Picking sleepers is one of the most exciting aspects of fantasy hockey drafts. It makes us look smart. That’s why I’ve offered up my favorite 10 for 2016-17 here. But as much as we like to think finding those late-round gems puts us over the top to win championships, something else matters much more: avoiding mistakes in the early to mid rounds.
And a “mistake” doesn’t always mean picking a bust player who has a terrible season or gets injured. It can also mean taking a perfectly decent player way too early when many more effective guys are still available. I define overvalued fantasy picks as some combination of:
- Players whose production won’t match their average draft positions
- Players being drafted ahead of players who will outperform them
- Players with falsely inflated value because of real-life success, playing in popular markets or other emotional attachments
So here are my top 10 players to avoid in 2016-17 based on Yahoo average draft position (ADP) compared to my top 200 rankings, listed alphabetically. And remember, I’m not saying these players are bad…only that they are being drafted too early.
Justin Abdelkader (THN rank: none: Yahoo ADP: 161.6)
We have a bunch of Dean Lombardis at the fantasy draft table, apparently. It’s no disrespect to Abdelkader, a scrappy and useful winger who can play on any line, but he’s not a high-end scorer. He’s 29, and his career highs in goals and points are 23 and 44, respectively. He’s not getting any better than this. Even though he gets a boost in penalty minutes leagues, it’s laughable to see him being drafted ahead of William Nylander, Sam Reinhart and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in typical leagues.
Sergei Bobrovsky (THN rank: 200; Yahoo ADP: 139.2)
Some poolies cling to the idea of ‘Bob’ as a Vezina Trophy-winning world beater. He’s a talented goaltender…when he plays. The soft-tissue injuries have become a yearly headache. Instead of taking on the Bobrovsky problem, why not grab the dirt-cheap and durable Cam Talbot, who goes 17 picks later on average?
Matt Murray (THN rank: 144; Yahoo ADP: 69.7)
This one stings, as I’m a huge Matt Murray backer. Have been for years, so much that I’m teased for my man-crush in the THN office. Listing Murray here has nothing to do with his talent, which is immense. It has everything to do with Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray is likely locked in a timeshare at best until Penguins GM Jim Rutherford trades Fleury, and no deal is imminent. Murray’s Stanley Cup heroics have inflated his ranking to the point he’s being drafted ahead of actual starters like Brian Elliott and Semyon Varlamov. That shouldn’t be happening. It’s a different story in keeper leagues, of course.
James Neal (THN rank: 116; Yahoo ADP: 37.7)
James Neal, top-40 fantasy player? Sheesh, that’s steep. He’s currently valued as if he’s still ripping off 40-goal seasons like he did in his Pittsburgh days. Neal’s fresh off a highly useful effort of 31 goals, 58 points and 65 penalty minutes. But it’s just plain strange to see him picked in the fourth round on average, ahead of Blake Wheeler, the league’s No. 6 scorer, and Jack Eichel, whose floor might be Neal’s ceiling. Get a grip, drafters.
Jonathan Quick (THN rank: 53: Yahoo ADP: 18.6)
Quick’s legendary playoff prowess puffs up his fantasy value every season. I concede he’s valuable in pools weighting wins heavily, but he’s finished 34th, 22nd, 17th and 19th in save percentage over his past four seasons. His rate stats are merely average. It’s thus odd to see Quick the fourth goalie off the board, before Cory Schneider, Corey Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist.
Pekka Rinne (THN rank: 122; Yahoo ADP: 34.6)
Rinne is one of the most athletic goaltenders in the NHL, blessed with a lightning-quick glove hand, honed by playing a form of Finnish baseball. He’s a fun guy to interview. Other goaltenders I’ve spoken to consider Rinne one of the best in the business. But it’s harder every year to justify that status. The numbers just don’t support it. Rinne has posted a save percentage of .910 or lower three times in his past four seasons, he turns 34 in November, and he’s become the analytics crowd’s whipping boy. Apparently, the stats get ugly if you look under the hood, as our guru Dom Luszczyszyn did last season. Like Quick, however, Rinne will still get enough starts to carry substantial worth in leagues that focus on volume stats like wins and shutouts. He’s quite overvalued in rate-stat leagues, though.
Patrick Sharp (THN rank: 173: Yahoo ADP: 79.5)
Sharp going in the middle of the sixth round? Huh? He scored 34 goals in 82 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013-14. Since then he has 36 goals in 144 games. There’s no shame in it, as Sharp is simply in decline at 34, but he’s now just a safe depth guy you grab in the late middle rounds to fill out your roster. He’s still being drafted as a core player, ahead of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Andrew Ladd, Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Eberle and Jakub Voracek. I don’t know who the poolies are making these shameful picks, but I want in their leagues and I want to play them for money.
Andrew Shaw (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 147.6)
Shaw, like Abdelkader, is admired in real life for his versatility and tenacity. But just because you’re a fun player to own doesn’t mean you’re a good player to own in all but the deepest of leagues. Shaw will top out at 15 to 20 goals and 35 to 40 points. He should be on waiver wires in most pools.
Alexander Steen (THN rank: 110: Yahoo ADP: 77.9)
Steen is a productive player, one of the more underappreciated of his generation. He’s typically been a great sneaky add around pick 100, but things have reversed. Now he’s overvalued at 77.9 because he never gets through a full season. He’s missed 12.3 games on average over his past three years. Major shoulder surgery in June knocked him out of the World Cup, and while he’s optimistic about suiting up for the Blues next month, it’s concerning that his health is already in question again.
Jimmy Vesey (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 124.6)
Jimmy Vesey is being drafted ahead of Auston Matthews right now. There are no words. Matthews lit up a pro league in Switzerland, then flourished against NHLers at the worlds, and now he looks poised to make a statement with Team North America at the World Cup. Vesey won the Hobey Baker as college hockey’s best player but has never played pro hockey. He should have a learning curve and is nowhere near a lock to make the Rangers. The hype train has veered off the rails and tumbled into a ditch.
THE BLACKHAWKS/KINGS PROBLEM
Chicago’s and Los Angeles’ “mini dynasty years” have inflated the ADPs of everything they touch, from current players to former players. They’re all great real-life contributors, but they’re presumed to be top-notch fantasy assets, which they aren’t. I mentioned Quick, Sharp and Shaw already, but here are some more overpriced current and former Hawks and Kings:
- Dustin Brown (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 156.9)
- Marian Gaborik (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 168.6)
- Niklas Hjalmarsson (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 154.9)
- Alec Martinez (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 123.6)
- Jake Muzzin (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 103.0)
- Johnny Oduya (THN rank: none; Yahoo ADP: 157.5)
Computer glitches, faceless monsters and/or the players’ own families drafting them would be the only plausible explanations for these downright zany ADPs:
- Ben Chiarot, 149.5 (between Nick Leddy and Adam Henrique)
- Scott Darling, 159.3 (between Morgan Rielly and Vincent Trocheck)
- Dominic Moore, 92.9 (between Dylan Larkin and Kyle Okposo)
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin