Drafting is among one of the most important parts of fantasy sports. You can make smart daily or weekly lineup decisions, but it won't mean anything if you don't have good players. You can make smart trades for good players, but that will be nearly impossible if you have nothing of value to offer. The foundation of a fantasy team is built at the draft table, and putting in a little effort and planning ahead of time can launch you ahead of your competition.
To draft effectively, you're going to need a few things. I'd advise some kind of spreadsheet program. Microsoft Excel is available on most computers, but if you don't have Microsoft Office you can use OpenOffice. It's a free equivalent that will allow you to save into formats compatible with Excel. Another option is GoogleDocs, which is an Excel-type program you can use through your internet browser, and access your files anywhere.
You'll also need a good drafting guide. Plenty of hockey websites release guides with point predictions, notes, and insights on teams and prospects. I would highly advise Darryl Dobbs' package available at DobberHockey.com. He provides great insight and is eerily accurate at times.
Of course, you're going to need a list of available players in your draft. If you're drafting for the first time in your league, make sure the rules are clear on drafting players that haven't been NHL-drafted yet. Otherwise, make sure you have a list of which players aren't being protected by your opponents and are up for grabs.
Before you so much as open up a spreadsheet, there are a few things you MUST do first. You need a gameplan: you must determine what your team's needs are and what resources are available to fulfill them. My strategy has always been to enumerate my needs, see which players can address each need, and then evaluate all of the players to find out where they should — and might — be drafted. These three steps should help you to a successful draft.
If you follow these three steps, you're going to have a lot of information about your team and your options. You will have lists of priorities – you may find your top need is a goal-scoring left-winger who's a good bargain for the salary. Maybe salary isn't an issue and you're making a push for the championship this year – a veteran netminder like Martin Brodeur might give you the numbers you need for the year, and can be released later.
The idea is to have you create an image of what you need for your team. At the draft table, you're almost always presented with multiple options that seem equally appealing. When “all else is equal”, that is when you can't distinguish one player's value from another, you'll have your philosophy to fall back on.
I. Enumerate your needs
I'm not going to argue against the philosophy that you should draft the best player available (BPA). If you need a goalie, and are presented with the option of drafting a Chris Osgood or an Ilya Kovalchuk, you need to take the superstar. That being said, it's important to