Ramblings – Strategy for Drafting Defensemen in Keeper Leagues; What the Leafs, Yotes, Wild and Panthers are doing (Oct 11)



The Fantasy Prospects Report was re-released 10 days ago. Updates, new profiles, the Mock Draft – and then on the weekend I updated all the draftees and denoted their draft team and position, as well as linked them back and forth to their team. It makes for great and easy navigation, you'll love the new change.

And because the NHL and NHLPA announced a new goal of beginning the season January 1st, I will no longer be releasing my Fantasy Guide in pieces. I will release the entire thing on October 30. Because players are slow to sign this year, I may not get the Guide all done by then, but I will try and I should be able to get most of the teams in. And certainly by the following week it will be complete. Right now I recommend that most keeper leagues tentatively schedule drafts in December. But just in case you're early I will have the Guide and Draft List out for November. Pick up the Keeper League Fantasy Pack and get both for a great price. Thanks for your support! These aren't easy times, but fortunately I was preparing financially for a lockout…this is kind of similar in terms of disrupting fantasy hockey.


I had some interesting feedback from this weekend's Top 50 Fantasy Prospect Defensemen list (here). It centers around my ranking Jamie Drysdale so "low". Using my +/-5.0 rating points rule, he ranks 24th to 40th. One argument was that his upside was higher than Bowen Byram's. Another figured that Connor Timmins and Bode Wilde shouldn't be higher. One person said that Drysdale and Jake Sanderson would be drafted high in his keeper league. These are all good and very valid arguments. I want to share and expand on my responses with you here because it is all about strategy (and you should follow me on Twitter for more discussions and insight throughout the week, if you don't already).

Upside is one of a few key variables to consider. Roster space used per year is important too. If a player sits on your roster doing nothing for two seasons (or three…or four) and then finally gets into the NHL and puts up 25 points as a rookie and then 35 as a sophomore, he's not helping you very much for four years after you draft him (or five…or, gulp, six?). Now, if Drysdale turns into a Cale Makar in 2021-22 then I'll look pretty dumb. But if he turns into an Adam Fox in 2023-24 (how long it took Fox to help), then I have Drysdale in the right spot. Byram is Drysdale one year later. One year less wait time.

I generally leave the 18-year-old defensemen for the other GM's in my league to draft. It hasn't stopped me from grabbing defensemen of equal value who are older and weren't picked up yet. The last five drafts I have added Shayne Gostisbehere, Erik Gustafsson, Ethan Bear, Vince Dunn and Filip Hronek. I missed out on John Klingberg by one pick back when he was 22! And Erik Karlsson was still available in our league when he was 19. I missed out on him, but he was still there!

Those aren't bad, and some of them had zero wait time (plus I traded Ghost before he crapped out, and moved Dunn early while he was still looking impressive). I don't need 18-year-old defensemen. When other people use up high draft picks on the top defensemen from that draft year, that means better forwards slide for me to grab. And forwards are ready sooner. I'm certainly glad that people in my league don't mind sitting on guys for a few years. Sure, Morgan Rielly paid off huge. But that was in 2017-18 and he was drafted in my league back in 2012. That's a long wait, even for a guy who entered the NHL a year after being drafted.

Don't get me wrong. I kicked myself when Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes not only made the jump after one year, but immediately became 70-point defensemen. When it comes to those guys, my strategy backfired big time. But Drysdale is no Makar. If he was, then I'd put him No.1. Had I know Makar and Hughes would do this, I obviously would have stepped over my own mother to draft them. But play the odds. Defensemen who have done that in the last 20 years I can count on zero hands. It's a safe bet to assume that the highest drafted 18-year-old defensemen from that year are not going to be Makar or Hughes, and will instead be a Morgan Rielly or a Jacob Trouba. Taking a 19, 20 or even a 21-year-old defenseman not only reduces the wait time, but increases your certainty. You've seen more of him and can have more confidence that he'll make the NHL and become the star he was drafted to become (instead of another, say, Zach Bogosian).

Remember – Bogosian was drafted third overall because of his offense and all-around ability. His career high is 30 points. And yes, he was drafted in both my keeper leagues early.


