Today I would like to share with you my thought process on fantasy hockey off-season drafting in a dynasty keeper league.
So your fantasy hockey season is over. Perhaps it ended a long time ago, even before your fantasy season ended.
We have all been there, and even though the 2019-20 season still seems so far away you are already in preparation mode for the coming season.
The NHL Draft Lottery recently helped fuel that fire by shedding some light on the draft order. Hopefully you had some good fortune with your leagues draft lottery and that you own your own first round pick as well.
While there are plenty of sources to find great draft rankings out there, don’t overlook the option of adding some older and more seasoned players in your off season via draft or free agents. Great sources of older players coming into the NHL include a variety of leagues, but primarily NCAA, and European leagues such as KHL, SHL, and Liiga.
Before I go delving into potential players for you to target, first lets look at some perspective.
If your league rules are like mine, that means that players signing NHL contracts that have previously not had their NHL playing rights owned are eligible for my leagues fantasy draft, along with all the NHL Draft eligible prospects.
There are two main factors to consider when raking all these players into your comprehensive draft list for you coming fantasy draft.
First is long term upside and potential
Second is short-term dividends and quicker ROI.
With most NHL entry draft players, especially higher draft picks, the long term potential and upside is typically as high as you can get, and your top priority. Sure there are some outliers; first round busts such as Nail Yakupov or homerun free agents like Artemi Panerin, but those are the exception.
Regardless of your teams situation (rebuild, competitive or contender) I highly suggest targeting entry draft players with high fantasy upside and offensive potential. These players are the statistical drivers and future core to your team. In short you need to be looking to add these players to your teams prospect cupboard to remain or become competitive.
In later rounds, the offensive upside starts to become a little less impressive. Sure you can take a swing at some boom or bust players, but this is where I suggest looking at some older players, that can make an impact sooner rather than later.
One big advantage to this is you quickly find out in about a year or so exactly what you have. Perhaps you get lucky and find a legit top six NHL point producing fantasy relevant asset. Maybe its more of a bottom six guy. Maybe it’s only a AHL at best player or maybe they flame out like Vadim Shipachoyv. The point is, they do not need to sit on your prospect bench for five years, just to be discarded after they never make it.
That pretty much sums up the plan or the strategy. Now lets look at some potential players.
As I mentioned, there are plenty of great NHL Entry Draft outlets you should use to research your fantasy draft. First and foremost are our own Cam Robinson and Jokke Nevalainen. Find their draft coverage here.
Assuming you have your NHL Entry Draft prospects scouted, which is the easy part, the hard part is finding who the free agent signings are, and they any good!
I am here to help with that. Now, to be totally clear, I have not seen most of these players play and am simply relying on scouting reports and insight from other sources and I will try to cite most of these sources as I go. But I have been doing this for a long time and have gotten pretty good at doing my fantasy homework and you can consider me your study guide or cheat sheet. For those of you in Canada and old enough to remember; Coles notes, that works too.
Starting in the NCAA, there are two basic groups to look at; NHL drafted players signing their ELC, and non-drafted prospects signing as a UFA.
Give the NHL drafted prospects far more priority. NHL scouts identified them years ago as having NHL upside, and having been given a NHL contract has reinforced that. These players are far more reliable to make the NHL and have a greater impact. There are several obvious and likely long gone players such as Cale Makar and Dante Fabbro, but if they are available snap them up as soon as possible.
More likely players who may be available could include Mikey Andersona LA Kings prospect and two-time NCAA Champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Anderson is a physical defenseman who also has some reliable offensive upside. I drafted him in his draft year in my league as more of a bangers and mash type player but his offensive game has evolved more than I expected.
Ottawa Senators have a sleeper prospect that actually made his NHL debut late last season in Joel Daccord. He is under the radar because he was a late round pick of the Sens (199thoverall in the 7thround in 2015) and has been playing at Arizona State in the NCAA, not exactly a hockey hotspot. However his numbers are impressive and for those who watched him play, he has been a difference maker. His NHL debut was not overly impressive posting a 5.0 GAA, but his NCAA stats are solid, his dad Brian is Leafs goalie consultant and he is an outstanding puckhandler.
