There's a delicate balancing act involved in assessing your fantasy returns early in the season. Overreact, and you could make a huge mistake. You could drop a player who suddenly becomes an asset in order to pick up a player who ends up fizzling out just as quickly.
Don't react enough, and the same could be true. You could leave a player on the free-agent pile so he becomes another team's problem, only to see that player surge while you hold fast to a player who never ends up panning out.
It's all a matter of trusting your process while relying on your preseason assessment, yet being careful to not forget to track the important metrics of talent and opportunity.
After a 33-goal campaign and a lackluster Washington offseason, Alex Ovechkin was ranked outside the top-five fantasy assets this preseason for the first time in years. However, with two new linemates helping him to seven goals through the first two games of the season, Ovechkin is a no-brainer to get back among the elite of the elite in our rankings. That's not an overreaction by any means, given his background as a superstar.
Conversely, Jamie Benn has started the season with zero points and a minus-1 rating through two games, which included him playing under 16 minutes in a loss to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Still, he's Jamie Benn. There's no reason he should fall out of the top-10 fantasy assets at this point of the season.
Those are both extreme examples of trying to bring the appropriate level of reaction to early returns in the NHL season. Getting hard numbers in front of us makes it very tempting to use something tangible in order to give weight to our opinions. It's certainly easier to support a notion backed up by hard data.
Here's a few early-season facts that require a Goldilocks spin on how to respond in fantasy -- not too much, not too little, but just right:
Mika Zibanejad is on pace for 109 goals. After scoring two in the season opener, Zibanejad tallied once more in each of the Rangers' subsequent games for a total of four in three outings. Of course, he isn't going to keep up this pace, and he doesn't look like a candidate to challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy. That said, he is now 24 years old and has been a blue-chip prospect throughout his development. Zibanejad is getting minutes on a Rangers scoring line and the top power play unit. He's definitely worth an add to your team in the 46.6 percent of leagues where he is available, but don't break the bank for him.
Alex Pietrangelo is easily the top fantasy defenseman so far this season, with two goals, two assists, a plus-2 rating and 11 shots through two games. He came into the season ranked as the sixth defenseman off the board, but perhaps he was still a bit underrated. After all, following Kevin Shattenkirk's trade last season, Pietrangelo was ruling the NHL. This past March and April, Pietrangelo finished second only to Victor Hedman in goals, assists and points among defensemen, while managing a plus-10 and 55 shots on goal (fifth in the league among defenders) in 19 games. It's not an overreaction to consider Pietrangelo the most likely candidate to separate from the huge pack of second-tier defenders to push toward the top grouping (Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien and Hedman).
Did I just list a group of top fantasy defenders that doesn't include a healthy Kris Letang? Perhaps I'm suffering from overreaction to Letang's zero points through three games. Still, the fact of the matter is that Letang has played a minimum of 23:43 and is the only defenseman with more shots on goal than Pietrangelo at this point. The three games played obviously help this counting stat, but it's still worth noting. Letang may not have found the scoresheet yet, but he's playing big minutes on a powerful offense and generating a ton of chances on goal. Don't overreact when you see Letang has a goose egg in the points column and a minus-5 rating. Even though they aren't ranked in that order yet here, I think Pietrangelo and Letang will end up rounding out your top-six fantasy defensemen before long.
Marc-Andre Fleury boasts a .973 save percentage and a 0.98 goals-against average with two wins. Only Jonathan Quick has put up better goaltending stats so far. Hats off to the Golden Knights for a truly historic start to their campaign as an expansion franchise. There's no question that the "groupthink" underestimated their ability to compete. That said, they aren't this good. Can Fleury be a low-end No. 2 fantasy goaltender this season? Absolutely. Can he be a matchup-proof addition to your fantasy crease who is going to continue stopping 97 percent of the rubber thrown his way? Absolutely not.
Sometimes dropping a player is the right reaction to a slow start. If players aren't getting the opportunity we thought they would before the season, something has to give. Some players rostered in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues that I wouldn't quibble with you dropping in 10- or 12-teamers in order to make some room include: Conor Sheary, Tyler Johnson, Sam Reinhart, Jason Spezza, Tomas Hertl, Roberto Luongo, Andrew Shaw, Frans Nielsen, Johnny Boychuk, Thomas Greiss and Radko Gudas. I'm not suggesting none of them will have fantasy value this season, but their ceilings are low enough that you could do better with a hot starter off the wire for now.
The top 250 for this first full week of the season attempts to capture that "just right" reaction for every player. Remember that these rankings are based on the standard ESPN.com fantasy hockey format, with seven offensive categories (goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, power-play points, average time on ice and shots on goal) and three goalie categories (wins, save percentage and goals-against average).
The rankings will always be on a "going-forward" basis, meaning any statistics accumulated to date don't matter beyond influencing the determination of what might come next. The last rankings update was in early June, so the movement indicated in the parentheses next to the rankings is where the player was ranked following free agency and the draft.
Forwards on the move
It's troubling to see Hoffman on the third line for the Senators. His minutes are fine through two games, thanks to time on the power play, but he's not going to achieve his potential as a 250-shot, 30-goal scorer by playing away from Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard at even strength. Right now he's skating with Tom Pyatt and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. This could -- and will -- change at some point, as Hoffman is too good to bury here. But for now, his stock is sinking.
Robby Fabbri's season-ending injury makes a huge difference to the outlook for Stastny. At best, he stays where he is, centering Vladimir Tarasenko and, eventually, Alexander Steen on the top line. At worst, he sinks to the second line. If Fabbri were around, Stastny could have ended up on the third line, as he did for much of last season. However, Fabbri isn't coming back anytime soon, and Stastny needs to be scooped up wherever you can find him.
Locked in for regular shifts with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, both on and off the power play, Namestnikov needs to be rostered in all formats. With Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat driving secondary offense, the Lightning don't have an immediate need to make any changes up front. Namestnikov is part of a group of early-season must-adds among forwards, due to a confluence of both talent and opportunity that also includes Zibanejad, Ryan Hartman, Sean Couturier and Jakub Vrana.
Defensemen on the move
In both of the season's first two games, Klefbom has led all Oilers in ice time. He has already generated 11 shots on goal. Though he has no points to show for his efforts, Klefbom has the power play all to himself and should have no trouble getting his points back in line with his opportunities.
It doesn't matter that Butcher only played 12:45 in his NHL debut with the Devils because 3:23 of that time was on the power play, where he dished out three assists. The Devils have been sorely lacking a power-play quarterback for what feels like years, and Butcher should get every opportunity to build on this strong start going forward. Don't be shocked if he leads the Devils' blue line in power-play time before the week is out.
Goalie on the move
When you are, at best, in an unspoken timeshare, starting the season with 11 goals allowed on 65 shots through two games isn't going to instill confidence in anyone. Mason may have had a tenuous grip on the starter's reins a week ago, but a 6.56 goals-against average says that grip is all but gone. Connor Hellebuyck is a speculative add in deeper formats, and a good performance on Monday against the Oilers will almost lock him into the starter's role. Of course, if he underperforms against Edmonton, we simply have a defensive dumpster fire that is to be avoided. That's probably not an overreaction.