Tuesday, September 27, 2011

30 in 30: Top NHL Fantasy Sleeper Picks - Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s almost time for those annual fantasy hockey drafts. While most drafts feature the same players going in the first two rounds, it’s those players that you take in the mid-late rounds that will win you your league. Here’s the twenty-third of the thirty players that could be great sleeper picks in your draft this year.

James Neal – Pittsburgh Penguins
Position – Left Wing
Height – 6’2”
Weight – 208
Drafted – 2nd Round, 33rd Overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
2010/2011 NHL Stats – 79GP, 22G, 23A, 45P, +7, 66PIM

It’s amazing to think about how good the Pittsburgh Penguins were last year even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal. Despite missing all three players for the majority of the season, the Pens still managed to not only finish fourth in the Eastern Conference but fourth overall in the NHL standings. It’s kind of scary if you think about how good the Penguins could be this season if they’re back to full health. The team is full of potential and even if Crosby is out for another few months they’re still Stanley Cup favorites. One of the player’s that will benefit from a hopeful Crosby return is James Neal.

Neal was traded to the Penguins last season in the deal with Dallas for defenceman Alex Goligoski. It was a great deal for both teams as they were both addressing some immediate needs and obtaining young players with a ton of potential. The thing that was so promising about Neal was that everyone assumed he was going to be playing with Crosby on the Pens top line. The trade happened in early February and at that time it wasn’t quite known how bad Crosby’s concussion was. When Neal was in Dallas he had 39 points in 59 games. After arriving in Pittsburgh he only managed to score one goal and finished the season with 6 points in 20 games. Keep in mind that he wasn’t playing with either Crosby or Malkin.

It’s easy to overlook Neal’s average stats from last season. What makes fantasy hockey so fun though is trying to imagine what line a certain player will be on. In this case it’s amost a lock that he’s going to be playing with either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby this season. Neal’s most productive season was in 2009/2010 when he scored 55 points with the Dallas Stars. If Crosby is back it’s easy to predict that James Neal will be having a career year this season.

Previous Sleeper Picks:
Day 1 - Anaheim Ducks
Day 2 - Boston Bruins
Day 3 - Buffalo Sabres
Day 4 - Calgary Flames
Day 5 - Carolina Hurricanes
Day 6 - Chicago Blackhawks
Day 7 - Colorado Avalanche
Day 8 - Columbus Blue Jackets
Day 9 - Dallas Stars
Day 10 - Detroit Red-Wings
Day 11 - Edmonton Oilers
Day 12 - Florida Panthers
Day 13 - Los Angeles Kings
Day 14 - Minnesota Wild
Day 15 - Montreal Canadiens
Day 16 - Nashville Predators
Day 17 - New Jersey Devils
Day 18 - New York Islanders
Day 19 - New York Rangers
Day 20 - Ottawa Senators
Day 21 - Philadelphia Flyers
Day 22 - Phoenix Coyotes

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