Winning a fantasy draft is all about grabbing players who you think have been undervalued, but of course that’s so much easier said than done. There’s always going to be diamonds in the rough who don’t pan out and players who seem like sure things who turn out not to be. With the 2020-21 campaign more than halfway over, I thought it’d be interesting to look at some of the players who ended up being some of the most over/undervalued players of 2020-21.
I’m basing this on their average draft positions in Yahoo leagues and measuring that against how they’ve done thus far. For example, Connor McDavid’s average position was 1.4 overall, which is higher than anyone else, but that was ultimately desired given that he has 21 goals and a league-leading 60 points in 34 games.
With that established, let’s get the negative out of the way first:
Jack Eichel (BUF – C) – Avg Pick 7.6 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – It’s not that Eichel is having a disastrous season per ce, but he certainly hasn’t been anything close to one of the top-10 players in fantasy value. He has 18 points in 21 games, which isn’t terrible from a points-per-game perspective, but in part due to injury, he’s not even in the top-100 in terms of total points. Additionally, he has just two goals this season, which IS terrible for a forward taken that high in the draft. Eichel’s underperformance is far from the biggest problem the Sabres have faced this season, but it has been a huge issue for fantasy managers who spent their first-round pick on him.
Mika Zibanejad (NYR – C) – Avg Pick 16.6 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – I was on the fence about mentioning Zibanejad, which speaks volumes to his recent comeback, but taking his season as a whole, seven goals and 20 points in 31 contests is far less than you’d have hoped for out of Zibanejad after his 41-goal 2019-20 campaign. That said, if you’ve been patient with him this season, that’s finally being rewarded. He’s broken out with four goals and nine points in his last four games.
Patrik Laine (CLM – LW/RW) – Avg Pick 25.1 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – Laine has been streaky throughout his career and this season has unfortunately seen him be cold more often than not. With nine goals and 16 points in 24 contests, he’s a far cry from what managers would have hoped for when taking him early in the third round. He’s been particularly dreary lately with just a goal and three points in 13 contests. Columbus acquired him from Winnipeg in the hopes that he would bolster their offense, but so far that hasn’t really panned out.
Carter Hart (PHI – G) – Avg Pick 31.0 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – Imagine taking Hart early in your draft to headline your goaltenders. For many fantasy managers, it’s not hard to imagine because that’s exactly what happened. On average, Hart was the third goaltender selected in fantasy drafts, behind only Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck. Hart entered this season as one of the league’s top young goaltenders, but he’s struggled mightily with an 8-8-3 record, 3.85 GAA, and .875 save percentage in 21 contests. To be honest, and I realize I’m speaking with the benefit of hindsight here, his season kind of encapsulates why I tend to think goaltending is a bit overvalued in drafts. There just really isn’t much in the way of safe bets when it comes to goaltenders so unless you’re taking Andrei Vasilevskiy, you’re probably better off not going after a goaltender early in the draft. Robin Lehner, Jordan Binnington, and Frederik Andersen were all taken ahead of three of this year’s top goaltenders in Philipp Grubauer, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Semyon Varlamov. People bet on rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov ahead of Vitek Vanecek. Kaapo Kahkonen basically went entirely undrafted. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in general but goaltending in particular just fluctuates so much year-to-year, which makes betting heavily on a goaltender having a strong season such a risky proposition. You’re often better off not spending your valuable early round picks on a goaltender unless, again, you get one of the rare goaltenders who genuinely are as close to a sure thing as they come, like Vasilevskiy.
Teuvo Teravainen (CAR – LW/RW) – Avg Pick 45.3 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – To call Teravainen overvalued is unfair, but few player injuries have hurt fantasy managers more this season than Teravainen’s. Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Toews haven’t played yet in 2020-21, but their injuries were known going into the season so managers could factor that in before the draft. In Teravainen’s case, he was hurt during the season and has only played in one game since Feb. 19 due to a concussion. There’s no timetable for his return, but he has been skating before practices.
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Philipp Grubauer (COL – G) – Avg Pick 81.8 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – There are goaltenders who got picked later and are having great seasons, but none that’s doing better than Grubauer. He has a 19-7-0 record, 1.71 GAA, and .930 save percentage in 26 games. That puts him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. To put his performance into context, in terms of forwards, Mike Hoffman (81.2) and Timo Meier (85.6) were picked around the same spot as Grubauer. Imagine what it would have done for your fantasy team if you had spent a midround pick on Hoffman or Meier and that player ended up challenging Connor McDavid for the scoring title. That’s the equivalent of what we’re seeing from Grubauer as his numbers are in the same ballpark as top goaltender Vasilevskiy.
Tyson Barrie (EDM – D) – Avg Pick 109.7 (Taken in 100% of leagues) – Fantasy managers rightly predicted that Barrie would be a meaningful offensive contributor this season, but they didn’t anticipate him being one of the league’s top offensive defensemen. With four goals and 30 points in 34 games he ranks second to only Victor Hedman in the defensemen scoring race. When you consider that Hedman averaged 17.7 overall to Barrie’s 109.7, it’s obvious which player has provided fantasy managers with more value relative to their draft position. Barrie bet on himself when he accepted a one-year, $3,750,000 contract with Edmonton and that’s paying off. He should be able to cash in with a big contract this offseason.
Joe Pavelski (DAL – C/RW) – Avg Pick 149.6 (Taken in 18% of leagues) – As evidenced by the fact that he was only even drafted in 18% of Yahoo leagues, a lot of people clearly felt Pavelski’s days of being a significant offensive contributor were over. To be fair, that was an understandable assumption after he was limited to 14 goals and 31 points in 67 games in 2019-20. He was 36-years-old going into this season, so assuming age had caught up to him seemed accurate. Pavelski has shown that he still has something left to give though, scoring 14 goals and 29 points in 29 contests. Not bad for a forward many could pick up on waiver wires early in the campaign.
James van Riemsdyk (PHI – LW) – Avg Pick 150.8 (Taken in 5% of leagues) – In terms of the percentage of managers who even drafted him, van Riemsdyk is the lowest on this list. That’s not surprising given his limited role in the 2020 playoffs though. van Riemsdyk had two goals and no assists in 12 playoff games and was a healthy scratch at times. It seemed like there just wasn’t a fit for him in Philadelphia, but he’s found a role this season and has excelled with 13 goals and 31 points in 31 games. It is worth noting that he has just three goals and five points in his last 12 contests, so perhaps he’s cooled off after a hot start.
Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG – LW/RW) – Avg Pick 152.5 (Taken in 88% of leagues) – Ehlers wasn’t always drafted going into the season and when he was, he was taken rather late, but that’s not likely to happen again in 2021-22. Not after the season he’s having with 15 goals and 33 points in 33 contests. What’s notable is that he hasn’t come out of nowhere, but he’s found another gear and that’s been the difference between being a borderline fantasy option and a top-tier one. After all, he had surpassed the 20-goal milestone in four straight seasons and had recorded at least 58 points in three of his last four campaigns coming into 2020-21. It goes to show you how narrow the gap can be sometimes between a good forward and a great one.