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Fantasy Hockey primer: Part I

Tuesday, 15.01.2013 / 2:08 PM / Features
By Jeff Angus
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Fantasy Hockey primer: Part I

The 48 game season that the Canucks (and the 29 other NHL clubs) are set to begin in a few days presents many unique challenges for people in fantasy hockey leagues (also known as ‘poolies’).

The shorter season (compared to a typical 82 game schedule) increases the chances for luck and randomness to play a factor in both individual player and team performance. There is even more pressure on goaltenders this season, as every win means that much more.

How will the members of the Vancouver Canucks fare in 2012-13 in fantasy hockey leagues? Where should you draft them in your fantasy hockey pool? Answers to those questions (and many more) are on the way! First off, some general advice as you prepare for draft day.

Five Draft Day Tips

Don’t Overrate Unproven Prospects

Don’t get too intoxicated by words like potential and upside. It typically takes players a few years to figure out the NHL and how to succeed in it – very rarely do rookies step in and dominate offensively. For example, Zack Kassian has tremendous upside and will very likely develop into a solid top-six NHL forward, but he is unlikely to play a consistent top-six role this season with the Canucks. St. Louis was patient with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and he is now set to contend for the NHL’s defensive scoring crown.

This rule can be applied to all fantasy sports, for that matter. Obviously there are exceptions (can’t miss rookies like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, and so on), but for the most part you will be a successful poolie if you ignore the hype on draft day.

Don’t Underrate Proven Veterans

Sticking with the theme of the above tip, proven NHL players who are on the wrong side of 30 tend to fall on draft day. It is rare for a player to set a career mark in offensive production after the age of 30, but many players are able to produce at a respectable clip well into their twilight years. The Sedin twins both figure to age gracefully. They may not contend for any more Art Ross trophies, but they are still two of the best – and most consistent – point producers in hockey.

Don’t Miss Out on a Star Goaltender

Don’t be the guy on draft day that waits until all of the good goalies are taken before you select one. You may end up with an impressive collection of forwards and defensemen, but your season will be marked by frustration and a lot of trade proposals in search of a star goaltender. In fantasy hockey, there are three “tiers” of goaltenders. The top tier goaltenders are the proven commodities that will start a lot and put up good numbers. This group includes Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne, and Roberto Luongo (assuming he is starting somewhere this season). If you can’t grab a tier one goaltender, make sure you do your best to grab two solid starting goaltenders, even if you only need one for your league.

Balance is a Key on Draft Day

Although you may be intrigued by the thought of owning all of the players on a line (Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, for example), or “loading up” on a team you figure will score a lot of goals, the most advisable draft strategy is to spread your picks out across the 30 NHL clubs. Having one or two players from every team may not be as fun as loading up on a team or two and following them closely all season, but it is a better strategy to follow if you want to win your pool.

Keep Your Competition in Mind

Great poker players will tell you to play your competition and not the cards you are dealt. The same rings true for fantasy sports. If you are in a pool with all Canucks fans, for example, you may be able to snag a rival player later than they should probably go otherwise – Brad Marchand, anyone?

And this also helps with trading at the draft and throughout the season. If you know what makes your competition tick, you have a better idea of what they would be looking for in trade discussions. Figure out their favourite players and teams, and use that information to your advantage.

The Forwards

The Sedins

Vancouver’s success on the ice starts with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Sedins each saw their production decline in 2011-12 relative to the previous seasons, though. There were a few factors that played a role in this – a short summer to train and recover after the deep postseason run, and Ryan Kesler playing at less than 100%, to name two. Daniel and Henrik turn 33 this year (on the same day too, coincidentally), and it is rare for hockey players to post career best numbers in their mid 30’s. However, Daniel and Henrik rely on their mental attributes (hockey sense, spatial awareness, and vision) more so than their physical attributes (size, strength, and speed). Expect them to age gracefully.

And the Sedins are two of the best power play performers in the league. Many are expecting the NHL to return to its stricter refereeing on obstruction. That should lead to more scoring opportunities for both Daniel and Henrik.

The Secondary Scorers

He may not be Vancouver’s best player, but Ryan Kesler is inarguably their most important. When he is at his best, the Canucks are nearly impossible to stop offensively. Thanks to the lockout, Kesler has had a few extra months of recovery time after undergoing two surgeries last summer, and he appears to be nearing a return. In the meantime, look for Andrew Ebbett or Jordan Schroeder to fill in at the second line center position.

Alex Burrows has quietly developed into one of the better two-way wingers in the game, and the Canucks rewarded him with a nice four-year contract extension in 2012. Like the Sedins, he is a very cerebral player, so don’t expect his production to decline much – if at all – in the coming years. Now that he is a top line winger, though, he doesn’t rack up the PIM like he used to. This makes Alain Vigneault happy, but for those of you in fantasy leagues that include PIM as a statistic, it is something to keep in mind. Burrows will have a lot of value in Canucks Fantasy Hockey, as he contributes in almost every single scoring category. His versatility helps his fantasy value tremendously.

Vancouver needs bounce-back performances from Mason Raymond and David Booth this season. Booth looked pretty good for stretches in Vancouver in 2011-12, but he was not immune to the negative impact of a less than 100% Kesler. Raymond knows that this season is important if he wants to be considered a key cog on the Canucks now and in the future – expect him to improve his production considerably from 2011-12 (on a per-game pace, at least).

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Sleeper picks, defencemen, goaltenders (intense Luongo talk) and the rest of the pack featured in Fantasy Hockey primer: Part II on Wednesday.