Fantasy hockey diehards have been studying up and preparing for their respective drafts all summer long. They dug through depth charts, identified possible draft sliders and looked for rookies who impressed during training camp.
For instance, Adam Boqvist came pretty darn close to making the Chicago Blackhawks' opening-night roster as an 18-year-old rookie defenseman. He ended up getting pushed around a bit as NHL players entered the preseason fray, necessitating a demotion back to the OHL, but his fantasy value would have skyrocketed had he made the cut.
He would have been an outstanding sleeper selection, and there are dozens of those kinds of players who emerge as the regular season starts Wednesday.
If you're just looking to sink your teeth into some insight before you and your buddies gather at the local watering hole, we've got you covered.
Here we're going to examine how the first round of a draft could shake out, explain why some players could slide and why some might be worth snagging early, and even give you some fun team names to work with.
For the purposes of this mockup, we're assuming that you're playing in a 12-team head-to-head league with standard scoring settings. That's goals, assists, plus-minus, PIM, power-play points and shots on goal. For netminders, we're looking at wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts—but you shouldn't be taking a goalie in the first round of your 12-team draft, so don't worry about those particular numbers for now.
It's important to note here that slight shifts in settings can cause massive expectations for where players should be selected. That's why it is absolutely imperative to get to know your scoring before you draft.
I once played in a league called Smashmouth Hockey that counted fights and goals as equal, as five PIM were equal to one goal in value.
This wreaked havoc on the draft and caused players like Chris Neil and Radko Gudas to be rock stars while the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin slid. Know your league.
Best Fantasy Hockey Team Names
1. Eichel Tower: For fans of the Buffalo Sabres, it probably doesn't get much better than referencing Jack Eichel in a team name.
2. Dark Maatta: Science meets hockey. What isn't to love as the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman is intertwined with quantum physics.
3. Staal Tactics: Referencing one of the sport's foremost families, Staal Tactic is a nice nod to Eric, Jordan, Jared and Marc.
4. Not Your Stepan Stone: Love the Arizona Coyotes, fed up with the disrespect the franchise endures and want to wear that on your sleeve as you draft? This name does the trick.
5. Glass of Marleau: If you enjoy a nice glass of wine while taking in Toronto Maple Leafs games, this tag might be for you.
First-Round Mock Draft
1. Connor McDavid (C, EDM)
2. Nikita Kucherov (RW, TBL)
3. Alex Ovechkin (LW, WSH)
4. Brad Marchand (LW, BOS)
5. Sidney Crosby (C, PIT)
6. Jamie Benn (C/LW, DAL)
7. Patrik Laine (RW, WPG)
8. Erik Karlsson (D, SJS)
9. Patrick Kane (RW, CHI)
10. David Pastrnak (RW, BOS)
11. Auston Matthews (C, TOR)
12. Taylor Hall (LW, NJD)
Wait, Where Are Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares?
A quick glance at that mock first round and you'll notice a few big-time names are missing. Over the last five or six years, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares have established themselves as consistent and outstanding fantasy producers.
While they still are, the position they play holds them back a bit when it comes to a 12-team draft. You probably won't wind up kicking yourself if you snag Malkin with the No. 9 pick, but there are way fewer impact left wings and right wings than centers if your league doesn't just lump forwards into a single position.
That's why we see names like Patrik Laine, the dual-eligible (in Yahoo! leagues) Jamie Benn and Brad Marchand rocket up our charts. We have Auston Matthews sneaking into the first round because Toronto's power play should be silly, but even he could slide in favor of a wing or coveted defender.
It'll be easier to find a quality No. 1 center in the second or third rounds than it will be to find a high-impact wing. If you're picking later on in the first or early in the second round and your leaguemates went center-heavy with familiar, safe names, don't hesitate to cash in on someone like Pastrnak or Laine.
The Goalie Conundrum
Tomes have been written on this very subject, and it's a tricky matter to handle. Two or three players are responsible for roughly 40 percent of your stats, so it can be tempting to use up the sixth overall pick on Sergei Bobrovsky or Andrei Vasilevskiy and handle the goalie position early.
It's important to wait the position out, though, and beef up on the wings and blue line first. Things can change if a goalie run occurs; whenever the first netminder is selected, it tends to set off a chain of panic picks from owners who are worried about getting left out in the cold.
However, a run of goalie picks in the second or early third round likely means that a high-end player like Victor Hedman, Claude Giroux or Brent Burns has slid several spots and right into your lap. Don't reach for an 80th- or 100th-ranked goalie with the 26th pick just to take one. Stay the course, take the elite players and know who you're targeting in goal.
Depending on where you're picking, snagging a goalie later in the third round or sometime in the fourth is typically a safe route. You probably aren't going to land Bobrovsky there, but the likes of Matt Murray, Ben Bishop and Pekka Rinne should still be available by the time you're ready to pick your top goalie.
You could target someone like Antti Raanta even further down the board and really gather a strong collection of blueliners simply by exercising patience and sticking to your game plan.
Let's Talk About Breakout Candidates
In general, league champions aren't created in the first three or four rounds. They are created in the ninth, 10th and 11th rounds, as preferences and knowledge really start to become important.
It's here where you can snag a player who could be on the cusp of a breakout. Getting second-round production from a forward you picked in the seventh or eighth round can make a huge impact in smaller leagues, where talent is so concentrated and 30 to 40 percent-owned players sitting on the waiver wire aren't uncommon.
For instance, if you're hovering around the 100th pick in your draft and see Ivan Provorov still sitting there, snag the Philadelphia Flyers defenseman. He notched 17 goals last year and still has a lot of room to grow in other categories. This could force him to fall in some leagues; don't hesitate to pick him up.
Remember how we were talking about looking for good value when it came to selecting goalies?
Targeting Philipp Grubauer in the 11th or 12th round could be a boon for your team's netminding tandem. Again by waiting until this late to pick up your second goalie, you're opening the door to add even more upside on the blue line and wings.
Our favorite breakout candidate, however, is another member of the Flyers: Nolan Patrick. The second overall pick in 2017, Patrick is entering this season after a surgery-free summer for the first time since 2015.
Good health and a strong finish last year (10 goals, 21 points in his final 33 regular-season games) has us thinking that 60 points are well within reach for the sophomore.