Preseason Fantasy Hockey Pool Rookie Scouting Strategy
As fantasy hockey pools grow in popularity, it is only natural that they also grow more challenging. One particular way league commissioners strive to make their pools more difficult is by adding not only separate roster positions, but also player sub-categories. Including a sub category calls for further research, more trash talk, and yet one more arduous step that must be taken down the path to fantasy hockey glory. And, one of the most popular sub-categories to add to a pool is the rookie category.
Dynasty owners may chuckle when they read this because their leagues are so hardcore that to pick just one rookie out of the crop of many, and ask that player to gather points in a reserved roster spot for just one season, sounds like child’s play. Dynasty owners have, in most cases, been grooming prospects for years, in some cases even since before the player was drafted by an NHL team! So, plain and simple, dynasty owners: we salute you. However, the majority of fantasy hockey poolies out there do not spend their time participating in dynasty leagues, rather they choose a new team every year and, this year, perhaps some are considering adding this new element of depth and challenge to their leagues: the rookie category.
First, what you are reading here is not a breakdown of the potential rookie breakouts for 2012-13 – that can be found in glorious detail in our 2012-2013 Regular Season Draft Guide, where we rank the Top 30+ fantasy rookies in full profile, as well as provide a top Rookies Cheat Sheet. Instead, this article is a discussion of the rookie scouting conundrum that unfolds in the preseason. Many rookies appear to step up in the preseason, but that does not mean the same will happen in the regular season, and much of the news regarding rookies and prospects at this time of year can actually make the job of fantasy scouting confusing. Which one of these guys is actually going to make their NHL team?
Our most basic advice is to follow our Rookie News Page, where we provide updates on rookies as they progress through the preseason. Second, we will be updating our draft guide and Rookie Ratings through the preseason, so after you purchase yours look for our updates and re-download your copy to be sure you have our most up-to-date rankings.
Yet beyond those two steps, here are a few concrete tips from us to help you stay focussed on finding a rookie who is 1) actually going to play a full season and 2) collect a healthy amount of fantasy points.
1. In some cases, and ironically, fantasy hockey GMs might actually need to block out what they are seeing and reading in regards to all of the prospects who are suddenly wearing NHL jerseys and scoring goals on the prime-time September airwaves. Remember: it’s just the preseason. In the preseason, teams are not icing their actual rosters. Coaches are taking the opportunity to scout out the abilities of various prospects under various circumstances. How does a certain prospect react to the lights of the NHL? How does this player play alongside that player? What’s he look like on the PP? And so forth. The preseason is not a true simulation of the regular season. Rookies and prospects are thrown into the line-up somewhat ad hoc and are asked to play alongside other players in the same try-out situation, or even play alongside players that they have little chance of playing with in the regular season. The preseason rosters are nothing like the team’s actual depth chart.
2. What is the result of these unreal line combinations, units and rosters overall? (And remember, it’s both teams on the ice that look this way.) The result is that unreal situations on the ice develop. Rookies and prospects, playing against other rookies and prospects, start putting pucks in the net (someone’s got to score). Nice passing plays develop, there’s speed, there’s even a little finesse as these young men develop a bit of chemistry and start to settle in to the game. But ask yourself this, how would these young guns look if they were staring down the starting Kings' defense? Or what if Ron Hextall came skating out of his crease swinging his goalie paddle over his head while 20,000 blood-thirsty Flyers fans went ballistic? This is not the regular season. If it were, the one (or maximum two) rookies that are on the team would (usually) be sitting at the end of the bench waiting for some grinder minutes while the top two lines take a breather.
3. Another thing to remember is that as the final weeks leading up to the regular season come to a close, the coaches are going to need to start trimming the fat. Suddenly, the AHL version of the team that has been pretending to be the big club is going to get sent down to the minors where they still have the business of making sure they make it there. Again, there is usually only room for one or two new players on any given NHL team and, even then, that roster spot can be snatched back at any time, depending on the whim of the coach who may need to dress a different sort of roster for any given game. There is a pre-established depth chart going into the preseason. Consult that to see how many of these flashy youngsters actually have a chance of playing all 82 games.
4. So, how do we clear the noise? How do we steer clear of all the preseason rookie and prospect distractions? Stick with the timetable that has been openly discussed regarding every given player. If a team was talking about a certain timeline when they drafted a certain 18 year old at the NHL entry draft last June, they (usually) aren’t going to suddenly abandon that timeline due to a couple preseason goals. If a young gun is 18 years old, 165 pounds and 6’3”, that isn’t going to change over the course of training camp and the preseason. He may look good in preseason action, but he is still on a developmental timeline, which the coaching staff plans to stick to. And, if the coaches suddenly get hyped and lose focus, well the GM is also there to remind everyone of the timeline. It is only under special circumstances that a player is going bust through that preset schedule, a la Sean Couturier in '11-12. That player will either break through due to undeniable readiness and skill, or hype – such as is usually the case with the #1 pick from last June. Only 25% of the top 5 rookie scorers each year since the lock-out played in the NHL the year of their entry draft.
5. Work off the rankings you prepared prior to the preseason (or the ones that you can find in the FHStandard ’12-13 Draft Guide). Don’t throw all of your hard work and scouting out the window just because some unexpected players are showing flashes in the preseason.
6. But, definitely do add in the surprise rookies that look ready to make the jump to the NHL. Some of these new recruits will make the opening day roster and most of them will subsequently be sent back to junior or the AHL after 9 games, but some will stick as well - and one could end up as a rookie-of-the-year finalist. Sit down at the draft table with an open mind, and pick a backup in case your first rookie choice doesn't pan out.
There you have some stabilizing fantasy hockey pool strategy advice when it comes to avoiding rookie scouting preseason pitfalls. It can be fairly noisy out there. There will definitely be some names and (baby) faces turning on some red lights right – getting regular hockey commentators all tied up in knots over “the next big thing” – but keep it all in perspective and remember that rookie preseason performances are relative to the level of competition on the ice, and that there is pre-established developmental timeline that will force many NHL coaches and GMs to send a bunch of these guys back to their AHL and CHL teams.
However, we will throw out one final stat for all those fantasy GMs out there who like to swing for the fences on draft day. Since the lockout, for 6 of the past 7 seasons, the Calder Trophy has been awarded to a pure rookie who did come straight from his entry draft that summer. (Steve Mason being the exception.)
Stay focussed and use your hockey IQ to bring home the best rookie pick at your hockey pool draft in the coming weeks. Good luck!