10 fantasy hockey takeaways: Revisiting this year's draft

·10 min read

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

The NHL's Christmas and holiday break came a little sooner than expected thanks to an onslaught of COVID-19 cases which ravaged almost every team's roster. For fantasy managers, the break is much-needed, as the hope is a number of players enlisted into the league's protocols will be eligible to return once the play picks back up on Monday.

With very little action to dissect from the past seven days, I've decided instead to take this opportunity to look back at the draft and see where fantasy managers went right, and where they weren't even close.

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Here are my 10 takeaways from the draft to now.

How did we let Alex Ovechkin slip outside the top-10?

Yes, Alex Ovechkin's 2020-21 campaign was slightly disappointing, but just one year removed from splitting the Rocket Richard Trophy with David Pastrnak, we should've still valued the category-stuffing superstar as a high-end option in the first round.

Ovi only scored 24 goals and 42 points in 45 games last season, which by his standards is a down year. He's returned with a vengeance, however, potting 22 goals and 47 points in just 31 contests.

Alex Ovechkin has shown no signs of slowing down. (Getty)
Alex Ovechkin has shown no signs of slowing down. (Getty)

Beyond that, he's recorded a league-best 16 even-strength goals and 145 shots, an excellent plus-18 rating, and a solid 43 hits.

There's a very strong case to be made that Ovechkin is having the best fantasy year of anyone, and the fantasy manager who was lucky enough to scoop him up in the latter portion of Round 1 is likely sitting pretty.

Why was Cole Caufield going so early?

One of the biggest mistakes fantasy-hockey managers made in drafts this past offseason was selecting Cole Caufield at his 103.0 ADP.

The Montreal Canadiens' winger was being selected ahead of players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Zach Hyman, and Tom Wilson despite being a rookie on a team that, on paper, didn't have a very talented group of offensive players to surround him with.

The results, obviously, have been brutal, as Caufield has scored just one goal and six points across 23 games. The 20-year-old also spent a bit of time in the AHL, which is never something you want any player in fantasy hockey to do.

I do think, however, now isn't a bad time to buy low on Caufield or stash him where available. Over Montreal's last six games, he leads the team in individual shots per 60 with 14.34 and has also posted an impressive individual scoring chances-for per 60 (iSCF/60) of 9.78, which sits third on the squad, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Caufield's a top prospect, and even though he shouldn't have been selected as early as he was in fantasy, he's someone I wouldn't mind taking a flier on.

Tristan Jarry was unjustifiably underdrafted

Everybody knew Tristan Jarry was going to be the lead goalie on a respectable Pittsburgh Penguins team, yet fantasy managers allowed him to slip to the point where he wasn't even going inside the top-20 at the position in fantasy drafts.

This is what I wrote about Jarry in the preseason:

I like Tristan Jarry because he is going to be the No. 1 on a team that'll likely return to the postseason, and probably finish top three in a good, not great Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins protected Jarry in the NHL expansion draft this offseason and exposed Casey DeSmith, a very good indicator that he's viewed as the top goalie on the team. The numbers may not be pretty, but he finished with an excellent 25-9-3 record in 2020-21, and Pittsburgh's running back a near-identical team.

Even I, who was high on Jarry, undersold what we've seen from him roughly a third of the way into the campaign.

In 24 starts, the 26-year-old owns a strong 15-5-4 record and a dynamite .932 save percentage. Jarry has not just provided a great record, but also extremely impressive numbers, which is even more than what I expected.

Drafting goalie early proves to be a bad strategy yet again

I was so enamoured of the thought of Darcy Kuemper, who was stellar during his tenure with the Arizona Coyotes, joining the Colorado Avalanche that I forgot about the mistake I was making while doing it:

Drafting a goalie in the early rounds.

The reward is almost never worth the risk (unless it's Andrei Vasilevskiy) and even then, he hasn't quite lived up to his first-round ADP.

As a refresher, here are the goalies who earned a top-50 ADP: Vasilevskiy (5.2), Robin Lehner (19.4), Darcy Kuemper (22.6), Connor Hellebuyck (24.9), Igor Shesterkin (37.9), Frederik Andersen (42.7), Marc-Andre Fleury (45.0), and Semyon Varlamov (50.2).

It's more than fair to say that all with the exception of Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin, and Andersen have underperformed.

Comparing that list to some of the goalies selected outside the top-100: Thatcher Demko (102.9), Jarry (114.3), Jacob Markstrom (135.1), and Jonathan Quick (157.9), it's easy to tell that the route fantasy managers should take is to forgo goalies in the early rounds while loading up on the position later in the draft.

Fade defencemen coming off ultra-high goal-scoring seasons

Goals can be a tricky stat when it comes to analyzing defencemen in fantasy hockey.

