Like the real NHL, fantasy hockey championships are won on the ice. But you can put yourself in a much better position to win that title with a solid performance in the draft.
Every league is different and every draft is different, but the overall goal should always be getting the best value for your pick. To help you do that, we’ve put together this quick guide of draft strategies that can put you on the path to lifting the (insert your office pool name here) Cup.
Understand your league
Before you even begin to research players, make sure you understand the rules of your league. Every league is different and every league counts different stats which will change how you should value certain players.
For example, a league that counts penalty minutes and hits would make players like Tom Wilson and Ryan Reaves more valuable than one that doesn’t.
It’s also important to know how many teams and roster slots are in your league, as that can impact how deep into the player pool you need to plan for. The more teams, the more planning you’ll need to do to find good players late in the draft.
Finally, double-check if your league is head-to-head or rotisserie style, and which version of those styles is being used. It’s basic stuff, but knowing the rules will help you make smart decisions on draft day and beyond.
When researching players before the draft, make lists to keep yourself organized. It’s one thing to read up on a bunch of fantasy players to watch, but it’s even better if you bring pre-planned notes to the draft.
There is no point putting stars like Connor McDavid or Patrick Kane on these lists, as they are obvious picks. Instead, focus on players who could provide value in later rounds, and players who you want to avoid at all costs.
These lists can be as detailed and lengthy as you want (with the number of rounds in your draft playing a factor here), but identifying players under these two groups ahead of time will help you avoid stress later when it’s your turn to pick.
Don’t forget your goalies
It can be easy to spend all your energy planning for drafting your skaters since they make up most of your picks, but don’t sleep on your goalies. Getting a star goalie early and another good one to back him up should be a high priority on draft day.
Since there are far fewer goalies than skaters in hockey (obviously), it’s much harder – but not impossible – to find good ones on the waiver wire. And even if you have a team full of all-star skaters, you’ll eventually hit a wall if your goalies struggle.
When deciding on which goalie to pick, consider the team as much as the talent. An average goalie on a Stanley Cup contender still carries a lot of value, while a great goalie on a bad team can only do so much in fantasy. This is why a goalie like Louis Domingue – who was the backup in Tampa Bay – carried more fantasy value last season than Jonathan Quick, a proven starter who got lit up on a bad team.
Take risks on young players
Even if there isn’t as much data on younger players, it’s OK to grab a couple in the draft. Not all skaters are Auston Matthews and hit their stride right away, but every year some players who have been around the league a couple years, or in the AHL, take big offensive jumps.
Last year, Brayden Point (average pick No. 122 on Yahoo!) and Alex DeBrincat (average pick No. 123) both had big breakout seasons that fantasy players benefitted from. There are future stars like Point and DeBrincat waiting in the wings every season, ready for you to steal.
On the flip side of this, before your draft, identify some veteran players who could be on the decline and avoid them. A familiar face like Jeff Carter might look good on your team, but he won’t bring as much value as Dylan Larkin.
Use injuries to your advantage
No one likes to get hurt, but knowing which players are hurt – or have injury history – ahead of draft day can help you when making selections.
This can work in two ways.
The first is passing on players that have suffered multiple serious injuries. For example, a goalie like Corey Crawford should be avoided at all costs despite his talent because he’s been dealing with some major concussion issues in recent years that could derail his season at any moment.
The second is stealing a star player in a later round because they are injured. Every year, players have off-season surgery and the recovery sometimes bleeds into the regular season, but ultimately doesn’t hinder their play. These players tend to fall in drafts which, if you’re willing to wait a couple weeks, could work in your favour. Last year, Seth Jones opened the season on the sidelines while recovering from knee surgery but he still appeared in 75 games and scored 46 points, while being drafted on average with pick No. 64 in Yahoo! leagues.
As with the earlier points, doing your research on players’ health will be a benefit to you in the draft.