Ramblings: Draft Strategies; Kyle Connor and Jesse Puljujarvi Move Up – September 25

by Michael Clifford on September 25, 2017
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Draft Strategies; Kyle Connor and Jesse Puljujarvi Move Up – September 25

I have been asked a handful of times to discuss draft strategies, so with the draft season having about a week or so left, I figure it’s probably now or never. These are just some general ideas I employ. Remember that nothing in fantasy sports is a hard-and-fast rule, everything is flexible.

 

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Over time, fantasy hockey owners basically fall into three categories when it comes to drafting goaltenders: the first drafts at least one goalie early no matter what, the second is filled with owners who wait on goaltending no matter what, and the third is one who will draft a goalie if they feel that goalie is the best player left on the board. I consider myself to be more in the third category.

Goaltending has a lot of volatility from year to year. Consider that in standard Yahoo leagues, the only netminder to finish top-5 at the position the last two seasons is Braden Holtby, and he and John Gibson are the only two to finish inside the top-10 both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Some people might say, “well make sure to grab Holtby early!” And I’m not discounting that entirely, but with all the turnover Washington had during the summer, would anyone be surprised if they weren’t as dominant a regular season team as they’ve been in recent memory? As for Gibson, we know the team will be without both Ryan Kesler and Hampus Lindholm for at least a month. That is a huge hit to the defensive capabilities of the Ducks.

It was basically a year ago that Cory Schneider was considered among the handful of top goaltenders in the world; Jonathan Quick was consistently solid until the injury last year; Devan Dubnyk has been very good for Minnesota since joining the Wild; Scott Darling could provide good value on an up-and-coming team. All this is to say that there are a lot of goalies going much later in drafts that could either return to form or show themselves to be reliable assets. I don’t think it’s necessary to grab Holtby, or Price, or Matt Murray. Other fantasy owners do, and that’s fine. But the nature of the position leads itself to randomness, and investing a high draft pick at a position steeped in randomness seems to be a bad idea.

While the blue line is less volatile – assuming they’re healthy, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from guys like Brent Burns, Dustin Byfuglien, and Roman Josi – it’s still not a situation where I have to grab a guy like Burns in the first round. Doing that is more understandable than investing in a goalie, but there are still a bevy of players going outside the top-10 that have top-10 potential (or have done so in previous seasons) like Zach Werenski, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, John Klingberg, or Ryan Suter.

With Erik Karlsson’s surgery recovery, and the uncertainty surrounding it, the only d-man that should get first-round consideration is Burns. Maybe it’s worth grabbing him because it offers such a leg up on the rest of NHL blue liners, but outside of him, I would rather just wait and grab elite offensive forwards early on.

This is largely a matter of preference and comfort, but I feel I have a good enough handle on good values later in drafts that grabbing a defenceman or goalie early isn’t necessary. I’m sure people feel the opposite, and there is no one true way to win a league. I just try to minimize risk early in drafts, and with goaltenders especially, it’s a risky way to live.

 

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Speaking of risk, drafting line mates is a risk/reward trade-off that I think is worth taking, though I would admit that I think it’s more suited for roto leagues than head-to-head. In roto leagues, you need to take a long view of the season, and just try to get the best numbers by the time the second week of April rolls around. In head-to-head, you have to go week by week, and one bad week by a line could sink an entire fantasy season.

Anyway, to get back to the original point of drafting line mates in roto leagues. This is an extreme example, but think about this:

Not that it’s necessary to go all-in on the top Stars PP unit, but if the line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov perform to their abilities, you could be drafting three guys that combined for 90 goals, 240 points, and 75 power-play points. Then again, maybe Radulov is eventually moved down, or they split up Benneguin again, or the line just doesn’t click all year. However, again, if they perform like they’re capable, it could reap huge rewards.

The same, to varying degrees of upside, goes for drafting Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgeny Dadonov, and Jonathan Huberdeau, Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang, etc.

