2016 NHL Draft Guide: Five Winning Strategies
Strategy is everything and walking into your fantasy hockey draft without one is a huge mistake. Here are five draft strategies you may want to consider if you're interested in winning your league this year.
There is more than one way to win a fantasy hockey league, just as there is more than one way to score a goal on the ice. Not every move will pan out, but just like every naturally gifted goal-scorer in NHL history, you keep trying no matter how many times you fail. Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin perennially pots 50-60 goals per season, but it takes him 300-plus shots on goal in order to do so. In fantasy hockey, picking a strategy that works can be a similar experience. Much like Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane, creativity can be the key to success. Not doing what the other teams in your fantasy league are doing can sometimes yield positive results. Many fantasy leaguers like to use a simple strategy without too many gimmicks and let the chips fall where they may. That said, for those who prefer to find a different way to compete for fantasy dominance, here are five fantasy hockey strategies that just may pan out:
1. Draft healthy, durable talent.
Some fantasy owners are shocked when they don't win their leagues, but a glance at their roster reveals several injury-prone players. Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is an outstanding talent, but comes with tremendous fantasy risk due to his lengthy injury history. New Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber is not as dynamic as Letang, but far more durable (he has not missed more than 4 NHL games since '07-08). Perhaps selecting Weber instead of Letang could help win your league. After all, it is a long season and injuries are inevitable in hockey. Of course, this strategy can backfire and is far from a guarantee. Just because a player is durable does not mean he cannot get hurt. Letang's teammate Phil Kessel, who has not missed a game since '09-10, is one of a handful of NHLers questionable for the start of the 2016-17 regular season due to off-season hand surgery. At the end of the day, it is about probability and given the track records, despite potentially missing time on the ice due to recovery, Kessel is still far less likely to get hurt than Letang.
2. Corner the market at one position.
Real General Managers often suggest that they take the 'best player available' at the draft, regardless of position. Fantasy GM's can use that premise and go even further to corner the market at a valuable position. In fantasy leagues that include goaltenders, it could be an interesting strategy to take several netminders early. Goalies can win or lose a fantasy league virtually by themselves in some formats, so all competing fantasy leaguers need them to win. If a fantasy owner decided to corner the market and draft goaltender after goaltender, he could hurt his opponents while also giving himself some interesting trade options. The main drawback of this strategy is the old adage, “it takes two to tango”. Sometimes, fantasy leaguers will play hardball when negotiating trades. Also, picking goaltenders early means a lot of sleepers and potential busts at other positions later on in the draft. This strategy should be used only by experienced, savvy fantasy leaguers.
3. He shoots, he scores!
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once proclaimed: “you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take.” Some fantasy leaguers take what the 'The Great One' says seriously and seek out players with a high shot volume. It does make sense to pick players who shoot the puck a lot in fantasy hockey, especially in leagues where bonus fantasy points are given to the shots on goal statistic. If a fantasy leaguer's roster leads everybody else in shots, there is a pretty good chance it will remain in contention throughout the season. However, this strategy can backfire when average scorers who shoot the puck a lot are taken before elite playmakers who tend to shoot less and pass the puck more. San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton shot the puck 136 times less than Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist last season, but scored only three fewer goals. Taking Hornqvist ahead of Thornton in any fantasy draft may not be the wisest decision. Shoot-happy players should only be drafted where they are slotted--not above it.
4. Don't fall in love with the fresh faces!
There is probably no more polarizing fantasy hockey player than the first-year rookie. Many fantasy leaguers love rookies and more often than not, take them early. Too early in most cases. The allure of fresh-and-new is what the upcoming NHL season is all about, so rookies are popular picks in virtually all league formats. However, beware of drafting too many freshmen in fantasy hockey. For every successful rookie NHLer, there is probably 3-to-5 rookie failures. In hockey, it is especially important not to draft too many teenagers (at least, those with Canadian Hockey League junior eligibility remaining). That is because many NHL rookies make the opening night roster, play nine games and then get sent back to the CHL never to be heard from again. The appeal with rookies is their fantasy upside, so it is good strategy to pick up a first-year NHLer here and there. A really good rookie may even help win a fantasy league. Too many of them, however, can really hurt a team. Be prudent about it.
5. Don't forget the forgotten.
Every NHL season, players who would have been keys to success for many fantasy leaguers get injured for lengthy stretches of time. They essentially become non-factors and are somewhat forgotten for a while in the hockey world. Those same players often make a comeback the following season and can be valued draft picks in most league formats. Montreal Canadiens franchise goaltender Carey Price may have challenged for first overall fantasy draft pick a year ago, but was limited to just 12 games in 2015-16 due to a persistent knee issue. For 2016-17, Price is back healthy and may be a bargain late-first, early-second rounder this time around. Unfortunately, not every player returning from injury has Price's fantasy value and upside, so the best strategy is to pick and choose which comeback players are worth the risk. Too many of these types of players may not be a good thing (see, Five Winning Strategies No. 1), but a few talented NHLers will likely slip through the cracks.