By Michael Finewax, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Identifying and targeting sleepers can have a tremendous impact on your fantasy squad, and the later rounds of your draft are typically when you want to start taking some chances. Some of these players may be undervalued due to injury concerns or simply because they had a tough 2021-22 season, while others may be overlooked by fantasy managers who don't adequately take improved team situations into account. The prime takeaway here is that all these players could return major value relative to where they'll generally be taken in this year's fantasy drafts.
1. Jakub Vrana, LW, Detroit
Vrana only had 13 goals and 19 points last season, but he missed the first 56 games of the campaign after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp that required surgery. He's expected to play on the second line with David Perron and Andrew Copp at even strength in 2022-23, and he should see plenty of action with the Red Wings' top power-play unit as well. Vrana could be in line for a 65-plus-point season this year.
2. Alexandar Georgiev, G, Colorado
Georgiev is in line to serve as the reigning Stanley Cup champion Avalanche's starting netminder in 2022-23 after being traded from the Rangers to Colorado in July. Georgiev had always been a backup with the Rangers and was never going to beat out Igor Shesterkin for the starting job, so the move to Colorado can only help his career. He'll battle Pavel Francouz for the starting gig, but Francouz is injury prone, and it seems like the Avs want Georgiev to grab the job and run with it, particularly after signing him to a three-year, $10.2 million extension this summer. Georgiev will still be worthy of a selection in fantasy pools even if he ends up splitting duties with Francouz, as the Avalanche should easily win 50-plus games on their way to another Western Conference title this year.
3. Boone Jenner, C, Columbus
Jenner is expected to center Columbus' first line in 2022-23, and while that hasn't been seen as an appealing assignment in recent years, this season it will be, as Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine are slated to serve as the Blue Jackets' top-line wingers. Jenner has had success in the past, scoring 30 goals in 2015-16, and he was rock solid in 2021-22, picking up 23 goals and 44 points in just 59 games. Jenner should surpass the 50-point mark for the first time in his NHL career this season, and he could even top the 70-point mark if all goes well.
4. Andrei Kuzmenko, LW, Vancouver
The 26-year-old Russian was signed by Vancouver in the offseason after a huge 2021-22 KHL campaign during which he racked up 30 goals and 53 points in 45 games with St. Petersburg SKA. Kuzmenko should see top-six usage immediately, and if he's able to secure a spot alongside J.T. Miller, his fantasy value will skyrocket.
5. Ilya Samsonov, G, Toronto
The Maple Leafs revamped their goaltending situation this summer, going from Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek to Samsonov and Matt Murray. Of those two options, Samsonov is the one I like, as Murray simply hasn't played well since winning a couple of Stanley Cups with the Penguins. Samsonov inked a one-year deal with Toronto in July after fielding better offers with more money and term elsewhere – he clearly thought his best chance at a career revival would come with a Toronto team that should win 50-plus games once again this season. If Samsonov is able to secure the Maple Leafs' top job, he should be a top-10 fantasy goaltender, easily surpassing the 30-win mark.
6. Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas
Heiskanen has always been highly regarded since being drafted third overall by the Stars in 2017. The talented defenseman was expected by many to break out last season, and while he did post a career-high 36 points, his five goals were a career low. To be fair, the 23-year-old Finn missed a dozen games with mononucleosis, an illness that almost certainly impacted his play before he was officially diagnosed. Couple all that with John Klingberg leaving for Anaheim in free agency, and the opportunity for Heiskanen will be huge this year. It wouldn't be surprising to see Heiskanen rack up 60-plus points and garner Norris Trophy consideration in 2022-23.
7. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, New York Rangers
It's been a disappointing first two seasons for the No. 1 overall pick from the 2020 Entry Draft. Lafreniere came into the NHL with lots of hype, but he's struggled thus far with just 31 goals and 52 points in 135 appearances through his first two campaigns. He finally looked to be coming into his own during the last seven games of the 2021-22 regular season, racking up four goals and a pair of assists over that stretch. As long as he's able to secure a regular spot in New York's top six, Lafreniere could break out in a major way in 2022-23.
8. Jamie Drysdale, D, Anaheim
Just like Lafreniere, Drysdale will be entering his third NHL season in 2022-23. The talented blueliner was selected sixth overall by the Ducks in 2020 and managed four goals and 32 points last season after a three-goal, eight-point performance through 24 contests as a rookie. The signing of John Klingberg in free agency will likely relegate Drysdale to second power-play unit duties, which will cap his ceiling to an extent. Still, Drysdale should set new highs in all offensive categories this year, and if Klingberg gets hurt or is traded at the deadline, Drysdale's fantasy value will improve significantly.
9. Connor Brown, RW, Washington
Brown is slated to begin the season on the Capitals' top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and if he's able to hang on to that spot, he could have a career year. Brown has scored 20 goals twice in his six-year NHL career and both times as a bottom-six forward. The move up the depth chart in his first season with the Capitals will provide a major boost to Brown's fantasy value, and he should be available in the later rounds of drafts.
10. Tyler Toffoli, RW, Calgary
I selected Toffoli as a prime sleeper candidate just ahead of a couple of other undervalued players in Calle Jarnkrok and Vitek Vanecek. Toffoli should benefit from the departure of both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk from the Flames, as he’s expected to move up to the top line in 2022-23 and skate with Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm. Toffoli had an off year in 2021-22, but he still managed 20 goals and 49 points in 74 games split between Montreal and Calgary. Don’t be surprised if Toffoli smashes his career highs of 31 goals and 58 points this season.