The Risk of Reaching on Rookies in Fantasy Hockey Drafts

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      It is the ninth round of your fantasy draft, William Nylander is still on the board, and an overly excited owner just exclaimed he snagged the “Steal of the Night” in the rarely active side chat. Juraj Slafkovsky has been taken by the league’s self-proclaimed “Prospects guy.” By the time he can complain about the length of the snake draft, Josh Norris and Filip Forsberg have been quietly scooped up by owners who have watched team after team get burned by first-year players in the past. It is a trend seen in fantasy lobbies year in and year out, with rookie players hurting drafters who reach on first-year assets when top-end, proven talent, is still sitting waiting to be chosen.

      Since 2010, Mathew Barzal’s 85-point rookie campaign in 2017-18 is the only season to eclipse the 80-plus point mark by a first-year player since Evgeni Malkin broke into the league with an 85-point season in 2006-07. To go even further, Artemi Panarin was the only other rookie to surpass the 70-point mark since 2010, doing so as a 24-year-old in 2015-16. There were 50 players alone in the 2021-22 fantasy season that passed the 70-plus point mark (and 55 in the last 82-game season in 2018-19). That said, your chances are noticeably higher that you will get much better production from a well-known fantasy veteran instead of making a rookie reach. 

      With names like Owen Powers, Mason McTavish, and Slafkovsky staring every fantasy owner in the face on draft day, we near the one-year anniversary of Cole Caufield going at an average of 103 in Yahoo League drafts. A pick that would ultimately decimate many fantasy owners’ seasons right out of the gate as he, unfortunately, struggled to find his footing and would later claim a spot in the AHL. This is just a year after we all watched owners get burned to the utmost degree by Alexis Lafreniere after spending their mid-round picks on his supposed NHL-ready and therefore fantasy ready potential.

      2021-22’s rookie point leader Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs was a fantasy free agent stand out by year’s end, but his 63 total points were still only good enough to place him 70th among point scorers across the NHL. Fellow rookie Trevor Zegras may hold the record for most flashy goals in an opening season, but his 61 points placed him outside the top 75 in league scoring, while his 23 goals had him 95th in the league. Tanner Jeannot, the rookie goal-scoring leader, finished with a solid 24 goals, which still only placed him 83rd and on the cusp of fantasy worthy throughout the season.

      First Rookies off the Board in terms of ADP in previous Three Drafts + Notable later draftees

      (ADP provided by Yahoo Fantasy)

      2021-2022 First Rookie ADP: Cole Caufield (103 ADP) 23 Gs, 20 As, 43 Pts, 188 Shots, -24 in 67 games. 

      Notable later ADP:

      • Joe Pavelski (107 ADP – 81 pts)
      • Vladimir Tarasenko (110 ADP – 82 pts)
      • Tomas Hertl (126 ADP – 64 pts)
      • Jordan Kyrou (142 ADP – 75 pts)
      • Timo Meier (149 ADP – 86 pts)

      2020–2021 First Rookie: Alexis Lafreniere (129 ADP) 12 Gs, 9 As, 21 Pts, 67 S, -7, in 56 games

      Notable later ADP:

      • Anze Kopitar (134 ADP – 50 pts)
      • Ondrej Palat (160 ADP – 46 pts)
      • Nikolaj Ehlers (152 ADP – 46 pts)
      • Bryan Rust (162 – 44 pts)

      2019-2020 First Rookie: Kaapo Kakko (113 ADP) 10 Gs, 13 As, 23 pts, 109 S, -26 in 66 games

      Notable later ADP:

      • Andrei Svechnikov (127 ADP – 61 pts)
      • Kyle Connor (130 ADP – 73 pts)
      • Anze Kopitar (155 ADP – 62 pts)

      When it comes to other options when drafting in the middle rounds, look to players who are known power-play commodities, high-minute eaters, and the ones who tend to put a lot of pucks on the net. These are three critical parts of the game many rookies do not usually provide as they adjust the NHL games. Players like Anze Kopitar, Timo Meier, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Tomas Hertl stand out as players from several previous drafts, which have been glanced over for younger, less productive talent. With the ability to lock in 60-70-plus points from a steady veteran or up-and-comer with more than 25 games played, important picks in these rounds can swing a fantasy team from average; to relevant very quickly.

      With all of this said, rookies are some of the best ways to improve your fantasy roster through the free agent pool, so in no way should you worry about them occupying a late draft pick or free agent roster space if they do happen to fall late in a draft. A season ago, players like Matt Boldy proved that to be accurate as a mid-season pickup. 

      So, this year when you are hit with your 90-second draft timer, staring at the choice of Owen Power (ADP 111.7) or Thomas Chabot (ADP 114.8), go with the name that’s averaged 11 goals and 43 assists (54 points) per 82 games, rather than banking on Power to become just the fourth rookie defenseman to top 50 points since 2000. 

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