Fantasy hockey: How to make sense of player projections

How to navigate fantasy hockey player projections as you prep for your drafts. (Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
How to navigate fantasy hockey player projections as you prep for your drafts. (Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Like it or not, projections influence our fantasy hockey decisions. When you’re on the clock and deciding between two players, it’s incredibly hard not to look at how many goals they’re projected for and have that inform our selection.

I think that projections are a very valuable tool for fantasy hockey managers if used correctly. But many managers tend to go to the extremes of either throwing all projections out entirely and drafting off their gut, or following projections as if they were pure gospel and not questioning the assumptions that went into creating those projections.

Here's how to navigate those murky waters.

Step 1: Find projections you trust

There are plenty of places to find projections online, both paid and free. I build my own skater projections every year, Dom Luczyszyn at The Athletic has created a very robust projection model, Yahoo Sports has built-in projections right in the app, and there are plenty of others.

Whether you use one or more of those sources or go another route, it’s important to find projections that you generally trust to provide you a starting point.

Step 2: Understand assumptions

It’s probably a self-evident point, but every set of projections is based on some sort of assumptions. Things like projected time on ice, most likely linemates, and power play usage can all have significant impact on any individual player’s projection and those assumptions may be contrary to your beliefs.

Likewise, some projections attempt to predict each player’s number of games played while others assume a full 82-game schedule for all players. Either way, you’ll need to understand the differences and how that could affect their production in your lineups.

Step 3: Use your own assumptions to analyze projections

If you’re confident in your own analysis of a situation or player, you’ll want to understand what the projections are assuming and make adjustments (even if only mentally) for your own analysis. It’s worth doing a relatively quick run through of the projections you’ve chosen to use and checking those assumptions if you see any numbers that surprise you.

For example, I personally projected Sam Bennett for a 30-goal, 66-point season. Baked into those numbers is an assumption that Bennett sees some more ice time this year including an above-average share of the top power play unit. If you think that there’s no chance that Bennett plays on the Florida PP1, you’ll want to discount my projection by a decent amount (say, 5 goals and 10 points).

Step 4: Consider the range of outcomes

Perhaps the biggest thing I have learned about projections is that it’s best to stop treating them as a single number and more so as a starting point for each player. When looking at a player’s projection, determine what could go right for that player and what the results could be. I like to consider time on ice changes, power play deployment, and the possibility of younger players taking the next step as potential factors that could cause a player to outperform their base projection.

On the flip side, we also have to consider what could go wrong for a player. If they have a new coach, are getting into their mid-thirties, or have gone to a new team, those are potential factors that could result in a player underperforming their projection. We need to understand both the “floor” and the “ceiling” for each player in order to make an informed decision about where we should be drafting them.

Step 5: Value upside over safety

Lastly, I always preach to value upside over safety. Boring, safe veterans may seem to fill out your roster perfectly, but the reality is that beyond the first four or five rounds it’s much more beneficial to find big hits than it is to avoid potential busts. There are many players that will emerge on our waiver wires this year to be usable fantasy assets, but much fewer that will break out to such a level that they are legitimate “league-winners”.

Timo Meier and Filip Forsberg were two players with this kind of upside that I drafted heavily last year and they were terrific. In both cases I identified what could make them great (more PP and EV time on ice for Meier, staying healthy for Forsberg) and drafted them more aggressively than my league mates as a result.

I hope these five steps will inform the way you think about the player projections you follow and help you identify those players with untapped upside.

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 @applesginos.

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