Again, this is a risk-reward thing. If one of these players are injured, it can have a negative effect not only on his production, but that of his line mates. Or if the lines are changed. Or they just have an unlucky year. All these things need to be considered, but there is clearly a handful of situations where two or three line mates could be had at their current ADPs, and provide massive upside to a fantasy roster.

 

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Every year a common question is where do you want to draft if given the choice. While it would depend on the league settings, in standard roto leagues, I think Connor McDavid is the clear number-one choice. After that, there are a handful of players that could all perform similarly like Sidney Crosby, Brent Burns, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Nikita Kucherov, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jack Eichel. For that reason, unless I was assured the number-one pick overall, I would want a pick in the back half of the first round so I could scoop one of those elite offensive players in the first round and then another top offensive weapon to complement that choice like Mark Scheifele, Tyler Seguin, or John Tavares.

Part of the reason for wanting to avoid something like the third or fourth overall pick is that I see a clear delineation of talent once you get to about pick 20. In mock drafts I’ve done, fairly often guys like Tavares, Seguin, Victor Hedman, and Scheifele are still available. Each of those players has the talent to be a first-round value. After that, though, you start dropping off to players that have question marks like Artemi Panarin (can he translate his production to a new team?), Max Pacioretty (how will he mesh with Jonathan Drouin?), Phil Kessel (will back-to-back Cup runs eventually wear down a consistent performer?) and so on. For that reason, if I can get two picks inside the top-16 or so players, that’s the draft slotting I want (assuming I can’t get McDavid with the first pick).

Again, this is about personal preference largely, and I’m sure there are people out there comfortable with starting their draft with Ovechkin and Byfuglien or Crosby and Kessel. Personally, I want first overall, or the back half of the first round.

 

So that’s where I sit on these three draft strategies or draft questions. Where do you sit on these ideas? Sound off in the comments.


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Though they were missing a few players like Bryan Little, the Jets did have a different lineup yesterday than had been expected of late:

Kyle Connor being moved up to play with Mark Scheifele is of note here. It may not last longer than a game, but it’s a good sign that he’s being given an opportunity to play on the team’s top line. At least the coaching staff wants to see him with their elite offensive talents, which would indicate they want to see what he can do. He’s still not worth a draft pick outside of deep fantasy leagues, but it’s something to continue to monitor.

 

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In his Top-10 column yesterday, Tom Collins mused that the biggest beneficiary of the Travis Zajac injury could be Pavel Zacha. While it remains to be seen if he’ll get an extended look in the top-six, he was skating with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri yesterday:

The sixth overall pick from 2015 moved up and down the lineup last season, but should be relied upon for more offence this year. Like Connor, Zacha still isn’t fantasy relevant outside of deep leagues, but this is a player for whom much has been expected since he was drafted. This could be his chance to start living up to those expectations.

 

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An interesting note here from a Lightning beat writer:

We know over the last five years or so that coaches have gone away from keeping whole lines together and moved more towards pairings, but this has a lot of fantasy implications.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote that I had hoped that Tyler Johnson would either skate on the top line with Steven Stamkos on his wing, or on the second line with the Triplets reunited. However, it appears neither of those is true. That makes me worried for his fantasy upside this year; guys like Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point can put the puck in the net, but it’s a clear downgrade in talent for Johnson to skate with. Given the depth at the centre position, I’m not sure he’s worth drafting in standard 12-team leagues anymore.

 

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Remember how I discussed how Ryan Strome, and the right-wing situation in general in Edmonton, could be a headache all season? Well, it’s begun already:

Jesse Puljujarvi finished Edmonton’s game Saturday night skating with Connor McDavid, and it appears he’ll stay there in the near-term. Maybe he can show enough that he stays there for the majority of the season, but he won’t be on the top power-play unit, so the fantasy potential won’t be reached just yet. It is a good sign for Puljujarvi fantasy owners in both redraft and keeper formats.

 

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I want to do a little write-up in a Ramblings in the near-future about big reaches in fantasy drafts, so I want to ask the Dobber community to help me out here. With draft season winding down (just over a week until the season starts!), what are some of the biggest reaches you’ve seen in drafts? Make sure to include the size of the league and the individual settings.