Next up in the 2023 Fantasy Hockey Sleeper series is the Pittsburgh Penguins. This will be a very exciting team to watch this season as they made some big changes and are on a mission to get back to the playoffs. With the Erik Karlsson addition alone, more players will benefit offensively. There are now two elite offensive defensemen on the team moving the puck up the ice and creating chances.
The top-six for the Penguins is great and the power play is strong. Some might be underestimating just how much better Pittsburgh can be this season. Many of the players on this team will positively impact your fantasy hockey team. It is better to have them than to have to face them. Now let’s take a look at some of the sleepers for the Penguins this season in fantasy hockey.
Pittsburgh Penguins Sleepers for 2023-24 Fantasy Hockey
We’re coming hot out of the gates on this sleeper for fantasy hockey this season. While Tristan Jarry isn’t the type of sleeper who will be drafted late in any drafts, he’s here because he has the potential to put up huge numbers this season. Ranked outside of the top 10 by everybody, the reworked and motivated Penguins have a lot to prove and play for in front of him. Karlsson might not be the most solid defensively, but Ryan Graves sure is. Not only that, but players like Reilly Smith, Lars Eller, Matt Nieto, and Noel Acciari have also been brought in. It’s a different team and they’ll be giving up a lot less high-danger chances.
With Jarry specifically, he has always bounced back from what you could consider a down season for him. In five full seasons as the backup or starter in Pittsburgh, his worst save percentage in a season has been .908 in his rookie season. Since taking over or challenging for the starter role, he has had two seasons where his SV% was .919 or higher, ranking him seventh in both seasons in Vezina Trophy voting. If he’s finishing that high, he’s providing great stats. Consider the team he’s on is likely to bounce back in a big way and his potential for stellar numbers again. A down season means a .909 SV%, and that’s by no stretch a bad season for most.
In a down season for the Penguins and their top-six, four of the players recorded over 60 points and the other two, Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust, still recorded 20-plus goals and 46-plus points. You can expect even more from Reilly Smith this season coming from a more defensive team to the Penguins. While he’s not likely to get a lot of top unit power play time, the second unit will be much better with Kris Letang and Rust with him.
Smith should be good for at least 25 goals and 60 points. In the last two seasons where he played at least 70 games, he’s hit 25 goals and 54 points. With Guentzel out to start the season, there’s a strong chance Reilly gets top-line minutes alongside Sidney Crosby and Rust and will produce. They are much better linemates than what he is used to and there’s a lot less competition for top-six spots on his new team. I don’t expect a breakout by Smith, but he’s very consistent and is a safe sleeper bet to draft in a good spot.
This pick for a sleeper might only apply for the first month of the season but has great value. With Jake Guentzel out as I mentioned above, someone has to move into the top-six. Matt Nieto has done so before on the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks and proved he can handle it. The top-six carry the load offensively for the Penguins and Nieto will likely get to play alongside Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell, who combined for 55 goals and 143 points last season. Some of that will rub off on Nieto and just by playing alongside them he’ll get points.
As I said, Guentzel won’t be out forever, but Nieto is a very low-risk last-round pick. With injuries to key contributors, sometimes the best players to pick up are the ones that will be filling that hole. On a team like the Penguins, the difference between a top-six role and a bottom-six role is large. I would watch Nieto closely in training camp and see if he’s the player that will be filling in the top six for sure before drafting him. He’ll definitely be available on the waiver wire if you have an early fantasy hockey draft this year.
After missing the playoffs last season but still getting strong contributions from certain players, the team will be better. This will positively impact everybody on the team and the Penguins have never been a team to struggle scoring goals. Make sure you benefit in your fantasy hockey draft and grab more than one player from Pittsburgh this year. The next team in the 2023 Fantasy Hockey Sleepers series is the Washington Capitals.
Make sure to check out all of the sleepers and breakouts of the 2023 fantasy hockey season!