Credit: http://1.cdn.nhle.com/nhl/images/upload/2013/08/fantasy-top-300-dl.jpg (Photo by: www.nhl.com)

Fantasy Hockey: Drafting 101

It is that time of year again! Leaves are falling from the trees, Tim Hortons is adding pumpkin spice to everything, and your favourite hockey-based websites have regained their position on the “most viewed sites” tab of your web browser; that’s right ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to prepare yourself for your NHL fantasy draft. Drafting the right team is a skillful art form which varies from league to league, however many tips can be used universally across all leagues. Whether you’re a veteran drafter, or completely new to the fantasy GM world, this article aims to provide you with some basic (but often over-looked) skills needed to ensure you draft the best team available. Enjoy!

1)            Do your homework!

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This guy is seriously considering an auto-draft. He should have done his homework BEFORE the draft started… Credit: http://capstoneeducationcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Student-Studying.jpg

The biggest problem one will encounter during an NHL fantasy draft is a lack of preparation. The draft will begin, and before you know it, it’s your pick. The clock is ticking and you haven’t the slightest clue on which player to select. The sweat from your forehead covers your keyboard as you finally make a decision at the last second. Relieved of your stress, you take a moment to reflect on your choice while giving yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. Your heart rate drops to a normal level just as you realize it is once again your pick; repeat cycle.

It is a great idea to have your first round pick predetermined, but don’t stop there! The second you are done drafting a player, have a few others on your radar for the next round. I highly stress having a short list of wanted players for each round for two reasons:

  • The player you want gets selected. Even when you think your pick is way out of left field, it is very common for someone to swoop in and steal your selection, so try not to get hung up on one player.
  • You are the first or last pick of your draft meaning eventually you will have back to back picks. Back to back, or near back to back picks can be very stressful if you are not constantly prepared with two or more players for each round.

Don’t leave your draft to the last minute. A draft is meant to be fun, not stressful! Preparation will make or break your draft experience, and it   may also determine the fate of your entire season.

2)         Select a top-line centre early in the draft!

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Finishing second in scoring, and racking up an impressive 692 face off wins last season, Ryan Getzlaf should be on your radar if you have an early selection. Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Ryan_Getzlaf_Ducks_2012-02-15.JPG

Landing yourself at least one top-line centre from a reputable hockey club is almost vital to winning any fantasy league. These guys are typically point machines who have a hand in most points scored for the team at both even strength, and on the power-play. Scoring is key to fantasy leagues, but what makes top line centres so invaluable is the fact that they also win face offs. Most, if not all fantasy leagues use goals, assists, power-play points, and face off wins as categories of equal significance.

I don’t think I have to highlight how important these guys can be any further than I have. Get one early, and come back for more if the time is right!

  1. 1st round: Crosby, Getzlaf, Seguin, Giroux, Malkin etc.
  2. Later rounds: Krejci, Tavares, Spezza, Thorton etc.

3)            Check the schedule!

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Somewhere in there, Eddie Lack is having the time of his life. Credit: http://cdn.nhl.com/images/upload/2010/03/canucks_luggage_325x183.jpg

This is something that may get overlooked by most fantasy GM’s, but can have a huge impact on the team you draft. Checking to see which teams have the most or least back-to-back games may help you decide whether to pick one goalie over another. For example, all you Leafs fans out there might want to make sure you have a solid second goalie if you plan on drafting Jonathan Bernier, as the Leafs have 18 back-to-back starts (one less than the league high at 19). This may result in more games played for Toronto’s backup (whoever that may be this year).

Other scheduling details to consider may be the amount of home or away games played consecutively at the start of the season (i.e. 10 game road trip to start the season). This, compared to a team/player’s home vs away record last year might be enough to take a shot at getting a leg-up on the competition this season.

4)            Do not wait too long for a goalie!

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Tuukka Rask does not only have impressive save percentage and goals against average numbers, he also plays for a team that typically finishes near the top of the Eastern Conference. He is essentially fantasy hockey gold. Credit: http://livewithmyself.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/tuukka-rask.jpg

Most leagues have separate categories for goalies that are weighted the same as the player categories. Since most GM’s only carry a handful of goalies at most, drafting a starter for a winning hockey club is extremely important to any fantasy team. These guys usually go early so be cautious! I suggest that if a name like Rask, Quick, Price, or Lundqvist is available in the second round, scoop them up. Remember, there are many more quality skaters than there are goalies.

Once you have decided when to draft your goalie, the hard part becomes who to draft. Leagues may focus specifically on either wins or stats (Save Percentage (SV%), Goals Against Average(GAA)), but most often all categories are used. If your league places emphasis on either one of those categories more than the other, your decision is made for you. However if the league you are in considers all goalie categories, you must draft the best “well-rounded” goalie available. Again, these are hard to come by in later rounds so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger early.

NOTE: if your league focuses solely on wins for goaltenders, hold out until a later round. Big name goalies like Price, or Lundquvist will go early however it is goalies like Fleury, or Niemi who will score you the most points for wins, and the best part is they will most likely be a third or fourth round steal!

5)            Use your gut!

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Randy trusts his gut. Credit: http://24.media.tumblr.com/b5f45465fe82f7b40bd581422b3c465a/tumblr_mqr9pzfSrH1rtvox8o1_1280.jpg

Many Fantasy GM’s get lost in the numbers, and rightfully so, as fantasy hockey is essential nothing more; however listening to that hockey instinct of yours may actually pay off. Whether you are having trouble picking Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, or Alex Ovechkin with the first overall selection, or deciding whether a young player like Aleksander Barkov is going to have a breakout year, trust your gut.

Managing/drafting a fantasy hockey team is a mix of skill and luck, and what separates good GM’s from great GM’s is the ability to draft a team based on not only numbers, but basic hockey intuition. I mean, who would have predicted Semyon Varlamov to lead the league in wins last year? I bet someone drafted him on a hunch and had a great season because of it.

Do you think that Spezza should be drafted earlier than projected after his recent change in scenery? Does he still have another 80+ point season left in him? Use your hockey instinct on this one.

6)            Last but not least, HAVE FUN!

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Although a very serious threat on the ice, Subban knows how to have a little fun. Credit: http://assets3.sportsnet.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/subban-640×360.jpg

Many fantasy leagues have an entrance fee, which means some drafts may be taken extremely seriously. This is common for anything involving money and sports, however it must be remembered that in most leagues, rosters are not locked after the draft. In fact, some GM’s will trade or add/drop players so often that their final roster looks nothing like the team they drafted. So although very important, the success of your draft does not always correlate with the success of your season. Keep that in mind as the clock is ticking and the stress is building.

If you enter a draft with a serious game plan, but a less serious attitude, it can be a lot of fun. Most fantasy websites have a live chat during the draft so you can interact with the other GM’s the entire time. Its fun to read between selections as the dialogue can get quite colourful. Some leagues even get the GM’s together for a draft party to ease the high tensions over some beers and grub!

No matter where, or with who you select your team, the draft will only be as fun as you make it so keep your selections smart, and your chirps smarter. That’s all folks! I wish you all a happy fantasy draft/season, good luck!

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