Perhaps the hardest choices to make as a fantasy hockey GM involve the treatment of rookie NHL players in your roster. Two days ago I found myself staring at a brick wall when it came to having to make the choice between a “prodigy” NHL rookie and a “veteran” player, the choice of playing goaltender Cam Ward or newcomer and incredibly hyped Andrei Vasilevskiy was probably the toughest roster decision of the season for me (and yes I have the unreliable Cam Ward as my secondary behind Varly… unfortunately goalies never seem to be in abundance in deep leagues). In the end I went with Vasilevskiy and in the end it was the wrong choice… not that he played bad but Ward played better. The weird thing is that if I have to choose again between the two, I would probably feel just as torn in my decision and not be any more likely to choose Ward just because he performed better the first time I had to make a decision between the two. Below are some thoughts on why this is and how in general to treat hyped NHL rookies/minor league players that have been called upon by their NHL teams and are on your fantasy hockey roster.
Hyped NHL Rookie/Minor league Goaltenders:
As per my story above, even after a less stellar appearance from my rookie goalie I would be torn between my weaker veteran and that same NHL rookie goalie again. Why is this you may ask? Have I not learned my lesson? Well truth be told, the decision is hard because of the general track record of hyped rookie/minor league goalies in the NHL; more often than not, they live up to the hype. There have been many theories about why this is so, but there is nothing concrete. The one often stated by analysts is that forwards/defensemen in the NHL have no or little experience against those rookie goalies (game, video review, etc.) and therefore don’t know the weakness they can exploit while playing against them. Another common one is increased adrenaline in rookies as NHL play hasn’t become common place to them. These 2 things could be the reason good NHL rookie/minor league goalies experience such success in their freshman campaigns in the NHL. It might also be the reason new goalies are possibly more prone to sophomore slumps than their fellow non-goalie rookies. Once opposing teams learn the play of a new goalie and have time to analyze that play, young goalies can have a hard time overcoming those exposed holes quickly due to lack of experience. Also, decreased adrenaline after their first NHL season could impact their play as well. Either way, during that first season NHL season, good rookie/called up minor league goalies tend to excel and thus the dilemma of whether to play them over some of your weaker performing veteran goalies. It is because of that general success in the first year for hyped NHL rookie goalies that I will probably give Vasilevskiy a long leash and recommend choosing him and other future promising rookie goalies over lesser veteran goalies.
Hyped NHL Rookie/Minor League Forwards:
This is another category of player that follows a very similar path as the hyped rookie/minor league goalie. Generally the hyped rookie forwards have pretty stellar freshman seasons followed by sophomore slumps. Obviously not all hyped rookie forwards fall into this chain of events, but many do. Often it is explained by the same reasons and theories as their rookie goalie counterparts. Due to this similarity, it is often worthwhile to claim hyped rookie forwards their 1st season and play them regularly. I just wouldn’t recommend wasting a keeper claim on most good rookies for the following season (if you are in a keeper league) as more often than not they underperform in their sophomore seasons. That is of course only if they aren’t expected to be the face of a generation like Crosby was or McDavid may be.
Hyped NHL Rookie/Minor League Defenceman:
Unlike their NHL rookie goaltender and forward counterparts, hyped NHL rookie defenceman really could go either way in their importance to your roster. Offensive defenceman tend to follow the same story as their forward/goalie counterparts during their freshman NHL season and can be very valuable to your fantasy team. Again I wouldn’t waste a keeper selection on one if you are in a keeper league as they will more often than not underperform their sophomore season. However, hyped NHL defensive defenceman tend to take years to truly come into their own and develop into fantasy assets. For this reason it may be more worthwhile to avoid holding them on your roster unless your league allows for the claiming of prospects for future years.
In most leagues, prospects are not given their own roster position so it often isn’t worthwhile to keep Non-Active prospects in your roster. For that reason I would recommend, as a caveat, to only use the advice above for active NHL rookies/called up minor league players. However, if you are in one of the few custom leagues that do allow for Prospect positions, I would strongly recommend using the above information in your selection of potential Non-Active prospects as well. Not only would this help you make better use of your NA positions but it will also give you a better understanding of your prospects potential upside or downside in the future.
Cover Photo by: sportsnet.ca