In a fantasy hockey draft, there are different kinds of satisfaction.
It is absolutely gratifying to land the first overall pick to select Connor McDavid, because you know the Edmonton Oilers star is capable of providing all the offense you'd need for a head-to-head win all by his lonesome. It is very satisfying when you're transfixed on one player inside your draft board and you see the picks ahead of you fall predictably like dominoes so that you land him.
My most satisfying hockey draft moments? When I select that player before the wave crests on him. It's like hitting a restaurant before a great review drops and the lines start forming. That player lingering in the middle-to-later rounds that goes from "breakout candidate" to all-star consideration in the span of a few months.
There are a few of those players in the list below, as I chronicle 10 players on whom I plant my rhetorical flag for the 2023-24 season. They join foundational top-tier stars, some big names due for a bounce back and one fascinating rookie. Some you'll have high on your draft board already, while I make the case for others to join them. Happy drafting, fantasy fans!
Pop quiz, hot shot: Who was third in the NHL in goals last season? We all remember Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid won the Rocket Richard and that Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak was the best goal scorer on the best regular-season team of all time. (The less said about the playoffs, the better.) Behind them, as he'll likely be on most draft boards, was Mikko Rantanen with 55 goals in 82 games for the Avalanche. He also tallied 50 assists.
The vast majority of those goals (42) came at even strength, where Rantanen kept the Avalanche in contention during a janky injury-riddled defense of their Stanley Cup championship. He was 10th in the NHL with 306 shots, the highest total of his career. He leveled up his game in a season in which Colorado desperately needed it. But he's still peaking personally. The best might still be left to come.