The stars typically come out to shine in the NHL post-season. But whether it was Jake Guentzel last year or Nick Bonino the year before, the lesser lights have a tendency to steal the spotlight.
Here are 10 sleepers who could help you win a playoff pool.
Craig Smith, Nashville
After a down year in which he scored only 12 goals and had his ice time significantly reduced, this has been a bounce-back season for Smith. He’s still outside the top five in team scoring, but since the all-star break, the winger had 25 points in 33 games. Recently, he was moved to the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. As long as he stays there, he should be in a position to continue putting up big numbers.
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado
Nathan MacKinnon’s linemate has obviously benefited from playing with a top-five scorer this season. But in some ways, it has been a give-and-take relationship. Rantanen, who tied for 16th in scoring, had 84 points in 81 games — and the sophomore forward appears to be getting better as the season goes on. In March, he had 23 points in 15 games, which was one more than MacKinnon.
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh
It was a year ago when Guentzel was called up from the minors and scored 13 goals — one shy of Dino Ciccarelli’s rookie playoff record — and 21 points in 25 games to help the Penguins win their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups. The offence has settled down a bit this season, with the 22-year-old scoring 22 goals and 48 points. Whenever a player is on a line with Sidney Crosby, though, the potential is there.
Kyle Connor, Winnipeg
If you’re picking Winnipeg players in your playoff pool, chances are you’d choose Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and maybe Nikolaj Ehlers before Connor. But don’t wait too long. His 31 goals this season were the second-most on the team and one of the 30 best totals in the league.
Evander Kane, San Jose
The Sharks gave up practically nothing for Kane at the deadline, but even if they had traded away all their top prospects he would still be worth it. In 17 games, the winger had nine goals and 14 points. With Joe Thornton’s status questionable, San Jose needs Kane to continue to produce. The only question: how will a player with absolutely no playoff experience perform in his first post-season?
James van Riemsdyk, Toronto
It’s somewhat strange to consider van Riemsdyk a “sleeper pick.” After all, he was just outside the top 10 in the Rocket Richard Trophy race with 36 goals this season. But as a third-line forward on a team overflowing with offensive options, he’s got to make the most of his limited opportunities. So far, he has done just that. And considering he becomes a free agent on July 1, there should be no shortage of motivation to continue it into the playoffs.
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia
The sophomore slump seemed to hit Konecny earlier this season, when he managed just four goals and 13 points in the first three months. But since Jan. 1, the Flyers winger stepped up with 20 goals and 34 points in 43 games. Playing on a top line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier certainly helps. So does the fact that Konecny’s ice time has increased by more than three minutes per game.
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay
On a team with Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman and Vasilevskiy, it’s sometimes easy to overlook just how good Point has been this season. His 32 goals and 66 points would put him as the leading scorer on some teams. Even in Tampa Bay, his contributions have been essential. No one in the NHL has more game-winners (12) than Point, while his five shorthanded points makes him a threat even when his team is down a man.
Zach Parise, Minnesota
While Eric Staal led Minnesota with 42 goals, the team won’t go far with just him scoring. Lucky for the Wild, another veteran has recently found the fountain of youth. After missing the first three months of the season, Parise finished with just 15 goals this year. Of course, 12 of those came in the last 18 games. With Ryan Suter out, Minnesota will take all the offence it can get.
Tomas Tatar, Vegas
With only four goals since joining the Golden Knights at the trade deadline, Tatar hasn’t exactly justified giving up a first-round pick, a second-rounder and a third-rounder to the Red Wings. But don’t write him off just yet. When Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith were out of the lineup, Tatar joined William Karlsson (43 goals) on the top line and didn’t look out of place. It could be the confidence-booster he needs heading into the playoffs.
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