The art of drafting a late round value pick is one that takes knack, a little bit of inside information and obviously a lot of luck. As much as every fantasy hockey participant likes to fancy himself as the second coming of Sam Pollock, there are always a few breakout players who inexplicably slip through the cracks and are available in the last rounds of a fantasy draft. One rule of thumb: always follow your hunches. If your gut tells you a certain player is bound for a career year, make sure you draft him. You may have to reach a little for that player, but would you rather see your possible late round breakout performer on someone else’s roster? For example, if you think Tuukka Rask will play over 40 games this year or even steal back the number one job from Tim Thomas by season's end, then do not hesitate to grab him a little earlier in the draft. Here are some potential breakout candidates to keep an eye on this season who should still be available in the 15th roundof your 12-team league draft.
Ted Purcell – Tampa Bay Lightning
Purcell had a real opportunity to live up to his potential last season in Tampa Bay under Guy Boucher and is expected to be a top-six forward for the Lightning in 2011-12. Purcell also had an outstanding playoff run last season on a strong Lightning club. He should be on everyone's fantasy radar in this year's draft, especially in leagues that reward power-play points.
Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets
Wheeler potted 18 goals and registered 44 points in 81 games with the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers last season. He enjoyed a much larger role in Atlanta than what he was used to in Boston and that trend should continue this season in Winnipeg. Wheeler will suit up again on one of the Jets’ top two lines and will also spend a fair amount of time on the ice with the man advantage. At only 24 years old, Wheeler is another great late round value pick.
Derick Brassard – Columbus Blue Jackets
Brassard, who is entering his fourth season in the NHL, is a gifted center who could be in line for a breakout year. The former sixth overall pick is a top-six forward with plenty of upside in a revamped Columbus lineup that will be more potent this year. The Hull, Québec native has progressed every year since 2006 and could register 60-70 points this season, especially if he plays on a line with Rick Nash at some point this season.
Andrei Kostitsyn – Montreal Canadiens
Kostitsyn is an enigma. The big Belarusian potted 20 goals and also registered 25 assists in 81 games last season but could see his production increase this year if he gets time on the point during the man advantage. Kostitsyn's lack of consistency can be frustrating at times and is unfortunately unavoidable. But with Kostitsyn, there is always the possibility that he puts it all together for one glorious season. If that happens, I want him on my fantasy team.
Peter Mueller – Colorado Avalanche
Mueller missed all of last season with a concussion suffered in training camp. It was his second in six months, but it appears that the time off has rid him of his symptoms. The Avs acquired Mueller from Phoenix at the 2010 trade deadline and he went on a tear recording 20 points in 15 games before getting injured on a Rob Blake hit. He is a nice late round value pick as most fantasy participants have forgotten about him, especially if your league rewards power play goals as a scoring category.
Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
The 22-year-old power forward had 14 goals in 37 games before he got taken off the ice on a stretcher after the infamous Zdeno Chara hit that ended his season. Pacioretty displayed some scoring upside for the first time in his young career last year before the hit and will once again get top-six forward minutes this season. Keep a close eye on his progress early in the year, as there is some breakout potential here.
Patrik Berglund – St Louis Blues
Most fantasy hockey experts have Berglund as a potential breakout player this season. Berglund potted 22 goals and registered 50 points in 82 games last season and should get top-six forward minutes this season. The big Swede also recorded an impressive eight goals and 10 points in nine games with Team Sweden at the 2011 IIHF World Championships. Berglund has a lot of offensive upside and I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a big step forward this season.
Nikita Filatov – Ottawa Senators
All signs are pointing towards Filatov starting the year in Ottawa as top-six forward, playing alongside Jason Spezza. Obviously, the lines could change dramatically but if he gets a regular gig with Spezza, the Russian native could finally start living up to expectations. Filatov has all the offensive tools to become a great top-six forward in the NHL, but he never lived up to the hype in Columbus. Hopefully, he'll benefit from the change of scenery and is definitely worth keeping an eye on during training camp and the early portion of the season.
Michael Frolik – Chicago Blackhawks
Frolik registered five points in seven games in the playoffs last year but should start the season on the third line, which limits his fantasy value. Look for 20 goals and 50 points from Frolik and possibly more if he is able to play on the top two lines with any regularity. Frolik still has plenty of offensive upside, but right now his fantasy value is limited.
