Okay, folks ... it's finally time for the first fantasy hockey article of the season. I'm here to get all you boys and girls ready for your upcoming fantasy hockey drafts by providing you with a few gems to keep an eye on and also a few players to approach with caution. Hopefully this list will give you the edge you need to take home the fantasy gold this season. Let's get started, shall we?
For the purpose of ease, most of my analysis is based on Yahoo! Head-to-Head standard scoring (G, A, +/-, PIM, PPP, SOG / W, GAA, SV%, SHO). But it's pretty clear that most leagues these days are adding some additional "peripheral" categories such as Hits, Blocks, and Faceoffs Won, so I will try to provide emphasis on these categories when possible. The following list represents my top-10 fantasy players for the aforementioned league-type:
1) Sidney Crosby (C) ... well, duh.
2) Alex Ovechkin (RW) ... his resurgent second half gives me hope he can threaten for top fantasy performer in 2013-14.
3) Evgeni Malkin (C,RW) ... I gave Geno the edge over Stamkos for his greater potential to challenge for top player honors.
4) Steven Stamkos (C) ... perennial 50-goal man, one of the tougher categories to fill in fantasy hockey.
5) Claude Giroux (C,RW) ... Yahoo's 13th ranked player, I would take him top-5 for his 90+ point potential.
6) John Tavares (C) ... despite not having a point-per-game season to his credit, one of the league's elite skaters.
7) Taylor Hall (LW) ... still relatively unproven, but he plays LW (shallow position) and holds elite potential.
8) Erik Karlsson (D) ... the first Dman off the board for obvious reasons, his health concerns could make him a steal.
9) Phil Kessel (RW) ... Kessel is my #1 ranked "pure" RW, and is threat for 40-40 numbers with very high SOG totals.
10) James Neal (LW,RW) ... a bit underrated by Yahoo! Neal rounds out my top-10 as a point-per-game threat and PP dynamo.
There are without a doubt, dozens upon dozens of players you should look out for when drafting in your fantasy leagues, but these next short lists should hopefully provide you with some relevant fantasy names you may want to bump up your draft board -- or run away from screaming -- on draft day:
Draft Day Sleepers: I don't necessarily like the term "sleeper," but its ubiquity serves a purpose here. Just know that I value these players significantly higher than their current Yahoo rank.
1) Pascal Dupuis (LW,RW), ranked 136 by Yahoo - This oft-underrated winger possesses many qualities that should vault him up your rankings on draft day. Attached to Sidney Crosby at the hip, Dupuis also holds dual eligibility in Yahoo leagues, and ranked at 136 he shouldn't cost a whole lot to fill out your fantasy roster. Last season Dupuis led the Penguins in 5v5 individual Corsi/60 with 19.549, and was 2nd on the team (behind Crosby, Kunitz) in 5v5 Points/60 with a sparkling 2.65. For a guy ranked outside the top-125 fantasy players, those numbers are outstanding; however, keep in mind the fact that Duper likely won't be getting much PP time, if any. Dupuis detractors will highlight his sky-high PDO (1070) and on-ice Sh% of 13.3
2) Brad Richards (C), ranked 78 by Yahoo - The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season is one Richards would like to forget, and quickly. He posted 11 goals and 34 points in 46 games (60-point pace), his lowest pace since his days with Tampa Bay; however, there are some positives to which we should direct our attention: he finished last season with a positive on-ice Corsi rating of 10.22, and was 3rd on the Rangers with 2.04 5v5 Points/60. With Alain Vigneault taking the reins in the Big Apple, look for Richards' offensive deployment to change drastically and help him bounce back to his 70+ point ways.
3) Brent Burns (RW,D), ranked 167 by Yahoo - Big Foot, the Wolfman, the Abominable Snowman: these are all things Brent Burns resembles in appearance. But what he doesn't resemble anymore is a defenseman. And that's fantastic news for fantasy owners because, despite his status as a top-line RW playing with playmaker extraordinaire Big Joe Thornton, he has retained his D eligibility in Yahoo leagues. What this means for us fantasy nerds is that, instead of a fringe right-winger, Brent Burns is a top-5 fantasy Dman in just about every format. Don't be surprised if Burns ends up with 60+ points, with solid SOG/PIMs (and Hits) totals: fantastic production from an anchor blueliner. Look to draft Burns once guys like Karlsson, Letang, and Subban have left the board.
4) Scott Hartnell (LW), ranked 158 by Yahoo - I fully realize most of the people reading this are saying, "but I'm a Penguins fan and I don't want to draft Hartnell." I'm here to tell you that doesn't matter. You totally should draft Hartnell, and here's why: he gets to line up with Giroux on a regular basis, he's entrenched on the Flyers PP1 unit, and he doesn't just provide offense -- despite his lackluster point totals, in 2012-13 Hartnell still averaged over 2 SOG, 2 Hits, and 2 PIMs per game. In addition, he was one of just a few players on the Flyers with a positive on-ice Corsi (4.47), and was third on the club in Relative Corsi (17.4). Another thing to consider is that last season Hartnell didn't really have "good luck." On-ice Sh% while Hartnell was on the ice was just over 6, and he had a mediocre PDO (973); these numbers should both improve over the course of a full season playing with Giroux. All in all, he fills up every area of the stat sheet, and in this year's draft he won't cost you a high pick. Just one year removed from a top-10 fantasy season, Hartnell should provide significantly more value than his similarly ranked peers. Shame on you, Yahoo.
