I am in a 22-team keeper league, and for years I drafted guys based on their highest projected upside because I was trying to build a championship team.
The strategy worked as I was able to collect a stable of prospects that helped form the core of my team last year. I was also able to trade some of them for immediate help or upgrade at a few positions. Long-term, those trades weren’t wise, but in my league – which has carry-over statistics – the price for talent at the trade deadline is high, especially for goalies. (Note: carry-over statistics means you acquire a player’s previous stats when you trade for him). You need to put a lot of assets on the table to get the horses you need to win. Sometimes, a player’s NHL readiness will trump the higher upside of a player who’s further away from making it.
Last year, when I was close to contending, and this year -- when I’m trying to defend my title -- my draft strategy is different. Long ago, I learned the lesson about drafting for need (Thank you very much for stinking it up, A.J. Thelen) and always try to collect the best asset. For a building team, the player with the highest upside is always the best pick, but that’s not necessarily the case for a GM who is near the top.
The reason the prospect with the highest upside isn’t necessarily the best asset in my league is that some GMs in my league don’t value young prospects the same way as others. We can draft anybody – even before the NHL drafts him, so it forces you to do your research on young players. This can be a lucrative strategy if you’re patient, but many GMs are only interested in NHL prospects or young players that are establishing themselves in the NHL or lighting it up in the AHL. It’s not a wise strategy if you’re hoping to parlay those draft-day treasures into veteran help at the deadline.
As Jeff Angus and Mike Colligan wrote, you need to know the mentality and preferences of the GMs in your league. There is no point trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Another factor at play, as Jeff mentioned in his column in this year’s guide, is that “proven players have significantly more value than unproven players.” That’s a fact of fantasy hockey that you have to accept if you’re going to trade prospects.
Last year, I found the market for Eric Tangradi was soft because he wasn’t tearing it up in the AHL as a rookie. This year, he’s expected to earn a spot with the Penguins and I’m happy to have him. Last year was a good time to buy low on Tangradi, but that time might be over. He was a good pick for me in a keeper league, but not a one-year league.
With that in mind, here is Part II of Making the Jump. See Part I here for some sleeper picks in the Western Conference who can step into your lineup this year.
I’ve left out some of the high-profile prospects that most people should already be aware of such as Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Jonathan Bernier, Magnus Paajarvi, and Mikael Backlund. Here are a few players that I’ve targeted for my watch list and I will be watching them closely during training camp to see if they can help me this year or become easily tradable assets this year.
Anaheim – I like the big centre from Boston University and his clutch play, but his skating will hold him back a bit. Since he made his NHL debut last year, though, Ryan Getzlaf’s ankle has healed and Saku Koivu has re-upped for two years with the Ducks. I like Bonino’s chances as a pro, but not so much with the Ducks unless he changes position. The former Sharks pick stands a better chance as a winger, so if it looks like he’s getting an audition in the top six on the left side, that will boost his value.
Calgary – My colleague Justin Goldman is high on Henrik Karlsson and so am I. While I don’t expect him to beat out Miikka Kiprusoff, he is an injury away from a No. 1 role. I think Calgary would like to use Karlsson as a backup because he’s a more seasoned pro and that would allow them to leave Leland Irving in the AHL and get No. 1 minutes. At 26, Karlsson has lots of pro experience in Sweden and makes an intriguing sleeper pick if the NHL’s most durable goalies gets injured. With at least 74 games played in each of the last five seasons, it’s also possible Calgary might want to dial back Kipper’s playing time to keep him fresh in case they make the playoffs.
Chicago – I’ve written about him earlier this summer, but I’m keeping my eye on d-man Brian Connelly. Chicago gutted their roster during the offseason to get under the cap and they are looking for cheap solutions everywhere. Also, keep an eye on Bryan Bickell in training camp. Kyle Beach is the more highly-touted left wing prospect in the Chicago system, but they might prefer to keep the former first-rounder in the AHL for some seasoning. According to CapGeek.com, Bickell’s cap hit is $541,666 – that’s less than half of what Beach’s is at $1,170,833.
Minnesota – Casey Wellman garnered a lot of attention from teams last spring when he was a free agent coming out of the University of Massachusetts after he scored 23 goals and 45 points in 36 games. The right-winger played 12 games for the Wild last season and is a Martin Havlat injury away from a role in the top six. Long-term, the skilled finisher has some good upside, too.
Phoenix – Most know about Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and he’s a good guy to go after, but I don’t expect him to get a lot of chances to produce as a rookie under Dave Tippett. The ability and the upside are there, but you’ll need to be patient. Maxim Goncharov is less well-known, but is also promising. He’s also two years older than Ekman-Larsson and might have the edge in experience that will get him into the lineup sooner. He’s played three seasons on Russia’s top league compared to Ekman-Larsson’s two years in the Allsvenskan -- Sweden’s second-tier league.
San Jose – The Sharks have developed a trend of easing a guy into their lineup for half a season to groom him for a full-time spot the next season. Dobber predicts this year that guy will be Cam MacIntyre, and if the burly right-winger can stay healthy, he’s a good fit because he provides some of what San Jose is missing. Other candidates include Steve Zalewski and Benn Ferriero. Ferriero started off with a bang last year before fizzling. He notched 50 points in 58 AHL games and his versatility will help him. Zalewski produced in the AHL, too, but the Sharks are running out of room to put all these guys they’ve graduated to the big club (Bernier, Pavelski, Setoguchi, McGinn, and Couture). A nice darkhorse pick on defence could be Justin Braun. The UMass graduate had 31 points in 36 games last year and the Sharks have shown they’re not scared to play a young kid on defence and give them prime minutes. He’ll have to bump out a guy like Jason Demers, but it bears watching.