Well, it is that time of year again. Hockey Pool drafting season. With the NHL set to begin play less than a week away many of you will be participating in hockey pool drafts and for you, here are a few of my sleeper picks, guys who might fly under the radar of some people, or guys who might have much improved NHL seasons.
Kari Lehtonen – The Atlanta Thrashers I believe will be one of the most improved teams in the NHL and Lehtonen will be a huge part of that. Lehtonen is capable of 30+ wins this season with a very good goals against average and save percentage. If you are in a keeper league, this guy becomes immensely more valuable because his future will only be better. Lehtonen is my pick for rookie of the year.
Alexander Frolov – In his second year in Los Angeles he improved to 48 points from 31 points in his rookie year. He could be playing on a line with Roenick and Demitra this year and I could see him getting 30+ goals and 70 points.
Marc Savard – Yes, I love the Atlanta Thrashers and I really like Marc Savard in the new rules NHL playing center for superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. In 2003-04 Savard scored 52 points in 45 and there is no reason he can’t once again be greater than a point per game player. I am sure Savard is still an after though in many poolies minds, but don’t let that be you.
Ryan Malone – Malone could be considered the unknown Penguin. We all hear about Lemieux, Crosby and the signings of Recchi, Palffy, Leclair and Gonchar but a key beneficiary of all those guys will be Ryan Malone as Malone quite likely will be the “sixth” guy playing on the top 2 lines with all those new forwards.
Mike Cammalleri – Cammalleri is ready to make the jump to the NHL and he will make an impact. Cammalleri would have been in the NHL last year had there been an NHL but instead he benefited by another year in the AHL. And what a stellar year it was scoring 49 goals and 109 points. Cammalleri will play a prominent role on the Kings offense and could step into the first line center role if (or when) Roenick suffers another concussion.
Tyler Arnason – In his rookie year he had 39 points for Chicago and in his second year he improved to 55 points. I see Arnason taking another step forward this year possibly reaching the 70 point plateau. He’s a relative unknown but a worthwhile pickup in any hockey pool.
Nikolai Zherdev – Zherdev played 57 games for Columbus in 2003-04 and scored 13 goals and 34 points. He played in a good Russian league last year and scored 19 goals, 41 points in 50 games. This year he will be playing on the top line in Columbus with Rick Nash and that has to be good for his point totals. 20 goals and 60 points is certainly reachable. As a bonus tip, Todd Marchant is the likely center of that line and could see a bit of a boost in his point totals too.
Thomas Vanek – The Buffalo Sabres are hoping that Vanek will be their sniper of the future. He’s been an goal scoring threat wherever he has played. In 2003-04 he scored 26 goals in 38 games in U.S. college hockey and in the AHL last year he scored 42 goals in 74 games. This year he is going to be given every opportunity to prove his worth in the NHL and it is quite likely he will be doing so on the Sabres top line with Daniel Briere. This duo could become a serious offensive threat in Buffalo’s near future, maybe even this year.
Henrik Zetterberg – The salary cap has forced Detroit to take a youth movement and that will benefit Zetterberg who will now play a much more prominent role in the Red Wings offence. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him improve his output to 25-30 goals and 65-70 points this season.
Brandon Bochenski – Not too many people knew much about Bochenski before this pre-season having been drafted in the 7th round in 2003 by the Senators. But last year he played in the AHL along side Jason Spezza and scored 34 goals and 70 points. So far this pre-season the line of Bochenski-Spezza-Heatley has been on fire and there is no reason to believe it won’t continue. If Jacques Martin was still the Senators coach I am not sure that Bochenski would stick with the team, and certainly not on the first line. But I think new coach Bryan Murray will keep him around. Don’t go crazy and make him an early round pick, he is too risky for that, but he could be a late round steal.