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Fantasy hockey roundtable: Who to draft and when to draft them

Keep your eyes on where Ben Bishop is going in your drafts. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Whether it's your first fantasy hockey league or you're a grizzled vet with many drafts behind them, the sheer amount of players and roster planning can be daunting. Our fantasy hockey analysts, Victoria Matiash and Sean Allen answer some last minute questions and give you what you need to know before your draft.


Who is your most must-draft player and why?

Matiash, fantasy analyst: No single player is must-draft from my perspective - such stubborn focus has brought me trouble, more often than not. But Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat is right up there. Imaging grabbing a near 50-goal scorer in the fourth round? That's how it could unfold this season. A total of 76 points last year and this kid is still just scratching the surface.

Allen, fantasy analyst: This is a tie for me between John Tavares and Taylor Hall. Both, to me, are first-round values currently going outside of that. For Tavares, in his career with the Islanders he spiked past 80 points on three occasions. For two of those occasions (2011-12 and 2017-18), he was in his second full season with the exact same set of linemates on and off the power play. This will be his second season with the exact same set of linemates in Toronto at even strength and -- hopefully -- on the power play. With Hall, he finished ninth on the ESPN Player Rater in 2017-18 on a Devils team that wasn't nearly as potent as this one looks to be.

Who are you avoiding at their current ranking?

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Ben Bishop (No. 26) doesn't interest me at all at that position. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Frederik Andersen and Sergei Bobrovsky all rank higher than the Stars' No. 1 on my own list. Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois seems misplaced at No. 58. The 21-year-old collected 61 points this past season with Artemi Panarin on his wing, and now Panarin is in New York - his immediate replacement in Columbus remaining up in the air. And I'm concerned Alexander Radulov (No. 25) could be in for a dip in production, seemingly bumped to the second scoring line following Dallas' acquisition of Joe Pavelski.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Sidney Crosby at forward (FantasyPros ADP 7.7), Marc-Andre Fleury in goal (37.3) and Brent Burns on defense (11.3). Crosby has been outside the top-15 on the ESPN Player Rater for two consecutive seasons, so I don't want to bet on a return to the top 10. Fleury turns 35 this season, so I'm not taking him in the fourth round. And I don't think there's near enough separation from the pack for me to take Burns in the first round, when John Carlson is going in the third. They finished 19th and 23rd on the ESPN Player Rater last season, respectively.

Who is your mid-round pick that you're targeting in every draft?

Allen, fantasy analyst: Connor Hellebuyck and Mika Zibanejad. Hellebuyck should bounce back in the ratio department, while Zibanejad had a breakout season and now has more weapons around him.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Tomas Hertl. Along with Sharks captain Logan Couture, it's his team now, following Joe Pavelski's departure for Dallas. Watch the 25-year-old further build on last season's breakout for 35 goals and 39 assists. Stars defenseman John Klingberg could near John Carlson numbers, working with an improved power play in view of Pavelski's arrival in Dallas. Sean's answer of Zibanejad is also correct.

What round do you take your first goalie? First defenseman?

Matiash, fantasy analyst: I'd consider Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the Lightning franchise netminder alone, in the second round. Otherwise I'm waiting until the third, preferably fourth, to secure my No. 1 goalie. On the blue line, outside of Brent Burns - an outlying legit first-rounder, in my view - there's little rush in jumping on a defenseman until round four, at the earliest. There are too many decent assets with significant upside available at the position. I'd rather blow earlier picks on elite producers up front.

Allen, fantasy analyst: This depends on how the draft plays out. That said, I'm very comfortable with where John Carlson, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman look to be going in the third round and would happily take any of them there. If I have a shot -- without jumping up too far -- to take one of the Big Three (Andrei Vasilevskiy, late first round; Ben Bishop, late second round; Sergei Bobrosvky, mid third round), I'll do it. I also like the value of another trifecta a little later -- Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Carter Hart.

What is your favorite fantasy-relevant nugget or trend to watch this year?

Matiash, fantasy analyst: The influx of young fantasy-relevant talent on defense. Cale Makar in Colorado. Fellow rookie Quinn Hughes in Vancouver. Prospects Adam Boqvist in Chicago and Evan Bouchard in Edmonton. Sophomore Rasmus Dahlin leading the way for the Sabres. All of them, excepting Makar who's 20, bonafide teenagers. Never mind Thomas Chabot and Zach Werenski, both a ripened 22 years of age. While the old fantasy blue-line guard remains in place, it'll be interesting to gauge the impact these youngsters unleash in 2019-20.

Allen, fantasy analyst: We are going to find out if we have some of the most gracefully aging scorers in the league in more than a decade, or if some of the veteran talent out there is going to start to fade this season.

This is for forwards only. Including the 2008-09 season, five players age 31 or older have scored more than 35 goals in the past 11 NHL seasons (Alexander Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Malkin). In that same span, 10 players have scored at least 80 points (Blake Wheeler, Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis, Joe Thornton, Teemu Selanne, Iginla, Phil Kessel, Henrik Sedin, Marc Savard and Sidney Crosby).

Here's a partial list of players entering their age 31 season or older: Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Phil Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom, Blake Wheeler, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane and Max Pacioretty. Something's got to give.

Which late round prospects are on your radar?

Allen, fantasy analyst: In the literal sense, as in players who qualify as rookies, Vitali Kravtsov, Max Comtois, Quinn Hughes, Eeli Tolvanen, Erik Brannstrom and Alexandre Texier are some of my favorite prospects with a chance to do something this season that I think could make a case for a late-round selection to your bench. (Depending, of course, on how camp goes.)

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Beyond the kids, and looking at late-round fantasy prospects, I like Jacob Silfverberg under new head coach Dallas Eakins in Anaheim. Winger Pavel Buchnevich should serve as a pleasant surprise on a Rangers' top line with Zibanejad and Panarin. Hurricanes defenseman Jake Gardiner boasts wild card potential in possibly wrestling the top power-play gig away from Dougie Hamilton. Veteran forward Andrew Shaw intrigues as favored linemate to Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome in Chicago. J.T. Miller could serve as a genuine steal as a top-line winger aside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. And, if he lasts until later rounds, the ever-underappreciated Mats Zuccarello could be in for a heckuva year in Minnesota.