Targeting players coming off an injury-plagued season is a risky strategy, but it's also one of the best ways to find sleepers on draft night. It's a basic principle; players who played less games last season will have deflated statistical totals, meaning they'll be flying under the radar for unprepared owners. Here are 10 players who missed time last year, who appear primed for a bounce-back season.
1. Erik Karlsson OTT - We've seen some prognosticators dropping Karlsson down a few pegs because of last season's injury (partially torn Achilles), but don't be fooled. He remains head and shoulders above any other defender, and he should have no trouble leading the league in points among blue-liners. He returned for the end of the season and playoffs, and even though he admitted he wasn't close to 100%, he still recorded 11 points in 13 games. It's all systems go in 2013-14.
2. Joffrey Lupul TOR - Lupul's injury history stretches back far further than just one season, so this pick isn't for the faint of heart. However, when in the lineup, Lupul has taken his game to new heights the last two years - 85 points in his last 82 starts. If he can somehow keep himself in one piece, he'll provide great value. The key is getting him at the right moment in the draft. Don't go reaching, but don't let him slip too far.
3. Jason Spezza OTT - When healthy Spezza is an elite fantasy player, but due to a back injury, he suited up for just five regular season games last year. He managed to return for three starts during the playoffs, and he's had a full offseason to recover, so there's no reason to believe he'll be anything but full-go come October. He also has a new line-mate in former Ducks sniper Bobby Ryan, meaning he should return to the upper-echelon of NHL scorers.
4. Ray Whitney DAL - Due to age and injury, many owners might be writing off Whitney a little too soon. He missed 16 games with a broken foot during the short season, but he still managed 29 points in 32 starts. Until he shows signs that the end is near, we'll keep buying low on the old vet. As well, if the Stars continue their youth movement, there's a chance Whitney could be moved to a contender at the deadline, which is a potential boon to his late-season value.
5. Ryan Kesler VAN - Word in Vancouver is that Kesler is as healthy as he's been since before the Cup-run, when he notched 41 goals. It's not realistic to expect anything close to that total in '13-14, but all signs point to a significant rebound. This is the first time in three seasons Kesler has been able to maintain a normal conditioning program through the summer, and he's finally ready to hit the ground running. He also looks to be a great fit in Tortorella's system, so this is likely to be his best campaign in several years.
6. Gabriel Landeskog COL - Fantasy owners tend to over-react to short-term trends, and Landeskog's tremendous rookie season had him a little overvalued heading into last season. It's the exact opposite for '13-14, as the Avs Captain is coming off a concussions-marred disaster of a campaign (17 points in 36 games), meaning he'll make for great value in the middle rounds. He's still only 20, so expect more bumps in the road during his ascent, but the only way to go from here is up.
7. Milan Michalek OTT - With the spotlight shining on the potential of the new Spezza-Ryan combo, Milan Michalek is the forgotten man on the Sens' top line. He was snake-bit by a knee injury that cost him 25 starts last year, but like Spezza he's also likely to be the beneficiary of Ryan's arrival. Michalek is only one season removed from a 35-goal campaign, and considering he's coming off such a down year, he'll make for a middle rounder with nice upside.
8. Scott Hartnell PHI - Hartnell was the biggest bust in fantasy hockey last season. His points-per-game average dropped off a cliff, from 0.82 to 0.34, and he never got on track after breaking his foot early in the year. He probably won't bounce all the way back to his career-high levels of '11-12, but it's stating the obvious that the Philly bruiser is a gamer. He'll get it going again this season, and he should be back to his usual roto-stud ways.
9. Tobias Enstrom WPG - The Jets rearguard is coming off two consecutive injury-plagued campaigns, but he remains one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL. Prior to the injury troubles, Enstrom posted back-to-back 50-point seasons. The Jets are quietly trending up, and a career-year isn't out of the question for the 28-year old Swede.
10. Jaroslav Halak STL - Halak was hampered by a severe groin strain last season, and he appeared in only 16 games. His stats were a huge disappointment for owners who drafted him, but in spite of a down year, he remains the best of the three-headed goaltending trio in St. Louis. Jake Allen and Brian Elliott will get their starts, and Halak will have to share the duties once again, but expect him to resume his position as the Blues' 1A between the pipes.
It'll take guts to call out these names on draft night, and we don't suggest stockpiling too many of the players on this list, but sprinkling a couple of them in amongst your safer picks looks like a solid strategy. For more sleepers, bounce-backs, and late round fliers, check out out the Fantasy Hockey Standard '13-14 Draft Guide.