I am going to delve into team philosophy with some teams that have been making a pretty drastic shift.

Arizona Coyotes

I think the Coyotes were on the right track. I thought John Chayka was putting together a pretty good core and I believe external and internal pressures forced him to make a couple of moves to build a buzz, so he brought in Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall. I believe he misjudged Kessel, but even the biggest skeptic (i.e. me) didn't see just how terrible Kessel could be. And Hall was also a huge letdown, which nobody saw coming. Chayka leaving the team was definitely a dick move, especially so soon after signing his contract and the way he left the team. But that's another rant.

But now the new GM (Bill Armstrong) is making his imprint on the team. He's losing Hall for nothing and he's stuck with Kessel. He let Michael Grabner, Brad Richardson and Carl Soderberg walk. He didn't qualify Vinnie Hinostroza (more on him below), and he tried desperately to re-sign Hall but Hall wasn't staying no matter what (in my opinion). Armstrong is also shopping Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He added Johan Larsson, Tyler Pitlick and John Hayden as depth players. I suspect Armstrong is looking for a Hall Plan B – either Tyler Toffoli, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov or Mikael Granlund. If Armstrong doesn't manage to sign Granlund or Toffoli, then the current roster is probably set at forward (I doubt they bring back Anthony Duclair). This means Barrett Hayton and Conor Garland are likely top sixers and become more valuable. I hope the Coyotes sign nobody impactful, because I would like to see those two in a top six role and see what happens. I don't believe in overpaying the free agents and instead building through the draft and through trade. So if OEL can land the team a roster player and a top prospect, that's great. I would love to see what a healthy Jakob Chychrun can do, and what Victor Soderstrom will do in a big role.

Just remember – Arizona was a better team in terms of wins and losses without Hall than they were with him. So it won't be so bad, especially with Darcy Kuemper healthy.


Florida Panthers

Florida and Minnesota are doing similar things for different reasons. Each have new general managers named Bill and both Bill Guerin and Bill Zito are turning their team upside down to make their mark on it. Guerin is doing it… well, for the hell of it. Zito is doing it because he's lost some key guys to free agency, plus he felt that his prized possession and highest paid player was hung out to dry so it is time to protect him.

Sergei Bobrovsky now has Radko Gudas in front of him instead of Mike Matheson. He has a gritty forward like Patric Hornqvist and two-way guy Hinostroza out there. And I don't think Zito is done. I think he's going after another defensive defenseman (or more toughness in some regard). As with the Leafs, the Panthers feel they are missing those things and Zito is trying to address it. I think Zito's goal revolves around making Bobrovsky a Vezina contender again.

And now my thoughts on Vinnie Hinostroza. I think not qualifying him was a mistake by Bill Armstrong. Yes, the advanced stats point to letting him go. For last year. The year prior told the opposite story. Smaller players, like power forwards, take a little longer to find their stride. When the Coyotes added Kessel last year and Garland emerged, Hinostroza was knocked to the third and fourth line. He was given strictly defensive roles and taken off the power play. Of course his numbers tumbled. When he hit his Breakout Threshold of 200 games it was the middle of a disastrous season. He's now played 245 games and he gets a fresh start on a team that needs help on their top six. After Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers have a host of players itching for those four spots in the top six: Grigori Denisenko, Owen Tippett, Aleksi Saarela, Frank Vatrano, Alexander Wennberg, Patric Hornqvist, Carter Verhaeghe, Brett Connolly and Hinostroza are the candidates. Horny will be tried in the top six first, but he is truly fading as an NHL player and I don't think he lasts there. I can see Tippett and Denisenko making an impact, but early on will be pushed on a top line like that? Verhaeghe, to me, is a fill-in depth guy. He has the smarts, but not the skating. Some people wonder if he could be this year's Marchessault – cast off from the Lightning after being underused despite huge numbers at other levels and then breaking out on a new team. But I think Hinostroza is a better fit for that. Hinostroza is also a smaller player, like Marchessault, and he works hard. I think he gets a crack in the top six first and of all the players vying for jobs there I think he stands a good chance of winning out.

