Next year's sleeper picks and no-brainer picks for Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, Chicago and St. Louis...
Henrik Zetterberg. Datsyuk is also in this category, but it looks like he is going to head to the open market in search of the big payday. Zetterberg before his recent injury was on a torrid scoring pace. I pegged his upside around 95 points before this season, but his play post All-Star break changed all that. Expect at least that total next season, with a chance at 105-110. Zetterberg is one of the best two-way forwards in the entire league.
Niklas Kronwall. He has 60 point upside, but does not get a lot of PP time due to Lidstrom and Matt Schneider patrolling the first unit. Expect at least 40 points next season, with the potential for more if Schneider moves from Detroit.
Paul Kariya. Although he is a UFA, many expect him to re-sign long term in Nashville, and Kariya is good for at least a point per game. It is a shame that a slew of injuries slowed what was looking like the career of one of the greats. Kariya pre-Suter crosscheck was well on his way to being one of the decade’s best players.
Martin Erat. Erat did have a breakout season of sorts, but he is a sleeper in terms of what he can still accomplish. I expect around 80 points next year, as he continues to gain an even bigger role with the ultra-deep Predators.
As tame as this may sound, David Vyborny is my choice. Nash and Zherdev are still too risky to be counted on as sure things. Both have a great shot at out-producing Vyborny next season; they both lack the consistent production that Vyborny has displayed in the past few seasons. He is the forward that makes that team tick, and will continue to play that role until one of the young studs can step up.
Pretty much any forward could be put here. Columbus has been a huge disappointment offensively this season, starting with Zherdev, Nash, and moving down to Fred Modin and star rookie Gilbert Brule. I’ll go with Zherdev. Looking much better these past few weeks. I liken his career to Alex Kovalev, who also toiled with inconsistency (hell, he still does) before putting it together.
Who else? Martin Havlat is inarguably the third most explosive player behind Marian Gaborik and Alex Ovechkin. He has carried the Hawks to a few wins this season, but needs the supporting cast to help more. He also has an injury-riddled past, but I don’t see him as an injury-prone player moving forward. Havlat will approach 100 points.
Jonathan Toews. He may not even see the NHL next season. But in terms of prospects outside the NHL, few are as pro-ready as Toews is. He could stand to put on a few pounds, but already thinks the game like a veteran. The Hawks may try him early with Havlat and the other offensive threats (I use that term loosely here) to try and kick start his career.
Depends if they bring Tkachuk back. The Blues at this point do not have a legitimate no-brainer fantasy player, but they have a number of players who will soon fit in here. I’ll give them two sleepers instead.
David Backes. The big winger has adjusted seamlessly to the pro game after a solid college career. He will hit 25 goals next season playing a big role with the up and coming Blues.
Brad Boyes. The Blues absolutely robbed Boston blind acquiring the struggling Blues. Boyes will be back to a near point a game pace next season, playing in a system that actually encourages good play. Dave Lewis has stifled the Bruins offense (besides the sublimely talented Marc Savard) into nothing.