08 March 2016: Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) in the 2nd period of the NHL game between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)
Slapshot Fantasy

Fantasy strategy: Avoid drafting centers early

Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

A few months from now you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting your turn to pick in your fantasy league’s draft. Fortunately one of the best ways to pass time in the NHL’s offseason is piecing together a strategy for draft day.

For those managers that want to try something other than taking “best available”, there are several outside the box strategies that deserve some consideration. One of the most intriguing strategies is to put off drafting centers until you have at least selected most of your “starting lineup” at the other positions.

In other words, it might be in your best interest to wait until after the third round to select your first center.

Both veteran and rookie fantasy managers know that many of fantasy hockey’s best known superstars are center-eligible players and they’re typically the “most valuable” as well.

Pete Jensen released his top-200 players for the next fantasy season on NHL.com in April and 11 of his top 25 are center eligible players. Unsurprisingly, Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby are his top two players to draft in the fall.

So why on earth should you avoid picking centers in the first few rounds on draft day?

There is no position in fantasy hockey that has as much depth as center does, which is why you arguably should wait to draft them. The depth at center stands in stark contrast to the precious few defensemen and goaltenders that are counted among fantasy’s elite.

Ensuring that you draft from the smallest pools of talent before turning your attention to the men who take faceoffs might just be the best way to build a balanced fantasy team.

2 May 2016: Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) puts a shot on Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of Game Three in the Second Round of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

2 May 2016: Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) puts a shot on Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

Braden Holtby and Ben Bishop will be on everyone’s draft day wish list, but many managers would still take top centers like John Tavares or Evgeni Malkin before them. According to fantasypros.com that is what the majority of managers did on draft day last fall.

But why is that the case? It’s likely because centers appear to score more points than their fellow skaters and often feel like safer picks than the men who wear masks and stop pucks.

Given the question of job security and how dependent a goaltender’s value is on the strength of their team, you can count the goalies that should go in the first two rounds of the draft on one hand. Grabbing one of the elite goaltenders early over a center will save you from hoping you draft next season’s Martin Jones later in the draft.

Drafting star wingers, especially proven superstars like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jamie Benn, over big name centers could be considered a coin toss for most on draft day. And as exceptional as elite fantasy defenders like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are, several centers will be taken before they are drafted because their point ceiling is lower.

But the relative scarcity of high-end wingers and defensemen in fantasy hockey presents a strong case for taking them before centers.

Waiting to draft centers will hardly leave you scrambling for options later in the draft. One needs only to look at where reliable and exceptional players like Nicklas Backstrom, Joe Thornton, and Patrice Bergeron were drafted. They are hardly alone.

When you look at the best available free agents in your league after the first few weeks you will notice that they are predominantly centers.

There will of course be exceptions to the rule of waiting on centers on draft day. Going off the board when players like Sidney Crosby or Tyler Seguin are available might not be the best idea.

Draft day strategy is a lot more than simply taking the players who scored the most points or who had the highest overall rank last season. Fittingly, it all comes down to numbers. The abundance of options at center throughout and even after the draft means that valuing other players over them during your fantasy draft is a sound strategy.

Fantasy strategy: Avoid drafting centers early
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