Montreal Canadiens signed Ryan Poehlingand he made an impressive NHL debut at the end of the season. Again he is likely not available in your leagu but another Habs prospect you want to target is goalie Cayden Primeau,. Another late seventh round stael, Primeau made a name for himself backstopping USA to WJC Gold and Silver Medals, and leading Northeaster University to a Beanpot and a NCAA Hockey East Championship. He has the potential to be a franchise-starting goalie, but probably with another team as Carey Price is entrenched in Montreal. My final player in this group to promote is Nashville Predators prospect Rem Pitlick. Rem is the son of former NHL defenseman Lance Pitlick and like his father is a feisty and aggressive player. However as a center, he has significant offensive upside posting 108 career points in 112 games with Minnesota University.
These players all likely have some AHL seasoning ahead of them to start the season next year as they adjust to the pace of pro hockey, but they all look like locks with bright NHL futures in the not so distant future.
Moving onto NCAA UFA signings. These players typically are late bloomers and do not have as much historical success. The most successful example is likely Tyler Bozak, however these are great mid-late round options for you to explore as I mentioned above.
First is Taro Hiroseof the Detroit Red Wings. The NCAA leading scorer signed with the winged wheel and made his NHL debut posting one goal and seven points in ten games. The undersized winger (5-10, 161) is an offensive playmaker, with hands and quick feet that draws some style comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau. Hirose should be your top ranked player in this group. Next up is speedy Max Veronneau, the Ottawa native signed in Ottawa after completing his degree with Princeton. He also made his NHL debut at the end of the year with two goals and four points in 12 games. The 23-year-old is a speed demon and the NHL is all about speed these days.
Vegas signed Jimmy Schuldtto a one-year contract that despite only playing one NHL game cost them a AAV cap hit of $6,567,500 but only paid him $925,000 and now has him as a RFA. So if you are in a cap league and are scared off by his AAV, you can count on his next contract being far lower, as his first was pro rated. Schuldt spent three of the last four years as Captain of St.Cloud State and was a Hobey Baker finalist. The 23-year-old may not require any AHL development and could be regular in the Knights roster taking over for Deryk Engelland who is a UFA. This year is actually a very impressive crop of NCAA free agents and I am running too long to review them all but here are some more names for you look into: Nico Sturm (Minnesota), Lukas Craggs (Nashville), Brady Keeper (Florida) and Joseph Duszak (Toronto).
Looking into European free agents, Jokke Nevalainen recently covered some in his Ramblings Europeans Crossing the Pond.
Ilya Mikheyevhas signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. You can watch him play in the upcoming World Championship with Russia. Mikheyev played in last years tournament scoring three goals and four points in eight games and caught the eye of Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock, who reportedly has been courting the Russian winger since. Look for Mikheyev to try to secure a top six role on a very deep Toronto roster next year.
Next up are a pair of defenseman, first is Emil Djusewho signed with the Dallas Stars. Djuse is a mobile defenseman that has taken big strides in his game over the past two seasons. He could be an impact player on the power play but has some holes in his defensive game. The Calgary Flames signed Carl-Johan Lerby, a 21-year-old who has drawn comparisons to one of last years better free agent signings from Europe in Lawrence Pilut.
There you have it, some strategy and some freebie names to start your lists off. For more research and places to look outside of DobberProspects be sure to listen to the podcast I host aptly named DobberProspects Radio. I also highly recommend subscribing to EliteProspectsEP Rinkside, they have some of the best writers covering leagues like AHL (Patrick Williams) NCAA (Russ Cohen) and so many more. Cap Friendlyis also a great source for player signings and contract info.
Other podcasts I highly recommend you follow and subscribe to include Draft Analyst hosted by Steve Kournianos, Fanalytica and Scouching, Draft Class hosted by NHL.com writers Mike Morreale and Adam Kimelman, and the Pipeline Show, hosted by Guy Flamming