Anze Kopitar celebrates a goal last year against the Blackhawks. (Photo credit: Harry How)
Editor’s note: You can win a 1-year subscription to ESPN Insider and a $25 gift certificate to Front Page VA by guessing Neil’s first two draft picks tonight. Check out the details on our Facebook page.
As part of ESPN.com’s NHL family, I was invited to participate in their fantasy hockey draft this past Tuesday. Just me and guys like Craig Custance, John Buccigross, and Scott Cullen.
Victoria Matiash has already given a bird’s eye view of the draft, but I thought I would run through my thought process on various picks and give you some ideas for your fantasy draft. Plus, you can see how I do for the season because we are making the results public.
Here were the ground rules for the draft:
Participants included, in original order, Craig Custance, Tristan Cockcroft, Tim Kavanagh, John Buccigross, Pierre Becquey, Michael Hume, Victoria Matiash, Neil Greenberg, Sean Allen and Scott Cullen. Categories include goals, assists, power-play points, plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal and average time on ice for skaters and wins, save percentage and goals-against average for goaltenders. Slots to fill include nine forwards, five defensemen, one “utility” skater, two goaltenders and a five-man bench.
My philosophy was simple: grab young, healthy, talented players with upside. Let others worry if Patrick Kane would be healthy or if Sergei Kostitsyn can once again score 20 goals on less than 100 shots.
I had the eight pick. With my editor Mike Hume drafting before me (he knows which players I fancy) and Cullen having back-to-back picks behind me I knew I had to make strategic decisions.
Not surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Daniel Sedin went in the first three picks. Hume knows I think Corey Perry was no fluke, so the chances of him dropping to me were nil. That left me with Anze Kopitar (who I think will contend for the Art Ross) or Henrik Lundqvist as my first pick. Luckily for me, I got both of them.
My third choice was also an easy one: Duncan Keith. His boxcar stats may have fallen, but he is as fundamentally sound as he has ever been, and he remains my preseason favorite for another Norris-caliber performance.
My next pick caused some raised eyebrows:
Also noteworthy was Greenberg’s choice of Jeff Skinner ahead of Eric Staal. Ranked higher in ESPN.com’s projections, the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes is expected to put up superior numbers across the board. But obviously, Greenberg preferred to put his fantasy faith in the reigning Calder Trophy winner.
Fantasy hockey is about looking forward. While there is no doubt Eric Staal is a 70-point player, Jeff Skinner is (conservatively) a 60-point player who could put up over 70 points next year. So I got a player who may put up five points less or 10-15 points more than Eric Staal. In a rotisserie league with hockey geniuses it was worth the gamble, in my opinion.
I struggled with my fifth pick a little. I had Phil Kessel, John Tavares, and Loui Eriksson queued up but pulled the trigger on Kessel, thinking that one or both of the others would be there for me on my next picks.
I was right about Loui Eriksson, who I took with my sixth pick, but not Tavares, who went three picks before me in round seven.
With Tavares and Matt Duchene off the board, both of whom I think can post 30 goals in 2011-12, I decided to shore up my goaltending and took Jimmy Howard.
A quick note on goaltenders: I only considered drafting Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Cam Ward, Jimmy Howard, or Corey Crawford. Why? Too long to explain here, but I did some analysis on when goaltenders have their breakout season based on age and experience and these five fit the bill. I did the same thing last year and had only two goaltenders on my list: Pekka Rinne and Cam Ward.
In round eight I took Joe Pavelski, which was a solid pick there and then my first miscalculation of the draft came at the hands of Scott Cullen.
I feel Jamie Benn is this year’s sleeper. I think he has 30-goal potential and could end up surprising many people. With my ninth pick I took Evander Kane, thinking Benn would slip past another four picks. Nope.
Cullen: “I’ve been touting Jamie Benn going back to the second half of last year, when his ice time went up dramatically; he’s been my preferred pick as a breakthrough/sleeper forward since. So, by the ninth round, when I had already addressed all my positions to some degree, it felt right to take a young player that has a chance at 70 points. “
If you have a chance to pick up Benn in your league, do it.
Right now. I’ll wait.
It will be him and Eriksson that pick up the slack left by Brad Richard’s departure, not Michael Ryder. In the draft room Hume asked how many of Benn’s goals the last two years came via a Brad Richards primary assist. One. And Richards had only one secondary assist the year before that. Benn is the real deal.
I took Alex Pietrangelo after I misjudged the “sleepiness” of Benn. The D corps looked to be thinning after Dion Phaneuf and James Wisniewski were taken off the board, so I grabbed Pietrangelo. “Good for 45 points, I think he’s a solid fantasy pick.”
Next picks were unremarkable, but ones I believe have some big upside: Erik Karlsson, Tyler Ennis, Patric Hornqvist, Tyler Kennedy, Mikael Backlund, Patrik Berglund, Jakub Voracek and Nathan Gerbe.
I did have two moments of weakness where I got homesick and drafted Dennis Wideman (15th round) and Brooks Laich (20th round).
So there you have it. Be sure to check out how I am doing from time to time. Also, if you would have drafted differently or just want to comment on the draft in general, let us know in the comments.