The Journey: Drafting With A Plan 101

by Brayden Olafson on June 29, 2019


In preparing for the annual ritual of fantasy league drafts, I’m faced with an important question at every juncture of creating my lists – when should I swing for the fence, and when should I make a safe pick? For the first time in my fantasy hockey career, I find myself sitting in three unique positions in each of my three Fantrax-based leagues – second place of twelve, sixth place of twelve, and eleventh place of fourteen. Take that information however you like, but having those three unique perspectives heading into draft day has given me an opportunity to consider the differences in how I’ll approach each draft. 

My personal circumstances aside, I’ll be breaking today’s article up into three sections, each focusing on the challenging nuances of where your fantasy team lies in terms of league standings. Factors that impact multicategory leagues will be touched on, however, the focus of each section will be the player’s points ceiling.

Winners first…

The Champion 

Congratulations, you’ve won your fantasy league (or at least come close)! You’re probably thinking, “Why am I even reading this, I’m a gosh darn champion, I can win on my own.” And maybe you’re right… but maybe you’re wrong, and if you’re a true champion you know that there are always ways to improve – so you’re here, taking information from the guy who finished in 11th place in the DPFHL. 

Have faith though, loyal reader – do as I say, not as I do… and pray to God that you don’t run into injury trouble, because unfortunately, I don’t have a solution for that. 

Now regardless of what your team’s current depth looks like, if you’re on top of the world, you want to stay there. The best way, in my opinion, to do is to draft for the now, so hopefully you’ve got some picks left to play with. If you’re shy on picks though, fear not, outside of Kappo Kakko and Jack Hughes your players of interest should fall deeper in the draft. 

When I say that you want to draft for the now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the NHL now, but now in the sense that you want your players to make an impression quickly. That means, for the most part, focusing on North American Junior leagues, and to some extent European Pro leagues… the AHL is, for the most part, a no-no. The reason for this is to capitalize on the crest of your prospect’s impression on fellow owners, after all, the sooner ample valuation is realized sooner you can capitalize on it. It’s important to note that this methodology also requires buy-in to the fact that these players’ value will be realized in the form of a trading chip rather than, in most cases, an actual roster asset. That being said, I am, by no means, advising anyone to consider moving an asset who shows early promise at the NHL level, rather, simply to find a player’s short-term crest and capitalize. So without further banter on the topic, here are some players to consider with your picks:

Picks 3-15: Dylan Cozens

While I would honestly have loved to put Peyton Krebs in this spot, I simply can’t get over the fact that his eventual rise to CHL greatness will not begin until several months into the regular season (due to his torn Achilles). Cozens, however, will kick off his D+1 campaign on a Lethbridge team with something to prove. The Sabres’ prospect is earmarked for a 90+ point WHL campaign, in which he could challenge for the leagues point league. Kirby Dach would be an equally suitable pick, should he return to junior before the NHL regular season begins. That being said, it’s unlikely that many drafts will be held that late in the year. Cozens is the safe pick to show early dominance in his D+1 year. If he’s eclipsed 50 points by the time he leaves for the World Junior tournament, start taking bids. 

Picks 15-30: Jakob Pelletier

Brad Treliving has had outstanding success drafting during his time in Calgary. One thing he hasn’t had as frequently, however, is a first-round draft-pick. With their third first-round draft-pick in the last five years, the Flames selected Jakob Pelletier from the Moncton Wildcats. The forward plays a simple but selective style of offense, putting himself and his teammates in positions for success. His technical abilities leave something to be desired, which will likely limit him to a second-line ceiling, but a good one at that. On a respectable Wildcats’ squad, Pelletier will look to improve from his 89-point total this year at which point you can choose whether or not he is worthy of your patience, or simply as fantasy trade bait. 

Pick 20+: Jamieson Rees

A living, breathing highlight reel, Jamieson Rees has undeniable talent that he put on display during his limited window of opportunity with the Sarnia Sting. Missing significant time with a lacerated kidney meant compressing his showcase into a sub-40-game season plus an addition with Team Canada at the U18 tournament. Already being on Hockey Canada’s radar could foreshadow an interesting opportunity for Rees as a second-round pick, to audition for the World Junior Tournament. He’s poised for a season that will put his name on fantasy radars everywhere. The Canes certainly made a savvy pick at 44th overall, and anywhere after 20th overall, so could you. 

The Challenger 

You’re close. You can almost taste victory. If it hadn’t been for those one or two lineup mistakes, and a key injury you’d be in the money. 

So what is your best bet for taking the final step? Similar to the championship teams who should be eyeing players due to boost their value next year, you should be looking for the players who have the best shot at contributing to YOUR lineup as soon as possible. Remember, you’re close, you don’t want to be making any rash decisions, and possibly trading away players who will help your team for years to come. So unlike the type of team above who are seeking trade chips, we’re now looking for players who will have a shot in the NHL right away, even if it means sacrificing some ceiling.

