With the 2016-17 NHL season now fully underway, we’re gonna count down the Top 15 Unknown Players Who May Surprise You this year. Each of these players played significant roles last year and with recent roster moves in the off season boosting each of their respective teams, expect a much bigger role and higher point production from them. Now don’t think that everyone here is going to be a sleeper pick in your Fantasy Pool, but do expect them to overachieve for the first time in their careers.
Every year there are sleeper picks when it comes to rookie players, but there are also sleeper picks when it comes to regular roster players. This is a yearly occurrence many don’t even notice until the season has already passed. But we’re here to let you know of some before the season even kicks into full gear. Some of these players will surprise you, some of these players won’t, but regardless here is our list of the Top 15 Unknown NHLers Who Will Surprise You in 2016-17.
15 Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks
Jakob Silfverberg spent the majority of the 2015-16 season on the second and third lines for Anaheim, putting up a respectable 39 points in 82 games. During the pre-season, Silfverberg showed he’s ready for the next level and was promoted to being a first line regular. He’ll likely spend the majority of this season on that line with Ryan Getzlaf and either Nick Ritchie or Corey Perry. However you look at it, Jakob is in for a serious 2016-17 campaign and he could potentially reach between 50 and 60 points for the first time. If he does manage to get hurt, he won’t be dropped in the lineup, as he’ll probably come right back onto a top six spot. However, injuries haven't been a huge concern for him over the last two years, as he's only missed a single game over that span.
14 Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Cam Atkinson has been a career second and third liner so far in his career, but that may change for him in 2016-17. With the decline in Nick Foligno’s play, as well as David Clarkson being hurt, Atkinson could see himself on the first line for the first time for an extended period, where he'll be playing with high quality players like Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner or Brandon Saad. Whatever the final line becomes, it’s going to be one that will see a point increase for Atkinson. During the 2015-16 season Cam had a career high in points with 53 in 81 games. Now with Cam being a career full season player and now on the first line, don’t be surprised if he manages to put up 60+ during the 2016-17 season.
13 Louis Domingue, Arizona Coyotes
Louis Domingue showed last year, when Mike Smith was injured, that he could come in and give the team so quality minutes in the crease. He posted a .912 save percentage along with a 2.75 goals against average, to go with his 15 wins in 39 games. Not bad for a 5th round pick in 2010.
What makes Domingue a potential surprise player this season is that he has the potential to take Smith’s job completely away from him and become the new number one goalie in Arizona, especially if Smith deals with injury issues again. With the youth movement well underway,and Louis only being 24, he would make a great number one for the future of the young Arizona Coyotes team.
12 Teemu Pulkkinen, Detroit Red Wings
Teemu Pulkkinnen played a total of 36 games last year, only managing to score 12 points for the Detroit Red Wings. After an exceptional preseason, many around the league were surprised when the Red Wings sent him down to the minors, which put him on waivers. The Wild were quick to snatch him and we except him to move up the depth chart at RW for the Wild, as players like Chris Stewart and Jason Pominville aren't what they used to be and the Wild could use an injection of youth in their forward ranks. If you take a quick glance at DailyFaceoff, they claim Minnesota is already using him on the second line with Mikko Koivu and Michael Granlund. If given an extended chance, Pulkkinen could be a huge surprise this year.
11 Connor Murphy, Arizona Coyotes
Another Arizona Coyotes player ready to make some nosie in 2016-17 is defencemen Connor Murphy. Murphy spent the majority of the 2015-16 season on the second and third line defence pairings, when the Coyotes had a bit more experience on the back end. With a lot of those players off to different teams, Connor was moved right up to the first pairing with Ekman-Larsson. His 6'4", 212 pound frame playing with someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson this year is going to make for an exceptional defensive pairing, so expect a huge increase of time on ice and overall points. In 2015-16, Murphy scored a career high 17 points in 78 games played. If he can play another 75 plus games as a solid first line defencemen, expect a surprise season from Murphy as he sets a career high in points.
10 Eddie Lack, Carolina Hurricanes
Eddie Lack is another goalie on this list that may surprise everyone in 2016-17. With Cam Ward’s play deteriorating sharply, Lack will have the chance to steal Ward’s job right from under his skates. In 2015-16, Lack played 34 games posting a 2.81 goals against average along with a .901 save percentage, to give him 12 wins. These numbers are not at all fantastic, but he was playing behind an inexperienced defensive core in Carolina. With those defencemen now a year older and wiser, if Lack does manage to secure the number one job from Ward, expect a much better year from him in wins, games played, save percentage and goals against average. Lack showed in 2014-15 with Vancouver that he has what it takes to be a number one goalie and he has the chance to do just that and shock everyone this season.
9 Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
With Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang being sent back down to minors after a mediocre pre-season, plus the losses of Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin and Kyle Okposo in the off-season, expect Josh Bailey to jump the depth chart a few lines. Last year, he moved up and down the lineup, scoring 32 points in 81 games. This year, he'll likely see most of his time spent on the second line, where he’ll be playing with players like Anders Lee, Jason Chimera, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson. He could very well manage a significant point increase if he manages to play a full season again. This could put him in the 40+ point region, which he's only managed to do once, back in 2014/15.