So bookmark this page. This is me saying that Vinnie Hinostroza is my pick for best bet to become the next Marchessault in Florida. Yes, he could be a bust and get 20 points with a lot of healthy scratches. But if I were to pick a long shot to become the next Marchessault-type, I like the way the chips are falling for Hinostroza. Either take him with your last pick of a 24-round draft… or put him at the top of your waiver pickup list and have an itchy trigger finger. Call it a hunch.


Minnesota Wild

Okay, Bill Guerin's turn. This almost feels like he wants to make a statement to the league. The Wild will be his team from top to bottom, within a year. No predecessor will get credit. He can even take credit for Kirill Kaprizov even though he didn't draft him, because he was so persistent in going over to Russia and personally selling Kaprizov on coming to Minnesota.

He shipped out Eric Staal and Ryan Donato, which were somewhat surprising. He moved Luke Kunin, which was very surprising since Kunin I'm told is future captain material. He also traded Devan Dubnyk, rightly identifying his eroding skills. And instead, Minnesota now has Cam Talbot in net, with more experience up front in Marcus Johansson and Nick Bonino. Plus an injury-prone Nick Bjugstad, which could either be sneaky-good third-line value or a non-factor. Guerin has identified his core and that core is Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala. I think Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway are safe, as is Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin. And Ryan Suter, for however long he can maintain that high level of play.

Johansson, Bjugstad and Bonino will be unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of the upcoming – shortened – season. So the trades were all about giving the team options next summer. Guerin knows that he gets a Mulligan for Year 1 of his tenure and he's setting himself up for success in Year 2 with what will be as much flexibility as possible when being locked down by Parise/Suter/Zuccarello contracts. And if any of those three have good years, don't think for a second that Guerin won't try to move them (while retaining as little of their salary as possible). And next summer you can also expect Victor Rask's contract to be bought out once it has one year left ($4 million). And yes, Matt Dumba is on the trading block.

Guerin is doing a good job of rebuilding without making it look like a rebuild. More of a retool. And if he can make the cap situation as flexible as I think he could – I think this will be a very good team in 2021-22.


Toronto Maple Leafs

GM Kyle Dubas is now doing what 10 million unofficial GMs around the world knew that he needed to do two years ago – get less fancy and more toughness and defense. But he's doing it by – still – stubbornly hanging onto William Nylander. So far it's working, but I do believe it's inevitable.

Here is what I have for the Leafs:

Zach HymanAuston MatthewsMitch Marner

Ilya MikheyevJohn TavaresWilliam Nylander

Jimmy VeseyAlex Kerfoot – Joey Anderson

Travis Boyd – Pierre EngvallWayne Simmonds

Next Up: Jason Spezza, Alexander Barabanov, Nick Robertson, Denis Malgin, Nic Petan

Morgan Rielly (L)              TJ Brodie (L)

Jake Muzzin (L)                  Justin Holl (R)

Rasmus Sandin (L)            Zach Bogosian (R)

Travis Dermott (L)            Timothy Liljegren (R)

Mikko Lehtonen (L)

Frederik Andersen

Jack Campbell

That's a pretty good team. I nice mix of the skill they already had, along with better defense (I had identified Brodie as the best fit, and Bogosian as a potential depth guy, to my friends before UFA started), size and toughness. It's pretty obvious, looking at this depth chart, that Travis Dermott, a restricted free agent, will be traded. They're pretty much at the cap right now, with Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev still to be signed. Dubas could Band-Aid the solution yet again by trading Kerfoot. But why do that when you can trade Nylander for a couple of great prospects and picks? Robertson could slot right in there for Nylander and the problem is solved (albeit Robertson would need a couple of years to get himself to Nylander levels, but he'll still be okay in the meantime). And they would get tons of cap space they can bank for any deadline deals. But I'm pretty certain Dubas will find a way to not do that. He's been cleverly avoiding trading Nylander for two years now.

To me, the best move is to package Dermott and Nylander for a right-handed top-four or top-pairing defenseman. Fit in prospects or picks to make it work. Right-handed defensemen who are on the trading block: Matt Dumba, Tony DeAngelo and Rasmus Ristolainen. To me, Risto would make the most sense – we already saw what happens when they add another pure offense puck-moving defenseman with Barrie.


See you next Monday.


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