Like my sister has reminded me time and again, some people LARP, some people do fantasy sports. I always try to counter this with some feeble rationale that, because it's sport, it's more socially accepted. In reality, we substitute being imaginary Frodo's for being imaginary hockey experts and GMs. Hey, it's an excellent tool for procrastination. Could you imagine someone skipping out on work to lead a peasant revolt?
Admittedly, I like the speculation of fantasy sports from year-to-year, and how close it brings me to the sports I like. Which leads me to wonder, if I was to put anything on here fantasy sports-related, what would I put? Well, just so happens that two things occurred to me: a.) the most important thing in terms of fantasy sports advice is a well-explained and -supported "sleeper" list, and b.) all of us at BN are joining a fantasy league together. As the league is still a little ways off, I'll take a few posts to discuss what might be called a "sleeper" list.
The reason I put quotations marks around "sleeper" is because it is a bit of a misnomer for this list. A true "sleeper" is someone few people expect to succeed but ends up exceeding those expectations (usually significantly). Really, it is just as important to recognize players rebounding from injury-plagued seasons that others might have forgotten, or finding players of equal talent to others that could, nevertheless, fall further in drafts. A good way of identifying these players is by using comparisons. For example, a few smart people last year kept Patrick Marleau in the back of their mind and scooped him up in later rounds. The return, of course, was great. Here are a few players at each position capable of matching that kind of jump (or are simply under-appreciated as they are):
P.S. I am using Yahoo Sports 2010 fantasy draft rankings and positions in the mostly standard 12-team format.
Nikolai Antropov - Atlanta Thrashers
Average draft position: 148th pick
I don't know why everyone's so sour on Antropov, as he has slowly but surely developed into a fairly impressive hockey player over the years. Let's try that again...people don't like him because he's on the Thrashers. But I think last year proved that there are many things about his production that are defensible. He's always been just a shade under point-per-game production, with above-average shooting ability (lifetime 14%). He's always thrown around his gargantuan (6'6", 240lb.) frame, accruing 527 penalty minutes in 603 games. He's perennially included in his team's PP unit and, coming into 2010-11, he'll be the most heavily-used forward in Atlanta. His 19% shooting will probably regress, but his shots will surely increase, and it is worth noting that he performed even better after Kovalchuk left town (11 goals and 25 points in the final 25 games). Finally, his +13 was a full 7 points higher than any other full-time Atlanta player. He's a late-rounder, but not necessarily a downgrade.
2010-11 prediction: 75 games, 30 goals, 37 assists, 67 points, +5, 28 PP points, 201 shots, 80 PIM
Patrick Sharp (C,LW) - Chicago Blackhawks
Average draft position - 100th pick
Could easily match the production of: Jeff Carter (39th pick)
A few years ago, the Flyers sent Sharp to the Blackhawks for the measly return of Matt Ellison and a 3rd round pick (which would be used to get possible AHL-lifer Jonathan Matsumoto). Sharp has since developed into one of the more complete players on the 'Hawks, getting loads of playing time on the power play and penalty kill. A talented shooter, when he moved to a secondary shooter role last year he learned the play-making aspects of the game to the tune of a career-high 41 assists. When many had Jeff Carter pegged to build upon his breakout 2008-09 season, Carter dropped to nearly the same points-per-game as Sharp (.82 to Sharp's .8) and 22 PP points (to Sharp's 16). There are reasons to believe that Sharp and Carter will stick very close to one-another this year, in terms of production, including the fact that it is becoming clear that Carter is much closer to the player he exhibited last year than the one he was in 2008-09. He's a career 10.9% shooter, a mark not far from the 10.3% he posted in 2009-10, and with as many weapons as the Flyers have, he might not reach the 300-shot level again. The emergence of van Riemsdyk and the addition of Zherdev and possibly Bill Guerin will eat into his shot totals, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Claude Giroux grow into more playing time and a greater role in the offense. Sharp, on the other hand, had a 3-year low in shooting percentage with 9.4%, after years of 17.2% and 14.1%. He's a career 12.5% shooter. The Blackhawks' off-season saw the departure of two bigger shooters in Byfuglien (211 shots) and Versteeg (184 shots) and little to take their place. While Carter's +/- took a substantial dip in 2009-10, I don't think he and Sharp will be significantly different this year, as the Blackhawks and Flyers are pretty close to each other skill-wise. Of course, the coup de grace for this argument is Carter's loss of dual- position eligibility, as he has improved his face-off taking skills.
2010-11 prediction: 82 games, 30 goals, 40 assists, 70 points, +10, 21 PP points, 280 shots, 45 PIM
Short list, huh? In general, I'm not too concerned with centers, because unlike many of the other positions you can usually add serviceable centers over the course of the fantasy season, even in deep leagues. You'll see far more players in the next installments of wingers and later defensemen, then a nice tidy finish with goaltenders.