Fantasy Hockey busts: Players being overvalued in drafts

It’s hard to justify the current fantasy draft price on Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Andrew FiorentinoRotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Knowing which players to draft in your fantasy hockey league is important, but it’s equally important to know which players not to draft. Spending a perfectly good pick (or a pile of auction dollars) on a big-name player who doesn’t work out can be a double whammy: Not only do you waste your draft resources, but you can also get stuck wasting a roster spot on a guy who’s too (theoretically) good to drop.

Putting together a list of “busts” really requires putting yourself out there. No one throws down such a list and gets them all right; inevitably, because we’re talking about players who are generally highly regarded, there will be some who make me look like a fool. That’s okay — I’m happy to produce bulletin-board material if that’s what these guys need to get motivated.

To be clear, the message here isn’t that you should never draft these players under any circumstances; rather, the goal is to identify those who are being drafted too aggressively and stay away from them accordingly… unless they become available at proper value. Because it’s all too easy to recommend you avoid drafting deep sleepers or long-in-the-tooth vets, we’ll confine our targets to the first 100 or so players by ADP in Yahoo Fantasy Hockey.

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Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres (ADP: 13.1)

Let’s start off with a bang here by taking one of the buzziest names in fantasy hockey down a peg. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Eichel. He’s a great player. A star. No doubt. But to justify this ADP, he essentially needs to remain fully healthy while recording his first 30-goal season and performing at a point-per-game pace. Is he capable of that? Sure. But if he returns 30 goals and more like 70 points, well, then he looks a lot more similar to a number of other centers who have much friendlier ADPs. Remember, center is the deepest position in fantasy; you’re going to create holes for yourself elsewhere if you take Eichel at the turn in a 12-teamer.

Artemi Panarin, C/LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (ADP: 31.2)

Yes, he’s a two-time 30-goal, 70-point man in his two NHL campaigns, but a third-round pick is a heavy price to pay to find out what Panarin can do without Patrick Kane on his line. Top-line Columbus center Alexander Wennberg is a talented distributor, which should be good for Panarin, but Nick Foligno is a far cry from Kane on the right wing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the talented Russian pot 30 goals once again, but his assist total seems likely to drop — and yet he’s being drafted ahead of guys who are good bets to outscore him, like Johnny Gaudreau and David Pastrnak.

Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings (ADP: 51.0)

There’s no doubt that Doughty is one of the league’s best defensemen, but for fantasy purposes, he’s not a major upgrade over the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, who are available more than a round later on average. Doughty’s coming off a three-year low in shots on goal, his PIM totals have been declining, and his big plus-minus seasons are sporadic and unpredictable. Sure, 40-plus points are nearly guaranteed, but that’s the floor in terms of what we expect from a starting fantasy blueliner; such an early pick should be spent on a more premier offensive talent.

Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago Blackhawks (ADP: 70.3)

There’s no denying Saad’s talent, but this looks to me like a case of pricing in the breakout before it happens. As strong a player as he is, he’s also finished with either 52 or 53 points in three consecutive seasons — fine results, but hardly superstar stuff — and while he’ll presumably be replacing Panarin alongside Kane, it’s worth noting that Saad doesn’t really seem to have improved his game that much since his first stint as a Blackhawk. He’s also failed to develop into much of a power-play asset. There’s a ton of talent available at this point in a draft, so there’s no point in spending so much to gamble on Saad.

James Neal, LW/RW, Las Vegas Golden Knights (ADP: 107.0)

Is there an easier “bust” pick than Neal? It boggles my mind that fantasy owners are willing to dish out a borderline top-100 pick for Neal. Yes, he’s one of the league’s purest snipers at his best, but in Neal’s three seasons in Nashville, he scored 30 goals just once and never cracked 60 points. Now he’s in Vegas playing for an expansion team that’s expected to fall somewhere along the spectrum from mediocre to awful, and fantasy owners are drafting this guy — who, let me remind you, scored 41 points last season — ahead of such a long list of more productive players, I don’t even have the column-inches to name them here.

Brian Elliott, G, Philadelphia Flyers (ADP: 109.7) 

I can’t blame people for making this pick because the potential upside is alluring — it’s not inconceivable that both Elliot and the Flyers will have bounce-back seasons. But there are a number of goalies with later ADPs who are in better situations for fantasy success than Elliott. After all, he has to split the work in Philly with Michael Neuvirth, which is itself a huge ding to his fantasy value; on top of that, his new club isn’t known for its defensive responsibility, so this season certainly won’t be reminiscent of his cushy days occupying the St. Louis net.

Jason Spezza, C, Dallas Stars (ADP: 116.4)

Oft injured and not getting any younger, Spezza has seen his ice time decline steadily over the past several seasons, with last year’s 16:10 per game representing his lowest mark since 2003-04 and his 15 goals serving as a career low (counting out his 33-game rookie season and injury-wrecked 2012-13). Spezza’s no longer the voluminous shooter he was in his heyday, and he has a lot of competition for top-six minutes, meaning he could bounce around the Stars’ lines. You can count on him for 50 points, health permitting, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll get back to 60; it’s better to chase guys with more upside at this point in a draft, as 50-point centers aren’t exactly rare.

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