For the seventh season, I am participating in a Fantasy Hockey Experts League, with participants from Dobber Hockey, Kukla's Corner, Rotowire, Rotoworld, The Sports Forecaster, Fantasy Hockey Scouts, Sirius-XM and Yahoo! in a league organized by Eric Maltais, who runs www.NHLTradeTracker.com.
I've been fortunate enough to win the competitive roto-style league twice, in Year One and Year Five, but the deep rosters and competitive nature of the participants makes it possibly the most enjoyable of my fantasy leagues.
It is a 12-team keeper league, with owners allowed to keep four players from year to year, with a maximum of one goalie and then each team has a 25-man roster, including 4 LW, 4 C, 4 RW, 6 D, 2 G and 5 Bench.
The categories have been rather standard (G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG, Hits, Blocks, W, GAA, SV%), but this year we dropped penalty minutes and added hits and blocked shots.
My four keepers were Henrik Sedin, David Backes and Jamie Benn, along with goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
In the luck of the random draw, I got the second pick in this year's draft, which would give me an excellent opportunity to pick up one of the best unprotected players.
That player turned out to be Jonathan Quick. Considering the first round of our draft is effectively the fifth round, getting Quick at that point was a complete bargain.
A lot of teams identified goaltenders as worthy of a pick in the first two rounds (ie. 5th and 6th), with eight more goaltenders taken after I took Quick and before my next pickup, C/LW Pavel Datsyuk.
I followed with C/RW Joe Pavelski and C Joe Thornton before finally taking my first defenceman, Duncan Keith, in Round Nine. I wanted to be patient on D, though I may have gone too far in that direction. At least Keith gives me one proven performer on the back end.
Round 10 brought my biggest teeth-gnashing point of the draft, picking after Jan Levine (Rotowire), I had Edmonton rookie D Justin Schultz sitting atop my queue and my fingers crossed that I would get to add his offensive potential to Keith, solidifying my defensive production. As the clock counted down, Levine either was debating his selection, or had left his computer, but once the time was up and the moment of truth arrived, his pick was Justin Schultz. AAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHH!
Rattled, and with no other defenceman at the top of my list, I turned to LW Brad Marchand, followed with LW Matt Moulson and grabbed a handcuff for Halak, with G Brian Elliott. As long as Ken Hitchcock can keep the Blues' goals against in check, I should be okay.
Then, in was was effectively Round 13, I finally went for another defencemen. Red Wings rookie Brendan Smith, followed in the next round by Wild rookie C Mikael Granlund and then a personal favourite, Islanders D Travis Hamonic. With the league turning to hits and blocked shots, I think there is some value to be had in less-heralded physical blueliners who play big minutes, including Hamonic.
I then went for a category buster, grabbing Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck for hits and then turned to one of my bounceback candidates, Maple Leafs LW/RW Nikolai Kulemin.
Okay, now I have three defencemen and time is running out, so I pick up Oilers D Ladislav Smid -- one of three players (Mark Stuart and Dan Girardi were the others) to have at least 180 hits and 180 blocked shots last season.
Then I took a run at Swiss winger Damien Brunner, who gets to start his NHL career on the wing with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. That Brunner got to play with Zetterberg (for Zug) during the lockout helped me take that leap.
New York Rangers LW Carl Hagelin has upside and gets a lot of shots on goal, so I took him in the 20th round, even though I still needed defencemen. Time to dust off some defence sleepers, so I snagged Nashville's Roman Josi, who is going to see an increased role now that Ryan Suter is gone, followed by the handcuff for Quick, Jonathan Bernier. My goaltending fates are tied to St. Louis and Los Angeles, for better or worse.
Still on the board, due in part to his recovery from an Achilles injury, Flyers D Andrej Meszaros joined Team Cullen, I took a shot at C Dave Bolland, who is getting a chance on Chicago's second line and I finished off with Bruins rookie D Doug Hamilton.
I waited too long to build a strong defence corps, so I focused on getting value and upside. If changes need to be made, trades and the waiver wire can help improve this group.
Some of the picks of the draft that I liked:
- For purely selfish reasons, I didn't like Sirius XM's Ray Flowers snagging Henrik Zetterberg one pick before I was set to grab him to pair with Datsyuk. Pavelski is a solid player, but I've been a big Zetterberg supporter pretty much forever.
- I thought Ian from Kukla's Korner got some value with Colorado's Semyon Varlamov, a few rounds after that initial run on goaltenders.
- Three rounds later, Levine picked up Tampa Bay's Anders Lindback, well worth his value at that point as the surefire starting goaltender for a team with potential.
- Fantasy Hockey Scouts nabbed Coyotes D Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Oilers rookie LW Nail Yakupov at the turn from Round 11 to 12, both nice upside picks.
- Eric, the Commish, went back-to-back Blues in Rounds 13 and 14, getting LW David Perron and rookie RW Vladimir Tarasenko. I like 'em both.
- NHL.com's Matthew Cubeta picked up Jaromir Jagr in the 15th round (I had hoped I'd get a shot at him in the 16th). After his production in the Czech league this year, seems worth a try.
- I liked Russ Miller from www.dobberhockey.com going with James Reimer in hte 19th round. I debated Reimer around that stage, before deciding to go the double handcuff route, but as a third fantasy goaltender, Reimer's a bit of a sleeper.
- Flowers also picked Philadelphia's Braydon Coburn a pick before I was set to take him in Round 21.
- Rotowire's John Toperzer was taking advantage of our switch to hits and blocked shots, picking Chicago's Brent Seabrook (7th round), the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh (12th round) and Montreal D Josh Gorges (18th round).
- Michael Finewax from Rotoworld got nice value with Hurricanes LW/RW Alexander Semin in the 10th round and Oilers RW Ales Hemsky in the 23rd round, but he took on more risk than most, with selections of Ryan Kesler (15th round), Ryan O'Reilly (18th round) and Lubomir Visnovsky (22nd round).
- The Sports Forecaster team, managed by Glenn Gingerich, got some upside and Kitchener Rangers pedigree with Gabriel Landeskog and Jeff Skinner in rounds five and seven, respectively.
- Matt Romig from Yahoo! didn't fall into any rookie traps, sticking with tried and true players for the most part, but Chris Stewart in the 17th round is a good sleeper pick and if Roberto Luongo moves, taking him in the sixth round will pay off nicely.
We're all going to have picks we're proud of, and not so proud of, at the end of the year, which will come soon. The good news is that at least NHL hockey has returned and, with it, we get to drop the puck on fantasy hockey!
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.