Given the nature of the position, most shots are coming from low-danger areas of the ice like the point. This means most blueliners have to rely on a little bit of luck when it comes to racking up high numbers of goals. For example, here are last year's top-three rearguard goal-scorers:

1. Jakob Chychrun, 18

2. Darnell Nurse, 16

3. Jeff Petry, 12

This season, across a combined 76 games, those three defensemen have combined for three goals.

Very few blueliners are able to put forward high goal totals on a yearly basis, but this next defender has done it, and that's why he deserves to be drafted among the very elite at the position.

Roman Josi was slept on

Roman Josi, perennial Norris Trophy contender and fantasy hockey stud, was overlooked in drafts this past year.

The Nashville Predators blueliner earned an ADP of 60.7, which placed him outside of the top-10 defencemen in drafts this season. That was obviously a mistake, and anybody who waited and selected Josi has been rewarded.

The 31-year-old has arguably been the best defenceman in the NHL thus far, and certainly a premier option for fantasy managers. His 10 goals are second amongst rearguards, his 19 assists are tied for seventh, his 13 power-play points are tied for first, his 107 shots on goal are first, and he's also produced a respectable 42 blocks.

Overall, Josi's been an absolute gem and, given his extensive and successful track record, should've been taken earlier in drafts.

The Jack Eichel ADP never made sense

When a player is in need of artificial disc replacement surgery and the start of the season is approaching, it's probably wise to just cross that player off your fantasy hockey cheat sheet altogether.

That wasn't the case this past offseason, however, as Jack Eichel was being drafted in the eighth round of Yahoo fantasy drafts. Now nearing the month of January, the Vegas Golden Knights' centre still hasn't been cleared for contact, and there still really isn't an official timetable for his return.

With COVID-19 cases piling up and a number of key players suffering injuries early on, it's already hard enough to juggle all of the absences, let alone willingly draft and carry a guy who will likely miss over half the season.

Simply put, Eichel's 89.9 ADP was too rich considering everything that was happening away from the ice before the year had even started. Injuries will find you in fantasy hockey, you don't need to go out and find them, especially at the draft.

I should've taken my own advice and avoided Tyler Seguin

Look at me talking about avoiding players because of injuries, maybe I should've followed that advice instead of touting Tyler Seguin as a great pick in the middle rounds?

Seguin, who underwent hip and knee surgeries last year, joined the Dallas Stars late in the 2020-21 season and finished his campaign with two goals in three games. Reading into that small sample size and thinking that he would be perfectly fine to begin 2021-22, I was duped.

Seguin hasn't been helpful for fantasy managers, recording just eight goals and 12 points. He even recently discussed how his game has changed from what it used to be, which isn't an encouraging sign at all.

I should've understood just how impactful the procedures he received were and avoided him. But, I was enamoured of his past production and the fact that he's still only 29 years old. You live and learn, that's the beauty of this game.

Nobody could've anticipated the Nazem Kadri breakout

If you predicted the Nazem Kadri breakout you're simply lying to yourself.

You didn't see it going down like this.

Kadri has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, racking up 11 goals and 38 points in 24 games. He's been the most consistent scoring threat for the Avalanche, and aside from his excellent play, there's another reason for that.

He's been one of the few Avs that have consistently played this season. The three members of the team's top line: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog have all been on the ice in just 10 of the squad's 27 contests. The frequent absences from key players have allowed Kadri to slide up in the lineup at both even strength and on the power play, and he's certainly taken advantage of those opportunities.

On the man advantage is where Kadri has done a lot of his damage, as the 31-year-old's 14 power-play points are tied for the fifth-most in the league. Entering this season, it wasn't a guarantee that he'd see time on the top unit, but given his excellent performance, it's hard to imagine he'll be pulled from the grouping anytime soon.

The Kadri breakout is a combination of skill and injuries, and because of the latter nobody could've forecasted his likely career year.

Tom Wilson's ADP proves sometimes you just need to forget whom you're drafting

Most of the hockey world's hatred for Tom Wilson is the only justification I can come up with as to why the power forward owned an ADP of 128.5 in fantasy hockey drafts this past offseason.

Other similarly styled players like Matthew and Brady Tkachuk were going roughly 90 to 100 slots ahead of him despite the fact that he'd scored just eight fewer points than Brady Tkachuk over the past three years and had out-hit Matthew Tkachuk 558-358 during the same span, too.

During the 2021-22 campaign, Wilson leads the aforementioned trio with 24 points and his 78 body checks rank second amongst the bunch.

There's always the chance that Wilson could cross the line and receive a massive suspension, but that risk was more than baked into his extremely late ADP. He's been a steal in fantasy drafts, and fantasy managers who snagged him are reaping the benefits.

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