The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs are now upon us and many of us are drafting players for our playoff pools. Here we will go through each series and highlight a player from each playoff team that could be a sleeper for you to steal in your pools.
#1 Boston Bruins vs. #4 Detroit Red Wings
Boston: Dougie Hamilton, D, 2yrs Exp- has 12G-29A-41P, +26, 54 PIM, 4 PPG and 197 shots in 106 career games. In his rookie season, he had 3 assists in 7 playoff games with 11 shots. Hamilton took a huge step in his second season in Boston this year and with a year of playoff experience under his belt, look for him to quietly become a huge factor in the playoffs on the score sheet.
Detroit: Tomas Tatar, LW, 3yrs Exp- Tatar has increased his offensive production in each of his 3 NHL seasons. This year he has scored 19G-20A-39P and had 158 shots in 73 games. In the Olympics this year for Team Slovakia, Tatar put up a goal, an assist, 2 PIM and 9 SOG in 4 games. Team Slovakia was void of superstars, but Detroit is not. Tatar is in a prime position to put up some points in the playoffs this year.
#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #3 Montreal Canadiens
Tampa Bay: Nikita Kucherov, RW, Rookie- Kucherov was called up 28 games into the NHL season as he was one of the top scorers in the AHL through the first part of the season. Kucherov finished the season with 9 goals and 18 points while adding 3 PPG and 102 shots in 52 games. He will be playing with superstars Steve Stamkos and Ryan Callahan along with some other talented veterans who will help him through his first Stanley Cup Playoffs. He may not be ready yet this year to put up eye-popping statistics but he certainly can be a sleeper candidate for some big PPG and GWG that could put your team over the edge.
Montreal: Brendan Gallagher, RW, 2yrs Exp- Gallagher has taken the big step forward that Montreal has hoped for. He nearly doubled his offensive production from year 1 to year 2, scoring 19G-22A-41P, 73 PIM, 8 PPG and 211 shots in 82 games. In his first playoffs last year Gallagher scored 2G, a PPG, a GWG and 22 shots in 5 games. This year he has taken on a larger role with the Canadiens and should be a big part of their playoffs this spring.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4 Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh: Jeff Zatkoff, G, Rookie- Zatkoff took over for Tomas Vokoun in the preseason as he was placed on IR for the whole season with a blood clot. Zatkoff went 12-6-2-1 in 20 games and his first NHL win was a shutout against the Blue Jackets, the Penguins first round opponent. Should Marc-Andre Fleury go down with an injury, the Penguins feel confident with Zatkoff in net and could be the hero of the playoffs should the situation arise. This will be his first NHL playoffs, but to further convince you of how good this guy is, he went on both a 10 game winning streak and a 7 game winning streak this season.
Columbus: Brandon Dubinsky, C, 8yrs Exp- Dubinsky scored 16G-34A-50P in 76 games this season while also helping out on special teams both on the power play and playing short-handed. If Dubinsky can keep his scoring touch going from the season, he will make everyone around him better and the Blue Jackets may actually have a chance to upset the Penguins. Dubinsky is one of the few members of the Blue Jackets who have playoff experience, having 7G-10A-17P in 31 games. His leadership will help youngsters Ryan Johansen and Artem Anisimov in the playoffs keep their confidence rolling over from the regular season and having all three show up on the score sheet each night.
#2 New York Rangers vs. #3 Philadelphia Flyers
New York: Raphael Diaz, D, 3yrs Exp- Diaz had 11 assists this year for the Canadiens, but had a hard time settling down after being traded to the Canucks and then to the Rangers. Diaz is an assist machine when he is on his game and could be an under-the-radar pick for you that many people will overlook. Diaz finished the season with only a 2G-13A-15P stat sheet but much of that was before he was first traded. He has played 11 games for the Rangers now and has had some time to get acquainted with his new teammates before the playoff run. The Rangers have some natural goal scorers on the roster and Diaz could benefit, especially on the power play with trade deadline superstar addition Martin St. Louis now on the their PP, everyone’s stats have a chance to go up in the playoffs. Diaz played in 5 playoff games for the Canadiens with zero points, but this is not that Canadiens team.
Philadelphia: Andrew MacDonald, D, 6yrs Exp- since being traded to the Flyers this year, MacDonald has played only 19 games and recorded a dismal 4 assists. The Flyers just recently signed MacDonald to a long-term contract, so this years’ playoffs are going to be very important for MacDonald. Due to the contract, he has been identified as part of the longer term plans for the Flyers and so far has not showed the playmaking ability he displayed with the Islanders. He does join his former Islander teammate Mark Streit. Hopefully he can help MacDonald adjust to life in Philly. This all sets up MacDonald as a sleeper during the playoffs this post season.
