If you’ve missed out on playing fantasy hockey until now, but you have finally decided to take the plunge, I am here to offer nine hockey draft strategies for you to consider as you head into your draft.
Fantasy hockey is personal to me. In one of the stranger turns of events in my life, playing this niche game launched my writing/editing career more than anything else. But one thing I struggled with when I started was finding a practical checklist/strategy guide. I’m hoping this article can serve that need for you.
Some of these may seem obvious, but they are important reminders no matter what type of league you are in or the platform you are on. Near the end, they become just a little more specific, but they are solid enough to get you headed the right direction.
9 Fantasy Hockey Draft Strategies & Tips
1. Know Your Rules
My dearest fellow fantasy hockey enthusiasts,
When it comes to fantasy hockey (or any sport), nothing matters more than every word on the League Settings page. You can play in a roto league, a points-only league, a league where Hits are worth 5 points, or a league where skaters with last names that begin with M get bonuses. It doesn’t matter how weird or perfectly normal it is if you don’t know what you need to have to win. Read them. Enter them into your draft kits and spreadsheets. There are always little nuances to exploit if you can find them.
2. Mock Draft
The more mock drafts you do, the more prepared you will be for when a draft goes sideways. And they will go sideways about 80 percent of the time. How does your approach change with an early/middle/late draft pick? When the draft ends, plug in the projected numbers and see where you fall. Do you favor one position too much? Are you ignoring a stat category for too long? I find one of the most significant benefits of mock drafting is finding out which players I’m drawn to in the later rounds. It’s nice to get deep into the draft and still have options you’ve researched and liked on the board.
3. Don’t Worry About the First Round
If we remove potential injuries from the equation, your first-round pick will be elite. Let’s compare the projected stats of the current first, fifth, and twelfth picks by Fantrax ADP:
|Connor McDavid (EDM)||1||80||46||80||123||42||309||0||46|
|Kirill Kaprizov (MIN)||5||81||47||59||106||32||284||0||28|
|Kyle Connor (WPG)||12||78||45||44||89||22||298||2||26|
Comparing anyone to Connor McDavid is silliness, of course, but even if you have the last pick of the first round, you still grab 89 points and almost 300 shots on goal. Have your preferences, sure, but there is only one decision you have to make, which is…
4. Decide When You Will Draft a Goalie
As I showed in my pre-draft goalie rankings, two netminders are considered to be worth a first-round pick in most standard leagues. Andrei Vasilevskiy (ADP 6) and Igor Shesterkin (ADP 8) are projected to provide more than enough value to justify doing so. Therefore, it comes down to what you want to do and which of the fantasy hockey draft strategies you employ. Heading back to the objective of knowing your league, it’s important to know how many categories are taken up by this ONE position compared to the many categories shared by most of your draft picks.
Just look at the much more significant dropoff between the first and twelfth goalie:
Tristan Jarry is a great goalie, and you can absolutely wait til Round 4 to take him, gobbling up three top skaters. But the difference in the goalie ranks is significant for both points and categories leagues.
5. Look at the Lines
Lines are the bread and butter of hockey lineups in real life and fantasy. Those on the Top Line should presumably see more opportunities than the Second Line, which should see more than the Third Line, etc. Teams also have presumed Power-Play Lines, often referred to as Top Six. (None of these words are supposed to be capitalized, but I think they are critical titles when planning a draft strategy.)
While stacking (having multiple players from the same team/line) is more of a DFS strategy, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of mini stacks (2-3 players) operating in your lineups. No one will be able to draft McDavid and teammate Leon Draisaitl, as they are both in the Top 5. However, Darnell Nurse (ADP 175) and Evan Bouchard (ADP 188) will see plenty of ice time with the two superstars and will be available way late in drafts. Choosing them over similar players might make sense if you have other, more prominent stars projected to be on the same line.
6. Penalty Minutes is Probably a Good Thing
One of your categories may be PIM. PIM stands for penalty infraction minutes, which means you will get points for the number of minutes your players spend in the penalty box. While this seems counterintuitive, it does expand the purview of players worth rostering, particularly defensemen. I’m not advocating for you to draft for this particular category, but PIM is a fairly predictable, historically-relevant fantasy category that you don’t have to ignore, either.
I just hope if PIM is worth something, then Hits is also on the docket. There are a lot of players who can fill the stat sheet for this who are easy to work into your fantasy hockey draft strategies.
7. Top-Secret Strategy: Draft Players from Good Teams
Yes, there are great players on bad teams who are worth rostering. If, however, you’re in the middle rounds and the choice is between two players with similar projected stats, take the one on the better team. What constitutes the “better” team in fantasy? One simple metric is how many goals they score per game.
For a cheatsheet, here are the top six teams in that stat from last season:
|Toronto Maple Leafs||2||54||21||3.8||231||27.27%||2835||11.0%|
|St. Louis Blues||3||49||22||3.8||241||26.97%||2492||12.4%|
Those are the six who averaged over 3.5 and had a high number of power-play opportunities. You can find the rest of the list here.
8. Don’t Overvalue Rookies in Redraft Leagues
If you’ve played fantasy sports of any kind, chances are high that
I you or someone you know loves to draft the sexiest rookies they can get their hands on. (Chances are good that I you or someone you know also took them a couple of rounds too early.) I play in complicated dynasty leagues with contracts and options and extensions and a rookie draft. Imagine getting to express my your abundance of love for prospects using actual fake dollars! It’s exactly what you think it is.
But if you’re new to the fantasy hockey world, I hope you’re in at least one redraft league (meaning no keepers from year to year). They tend to be easier because your fantasy hockey draft strategies can focus solely on this year.
If this is the case, then rookies lose a lot of their value. There will be useful rookies, absolutely, but one draft strategy that is often successful is drafting the proven (aka “boring and dependable”) veterans that everyone else is ignoring in favor of the youngsters.
Track records are good, my friends. Look at them.
9. Draft Connor McDavid No. 1
If you have the top pick, just lock it in.
If you don’t have the top pick, here are some other options.
Keep an eye on our 2022-2023 NHL Draft Kit for more information, strategies, tips, tricks, and help heading into this season. If you have thoughts or questions, I’m always around to offer an opinion for you to take or blithely ignore. Either way, interacting with people is my favorite, so hit me up on Twitter at @thewonkypeguin or email me at [email protected] And, as always, good luck!