It’s Never Too Early to Look at NHL Fantasy Draft Strategy

Updated: February 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm by Jaroslaw

If you’re as serious about fantasy as I am, you’re always thinking about next year’s draft: “Who do I take?” “Who do I avoid?” “Should I use a different strategy next year?”  These questions and more run through every fantasy GM’s head as the next draft approaches.

Do not blindly draft the big names early on, especially defensemen and goalies.

This isn’t as big as problem with forwards (although it is still somewhat of a problem with them). I’ve found that you can’t always rely on the big ticket goalies and defensemen to give you stellar seasons every single year. Cases in point are Brodeur, Kipper, Bryzgalov, Anderson, Green, Pronger, Phaneuf, etc. Most of these are guys that go within the first 5 rounds or so, but do they always give you top-5 pick value? Not necessarily. It is best to go with the most consistent star players early on, and let someone else have the headache of drafting these other guys. If they pan out for them, well, that’s too bad, but honestly, you’ll have drafted players with similar peak value but MUCH more reliability.

Pay very close to attention to players whose situations have changed significantly.

I cannot stress this point enough. This is one that I’ve come to realize after my latest draft this year. Basically, dramatic changes to a team can seriously boost the value of guys and create some incredible sleeper options. Letang (loss of Gonchar allowed him the opportunity to show his stuff), Byfuglien (new team, new coach, he’s always had the skill, and this time he’s playing the minutes to use them), Briere (someone else pointed this one out, but he’s getting Gagne’s PP time) are just a few positive examples.

Don’t draft for position, just get the best player available.

When I completed my main draft this year, I ended up with 7 RW and 3 LW. Through trading, I’m now sitting at 5 C/LW, 1 pure LW and 3 RW. This obviously doesn’t apply as much for goalies because you’ll want to get the best ones as early as you can, since people oftentimes won’t give up the best ones for anything unless they’ve got a huge stockpile of them, but for forwards and defensemen, you can ALWAYS make trades later to fill holes in your lineup. Drafting the better player gives more OVERALL value to your team, and thus will give you something better in a trade with another GM. It could be the difference of getting Patrick Sharp instead of James Neal in a trade, for example, and that is no small thing.

Lock up your goaltending early.

This obviously doesn’t apply to every single league format, but if your league has a decent tracking of goalie stats (4 of them or more), then it’s quite important to actually get the best guys you can.

Remember that in most cases, you only need 2 or 3 goalies on your roster compared to a lot more forwards and D, and that means you need fewer of them to maximize your chances of winning your goalie stats each week. The earlier you go for your goalies, the better chances you have of grabbing the most consistent and reliable ones, as long as you’re smart about it. A good way to go about it might be to get a goalie in the first 3-4 rounds, then another a couple rounds later, and save your last one for a sleeper pick or something like that. Usually at least one great goalie makes his appearance every year that had done practically nothing beforehand, so getting the 3rd goalie isn’t as important right away, but the other 2 definitely are. However, it’s much more common for great forwards and defensemen to show up on waivers instead of goalies, so getting your best 2 guys early could be the difference between winning and losing the league.

Do some mock drafts.

I started doing this in recent years and I feel like it’s helped my drafting a lot. Doing mock drafts, especially ones with more people can give you a good sense of where you can expect certain guys to fall. This can be the difference between taking player A in round 5, or waiting on him until round 6 and taking player B in round 5 which can have a pretty dramatic impact on a team. If you’re more confident about where a player will be drafted, it will give you more flexibility and options than you otherwise would have had.

Stay on top of the status of injured players.

Next year, Yahoo will almost definitely have the O-rank of some guys embarrassingly low, Derek Roy and Patrick Sharp being the prime example this past season. Because of their injuries, a lot of these players might be passed up on for other guys, and this gives you the opportunity to steal these guys at a much later time than they normally would go. This sort of ties in to my point of doing mock drafts, because if you do them, then you can find out when a guy like Roy will go next year, in general.

ALWAYS watch the waiver wire like a hawk the first few weeks.

Probably the most important aspect of fantasy hockey outside of the draft itself. Guys like Yandle, Liles, Hejduk, Neal, and in previous years, Mike Richards, Eric Staal and others are all examples of guys who could put your team over the top just with a simple free agent pickup. There obviously won’t be too many of these guys around, but to get a potential 70-80 or more point player for free is insane. I know this doesn’t really have much to do with the draft itself, but it is important nonetheless.

As always, feel free to post your draft strategies in the comments.