Fantasy Hockey: Avoiding embarrassment in early draft rounds

Puck Daddy

Dobber checks in every week to force-feed you the latest fantasy hockey trends. The founder of and a columnist for The Hockey News website, he long ago immersed himself into this rollercoaster world and is unable to escape.

This year more than any other, the first round is wide open when it comes to rotisserie hockey. Hell, you're more certain of the Devils' state of finances than you are about the order of your Top 10. Sidney Crosby is doubtful to start the season, Alex Ovechkin is coming off of a terrible year in which the coaching philosophy seems to be reining him in, Evgeni Malkin has had back-to-back injury-plagued campaigns … and that's supposed to be the "usual" Top 3.

I'll spare you another delay my who-to-draft-in-the-late-rounds piece, because I'm getting more emails about who to draft early and when exactly should you roll the dice.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — Not to worry, you can easily narrow down his range of projected games to between zero and 82. Actually, when to take Crosby is dependent on your comfort level with risk. I said in a recent Puck Daddy piece that I would take him ninth and I stand by that. He went 11th in a recent Expert League Draft and I was hoping he would fall to me at 13. The best guess I have for Sid is the 57 to 67 GP range, which would mean about 95-100 points. Take him and you will need to fill his roster spot with a 45-point player for about 15 or 20 contests. Add that up and you get 105 points, which makes a later first-round pick a worthwhile risk.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — My first overall pick. Granted, his 85 points last season made Nicklas Backstrom some of his fantasy owners cry, but there are a couple of very good reasons to believe that he'll get back over the 100-point mark this campaign. First of all, he seemed to grow comfortable with the new system in Washington. Down the stretch he tallied 29 points in the final 22 games. Secondly, Mike Green is healthy. That doesn't mean he'll stay that way, but for now his presence provides a boost to all members of the power play. To me, the downside with Ovy is 100 points, which is an automatic Top 3 pick. But the upside is 120 and that makes him an easy top selection.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins — What a terrible player, averaging just 57 points a season the last two years. At least, that seems to be the mentality in fantasy circles. My eyes widen to Steve Buscemi-like proportions when I read what some people believe is the upside here. Malkin, who turned 25 this summer, will not merely reach 80 points if he plays the full season. He'll get 100. Or even 120. Don't half-ass your projections. Either he plays the full season and challenges for the scoring title, or his knee acts up and he misses time. Don't forget that in 2008-09 he had 149 points in 106 regular season and playoff games. Anyway, the knee is a risk, but he's still worthy of a selection in that three to six spot, depending on your comfort level. As a bonus, there is a good chance that when Crosby comes back, Malkin will get wing eligibility.

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks — High plus/minus, consistent goals and points that see him among the leaders, as well as 250-plus shots. Yes please. He was the No.2 pick in my Experts League and that's about right. He's a safe, elite pick.

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks — He's taken in the Top 5 in most drafts this summer and there are very good reasons for that. Besides being the only 50-goal scorer in the league, he was also the only player with more than 65 points who topped 100 penalty minutes. Last season also marked the sixth time in a row that he improved upon his points from the prior year. Even if you assume he will drop to 40 or 45 goals and 90 points, he's a safe enough pick to put him ahead of Malkin.

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks — Goals, shots and penalty minutes are modest. Always have been, always will be. Shouldn't be a first round pick, despite the assists, power-play points and plus/minus. Last season, if you rank Goals, Assists, +/-, PPP, PIM and shots for all players and look at only centermen, you get this:

This report is taken from the Frozen Pool section of my site. I wouldn't take Henrik in the first round and probably not until the end of the second.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — Now we're talking. Despite the fade down the stretch (13 points in his last 21 games) and in the postseason (13 in 18), Stamkos is a safe, reliable 90-plus player who helps in all categories. Even his plus/minus will improve this year. If you analyze his production with and without Martin St. Louis, you will discover that he may be closer to 80 points if it wasn't for Marty. That being said, the odds of Marty being off his line are probably the same as the odds of John Tortorella giving Larry Brooks a warm hug at the next presser. In a one-year league I put Stamkos and Malkin on equal footing and draft Stammer if I am a big chicken want to play it safe, or draft Malkin if I want to cry when he tweaks his knee roll the dice. In a keeper league, it's not even close — Malkin.

Zach Parise or Ilya Kovalchuk?

I'll take the non-minus-26-getting player. What a train wreck, that guy. Kovalchuk is minus-101 in his career and as a Devil he has 87 points in 108 games. I'll take Parise even with the untested knee.

Top 40 picks that you'll get outside the Top 40

I don't understand how some guys are taken in the Top 40 and yet these guys are not:

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers — He's a RW in Yahoo! but by November he'll be a C as well. He'll match or exceed last year's totals and should be a Top 30 pick let alone Top 40. He contributes to all stats. Give me him over Henrik Sedin. The 15-point loss doesn't hurt the gains in PIM, Goals and the dual positional flexibility.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks — Amazing that Getz was a first-round pick in most leagues one year ago. So he's missed 31 games in the last two seasons - they were two completely different injuries! Hey, I'm the first guy in line waving the Band-Aid Boy sign at people, but in this case I put him down for 75 games. Give Getzlaf 75 games and he'll flirt with 90 points and modest penalty minutes.

Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes — The reasoning here is baffling. He won't repeat what he did last year because he has nobody to play with. Look, it's not like the Sedins left the team in the offseason. The Coyotes lost their goalie. That has nothing to do with their offense. The lost their goalie and a couple of checkers. Yandle had 52 points in his last 64 regular season and playoff contests. He did it playing with the same supporting cast that he'll do it with this year.

John Tavares, New York Islanders — And don't know if anyone's noticed his production trajectory but it's pointing upwards at a pretty steep angle. Add in the fact that he has Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit on his team to start the season and this guy is making the jump from 67 to 80 points. His PPP and shot totals will increase as well. I understand that it's a longstanding habit to say that the Islanders suck, but this year they'll wean you off of that slowly but surely.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins — Letang's score in the six main roto categories ranked him second amongst defensemen last year behind Zdeno Chara. And that's with Crosby and Malkin playing just half a season. His score ranked him 10th overall amongst all skaters — forward and D. So why is he not being taken in the Top 40?

Start plucking these five Christmas presents out from under the tree around 30th overall and by the time it gets to you at around 60 or 65 you could very well own three of them.

The Goaltenders … when do you take them?

Generally speaking, goalies are drafted in clusters and when that run of goalies begins all depends on the amount of categories dedicated to goaltending and the amount of teams in your league. A 15-team league with 6x4 skaters x goalie cats system would see that run start in the first round. A 12-team at 6x3 may not see a run until the third round.

Either way, if my draft pick is a late one and Crosby is off the board, then I'm taking a goalie. Unlike the other categories, the goalie cats aren't something you can easily patch up via the waiver wire. You may be able to Ondrej Pavelec or Sergei Bobrovsky your way through a month here or a month there, but finding a steady and consistent solution once the season is underway is extremely difficult.

For the second goalie, I'll wait until 10 or 12 are off the board before using a pick. And the third goalie will generally be 18 or 20 rounds in, depending on when the last two decent goalies are all that's left. These are the Devan Dubnyks and the Al Montoyas of the world — on teams that aren't expected to pile up the wins and behind injury-prone goaltenders.

Pick up Dobber's sixth annual fantasy guide right here. And while you're at it, follow his fantasy hockey musings on Twitter.

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