johansen was arguably one of the NHL's top players poised for a breakout. He managed a subtle 21 points in 67 games during his rookie 2011-12 campaign, and was expected to shoulder a bigger load on offense for the Rick Nash-less Blue Jackets last season. That wasn't to be, as his 12 points in 40 games was a step backward. That made the approach to this season one of passive optimism for most fantasy owners. Yes, we all remembered that Johansen was supposed to be special, but there were newer, shinier toys to play with. He went undrafted in most fantasy leagues but was picked up when Marian Gaborik was injured (the first time), and he stepped into the top-line center role with aplomb. He managed to pile in the points on a line with R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno. But now that top winger Nathan Horton has returned from offseason shoulder surgery, Johansen has been tasked to skate on a line with Horton and Boone Jenner; Johansen has four goals and one assist in three games since the new line was formed. It seems he is more than ready to be a top NHL pivot, and it won't be a shock to see a Johansen-Horton-Gaborik line before the end of the campaign.

Gustav Nyquist, F, Detroit Red Wings: He has had a couple of cups of coffee in the NHL during the past two seasons, but Nyquist's calling card has been his dominance of the AHL during that time. Fantasy owners have been watching his scoring and waiting for the 24-year-old Swede to get his chance to earn top-line minutes with the Red Wings for a couple of seasons now. So when Nyquist was called up earlier this season, he was pounced upon by many owners, especially after he scored two goals in his first game. But Nyquist hit the doldrums in December and into early January and was discarded by many owners for fresher options. But since connecting with Henrik Zetterberg in mid-January, Nyquist has been on fire. He has 13 points in the past nine games and has shown no signs of slowing down with Zetterberg at his side. In fact, things could only get better when Pavel Datsyuk finally returns and helps strengthen the lineup even more. While it would be a tall order for Nyquist to reach the heights of Datsyuk or Zetterberg in his career, he is yet another example of a late-round gem developed by the Red Wings, as Nyquist went 121st overall in the 2008 NHL draft.

Mikael Granlund, F, Minnesota Wild: Fantasy owners were chomping at the bit to see this Finnish assist machine make his NHL debut last season as a possible playmaker for the Wild's top line. But it was not to be, as the Wild remained fairly top-heavy last season, and there was only room for one Finnish playmaker on the top line: Mikko Koivu. Granlund has been steady if unspectacular for fantasy purposes this season, as the Wild have improved their secondary scoring. But over the past week and a half, Granlund has had his first opportunity to play alongside Zach Parise. With Koivu still out of the lineup and Parise back, Granlund has eight points in the past five games. Now, this doesn't mean he will replace Koivu on the top line when Koivu is ready to return to the ice, but it does mean there is a chance he does. The Wild have a sample of what Granlund can do with Parise, so coach Mike Yeo may now experiment with Koivu as the second-line center in an attempt to boost the scoring and spread out the offense. At the very least, it's worth keeping an eye on as long as Granlund is putting up multipoint efforts. Koivu is likely out until the Olympic break, so there is time for the Wild to assess the situation and proceed. But here is betting Granlund will find a bigger role on offense waiting for him after the break.

It's great to see all three players having a post-hype breakout season, and it should serve as a reminder that there is a reason we value a sleeper so highly. Sometimes it can take time to develop at the NHL level, adjusting the skill that a player already has to the speed and size of the game. Sometimes it can take a very long time. Just look at the way Mikael Backlund has come on lately: He's only 24 years old, but some fantasy owners have been waiting since 2008 to see him develop. It's foolish to write guys off based on early struggles.

Forwards Rising and Falling

Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay Lightning (up 39 spots to No. 3): Sometimes people ask why we rank injured players in the top 200. A good way to look at the top 200 as it is meant to be viewed is to look at a player and the player immediately below him. The idea is that the rankings are meant to suggest that the first player should have more value in an ESPN standard league for the remainder of the season than the player below him. You have to include injured players in that assessment because of the key part of the phrase "the remainder of the season." By placing Stamkos as the No. 3 ranked player in this week's rankings, we are essentially saying that other than Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, we'd trade any player one-for-one to acquire Stamkos right now. He is targeting a return from the lineup on Saturday, meaning he will miss only two more games. We are betting that Stamkos doesn't miss a beat. And even if he does, he gets the Olympics to find his rhythm again.