Picks 3-15: Kirby Dach

Dach would be a great pick for several reasons if you find yourself in this position. First off, outside of Kaapo Kakko, Kirby Dach is the most physically developed top prospect from the 2019 Draft. His 6-4 frame could land in the NHL for a nine-game stint, or more if he has a successful training camp. On the other hand, if Dach falters in his first kick at the can, he’ll return to a budding Saskatoon Blades team where he’ll be projected as one of the league’s top scorers. If that is the case, feel free to take the path of The Champion, and utilize Dach as a trade chip for someone who can help your team now. If you can wait though, hedge your bet – it’s unlikely he plays his 20-year-old campaign at the junior level.

Picks 15-30: Philip Tomasino

A rugged and skilled forward, Philip Tomasino’s style embodies the modern day NHL power forward. He brings skill, strength and intensity to each shift and rarely leaves the ice without earning a cheer from the fans. When watching Tomasino, I think of Anthony Cirelli, only more advanced at his age. The Nashville prospect won’t turn 18 until the end of July, but should earn some consideration for Team Canada’s World Junior team. In a vacuum, Tomasino has the drive and determination that make me think he could all but force the Predators to give him an extended look in the fall of 2020. Patience will play a larger role in allowing this player to earn his full-time NHL stripes than in Dach’s case, but in this range he’s a tough player to look away from.

Pick 30+: Brett Leason

Selecting Leason is a harsh example of having to sacrifice potential ceiling for a player who will contribute to your team sooner rather than later. It’s extremely rare to see a 20-year-old selected this high in the entry draft, but this year Leason finally showed scouts something that they couldn't pass up. He’s significantly more physically mature than most of the skilled players in the draft and could challenge for a spot in the Capitals’ lineup as soon as this fall. The biggest thing going for Leason is that he’ll be eligible to play in the AHL with the Hershey Bears and develop at the organization sees fit. Even if he doesn't start his pro rookie campaign in DC there will be ample opportunity for him to make a name for himself and earn a recall.

The Bottom Feeder:

First off, I’m sorry for your luck – I know the feeling of the cold, deep and dark bottom of the league and it’s not a fun one. Luckily, to stay engaged in your league, you probably have one of the best and most fun opportunities to change your fortunes. The first thing you want to do is acquire draft picks. Let’s be honest, the team you have now isn’t doing it for you, so anyone who is over the age of 26 should be in play for acquiring ample at-bats come draft day. 

Picks 3-15: Cole Caufield or Vasily Podkolzin

Like I said, this is going to be fun. So who better than to kick things off with than Montreal’s Cole Caufield or Vancouver’s Vasily Podkolzin. Now, first off, it’s important to remember that these guys aren’t here to pay dividends any time soon. When they do though, the payoff can be expected to come in bunches. If you’re in a multi-category league, Podkolzin should be a no-brainer at this point in the draft if he’s available. In points-only format, either remain reasonable selections, with Caufield having the edge in terms of goal scoring. It’s also important to remember that neither of these players would be safe selections for the champion mentality. With Caufield heading to the University of Wisconsin, and Podkolzin locked up for two more years with SKA, it’s possible that their true potential takes some time to show form. Grab whichever of these two you can, sit tight and don’t lose hope if the results are not immediate. 

Picks 15-30: Arthur Kaliyev

Kaliyev is a true swing for the fence… But if you took my first tip of acquiring ample draft picks then you have nothing to worry about. As an 18-year-old Kaliyev registered 51 goals and over 100 points, the first draft eligible player to do so since Alex DeBrincat. Unlike DeBrincat, however, it’s not Kaliyev’s size that has scouts concerned, but rather his consistent work ethic and physical conditioning. At the end of the day, even NHL teams considered left winger a risk, but with strategic development, the Los Angeles Kings could wind up with one of the best steals of the draft… and so can you!

Pick 30+: Maxim Cajkovic

The Saint John Sea Dogs iced a squad this year that left most fans in Harbour Station with this kind of an expression…


Thankfully, the infusion of a talented 16-year-old core gave hope to the fans who were, for the most part, enticed by only veteran Robbie Burt and 18-year-old Slovak Max Cajkovic. Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning at 89th overall, Cajkovic has a surprising amount of strength and puck protection ability to his game. The blessing of Lightning’s director of scouting Al Murray should nearly tell you all you need to know about what type of player Cajkovic is. The most electrifying part of his game is his wrist shot, which tends to be lethal through screens and from bad angles. While his point total from this year might not scream fantasy darling, selecting Cajkovic to your roster would be considered an investment at what seems to be a point of undervaluation. 

Wishing the best of luck to everyone as we head into draft season. Let me know what you think of my picks on Twitter @olaf1393