Every Wednesday this summer, I will bring you a sleeper to watch for the 2009-2010 season (and potentially beyond). The players will be released in no particular order, and each article will contain lots of fantasy-relevant information. I will refrain from picking sleepers that have already shown glimpses of breaking out in the past – players like Anze Kopitar, Brent Burns, Wojtek Wolski, and so on. I will also avoid talking about obvious sleepers like TJ Oshie, Drew Doughty and Steve Stamkos. I’ll go a bit beneath the surface for some sleepers that you may have not thought about.
Michael Frolik made his first appearance on the international hockey radar at the age of 16, when he debuted at the World Juniors for the Czech Republic. He earned the nickname “Baby Jagr” due to being from Kladno, and also because he possessed a similar playing style. Frolik was extremely hyped and even garnered some consideration for first overall pick a few years’ before he was draft eligible in 2006 (he ended up going 10th overall). His slip in the draft was due in large part to a lack of development for Rimouski. He dominated there as a 16/17 year old in 2007, scoring 31 goals in only 52 games. However, the next year he only managed 24 goals in 45 games, and two in nine playoff games.
Frolik had a fantastic rookie season for the upstart Panthers, scoring 21 goals and putting up 45 points in 79 games. Frolik leapfrogged Shawn Matthias, whom many thought would earn a roster spot over him last season. Ahead of Frolik on the depth chart in Florida (before free agency) is David Booth, Cory Stillman, and Nathan Horton. Frolik has a great shot at earning a winger's spot on the top line, and on the second line at the very worst. He has a great work ethic (something that was an issue in junior), and has fantastic and well-rounded offensive game. He was also very valuable for Florida. In Panther wins, Frolik had 34 points in 40 games. However, in games that the Panthers lost, Frolik only had 11 points in 39 games. It is obvious to expect players to score more in wins, but Frolik’s output essentially tripled in wins compared to losses, and that is a trend that shows just how important he was to the Florida offense. His production also improved down the stretch (not something many players on the Panthers squad last season can say), as he posted nine points in the final nine Panther games.
What does this mean for the future? Frolik’s long-term upside is still in question. It depends how Florida decides to build their team (the first major step will be replacing Jay Bouwmeester on the back-end). Frolik has a great shot at breaking the 30-goal barrier next season, and a conservative estimate of 60 points would be easily attainable for the talented Czech. If you are wondering about his keeper league upside, peg him as a consistent 35-45-goal scorer in his prime, with a big season or two thrown in. He has always had the talent, but only last year started to show the work ethic and consistency that separates the stars from the talented disappointments.