Scott Hartnell, F, Philadelphia Flyers (up 51 spots to No. 77): Here we thought he was heating up again on a line with Wayne Simmonds; we had no idea that the old Hartnell would emerge almost instantly once he was paired back up with Claude Giroux. Even though the trio was ineffective earlier this season, Hartnell, Giroux and Jakub Voracek look like the dynamic top offensive line we were hoping they would be coming into this season. Hartnell just needed to warm up on a line with Simmonds and Brayden Schenn for a while. But now that he is on the top unit, it's doubtful he will look back. Remember that Hartnell is the perfect fantasy role player on this top line and contributes value across almost every category when he is on his game. And it's not like Hartnell and Simmonds don't see each other on the ice, as Simmonds joins the top line for the power play.

Joffrey Lupul, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 32 spots to No. 111): Nazem Kadri is on fire and has shown the skill to sustain his hot streak, based on what we witnessed in 2013. Lupul will draft off Kadri's scoring to launch himself back into fantasy relevance. While Lupul was hurt for much of last season, don't forget that he had 18 points in 16 games. And don't forget that Kadri was on the ice for 11 of those 18 points.

Defensemen Rising and Falling

Mark Giordano, D, Calgary Flames (up 18 to No. 140): Big deal, Giordano is on pace for a 48-point season. Well, it's a pretty big deal considering he has missed 18 games. Giordano is actually on an 82-game pace of 62 points right now. That's even better than a fellow you might have heard of by the name of Shea Weber. The Flames may not be a hotbed of offense, but they are going to score, and their best puck-moving defenseman is usually going to be in on the play. Giordano deserves more respect than we are even giving him in these rankings. The biggest reservation on him is the presence of other skilled defensemen who may begin to get bigger roles as the season winds down for a team that is not playoff-bound.

John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals (up 12 to No. 157): Mike Green gets hurt, Carlson scores at a pace better than Green's when he was healthy. It's a formula we've seen repeated a couple of times now and should be an indicator to the Capitals that they have their defensive depth chart out of order. Maybe they will get the message this time, as Carlson has five points in the two-plus games since Green was hurt.

Goaltenders Rising and Falling

Jaroslav Halak, G, St. Louis Blues (up 19 spots to No. 62): The fact that Halak can survive a huge hot streak from Brian Elliott during December and remain the unquestioned No. 1 starter for the Blues is really saying something about how well he has been playing. He is one of the few ultimate triple threats in the goaltending department, with strong numbers in wins, goals-against average and save percentage (on enough shots to make an impact). Of the top five goaltenders during the past month on the ESPN Player Rater, only Halak and Cory Schneider are top 15 on the Player Rater for the whole season.

Quick Hits

• Try not to get too lured into Antoine Vermette's streak of points. The Phoenix Coyotes have a top line of Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan, and Mike Ribeiro isn't playing with Vermette either. One has to think some of the other players will start to pick up the scoring slack sooner rather than later.

Do buy into Patrik Elias' run of points. He has struggled with injury, but the Olympics should help keep him somewhat fresh. He is playing for the Czech team, but the schedule isn't as grueling as the NHL's during the 16-day break.

• We mentioned Mikael Backlund's hot streak for the Flames earlier. He is doing it on the ice with Lee Stempniak, who has a history of streaky fantasy value.

• Keep a close eye on Al Montoya and Cam Ward as we head into the break. Both are the backup on paper right now, but both have a shot at more starts for the opposite reason. Coach Paul Maurice is new for the Winnipeg Jets, so he may not have as much loyalty to Ondrej Pavelec. On the other hand, Ward is the only starter coach Kirk Muller has ever known in the NHL. So while Anton Khudobin was the league's star of the month, Ward is owed some measure of loyalty.