Capped: Valuing Draft Picks in All Rounds

by Alexander MacLean on January 10, 2019
  • Capped
  • Capped: Valuing Draft Picks in All Rounds


With New Year’s done and gone along with the World Juniors, all we have left are the food comas, some questionable resolutions, and the second half of the NHL season.

This week for the Capped Column, we’re going to tie together the World Juniors, the end of the 2018-2019 NHL season, and a resolution for fantasy owners to look at adopting for this coming year. What does that all have in common with fantasy hockey salary cap leagues? The 2019 draft, and all of our fantasy trading of draft picks.

Let’s preface this by saying that a good majority of salary cap leagues are competitive enough to include some sort of multi-year format. Whether it be a dynasty league with a prospect draft, or a re-draft with varying keeper formats, draft picks play a large portion of the value in these leagues. Often, stocking up draft picks is seen as the only way to accumulate talent. This week, I want to review some general ideas looking at the value of draft picks for fantasy leagues.

The value of draft picks is something that is starting to get beaten to death within the context of the actual NHL draft, while in fantasy hockey, it remains something that varies widely by league settings. One of my favourite articles I read on the subject for NHL draft picks was done by Hockey-Graphs, and can be found here. My biggest takeaway was how fast the expected value drops off, and how much of a crapshoot the later parts of a draft are.

Over the last few years, I have tried different approaches when it comes to draft picks. In some, I have traded up as far as I could, because I am not a scout, and the higher picks are more reliable. In others, I have gone for the scattershot approach, hoarding a quantity picks and hoping something sticks. In one keeper league (keep 11) I ended up with the majority of the third round of picks to fill out the remainder of my roster for the year, while in yet another league I traded away all of my entry-draft picks for immediate upgrades in a year that I was vacationing around draft time.

In a lot of fantasy leagues, draft picks get glorified to the point that almost any player in the league is available for the right number of picks. Especially in dynasty cap leagues, where the young talent coming in on entry-level contracts is what rules the pool, draft picks are seen as the only means to properly rebuild – that is most certainly false. Look at your fantasy leagues and think about how many teams have been rebuilding for the last three or more years by trading anyone decent for draft picks or lesser players just to wind up at the bottom of the standings. This is what we call the Edmonton Oilers approach, as we have seen in the NHL, it isn’t always effective. The bottom line here, is that the path to a successful rebuild shouldn’t be solely through draft picks.

This is going to be a tough exercise trying to encompass every league, but I will try by breaking down picks into the early, middle, and late rounds, going through how the value for each can be evaluated, and can be maximized in any league. This is generally going to be focused on those leagues where the players available to be chosen is a very similar player pool to the NHL draft of that year.


Early Rounds

The early round picks are your best chance to turn the lottery ticket into a real contributor for your fantasy team. Whether that by a trade, or with the handful of players that make a fantasy impact within a year or two of being drafted. However, in my experience, these picks tend to be overvalued in trades because of what they could turn out to be, and not what they are. Look back at any draft in the last 15 years, and you will see maybe eight to ten players that you would trade a 15th overall pick for in this year’s draft. Does that make sense?

Not really.

Unless it is a top three selection, these players are likely one to four years away, and could turn out to be as good as the top 50 fantasy player you’re trading them for. As we saw in the Hockey-Graphs article linked above, the value of first round picks drops off fast, but oftentimes late first round picks are treated the same as…


Late Rounds

Unless you are the prospect/depth player guru of your fantasy pool, the late round picks are dart throws, and are usually no better than the free-agent pool anyways. If you can turn these lottery tickets into definite value, then you are likely coming out ahead. That being said, more dart throws you have means you’re more likely to strike gold, so don’t be afraid to make a few of those picks if you don’t receive a good enough return.

These rounds I try my hardest to get thrown in as sweeteners to push deals through. One per season doesn’t make much of a difference, but if you get four or five extra late round picks thrown in, then you can package them together for a juicier middle round pick, or for a prospect that’s farther along in their development.


Middle Rounds

This is where it all comes together. The middle rounds to some teams are valuable enough to get you a player that you need, while some other teams just need a mediocre prospect to give one away. Take full advantage of the discrepancies in evaluations of draft picks between those in your leagues. By the end of a season, I have shuffled plenty of mid-round picks in and out, which I find is one of the fastest ways to rebuild my depth.


Future years

In some leagues, picks from future years are fair game to be dealt. In these, I find that a pick from one year should gain you about 20-30 spots when dealt for a pick a year from then. To elaborate, a pick that would net you a player in the 50th overall range of your prospect draft this year would be worth a selection around 30th overall in the next year’s draft. A later pick, in the 80 range, may net you something around the 50th selection a year later. This is based loosely around development time of prospects and how it lengthens the later on into the draft you get.


The bottom line is that draft picks can be used to possibly make your team better for the future, or to more certainly make your team better in the present. I know which way I usually lean.



If you have any draft pick thoughts, theories, research, or stories you would like to share, I would love to go over them in the comments.




Previous Capped articles:

Holiday Shopping for the East

Doing Some Holiday Shopping (West)




That caps off this week’s record article, thanks for reading. As always, you can find me on twitter @alexdmaclean.