Special to Yahoo Sports
The first few rounds of fantasy drafts are usually less about winning your league and more about not losing it. The top players on the board will, broadly speaking, cancel each other out if healthy, barring extraordinary production or underachievement.
Leagues are actually won in the middle and later rounds, as those who drafted sleepers like Alex DeBrincat, Adam Fox, and Marc-Andre Fleury last season can attest. Sleepers come in a few archetypes, the most common of which is young players hitting their stride and turning potential into production.
Other scenarios that often produce quality sleepers are old faces in new places — be it players taking on larger roles or simply going from a bad situation to a good one, not to mention the guys who step up to fill voids created by prominent exits. Post-hype sleepers are players who blossom just as the majority of fantasy managers have crossed them off their sleeper lists. The final common category of sleepers are those that are hiding in plain sight but simply aren't getting the love they deserve on draft day, often due to playing on bad teams and/or in small markets.
The players below all fall into one of those aforementioned categories, and they all have the potential to substantially outperform their current ADP if things break right ...
Roope Hintz, DAL (ADP: 65.9) - Hintz's per-game numbers last season were very impressive (15 goals, 43 points in 41 games), and he put those up despite playing through a bothersome groin injury that left his availability in doubt on a nightly basis. After addressing the injury via surgery in the offseason, the 24-year-old Finn is ready to blossom into a superstar. Just staying healthy and repeating last season's 18th-ranked per-game point production would make Hintz a steal in the seventh round, but there's a good chance he's nowhere near his ceiling considering he's grown his point total by double digits in each of his first three seasons.
Cole Caufield, MON (ADP: 104.1) - Caufield has been an offensive force at every level, and his small stature doesn't look like it will prevent the 5-foot-7 winger from developing into one in the NHL. Last season alone, Caufield lit the lamp 30 times in 31 games with Wisconsin in the NCAA, added three goals in two games with AHL Laval, then scored four goals in 10 regular-season NHL games before helping Montreal reach the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-8-12 line in 20 playoff contests. The 20-year-old Wisconsin native has the skills to become the Canadiens' top goal-scorer as soon as this season.
Jack Hughes, NJD (ADP: 143.3) - Hughes hasn't developed as quickly as the Devils were hoping for, but the first overall pick in the 2019 draft unquestionably improved as a sophomore, bumping up from seven goals, 21 points, and a minus-29 rating over 61 games as a rookie to 11 goals, 31 points, and a minus-3 mark last season. The 20-year-old center's best days are almost certainly still ahead of him, and he's a low-risk, high-reward option at his current ADP. While a lack of quality wingers around Hughes remains an issue, New Jersey added one of the league's top offensive defensemen in Dougie Hamilton to bolster a power play that Hughes produced a measly seven points on last season.
Filip Chytil, NYR (ADP: N/A) - Chytil's a player to target in deeper formats or with one of your last few picks, even though he doesn't crack Yahoo's Top 200. 2017's 21st-overall draft selection is often overlooked on a Rangers team that's added a pair of top-two picks since then, but Chytil's development could be one of the keys in the Rangers' quest to go from a young team with potential to a contender. The 22-year-old Czech pivot was limited to 42 games by injury last season but produced eight goals and 14 assists — a 43-point 82-game pace. Those numbers are decent on their own but become more impressive considering Chytil only averaged 0:34 on the power play (no points) due to his struggles in the face-off circle. If he improves at the dot or new coach Gerard Gallant figures out how to use him on the power play, Chytil could see a substantial rise in productivity.
Other Sleepers: Sam Reinhart, FLA (83.9), Jason Robertson, DAL (91.3), Patrik Laine, CLS (130.8), Jordan Eberle, SEA (163.7), Pavel Buchnevich, STL (164.8), Jonathan Toews, CHI (166.5), Timo Meier, SJ (171.0), Drake Batherson, OTT (175.0)
Jakob Chychrun, ARI (ADP:90.4) - Fading the Coyotes makes sense after their offseason fire sale, but Chychrun's blossoming into one of the game's best defensemen, even on what should be one of the worst teams in the league. After showcasing his dangerous slap shot with 12 goals in 2019-20, the 23-year-old Florida native broke out with 18 goals and 41 points in 56 games last season. He only got better down the stretch, producing nine goals and 10 assists in the last 19 games. While the Coyotes lost some talent up front in the offseason, they also freed up even more power-play time for Chychrun by shipping out fellow blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who tied Chychrun for the team lead — not just among defensemen — with 14 power-play points last season.
Tony DeAngelo, CAR (ADP: 144.6) - In 56 games last season, Hurricanes defensemen combined for 32 power-play points. Dougie Hamilton (18) and Jake Bean (five) are no longer on the team, while Jake Gardiner (three) is on LTIR and could miss the whole season. That leaves just six of those points accounted for between Brett Pesce (five) and Jaccob Slavin (one). DeAngelo was kicked off the Rangers after an altercation with a teammate last year, but he ranked fourth among all blueliners in points (53) and ninth in power-play points (19) in 2019-20, making him the leading candidate to replace Hamilton as the top-unit point man for a Carolina power play that ranked second only to Edmonton's at 25.6 percent last season.
Other Sleepers: Miro Heiskanen, DAL (80.9), Samuel Girard, COL (129.3), Rasmus Dahlin, BUF (151.9), Jamie Drysdale, ANH (163.4), Bowen Byram, COL (171.7)
Linus Ullmark, BOS (ADP: 91.6) - There's a chance the Bruins will bring Tuukka Rask back down the stretch once he recovers from hip surgery, and Jeremy Swayman looked impressive in a 10-game cup of coffee last season, but Ullmark's experience should give him the first shot at the starting job in Boston. The 28-year-old free-agent signing has the skills to grab the reins and never look back. Remember last season's historically bad Sabres team? Ullmark went 9-6-3 with those guys. In fact, Buffalo has consistently finished near the bottom of the standings since Ullmark made his NHL debut in 2015, but the Swede still has a respectable career line of 50-47-13 with a 2.78 GAA and .912 save percentage. Those numbers should improve significantly on a Bruins team that's finished no worse than fourth overall in least goals against in each of the past four seasons.
Mike Smith, EDM (ADP: 129.2) - Smith's currently getting drafted as the 25th goalie off the board despite ranking seventh in wins (21) and save percentage (.923), as well as 12th in GAA (2.31) among goalies with at least 15 appearances last season. Sure, that was an unexpected bounce-back campaign for a 39-year-old goalie who previously appeared to be in decline, but the Oilers clearly believe he can sustain that level after not adding any further competition to unappealing incumbent alternatives Mikko Koskinen and Alex Stalock.
With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl providing a ton of goal support and a solid group of defensemen in front of him, Smith's in good position to comfortably outperform his ADP.
Other Sleepers: Sergei Bobrovsky, FLA (119.1), Vitek Vanecek, WAS (139.4), Anton Khudobin, DAL (162.2), Pavel Francouz, COL (166.9), Cal Petersen, LA (171.1)