You may be here because last year didn’t go as planned or you’re new to fantasy hockey and are looking for some tips to get a step up on the competition — or you could just be here to add some more knowledge to your repertoire. Whatever the case, these pointers are sure to give you the best chance in the draft and cover all your bases.
Examples will be provided to help explain each tip further, so you can maximize your results. Even keep this up alongside your draft to be sure you don’t forget any.
Queue Players Deep in the Draft
The first useful bit of information to know is to plan ahead of your pick. The league manager can change the time per pick in each draft, so sometimes it could be pretty short. The time counts down quickly when it gets to your turn to choose a player. You may think that a minute is more than enough, but then the player you had your eye on goes right ahead of you and you have to scramble to look at stats and rank.
This is where queueing players come in handy, and I’m not just talking about one player for your next pick. As we discussed, that one pick could be taken right before your turn and then you’re at square one with a minute to select a suitable replacement.
It could get even more complicated than that to find a replacement that round, as maybe you had your eye on a specific type of player that would give your fantasy hockey team high amounts of points in only certain categories. It’s tough to find another without looking through the draft rankings for a little bit of time.
Personally, I queue at least five players ahead, and they’re not always going to be perfect replacements, but more focused on positional needs. If I’m looking for a goalie around Round 10, I may queue one or two right there and then scroll down a bit to find one available around Round 12. This doesn’t mean I will wait until Round 12 to draft that goalie if my first options are taken — I will draft that goalie a bit early so that it fills my needs. Then I have the time to search and cover the rest of my lineup.
A key strategy I use is looking very deep in the draft and finding players I know will perform well this season and queuing them to easily find in my queue and remember them. I had my eyes on Jesse Puljujarvi in a recent draft I did. He was ranked closer to 300, which is crazy for the potential and other stats he can get. Nonetheless, I just knew he would do well alongside Connor McDavid and that Edmonton Oilers’ power play, so I had him queued very early to remember him and select him.
Don’t Forget About Defence & Goalies
A big problem that people run into is stocking up on forwards because there are so many enticing options every round in the draft. That causes your team to be filled with forwards when getting down to the later rounds. When that happens, all the good starting goalies and defencemen who will play on the top line or in the top-four are taken. This leaves you with goalies on bad teams or backups in net, and only physical defencemen.
Typically, fantasy hockey leagues will require a minimum of three starts from your goaltenders every week for the goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) to count. This is very important to reach, as two stats out of probably 10 are reliant on this.
Drafting three goalies is the safest bet, but don’t wait until the end to grab three. One bad starter and two backups won’t do the trick. Your fantasy team needs at least two starters. Backups may provide your team with quality starts and boost stats a bit, but they may not even play each week. That does nothing in helping your team reach the three-start minimum. One starting goalie could also get injured or have a week off, so it would be left to your other goalies to play games that week.
I would also try to get at least one goaltender by Round 7. Maybe the very top goalies are gone by then, but good goalies are available and will start being taken until you run low on options. In my pool, I drafted Juuse Saros and Linus Ullmark earlier, then waited on a third goalie and selected Calvin Petersen as my other. This strategy gets me two good goalies that will more than likely perform well, then a third goalie who will start and has the potential to be on a team that does well.
When drafting defence as well, try to trickle in some picks throughout the draft. Defencemen are important and will get as many or more starts as your forwards on your fantasy team. Generally, you will have just enough defencemen to fill your starting roster spots, so better make the players count. If there are four starting roster spots for defencemen, you will want to draft four to five.
Yes, defence may not be as flashy as forwards, and that’s why fantasy teams usually end up looking very top-heavy. But there will be nights when almost every team plays, then you are stuck with three forwards sitting on your bench while there’s a spot on defence with nobody playing a game. That’s where games are lost and you lose some much-needed points.
Draft Possible Breakout Candidates Late
It gets difficult late in drafts to know exactly what kind of player you want to take. This is where your personal creativity comes into play. Do you want to select a veteran who should get your team around 40 points, or do you want a young player who you think could break out for over 50 points, but hasn’t yet because he’s young? A perfect example here is asking yourself if you would rather draft Evgeny Dadonov or Joel Farabee, Brendan Gallagher or Trevor Zegras?
You want the best chance to win, so that means drafting well and with the intention to do so with every pick. Sure, you could go with the safe option and leave those players available for others or free agency, but then what happens when they break out and you don’t have the waiver order in your favour and he’s picked up by another team. There will always be reliable veterans on the free-agent wire to pick up when needed for a game or two. There won’t be available younger players who are doing well for very long.
Choosing between a possible breakout candidate and a player that performs the same every season could mean the championship. If risks aren’t taken, your team won’t stand out from the rest and it will just be an average team.
Draft Players From Good Teams
The next tip is important. You want players from good teams, as it helps everyone on the team get points and their overall performance. You are more likely to select a player like Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, or Jordan Kyrou from the St. Louis Blues‘ possible third line than you are to select Casey Mittelstadt from the Buffalo Sabres‘ first line. The Blues will generate more goals, players lower in the lineup will have more exposure to better players on their team, and they will allow fewer goals against.
Goalies are very important, and we’ve touched on this already. Wins for goaltenders are always a stat, whether it’s a category or just generating points. Goalies will get your team wins more if they have a competent team in front of them and are either playoff locks or competing for spots. You want to stay away from goalies from teams like the Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and San Jose Sharks because they will be bottom-feeders and some backups or goalies playing split time will be much better options in net.
Cover All Categories in the Draft
The final tip is to draft players who will get your team points in all categories and have that covered for you. I will reiterate that each category is as important as the next. Hits are as important as assists, shots are as important as penalty minutes. A player like Tom Wilson could be more valuable than Leon Draisaitl one week if your team is blowing your opponent out of the water in every point category, but are losing in penalty minutes and hits.
Even if you can’t get more all-around players, it has been proven successful to draft highly skilled point men and then grab a couple of physical players at the very end of the draft. This way you can decide late in the week who to play on nights with lots of games depending on which stats your team is needing to hold on to or catch up.
These tips are sure to help you really think before and during your fantasy hockey draft and come out with a team that you are confident about winning with.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.