Here are six players to keep an eye on in the season ahead - all of them warrant 'sleeper' consideration in your draft.
Steve Bernier – Vancouver. Bernier is getting the opportunity of a lifetime this season alongside the Sedin twins in Vancouver. On paper he is the perfect fit for this line (big, shoots right, and plays around the net), but as we all know hockey isn’t played on paper. With a one year deal the motivation to cash in will play a role in Bernier’s season as well. If all goes well, he could hit the 35-goal mark.
Patrick Eaves – Carolina. With news that Justin Williams is injured and out for the season, Eaves’ fantasy value skyrockets. He is a pure finisher who now has a chance to hit 30 goals, as most of Carolina’s other wingers (Ray Whitney and Sergei Samsonov) play on the left side. He could earn a top line gig with Eric Staal if all goes well. Eaves will never have high point totals because he will be very goal heavy, but a 30-goal season would definitely make him someone to watch in fantasy circles.
Erik Christensen – Atlanta. An article out of Atlanta has management already penciling in Christensen on the top line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Williams. Christensen is a sniper with a fantastic wrist shot, so one would think he would be better suited to wing (or on a line without Kovalchuk). With that being said, Williams is a solid passer and Christensen didn’t get an opportunity to play on the top line in Pittsburgh. He was the key component of the Hossa deal and the Thrashers are banking on him to be a focal point of their offense.
Mikhail Grabovski – Toronto. The Leafs believe Grabovski is ready to center their top line of Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Grabovski (much like Christensen) was pushed down the depth chart in Montreal, but he comes in to Toronto with a huge opportunity in front of him. The Leafs will struggle this season, but with a good goalie like Toskala they won’t be as bad as everyone thinks. Grabovski is an electrifying player who can dish the puck. If he sticks with big bodies like Antropov and Ponikarovsky, there may be enough room for him to wheel and deal.
Petri Kontiola – Chicago. With Robert Lang now gone to Montreal, the Blackhawks are very lean up the middle after Jonathan Toews. Kontiola and fellow youngster David Bolland will battle for the second line center spot, but Kontiola’s skill level makes him a natural fit for Martin Havlat and whoever else the Blackhawks put on that line. (Dustin Byfuglien, anyone?) Kontiola was solid in the AHL last season and has a gig in the top six waiting for him in Chicago. In deep leagues he is a great sleeper pick.
James Sheppard – Minnesota. With the departures of Pavol Demitra (Vancouver) and Brian Rolston (New Jersey), a few holes have opened up in Minnesota. Mikko Koivu is more than ready to take over as the top line center, but it gets a big foggy after him. Eric Belanger is more suited to a checking line role, and the Wild have high hopes for Sheppard. He has been brought along slowly, but showed flashes last season of why he has been compared to Jason Arnott (one with a consistent effort to boot).