5) David Backes (C,RW), ranked 110 by Yahoo - By this point David Backes is hardly a "sleeper" by popular standards; however, given his current Yahoo rank he is drastically undervalued -- especially if your league counts categories like Hits or Faceoffs Won. When considering his winger-eligibility, combined with his multi-category prowess and firm position on the Blues top trio, David Backes is easily top-50 value in standard Yahoo leagues. In leagues like the "Pens Initiative 412" league, which scores categories like Faceoffs, Hits, BLKs, etc., Backes is a borderline first-round pick. Don't worry about his somewhat modest point totals, he's worth a high selection in this year's drafts.
Draft Day Busts: Again, I don't exactly love the term "bust," as most of these players will have a quality season when all is said and done; however, for the purposes of this article, these are players I value significantly lower than their current Yahoo ranks.
1) Sergei Bobrovsky (G), ranked 24 by Yahoo - Last season was a storybook year for Bobrovsky. After a somewhat middling start to his career in Philadelphia, "Bob" was cast off to the Blue Jackets as yet another failed Flyer goaltender; however, he did anything but fail with the Jackets, posting career-highs across the board (21 Wins, 2.00 GAA, .932 SV%, 4 SHO) on his way to a Vezina trophy and a near-playoff bid for a team that many experts picked to finish last overall in 2012-13. Clearly the tables have turned, and Bobrovsky's value has never been higher; but proceed with extreme caution. Investing a 2nd or 3rd round pick on Bobrovsky could conceivably ruin your entire fantasy season unless he performs up to last year's standards. I'm not saying it isn't possible, but with the volatility of the goalie position it's a questionable wager to draft Bob in the top-25 and to expect him to maintain his elite-level numbers. Detractors will point to his .929 5v5 Sv% over the past three seasons (8th in the NHL among goalies > 3000 min. played at 5v5), but I'm just not ready to invest a third round pick on Bob until we see another full season in the #1 job.
2) Corey Crawford (G), ranked 37 by Yahoo - Sensing a trend here? Well, that's because Yahoo showers love on "one season wonders," especially goaltenders. Crawford had an amazing season in 2012-13 after being incredibly low on draft boards to begin the year, and that should be the real lesson here: investing highly on goalies in your fantasy draft is a somewhat questionable strategy because some guys will underperform significantly while others will emerge from obscurity to post elite seasons. It's just too difficult to predict. Save for guys like Lundqvist, Rinne, and Rask, I would be incredibly wary of using a high draft selection on a goaltender -- there's just too much unpredictability from year to year. Granted, Crawford could post another amazing season, but with his draft stock so high, he would essentially have to repeat his career-highs from last season to justify his draft day value. I'm not going to be the one who takes that gamble.
3) Matt Duchene (C,LW), ranked 33 by Yahoo - Matt Duchene is a clear-cut #1 Center, and a developing young stud who finally broke out in 2012-13 with 17 goals and 43 points in 47 GP. But his high value is almost entirely reliant on maintaining his LW eligibility. The Center position is always the deepest position, and hence the easiest to fill on a fantasy roster. As a winger, Duchene is probably a top-10 option, but as a Center he holds similar value to hordes of pivots. I wouldn't want to wager such a high draft pick on Duchene keeping a winger-eligibility, as the result would be almost a wasted pick. And that doesn't even consider the possibility of Nathan Mackinnon eating into some of his prime opportunities; while not highly likely, Mackinnon is the most highly touted #1 overall pick since John Tavares, and he could assert himself before the 2013-14 season comes to a close. With Duchene, you're banking on too many things, offensive production included, to justify taking him in the first few rounds.
4) Nail Yakupov (RW), ranked 44 by Yahoo - This is just one of those rankings that leaves me scratching my head. I understand that Yakupov has incredible upside, and he finished his rookie campaign with a blistering goal-scoring pace; however, there are a couple reasons why I see this ranking as absolutely mental. First off, Yahoo's rank is based on an incredibly small sample size in which Yakupov benefited from "garbage time" scoring in the final few games. I just haven't seen enough from him to expect a large enough increase in his production to warrant a top-50 selection. Second, there are just too many cooks in the Edmonton kitchen: Yakupov isn't even the #1 RW on his own team, as Eberle holds those honors. With a bevy of talented forwards in the top-6 including Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Gagner, Hemsky, and Perron, Yakupov will have plenty of competition for prime minutes and PP1 time. The advanced stats aren't very kind either: Yak ranked 19th on the Oilers in RelCorsi (-5.1) and 20th in on-ice Corsi (-15.22) while sporting a relatively high Sh% of 11.1 and a PDO of 1029. I would have a hard time using such a high selection on a guy who plays on the 2nd line / PP2 unit, and only has a half season worth of NHL experience. Look to players like Semin, Voracek, and Eriksson instead.
5) Alex Galchenyuk (C,LW), ranked 90 by Yahoo - In case you haven't noticed, I am a bit averse to using high draft selections on a) goalies with limited track records, and b) young players who may be overvalued a bit because of their untapped potential. Alex Galchenyuk is no different. Galchenyuk potted 9 goals and 27 points in 48 GP last season, and for this kid the sky is the limit; however, I'm not ready to put all my eggs in the "Galch" basket just yet. He could end up being a top-100 fantasy option in 2013-14, but there is no way I would invest in Galchenyuk with proven fantasy options like Lucic, Jeff Carter, and Blake Wheeler still on the draft board. No way. Don't run away screaming, but keep in mind the fact that Galchenyuk is still a youngster with a lot to improve in his game. Look elsewhere when expending your middle round picks.
I am very glad I was able to share some of my fantasy knowledge with all of you, and I hope you're able to use some of these picks to your advantage. There will be plenty more to come as the NHL season progresses, but I hope this article is a useful tool for those of you completing your fantasy drafts in the next couple weeks. I'll be back soon with more insight to help you take the cake as invulnerable, awesome fantasy champions.