#1 Colorado Avalanche vs. #4 Minnesota Wild
Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Rookie- MacKinnon was a huge part of Colorado’s success this season, scoring 24G-39A-63P, outstanding numbers for a rookie in the NHL these days. Rookies often disappear in the playoffs or even trail off production over the course of the season but MacKinnon was consistent all year long. If he can continue his scoring touch into the post season, you will have one heck of a sleeper on your team. He has dominated at every level and his next stage will be the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Minnesota: Minnesota Goaltending– this has been an issue since last seasons’ playoffs when Niklas Backstrom suffered a playoff ending injury during pre-game warm ups prior to Game 1. Backstrom is still out and backup Josh Harding is still suffering from effects of multiple sclerosis so he is not available. Darcy Kuemper has played extremely well and kept the Wild alive for the playoffs until they could find a more permanent solution in goal. In comes Ilya Bryzgalov, who is now the starter and has done fairly well. So the sleepers for the Wild are the goalie tandem of Bryzgalov and Kuemper. If these two can hold down the fort in goal, the Wild have the offensive power to make a long run into the playoffs.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
St. Louis: Derek Roy, C, 11yrs Exp- at one point in time with the Sabres, Roy was a point a game player in the regular season and almost a half-point a game player in the playoffs. Roy’s stats have gone downward each year since leaving Buffalo but he still has the talent to put up the numbers he once did. He also has a talented cast of players around him in St. Louis to help him get back to his old self. If the Blues are going to throw everything into the pot this year and win the Cup, Roy needs to be apart of it both leadership wise and on the score sheet. Roy has scored 7G-19A-26P in 45 career playoff games.
Chicago: Bryan Bickell, LW, 7yrs Exp- Bickell was the hero of the playoffs last year for the Blackhawks as his post-season stats were incredible. He came out of nowhere to put up 9G-8A-17P in 23 games and had 2 GWG. The Blackhawks have mediocre goaltending and need their superstars to carry the team. They also need sleepers like Bickell to step up and take a share of the load off the stars shoulders. His experience in the playoffs will be invaluable to this veteran Blackhawks team that looks to establish themselves as a dynasty with another Cup win this year.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #4 Dallas Stars
Anaheim: Frederik Andersen, G, Rookie- the Ducks had a 3 headed monster in goal this season with Jonas Hiller, Viktor Fasth and Frederik Andersen seemingly coming out of nowhere as well. In fact, he played so well, the Ducks felt Fasth was expendable and traded him to the Oilers at the deadline. In 28 appearances, Andersen has posted a 20-5-0-0 record this season and will start Game 1 for the Ducks. If the Ducks are looking to add another Cup to their trophy case this season, they will need to lean on Andersen and hope the rookie does not falter in the playoffs. Anaheim certainly has the fire-power and toughness to make it through all four rounds of the playoffs, the question is if their rookie goaltender is up to the task. If he is, you have yourself a fine sleeper goaltender waiting to get you points.
Dallas: Tyler Seguin, C, 4yrs Exp- Seguin, by far, has had his best season in the NHL up to this point and it happened on his new Stars team and with new Stars coach Lindy Ruff. Seguin put up 37G-47A-84P in 80 games this year. Seguin is one of the stars of this Dallas team and is shining in limelight here. He put up decent numbers in Boston but seems to have been over-shadowed by the other talent on those Bruins teams. Come playoff time however, Seguin seemed to disappear in Boston, only scoring 6G-12A-18P in 42 career playoff games. Seguin is definitely a sleeper because of his poor playoff performances in the past. Things may have taken a turn for the better for Seguin in Dallas this season so drafting Seguin in your playoff pool would be a wise idea.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Los Angeles Kings
San Jose: Joe Thornton, C, 17yrs Exp- Thornton is getting up there in age as he is 34 years old. His numbers have not tailed off greatly at all. In fact, his assist totals have been extremely good in both the regular season and the playoffs. But how much longer can he play? How much longer can the Sharks keep this team together before it starts to crumble with the losses of its superstars? They have squandered chance after chance in the playoffs every year, often getting bounced out in the first round after cruising through the regular season many times quite easily. Look for Joe Thornton to lead this team and put everything on the line for the Cup this spring. His assist totals should remain the same, but his goal totals may increase this post season as he gives his all in a last ditch effort to drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli, C, 2yrs Exp- in the playoffs last year, Toffoli had 2G-4A-6P in 12 games as a rookie. This regular season he played in 62 games, scoring 12G-17A-29P. With the talent surrounding him on this veteran Kings’ club, Toffoli is poised to be a break out star in the playoffs this year. His stats are trending upward and his playing time has increased. With the physical style of play that L.A. is known for, he will be getting more minutes as players take shorter shifts to sustain a punishing style for longer periods of time. Toffoli will have his chance to shine this post season and really make a name for himself.
Michael Nowak was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and is a suffering Sabres and Bills follower. He contributes fantasy football articles to dobberfootball.com follow him on Twitter @NowakHockey