With the return of hockey in our lives, it’s never too late to draft a fantasy squad
As a sports fan, fantasy leagues are one of the most exciting ways to consume your favorite sport. Living the full general manager fantasy by meeting up with your friends and drafting your teams one by one, then facing off on a weekly basis against other rosters to assert your dominance over them is pure bliss.
Fantasy sports websites like to rank players based on their statistics. Most of the time, it accurately reflects players’ performances, but occasionally, players are left higher or lower than their real-life value. For hockey, the NHL website itself has a fantasy section, where they recently released their “Fantasy hockey top 250 player rankings”.
This list cumulates players’ projected statistics in a panoply of different categories for head-to-head leagues, but not for points leagues. With that said, here are five underrated players you should watch out for in your last-minute fantasy league draft.
Taylor Hall, LW, Boston Bruins
Projected ranking: 133
At 29 years old, the first overall pick in 2010 is coming off an abysmal season with the joke of an organization that is the Buffalo Sabres. With a poor two goals and 17 assists with a -21 plus/minus in 37 games compared to his standards, Hall picked it up when he got traded to the Boston Bruins with a hopeful 14 points in 16 games to end the season. After re-signing with Boston over the summer at a very reasonable price, (four years, $24 million), this contract will most likely be looking like a bargain at the end of this season. The 2017-18 Hart trophy winner is going to bounce back this year by bringing some second line scoring to a stacked Bruins’ offence and you can definitely expect Hall to outperform his projected ranking by quite a lot.
Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers
Projected ranking: 83
With Oscar Klefbom’s injury last year, Nurse really seized his opportunity to become Edmonton’s most reliable defender by having an incredible season. In 56 games, the 26-year old put up an impressive 36 points — including 16 goals, the second-most for a defenseman last year. Fantasy-wise, Nurse had an even better season by averaging 25:38 minutes of ice-time per game, having a +27 plus/minus differential and by being in the top 20 for defensemen in shots, hits, and blocked shots. While Klefbom is still out this season, Nurse is looking to repeat what he achieved, and with Edmonton having a weaker defensive core than last year, the Ontarian could very well surpass these astonishing numbers by filling in an even bigger role this year.
Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars
Projected ranking: 112
Having only played three games last year due to a hip injury, it’s hard to guess how well Seguin will perform this year as he will be entering his 12th season in the league. One thing is certain, Seguin has always been an impactful player and a pure offensive beast when healthy as he has put up more than 70 points in six separate seasons. Seguin should also benefit from the emergence of young talents in Dallas with players like Roope Hintz and last year’s Calder Trophy runner-up Jason Robertson. The second overall pick in 2010 will remind people of how good he was before his injury and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Seguin add another 70 point season to his already imposing resume.
Neal Pionk, D, Winnipeg Jets
Projected ranking: 131
From being a defensive liability to becoming one of the most underrated young blue-liners in the league since joining the Jets during the summer of 2019, Pionk has completely shut down critics and was able to become a quiet force in Winnipeg. Pionk is not a flashy player, so he is severely overlooked by poolers. Last year, he registered 32 points in 54 games, 10 of which were scored on the first powerplay unit. He also finished 10th in hits and with a +6 plus/minus differential. Ranked at 131, Neal could very much look like a steal early on in the season.
Linus Ullmark, G, Boston Bruins
Projected ranking: 79
Ullmark has never had a real chance to show off what he really is capable of, simply because the Sabres were atrocious during his time with the team . He has gone under the radar for quite some time now but last year he quietly put up a 0.917 save percentage and a 2.63 goal against average in 20 games on a Sabres team that ended the year with a 15-34-7 record, the worst record in the league. He was able to steal games all by himself last year. After signing with the Bruins over the summer, Ullmark is going to have his shot at being a number one goalie to a consistent playoff team and people are finally going to see his true value. If he falls in the draft, grab him if you can, you won’t regret it.
Graphic by Madeline Schmidt