Top 10 draft tips for fantasy hockey newcomers

by Tom Collins on August 20, 2018


One thing I’ve been noticing on Twitter quite a bit recently are tweets from people mentioning they are gearing up for their first ever hockey pool this year. Anything that gets more people involved in fantasy hockey is a good thing and it could get them hooked. It worked for my wife. When we first met, she joined her first ever hockey pool, a straight-forward, points-only playoff pool that I had run for a few years. She loved it. She would check the pool six times a day even though the standings didn’t change, and whenever I asked her what she wanted to do that night, all she wanted to do was watch hockey and cheer for the players she had chosen.

Not everyone who reads this site is a pool veteran nor in eight fantasy hockey leagues per year. For those who are newbies/casual fans, here are 10 pieces of advice for your draft. Any fantasy hockey veterans who want to add to the list, feel free to do so in the comments.


10. Take advantage of the injured reserve list

One of my favourite strategies in Yahoo pools is to draft an injured player and stash them on my injured reserve list as soon as the draft is done, and then pick another player off the waiver wire to fill that slot. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Last year, I drafted Ryan Kesler in one league with this strategy. It didn’t work. In another league, I drafted Ryan Ellis. That one worked. This year I would be focused on drafting Shea Weber with the same idea.


9. Handcuff some of your goalies

This is a common practice in fantasy football when it comes to running backs and quarterbacks, but doesn’t really occur too much in fantasy hockey. You should look into it for goaltenders who are frequently injured or have a capable backup behind them. If you decide to draft Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Matt Murray, Jake Allen and a couple of others, then you’d be smart to grab Antti Niemi, Jusse Saros, Tristan Jarry and Chad Johnson in later rounds.


8. Don’t overrate rookies/prospects in a one-year league

Sure, some of them — such as Mathew Barzal – pay off, but more often than not, they’ll be underwhelming compared to non-rookie players you could have had in that spot. In one of my 12-team Yahoo leagues last year, the only rookie who was drafted was Nico Hischier, and he was taken in the 14th round. In another 12-team Yahoo league made up off Dobber forum members, Charlie McAvoy was the only rookie chosen before round 17. If a rookie starts off hot, you’ll more than likely be able to pluck them off the waiver wire. In a points-only pool with no waiver wire, they’re not worth the risk of a high draft pick.


7. Go in with a plan, but be flexible

It’s always good to go into a fantasy draft with a game plan. Maybe in a 15-team league starts two goalies, you plan on taking a netminder with your first two picks. However, you wind up with a high draft pick, take Connor McDavid early and by the time your second-round pick comes, there was a run of goalies, so you’re stuck choosing between a second-tier goalie and an elite defenseman. Don’t be scared to change your strategy and take the defenseman. A strategy is fine, but it has to flexible enough so you’re not stuck choosing the worse of two players.


6. Rank your players in advance

Even if you plan on being available for your online draft, something could still go wrong (having to work late, computer issues, a power outage, whatever). That means your team will be drafted by a computer, and you could get stuck with a bunch of players you don’t want or only backup goalies. By ranking players in advance, you lessen the risk you’ll be stuck with a team you don’t want in case you can’t make the draft.


5. Don’t draft a goalie early

Unless the league settings force you to select a netminder in the first few rounds, you should wait until selecting a goalie. The top goalies in the league change every single year. In one of my head-to-head leagues that count wins, losses, goals against, saves and shutouts, the top five goalies chosen in last year’s draft were Brayden Holtby, Matt Murray, Carey Price, Cam Talbot and Devan Dubnyk. All five were gone by the middle of the third round. Of goalies that won at least 10 games, Holtby was the 34th-ranked goalie, Murray 35th, Price 51st, Talbot 47th and Dubnyk 4th. Only Dubnyk proved to be worth his spot. Don’t waste a high draft pick on a goalie.


4. Take advantage of tools at your disposal

If, after years of points-only pools, you’re joining a league with categories you may not be used to, there’s plenty of help so you don’t flounder. Dobber’s annual guide (order it here) does more than project points. With the guide is an excel document that includes PIMs, hits, blocked shots and plus/minus. The guide also comes with a code for a discount for Fantasy Hockey Geek, where you enter your league settings, and it tells you the best players to draft. There’s also the same-night tool (found here), which tells you which the best team to select from depending on which teams you’ve drafted from the most. For example, if you have a bunch of Leafs and Flyers, the best teams to choose from after that is Anaheim and Winnipeg.


3. Look through the draft list for gems

Many fantasy general managers look only at the top 100 or 200 players, but there are plenty of useful players that can be found further down the list. If you are drafting on Yahoo for example, and scroll down the list of defensemen, Kevin Shattenkirk is ranked 340th and Oscar Klefbom 360th. There are plenty of excellent options if you are willing to scroll down the list a little bit.


2. Know your scoring categories

I’m in a Yahoo head-to-head league that counts goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, power play points, shots, faceoffs won, hits and blocked shots. Under this set-up, Dustin Byfuglien was the 19th ranked player while Erik Karlsson was ranked 164th. This setup also gives a lot of extra value to guys such as Mark Borowiecki and Kris Russell. Including faceoffs in your league settings boosts the value of Ryan O’Reilly and actually makes Sidney Crosby even more valuable.


1. Have fun

Maybe you go into a draft and you’re set on selecting Antti Raanta because you are a Coyotes fan and believe he can have a great season. Remember, hockey pools are supposed to be fun, so selecting some of your favourite players on your favourite teams (as long as you don’t draft them too high) will make the season more enjoyable for you and gives you another reason to root for your team. If you believe Raanta will be a great option, go for it, and don’t worry about anyone who might try to convince you it was an awful pick.