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Special to Yahoo Sports
Do not let playoff success — or failure — fool you during your next regular-season draft. One postseason will never make — or break — your fantasy strategy. But you can definitely use it to get inside your opponent's head. Just Google John Druce and you'll know why.
Druce is the classic "lightning-in-a-bottle" story. Exactly two decades ago, the unspectacular eight-goal forward exploded for 14 goals in the postseason and took his Capitals to their first Conference Finals. His nine goals in a single series put him in a tie in the top-five playoff performances of all time. Right there with a guy named Jari Kurri.
Of course, it was a mirage. Druce finished in a tie for 73rd in league scoring the following season, and it went downhill from there. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Not a chance. Explosive performances by journeymen are lottery tickets. Nothing more, but people get sucked in all the time.
You won't, you're smarter than that, but now is definitely the time to sharpen your fantasy chops to prep for a victory in 2020-21, and there's no better time to do it than when there are so many games streaming or on TV.
Here are a few of the things I always watch for in the postseason. They've helped me on draft day in the past, and I hope they can help you, too.
1. Beware of the Matt Murray phenomenon. It's a lot like John Druce.
Sure, Murray has looked like a star in the playoffs, winning two Cups in two seasons. However, his ticket price on draft day this year was too high, as his regular-season performances have never equaled his playoff excellence. And then there are the injuries he's dealt with. Jordan Binnington isn't far off — his .912 save percentage this season was only 27th in the league. Let someone else take the plunge on these guys in the draft.
2. Stars can be born, but don't overrate.
Like Kevin Fiala. He played at an MVP level in February and March. He's a former first-rounder. He's the Wild's best player since Marian Gaborik. But be careful on draft day, especially if he's still surrounded by weak or aging players. It's easy to shut down a one-dimensional team and suppress individual production.
3. Ignore underwhelming star performances.
Alex Ovechkin has no goals or points in his first two games this postseason, but he hasn't lost his touch. He's not getting old. His 2020-21 will be just fine. Ditto for John Tavares, who has just one goal in his first three contests.
4. Consistency is king, and blips are just blips.
Pick a guy — any guy. I'll use Sean Monahan. He sits fourth in playoff scoring heading into Friday's games. He looks like the player who put up 82 points last season. But one season is just one season and the same can be said for one postseason. Beware of single outliers, unless it's truly in a guy's growth years. Monahan is a 60-point guy, not an 80 one. Don't draft for the latter.
5. Downward trends are rarely reversed with a good postseason performance.
Twenty-three wins and a Stanley Cup masked Braden Holtby's decline in 2018. It's continued ever since. Sergei Bobrovsky's game has been plummeting for a while. Even if they play well this postseason — and that's a big if — that won't predict an uptick for 2020-21. Dig into year-over-year declines and push those guys down your draft list.
6. Bottle good performances and trade them away. Fast.
This is the keeper version of number 5. You can get out from under guys like Holtby if they perform well in the postseason. Or you can suck in a Leafs' fan that now thinks 18-year-old Nick Robertson is the next Jarome Iginla. The kid is good, but he's not a franchise building block. But if you know Leafs' fans … see what you can get.
7. Underachieving 22-year-olds can still develop fantasy value.
In a youth-driven league, we tend to overlook 22/23-year-olds who haven't already excelled. But fantasy leagues are won in the middle rounds, so watch for growth in former first- and second-rounders, like Tyson Jost. Or Dillon Dube – now there's a guy who's playing possessed.
8. Quality F3s win fantasy leagues.
Now's the time to watch third forwards on top lines. The so-called cheap fillers. NHL teams need them for roster management and you need them to succeed. Like Zach Hyman – he makes Auston Matthews better. He really does. The middle of your fantasy lineup needs strong and sturdy F3s from good teams. Figure out who they are now and target them.
9. Watch the West. A lot.
We tend to know more about Eastern teams than the West. It's just a function of time zones, population density, and available games. This playoff format is a great way to see guys you otherwise wouldn't. Especially those in the middle of rosters — the ones who will win you a title. Knowledge is king. Take it.
10. Chat up your buddies and lead them astray.
Now is the time to sow seeds of fantasy deceit. You play with your buddies. Feed them misinformation. Tell them how much you like a guy (who you don't). Talk them into overrating the over performers on draft day. Their bad decisions leave you with easier and better ones. And that leads to wins and bragging rights.
The bottom line is pretty simple. The postseason is just one input. Nothing more and nothing less. You wouldn't judge a prospect because of one good (or bad) international tournament, even if it's the World Juniors. You ride streaks, but don't over-invest. That's smart. You look at three-year trends, not three-week ones. So while you're watching with an eye to next season, you should just slip on your team's jersey and be a fan. That's the one thing that sometimes disappears when you manage multiple fantasy teams. You spend more time analyzing individual guys and less time enjoying the game as a whole.
I say, enjoy. Yell. Berate the refs from the comfort of your home. Drink in the fact that hockey is the greatest game going, and that we're lucky to have it right now. Appreciate what we have. And say a little prayer that Gary Bettman changes his mind and uses this playoff format going forward.
The energy is high. Let's keep it going.