Eight tips to excel in your fantasy hockey draft prep

It’s almost time to start your draft homework. Before you do, arm yourself with these nuggets of advice.

Fantasy hockey pools aren’t typically won on draft day, but the draft is your foundation, a head start that can mean the difference between running your team from a power position or playing catchup all year. The best way to ace your draft is, naturally, to be prepared and start early. Right now, during hockey’s quietest time of year, is the ideal window to sneak ahead of your competitors before they even think about studying.

Here are eight August tips to follow as you begin your pool research before drafting in September and October.

1. Read your fantasy magazine NOW – not in October.

This could read like a shameless plug for The Hockey News Ultimate Pool Guide, which should hit newsstands any day now. That’s half true, but I really mean it when I say read the magazine now. The guide comes out in August for a reason. It’s an early primer to inform you on about 90 percent of the off-season activity. By mid-September, however, the pre-season will be in full swing, and we’ll have a strong idea of which rookies are making their teams and which players are winning battles for fantasy-rich spots in their lineups. That’s the time to get your news online and up to the minute instead of via print. If I’m drafting live in any sport and I see someone walk in clutching a magazine published two months earlier, I smile, because that person has lost already. Use the magazine as your refresher as you lie in the sun this month. Then rely on the instant news cycle as the draft gets closer.

2. Brush up on all the biggest off-season moves – and their effects

That doesn’t just mean tracking all the trades and signings. Sure, we know Jeff Skinner gets a value boost with a trade to Buffalo, but it’s also important to study the impact that the big moves have on other players. Skinner, for example, might shrink the value of Conor Sheary, who is no longer a shoo-in to play with Jack Eichel on the first line. Mitch Marner, meanwhile, looks like 2018-19’s top breakout pick with John Tavares slated to be his center. Losing Paul Stastny in free agency gives Jack Roslovic a chance to push Bryan Little for a top-six role in Winnipeg.

Study the ripple effects of every noteworthy transaction, and don’t forget about coaching changes, either. The Dallas Stars, for instance, trade defense-minded Ken Hitchcock for NCAA champion Jim Montgomery, who vows to push a breakneck pace offensively. That could be a boon to Dallas players’ fantasy value.

3. Don’t go crazy analyzing line-deployment news

Fine, you can salivate over Marner, because he’s all but guaranteed elite linemates and he’s a talented player in his own right. But don’t go bananas projecting out deep sleepers and jacking them up your rankings because of who they’re supposed to play with. Remember Sven Andrighetto? Last off-season, he was a nifty sleeper because he “played with Nathan MacKinnon,” but by year’s end Colorado’s dominant line consisted of Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who were picked second, first and 10th in their draft years. The message there: the high-pedigree talent rises to the top. If you reach on a moderately talented guy because he’s rumored to be playing with a star, you could get burned, because there’s a chance the overachiever is yanked off that line a week into the season. Those type of players can help you if they’re late-round selections or in-season waiver adds. Just don’t invest higher picks on them.

4. Don’t over-rank rookies

Mathew Barzal was a phenomenal rookie, the first since Evgeni Malkin to crest 85 points, but those two are the exceptions. Typically, 60 points or so constitute a great rookie season for a forward – and that’s usually the best-case scenario. While the generational talents like Connor McDavid and shoo-in superstars like Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine warranted aggressive drafting in their fantasy debuts, most rookies will at best produce like a “boring veteran” in fantasy leagues.

Example: we all love Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson as a sleeper. He’s my Calder Trophy pick for 2018-19. But a 25-goal, 60-point debut would be wonderful for him – and everything would have to go perfectly for that to happen. In a redraft league, why choose the kid you think will get 60 points over, say, Ryan Johansen, who always gets 60 points? The latter is the boring pick but the smarter pick. You can still turn a profit on rookies, but don’t take them until the vets guaranteed to match or exceed their production are off the board. That said, if you’re choosing between the rookies and the high-floor, low-ceiling vets in the next tier down, the 45- or 50-point range, take the rookies, as those types of veterans will populate the waiver wire all year. You take the Pettersson over the Jordan Staal every time. If Pettersson goes bust, Staal will be waiting if you need to pick him up.

5. Study second-half stats

Sometimes, slow starts followed by late-season binges create great sleepers, because their overall stats look underwhelming and mask upticks in production. Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois had 10 goals and 22 points in 49 games before the all-star break and had 10 goals and 26 points in 33 games after it. He was Columbus’ first-line center by year’s end, and that wasn’t a fluke – he was drafted third overall in 2016 with the expectation of ascending to that very role. Extrapolate his second half pace and you get a 25-goal, 65-point season. Don’t be surprised if his 2018-19 season numbers look like that. Casual drafters might not realize how good he was after the break, rendering him a bargain. The draft board is full of players like Dubois. Another: J.T. Miller, who was almost a point-per game producer after getting traded to Tampa.

6. Pay attention to trends

Seven defensemen had 60 points last year. The previous two seasons combined had seven 60-point blueliners. We’re enjoying a boom of stud fantasy D-men – and that suddenly means the otherworldly Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns don’t necessarily warrant first-round picks like they did even a year ago. Why take Karlsson 12th overall when there’s a decent chance you can get John Klingberg a couple rounds later and get the same point production or close to it? The trends matter.

The top two fantasy goaltenders entering last year were Carey Price and Braden Holtby. They ended up 68th and 37th in the Yahoo ranks. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Pekka Rinne, got pulled three times in his last playoff series. Sergei Bobrovsky is pretty much the only goalie to be an elite fantasy commodity in consecutive seasons. The trend: goaltending is fickle and you can wait to draft it. Plenty of league champions scooped Connor Hellebuyck off the waiver wire last year, and he’s probably a top-three fantasy option at his position now.

7. Know your league’s scoring system inside and out

I can’t stress enough how much scoring systems affect player ratings. In a league that counts hits and shots, Alex Ovechkin is essentially two players in one. He’s Mike Trout. It’s almost unfair to own him. In that type of scoring system, a player like Patric Hornqvist is more valuable than, say, Mikael Granlund, who racks up assists but isn’t a big contributor in any other category. You could have what looks like a sexy team but turns out to be flop if you ignore certain categories.

8. Trust yourself

Don’t confuse that tip with “trust your gut.” It’s not as simple as picking a player based on a feeling. But if you believe you’ve collected enough data to see something others don’t, make an educated guess. I’m treating David Pastrnak, for instance, as a borderline first-round pick this year. I’ve ranked him above Patrick Kane. I’ve seen enough to think an explosion is coming for ‘Pasta,’ based on his linemates, playoff production and shot-attempt generation, and no one will convince me otherwise. If you feel that type of confidence toward certain players after doing your homework, don’t hesitate to reach.