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Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Draft Strategy

Continuing on with our Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit, Troy Langefeld reviews draft strategy for the upcoming NHL season.

Like Marc Staal here, many people are confused what to do when it comes time to draft - Photo Credit
Like Marc Staal here, many people are confused what to do when it comes time to draft - Photo Credit
Paul Bereswill

We have covered a lot of ground so far as we enter the fifth week of our 2014 fantasy hockey draft kit. Week one served as an introduction to the year, outlined our draft kit schedule, league setup details, and a list of important offseason changes. We kicked it up a notch in weeks two and three and provided rankings for each position - center, left wing, right wing, defense, and goalkeeper - as well as a consolidated rankings list for the upcoming season. And the fourth week looked at the breakout, sleeper, and bust candidates to watch out for this year. If you missed anything, you can find it all here:

Fake Teams 2014 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit

We've reviewed the rankings and what to watch for coming into the season and week five is where we will concentrate on the draft itself. First we have a draft strategy piece so that you can feel prepared for your season. After that, we'll review some actual drafts, one for a standard snake draft and one for an auction draft. We just drafted for both of these leagues over the weekend, so if you're still hoping to join those leagues, I'm sorry, you've missed out now. Hopefully you still enjoy the review though and hopefully the draft week provides the last pieces you need to prepare for a successful season.

Before the draft starts, it's important to know your league. What are the settings? What are the categories? What are the rosters? If you can't answer these questions, you're not prepared for your draft. And if you know the people in the league with you, you're going to have to determine who are you playing against and what their tendencies are.

First of all, what are the basic settings? Are you playing in a head-to-head format, a points league, or a rotisserie league? Are you drafting in a snake draft or an auction draft? Is the draft online or in person? You should also look into the advanced settings such as the waiver process, how many acquisitions and trades you can make and with what frequency, how many goalie games are required each week, and how many teams make playoffs. Once you know the settings, you'll need to review the scoring categories and roster composition. Knowing these will allow you to appropriately tier and rank players in your pre-draft analysis. Most rankings, mine included, will be for standard leagues and will need to be reviewed and modified for the custom settings in your league. If you have different stat categories or additional roster positions, there will be a different process in rankings. Look at them, and review your favourite rankings for the changes in question. If you do this, you'll already have a good idea how you value each player which will be critical during the draft itself.

Each of these settings will change your draft preparation and possibly even your strategy. If there are few acquisitions through the year or few bench or IR spots on the roster, you might have to play it safer with your picks as it places a higher emphasis on the draft process itself. If you need to make four goalie starts each week or if goalie categories make up half of the categories, it may be important to secure two reliable goalkeepers in order to gain an advantage each week. You never know what may play into the process, leave no stone unturned.

It's always a good idea to know how you value players before the draft starts and you should probably take it a step further to have a loose idea of what positions you want to target early on or spend a lot on. Are two good starting goalies a point of emphasis for you? If in a snake draft, are you looking for high floor players or high ceiling players? If in an auction draft, will you pay for a few select stars and round out the bottom of your roster with cheap fillers or will you try and win with a balanced roster? If in a rotisserie league, you likely have to target every category, but in a head to head league will you employ a strategy to punt a certain category such as plus/minus or penalty minutes? These are all important things to consider before the draft starts. The important thing though is that you don't want your strategy to be set in stone. The draft will dictate your preconceived notions of what to do and you will be forced to react and change your game plan. Being aware and alert through the draft will allow you to be adaptable which is integral to draft day success.

Once the draft starts, you're going to have to really pay attention to what's going on. In a snake draft it's important to pay attention to tiers of players and trends in picks. If you notice a run on a position, are there any left in the tier when it gets to your pick? And how many people still require that position? Ideally you'd like to start the runs, but it's important to not get shut out of something that everyone else has as well unless it's a direct part of your strategy. If you're the only one who still requires a position, you can likely wait a little bit, but be careful not to wait too long as your opponents will recognize value and grab a nice bench player before you've drafted a starter.

In an auction, its important to set a budget on each player while the bidding is going on, but to be flexible for upcoming players depending on the flow of the draft. You don't want to overpay and leave yourself hurting later on, but you must realize that values change depending on what the market price for that specific draft dictates. Your evaluation of draft values should be constantly changing through the draft as new information comes in through the bidding process. Treat it as an open market. Also, it's ok to be patient within a tier of players, but at the end of a tier, don't be afraid to spend money - you do need talent on your roster to win and you can't take unused funds with you when you leave the auction. Be patient, but not too patient. Use your draft funds and don't leave any behind.

In both draft setups it's important to be aware of your opponents and what they are doing. What positions have they filled, where do they next choose, and how much funds do they have left? If you know what they are looking for, you can either get it first or make them pay for what they need.

During online drafts, it's important that in between picks or nominations you fill up your player queue with both your next picks as well as late sleepers. You never want to slow the draft down or miss a good pick because you weren't prepared. It helps you keep in mind what your strategy is so that you can plan the order of picks or nominations. As an added benefit, if your internet kicks out on you, you can draft from that list rather than from the Yahoo! standard list.

When it comes down to it, a successful draft will mean that you came into the draft prepared and were able to adapt to whatever challenges were thrown at you. But in order to adapt, you must be aware of trends and alert to what other people might be doing next. A game plan before the draft and a preconceived notion of value is important, but each draft is it's own beast that you are going to have to conquer and slay. He who adapts the quickest will be the victor.

Good luck drafting this year, I wish you all success!

I'm new to the twitterverse, but I'd love to hear your feedback and questions. Follow me on Twitter @HockeyGauntlet for more of my thoughts and all of your fantasy hockey needs. #IsItOctoberYet