2023-24 Fantasy Hockey: 7 players you should draft differently in categories vs. points leagues

It's crucial to keep your scoring format in mind when drafting your team. Here are seven players you should approach differently depending on your league settings.

One of the most common mistakes I see among newer fantasy managers is the tendency to treat every league the exact same. One of the most interesting aspects of fantasy hockey is that no two leagues are identical and everyone has their own favorite settings. This creates a dynamic where certain players may be vastly more valuable in one league versus another.

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With this in mind, I’ve identified seven players you should be drafting differently in categories leagues versus points leagues.

Brady Tkachuk: Senators, LW

Tkachuk is the poster child for the category versus points league value system, as a shots plus hits monster who lags behind the true elites in the point-scoring categories. In a categories league, Tkachuk’s ability to separate from the pack and provide top-one percent shots and hits more than makes up for the extra 20ish points you might get from a different first-round-caliber player like Mikko Rantanen or Jason Robertson.

In a category league that includes hits, Tkachuk is a valid pick for me anytime after the big four of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon and Auston Matthews come off the board, whereas in a more typical points league with a heavy emphasis on point production over peripheral category contributions, Tkachuk is probably more of a second-rounder.

J.T. Miller: Canucks, C/RW

Miller is a similar prototype to Tkachuk in some ways, but where he truly shines is in category leagues that include faceoff wins as a category. The key to consistently beating your opponents in faceoff wins is to have winger-eligible players winning a lot of faceoffs, and Miller fits that bill while also filling the paper-thin RW position on your roster.

In category leagues including both FOW and hits, Miller is worthy of an early second-round pick for his ability to cover so many categories while crucially providing those FOW from the wing position. In points leagues where FOW are typically not counted and hits are devalued, Miller’s value plummets to the third round.

Johnny Gaudreau: Blue Jackets, LW

On the opposite end of the Tkachuk spectrum we have Gaudreau, who I have projected for a whopping 5.5 hits this season. Gaudreau is a premier talent in the league and I’m actually cautiously optimistic about the Columbus offense this season, as Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko develop and Adam Fantilli begins his rookie campaign.

Still, there’s no denying that rostering Gaudreau in a categories league with hits and/or PIMs is actively hurting your ability to compete in those categories week to week. In points leagues, this effect is mitigated or even eliminated depending on which categories point values are assigned to, and Gaudreau is a far more enticing selection at his current 83.5 ADP.

Adam Fox: Rangers, D

In some ways Fox is the defense equivalent of Gaudreau, with very little contributions in hits or PIMs at a position where the majority of defensemen are providing pretty solid contributions in those categories. Crucially, Fox is also not much of a shooter, relying on efficiency more than volume to hit his gaudy point totals year after year.

In a categories league including shots and hits, Fox will likely be overdrafted and I’d certainly stay far away at his current ADP of 28.0. In a points league with a heavy emphasis on point production, I’m far more likely to ride with Fox in the third round.

Jacob Trouba: Rangers D

You don’t have to look further than fellow Rangers defenseman Trouba to find the “anti-Fox,” the guy who crushes all the peripheral stats. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if your category league incorporates shots, hits, blocks and PIMs, there’s an argument to be made for taking Trouba over Fox. Trouba is absolutely elite in the hits and blocks categories and well above average in shots and PIMs, while providing above replacement-level offensive numbers to boot.

It’ll feel odd to prioritize Trouba that highly, but if your format demands it, be the leader, not the follower and lock up those peripheral categories with the Troubas and Darnell Nurses of the world.

Jacob Trouba #8 and Adam Fox #23 of the New York Rangers are two players who bring different skills to the table in fantasy hockey. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Jeremy Swayman: Bruins, G

Goalies in category leagues are fundamentally more focused on efficiency rather than volume: you’re usually dealing with GAA and SV% as at least two of your categories. One start from a good goalie on a good team means much more in category leagues than points leagues, where it’s often possible to approximate good performance with sheer volume from average to below-average quality goaltenders.

Enter Swayman, who is likely to reprise his role as the 1B in Boston behind Vezina winner Linus Ullmark. Boston has lost star centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci but this will still be a savvy, veteran, defensive-minded squad capable of supporting terrific GAA and SV% numbers. Swayman likely won’t see the volume necessary to move the needle in points leagues but can absolutely provide value in categories leagues where quality means more than quantity.

Karel Vejmelka: Coyotes, G

In direct opposition to the Swayman thesis you have Vejmelka, the expected starter for the Arizona Coyotes. Vejmelka is likely to encounter a ton of rubber once again for the up-and-coming Coyotes, making him valuable in points leagues that have a strong weight for saves and aren’t too punitive on the goals against. If that’s the type of league you find yourself in, Vejmelka makes for a terrific #ZeroG target in the late rounds while your leaguemates needlessly chase the top-end netminders with early picks.

In category leagues, Vejmelka represents a much more difficult proposition as it’s hard to envision that he’ll be above average in GAA and SV%.

Nate Groot Nibbelink is the creator of Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey and the originator of the #ZeroG draft strategy. You can find him pontificating about obscure fantasy hockey strategy topics in the Apples & Ginos Discord Server or on Twitter/X @applesginos.