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Fantasy hockey playoff pool sleepers, X-factors

Targets from each series for leagues counting entire 2023 postseason; podcast analysis

by Fantasy Hockey Staff @NHLFantasy identifies a fantasy hockey sleeper and X-factor from each series for pools counting the entire 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. For more fantasy coverage, visit and subscribe for free to the NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast.



Fantasy pool rankings



NOTES: Basic playoff pools have the following scoring system: goals and assists count for skaters with a bonus for a hat trick, and wins count for team goalies with a bonus for a shutout. These picks are a collaborative effort by Pete Jensen and Anna Dua.



Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers

Sleeper: Tyler Bertuzzi, F, BOS - The Boston Bruins, who ranked second in the NHL in goals per game (3.67) in the regular season, strengthened their forward group at the NHL Trade Deadline with the addition of Bertuzzi, who had 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) in 68 games with the Detroit Red Wings last season. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) over his first 21 games with Boston and has a high ceiling in the postseason if he continues to play on a line with forwards David Pastrnak (61 goals; second in NHL) and Pavel Zacha. -- Anna Dua

X-factor: Carter Verhaeghe, F, FLA - The Florida Panthers rallied to make the playoffs, going 6-3-1 in their final 10 games to secure the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Verhaeghe led the Panthers with 42 goals this season (tied for ninth in NHL) and was an impact player last postseason for the Panthers with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 10 games. He had 15 shots on goal in four games against the Bruins this regular season and could be a difference-maker on a line with high-scoring forwards Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart. -- Anna Dua


Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders

Sleeper: Brady Skjei, D, CAR - With goal-scoring forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty out for the season with injuries, the Carolina Hurricanes will rely on their secondary scoring group, especially from the back end out; Skjei scored an NHL career-high 18 goals in the regular season, tied for third among NHL defensemen, but should still go relatively overlooked in fantasy playoff pool drafts. -- Pete Jensen

X-factor: Ilya Sorokin, G, NYI - The New York Islanders' hopes of upsetting the Hurricanes hinge on Sorokin, who leads the NHL in shutouts (16) since entering the NHL in 2020-21 and ranks second in save percentage (.924; behind Linus Ullmark's .926) over that span. Sorokin could also see a boost in goal support, especially on the power play, if forward Mathew Barzal (tied for New York's lead with 19 power-play points) returns from injury. -- Pete Jensen


Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Sleeper: Brandon Hagel, F, TBL - Considering elite forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have formed the highest-scoring fantasy duo over the past three postseasons combined, Hagel should be along for the ride if the Tampa Bay Lightning make another deep run. Hagel has had a breakout season on mostly the top line with an NHL career-high 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) but will likely still go much lower than the Lightning's "big five" (Andrei Vasilevskiy, Kucherov, Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman) in fantasy playoff pool drafts. -- Pete Jensen

X-factor: Ryan O'Reilly, F, TOR - Acquired from the St. Louis Blues before the NHL Trade Deadline, adds to the Toronto Maple Leafs' elite center depth and could take some pressure off Auston Matthews and John Tavares in the postseason. O'Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted most valuable player of the 2019 playoffs (56 points in 64 career postseason games) and has 11 points in 13 games since joining Toronto. -- Pete Jensen


New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

Sleeper: Luke Hughes, D, NJD - The New Jersey Devils rookie defenseman had two points (one goal, one assist) in two games after signing an entry-level contract following an NCAA Frozen Four appearance with the University of Michigan. Although Hughes will likely be behind elite defenseman Dougie Hamilton in the short-term power-play outlook, Hughes should at least see some ice time with his brother Jack Hughes (led Devils with 99 points) and could make an immediate impact in the postseason against the New York Rangers. -- Pete Jensen

X-factor: Patrick Kane, F, NYR - The spotlight in the Rangers-Devils playoff series will be on elite wings and NHL Trade Deadline acquisitions in Kane (acquired by New York from Chicago Blackhawks) and Timo Meier (acquired by New Jersey from San Jose Sharks). Kane (12 points in 19 games) and Meier (14 in 21 games) fell short of fantasy expectations after the moves in the regular season, but Kane has one of the best playoff track records of his era; Kane, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, is a near point-per-game player (132 points in 136 games; fifth among active players) in his postseason career and won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted MVP of the 2013 playoffs. -- Pete Jensen


Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche vs. Seattle Kraken

Sleeper: Artturi Lehkonen, F, COL - The Colorado Avalanche wing had an NHL career-high 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) and 20 power-play points in 64 games. He played a key role in the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup last season with 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 20 playoff games, and his recent return from injury could be crucial in their title defense. With Gabriel Landeskog ruled out for the postseason because of injury, the Avalanche will continue to rely on Lehkonen, a top-six and power-play fixture when healthy, for secondary scoring. -- Anna Dua

X-factor: Jared McCann, F, SEA - The Seattle Kraken are the most improved expansion team in NHL history with 19 more wins and 40 more points than their inaugural season. The Kraken are led by McCann, who had a breakout season with an NHL career-high 70 points (40 goals, 30 assists) in 79 games and finished tied for 14th in the NHL in goals. Keeping that elite production going gives Seattle a chance to match the production of the Avalanche's top forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. McCann also brings three seasons of past playoff experience with the Pittsburgh Penguins. -- Anna Dua


Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

Sleeper: Wyatt Johnston, F, DAL - The Dallas Stars forward was tied for the most goals (24) among NHL rookies this season and is playing center on the second line with veteran Jamie Benn, who had a bounce-back year with 78 points (33 goals, 45 assists) in 82 games. Johnston had four points (one goal, three assists) in four games against the Minnesota WIld in the regular season and is part of a strong young core with forwards Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, defenseman Miro Heiskanen and goalie Jake Oettinger. -- Anna Dua

X-factor: Filip Gustavsson, G, MIN - The Wild allowed the sixth-fewest goals per game (2.67) in the NHL this season as a result of the strong goalie tandem of Gustavsson (undrafted on average in season-long fantasy leagues) and veteran Marc-Andre Fleury. Although Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Gustavsson was 22-9-7 with a .931 save percentage (second in NHL behind Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark's .938) this season and should benefit from having elite wing Kirill Kaprizov back in the lineup. -- Anna Dua


Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets

Sleeper: Pavel Dorofeyev, F, VGK - The Vegas Golden Knights rookie has nine points (seven goals, two assists), three on the power play, and 40 shots on goal in his first 18 NHL games. Dorofeyev is an under-the-radar player to watch in all fantasy formats with exposure to elite center Jack Eichel (led Vegas with 66 points in 67 games) and wing Jonathan Marchessault (led Golden Knights with 28 goals) on the top line. -- Anna Dua

X-factor: Connor Hellebuyck, G, WPG - The Jets allowed the 10th fewest goals per game (2.73) and 10th fewest shots on goal per game (30.3) this season. Hellebuyck was tied with Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators for the most games played (64) among NHL goalies and is tied for the fourth best save percentage (.920; minimum 30 games). Hellebuyck has a .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 35 career postseason games and gives the Jets a realistic chance to upset the Golden Knights. -- Anna Dua


Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings

Sleeper: Evan Bouchard, D, EDM - The Edmonton Oilers acquired stout defenseman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, and Bouchard finished the regular season strong with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists), eight on the power play, in 21 games after the departure of Tyson Barrie. If Bouchard carries over his success to the playoffs with exposure to 100-plus point scorers Connor McDavid (153), Leon Draisaitl (128) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (104), that trade could help put the Oilers over the top. -- Pete Jensen

X-factor: Kevin Fiala, F, LAK - The Los Angeles Kings wing led them in assists (49) and had more than a point per game (72 in 69 games) this season before missing time because of injury. The Kings took the Oilers to seven games despite injuries to defenseman Drew Doughty and wing Viktor Arvidsson last postseason and then acquired Fiala from the Minnesota Wild in the offseason, a move that strengthened their forward depth and (if he returns) could help Los Angeles hang with Edmonton's vaunted offense. -- Pete Jensen


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