Artem Anisimov – New York Rangers
If you are looking for a potential sleeper pick, keep an eye on Anisimov. The Russian native has had a very good training camp with the Rangers this year and could see some power play time on the second unit. He is worth a gamble very late in deep leagues.
Marc-André Bergeron – Tampa Bay Lightning
Bergeron is a force to be reckoned with during the power play and Tampa head coach Guy Boucher has indicated he will be given first dibs on the point with the man advantage this season. Bergeron is only a couple of seasons removed from potting 13 and 14 goals and recording the majority of his points on the power play. He'll have plenty of fantasy value if Boucher decides to use him on the man advantage in the vast majority of their games, but there's a good chance that won't happen. Still, he's worth keeping an eye on. He has plenty of upside as a fourth defenseman in a 12-team league.
Marek Zidlicky – Minnesota Wild
Zidlicky is currently number one by default on the depth chart in Minnesota because of the departure of Brent Burns to San Jose. Zidlicky was injured last season, but he is healthy now and ready to log a considerable amount of time on the power play. The Czech Republic native brings a nice combo of PPP's and PIM's to a fantasy team, which makes him an interesting option as a fourth defenseman in a 12-team league.
Anton Babchuk – Calgary Flames
Babchuk is currently number three on the depth chart in Calgary behind Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester but the Flames use him a lot on the point during the power play. Babchuk brings a healthy combination of power play points, +/- and PIM's to the table. He is a nice option as a fourth defenseman and someone who you should target in the late rounds of your draft if you waited on D’s.
Brendan Smith – Detroit Red Wings
Smith was taken in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft and played for Grand Rapids in the AHL last season after two years at the University of Wisconsin. The Mimico, Ontario native is known for his offensive prowess, especially on the power play. Smith is currently fighting for a spot on the big club but Red Wing management believes he has all the tools to be a game-breaker in the NHL. With Brian Rafalskinow retired, Smith should see NHL action at some point this season and could even get a chance to prove himself on the power play sooner than later.
Jonathan Bernier – Los Angeles Kings
Bernier has proven he is ready to start taking the next step in his development and is in the Kings’ short-term plans. For now, management and coaches are all ecstatic with the tandem of Quick and Bernier and have complete confidence in both guys. However, Bernier could be a starter right now on most NHL teams. But the only way the Laval, Québec native could take over the starting job this season in LA is if Quick struggles for any lengthy period or gets injured. If Quick continues to perform as a top 10 goaltender and carries the club deeper in the playoffs, then Bernier could be traded. The Kings just can't justify keeping two number one goalies on the team for an extended period of time, especially when they have blue chip goalie prospect Martin Jones coming up behind both of them. Bernier should start a minimum of 25 games this year and will make for a great third goalie on your fantasy team with plenty of upside.
Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins
Rask was greatly overshadowed by the fantastic record breaking season Tim Thomas enjoyed last year. Despite Thomas' heroics in 2010-11, he isn't getting any younger and it will be interesting to see how much Rask gets to play this year. The Finnish netminder remains one of the league's top goaltenders and is an outstanding keeper selection. He’s also a great sleeper this year as the 23-year-old is full of potential and will surely be a star netminder in the future. Rask makes for a perfect third goalie option on your fantasy team and should obviously also be drafted by all Tim Thomas owners.
Michal Neuvirth – Washington Capitals
Vokoun's presence delays the development of 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth, who will now be the Capitals' backup goaltender. Neuvirth should be considered a perfect number three fantasy goalie on your fantasy team with plenty of upside and should be drafted accordingly. For those of you competing in daily transaction leagues, it’s important to identify the best teams in the NHL and draft one of the high-end backup goaltenders late in the draft. Neuvirth definitely fits the bill and must also be drafted by Vokoun owners looking to protect their investment.
Cory Schneider – Vancouver Canucks
Schneider is a young and highly touted goalie who was very impressive, yet played a very small role with the Canucks last season. He has a great head on his shoulders, moves very efficiently in the net, doesn't get rattled and seems to be very consistent night-in, night-out. Schneider had an excellent year in 2010-11 but we have to remember he is still fairly unproven. Right now, Schneider is very fantasy hockey relevant but only if you're patient. Like Neuvirth and Rask, he should be considered as a perfect number three fantasy goalie on your roster. His fantasy value has obviously been limited because of the presence of Roberto Luongo, but someday he'll get a chance to prove what he can do as a number one goaltender.
Catch Marc Lapierre on Twitter: @MarcLapi