8 Jake McCabe, Buffalo Sabres
If Jake McCabe continues his constant growth as a stud defencemen, he could very well move up to the first line defensive pairing sometime this season. He’s projected to play on the second pairing this year, which is a promotion over last year's third pairing. Jake played in 77 games last year for Buffalo, scoring a total of 14 points as well as a +6 rating, on a team with a variety of minus players. This year, on the second defensive line playing with Zach Bogosian, expect him to have a career year in points. The real surprise will come when he inevitably moves up to the first defensive line pairing with either Dmitry Kulikov or Rasmus Ristolainen. When this happens, McCabe could easily manage a 20+ point year for the first time in his NHL career.
7 Patrick Eaves, Dallas Stars
Patrick Eaves bounced around the lineup in Dallas during the 2015-16 season, playing on all four lines and scoring only 17 points in 54 games. This year, luckily for him, Eaves is projected to start on the first line, which means significant ice time with the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, two of the absolute best players in the NHL. If he can manage a whole season playing with those two, that would be a massive surprise on its own. The bigger surprise will be him managing to stay ahead of players like Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler. He has the potential and skill set to do it, so he just needs to stay healthy. If he can pull this off, expect a massive and surprising year from Patrick Eaves.
6 Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
Joonas Donskoi is gonna get a chance to jump up in the lineup throughout the season playing and we'll play with some amazing talent; players like Logan Couture, Mikkel Boedker, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. The reason why he could be more of a surprise than most people think is because his ceiling is very high. He scored 36 points in 76 games as a rookie and he also scored 12 points during their long run in the playoffs. This season, he'll begin on the second line with Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker and could take the next step as an established top six player in the NHL. The former fourth round pick has a all the tools needed to be a star and just needs a little more ice time to prove it. We think that'll happen this year.
5 Stephen Johns, Dallas Stars
Stephen Johns spent most of the 2015-16 season with Dallas as a seventh defencemen, scoring only 3 points in 14 games played, but he really started to shine in the playoffs, playing in 13 games and looking like a wily, old vet. With Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell leaving town, this ultimately left a spot for Johns to step into. After a solid pre-season showing, Johns is expected to start the season on the second pairing with Johnny Oduya. Now registering top four minutes and a huge increase in games played compared to last years, Johns will easily score a career high of 20+ points. The surprise is his potential of moving on up to the first pairing with John Klingberg, if Jordie Benn manages to fall apart. If this scenario happens for Johns, he could increase his point total even more in 2016-17.
4 Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
One of the biggest shocks in the hockey world was when Jaccob Slavin was able to out play first overall pick Noah Hanifin and move up the depth chart in 2015-16. Jaccob continued to do so this pre-season and is now expected to start the year on the first pairing with a huge offensive threat, Justin Faulk. In 2015-16 Slavin played a total of 63 games scoring 20 points. This year, we will see Jaccob play a lot of time on the power play as well, mostly on the second unit, but that could help pad his numbers a little. 2016-17 won’t just be a surprise for Carolina fans, but everyone who follows hockey. If Jaccob can play another lengthy season and get some serious minutes, we'll likely score a career high in points, roughly around the 30-35 point mark.
3 Richard Panik, Chicago Blackhawks
Richard Panik will see a significant point increase this season. After being traded to Chicago from Toronto last year, Chicago instantly placed him on the first line with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, where he didn't look completely out of place. Over a short time span, he scored 8 points with a +8 rating during the season, while adding 3 points in six playoff games. A full season with Hossa and Toews could see Panik jump from that 8 point total in 2015-16 to possibly 40+ in 2016-17. However, if Panik fumbles and can’t manage to stick with those guys, expect him to fall to the third line. He’ll still manage between 15 and 25 points though if that does happen. Either way, Panik is definitely a interesting player going into the 2016-17 season.
2 Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers
Jonathan Marchessault, a career AHLer and fourth liner with Columbus and Tampa Bay, has a lot of people currently stunned and you’ll soon see why. He played 45 games last year with Tampa, scoring only 18 points. However, this year with Florida, he’s expected to open the 2016-17 season on the first line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, as well as getting some power play time on the second unit. This huge increase of time on ice with All Star players could have Marchessault easily registering his highest point total of his NHL career. With Jonathan Huberdeau out for an extended period of time, Marchessault will have a few months to stake his claim for a top six position with the Florida Panthers.
1 Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
When the Winnipeg Jets placed Ondrej Pavelec on waivers just a few days ago, this brought about the start of Connor Hellebuyck’s career as a number one goalie. Connor showed flashes of how strong he could be in that position in 2015-16, as he played 26 games in the NHL, winning 13 games with a 2.35 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Things didn’t stop there though, as he also started 30 times in the AHL, winning another 13 games but posting a better save percentage. Hellebuyck continued this amazing play during this year's pre-season, which ultimately led to Pavelec’s demise in Winnipeg. With Connor now controlling the net in Winnipeg, expect a better season, more wins and a surprising outcome from him in 2016-17.