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Five for fantasizing: draft day decisions

Five for Howling's weekly fantasy piece takes you through the basics of drafting today with simple strategies for every level of fantasy competitor.

Draft day is almost here! Yippee!
Draft day is almost here! Yippee!
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn't matter what sport you talk about, the chances for a team's success begin, and often times end, with the draft. Whether real or fantasy, draft day is an exciting time and marks the official starting point for a brand new season of competition. How does one go about drafting for fantasy hockey though? Well, it is not hard, and today you will get a walkthrough of the basics of drafting with some easy to implement strategies that should help make your first, or next, fantasy hockey draft a rousing success.

The draft is the basic way to put together your team, comprised of every available player currently on NHL rosters (and even some that are not, a point we will get to shortly). The draft process begins with the size of your league. Most leagues use a simple, easy to understand snake draft process. The snake draft allows each team to pick in order for the first round, then reverses the order for the second round. So, if you are in a 10-team league, the first round would go with Team A having the first pick, Team B with the second, then Teams C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and finally Team J making the final selection of the first round.

The second round would then begin with Team J making the first selection, followed by Team I and so on back to Team A making the final pick of the second round. The premise of a snake draft is to not punish the team that ends up with the final selection of the first round by making them wait til the end of every round moving forward. Having consecutive picks can be a serious advantage, particularly if you have a set strategy entering your draft.

How does the order of selection get processed, you may ask yourself? For established leagues that have run multiple seasons, they will usually go in reverse order of finish, just like the real leagues. So the worst team in the league the previous season would get the first pick and the champions would get the last. For new leagues, the draw is random, usually determined an hour before the set start of your draft.

The length of the draft is determined by the size of the rosters in your league. Most standard leagues use nine forwards, five defensemen, a utility player and two goalies for a starting lineup with five to bench spots for a total of 22 roster spots. The draft will allow a team to fill all those spots, so you would have a 22 round draft. That may seem like a long time for a draft, but there will usually be a time limit set to each pick (most often one minute) and the majority of players will fire of their picks quickly when it comes to their turn.

If you use the standard roster size mentioned above with a 10-team league, that means that your draft will see 220 players drafted, with a minimum of 20 goalies, 50 defensemen and 90 forwards being owned. Those numbers are important because most drafts are now done online. With the tools available to online drafting, you can pull up the rankings of players within their position pre-draft. The rankings tools are not definitive and are by no means "right" because the majority of rankings are based off of previous performance and expected season projections.

The rankings are to give you an idea of the likelihood of a player performing well on the season. There may not be a major statistical difference between the output of the No. 10 ranked forward and the No. 20 ranked forward, but the chances of the former having a more successful season than the latter are better. Usually, the difference comes down to a player's consistency, injury risk and the team he plays for.

Do not be afraid to draft someone lower ranked when it is your turn. The biggest key to enjoying fantasy hockey is to have fun. If you have a good feeling about a player, just like him or he plays for your favorite NHL team, draft him. There is no wrong way to draft your team, because it is your team. There is nothing worse than having a fantasy team you do not enjoy running because you do not like any of your players.

Lots of places will have "can't miss draft strategies" or "ways to win your draft" articles, but the fact of the matter is the draft is a major crapshoot. Take for example last season. The co-number one pick of the majority of rankings last season was Steven Stamkos. If you ended up with him last season, you felt pretty good about your team after the draft. Fast forward to November when he breaks his leg in a freak occurence, and your team all of a sudden can go into a tailspin.

The point is, injuries happen, players slump and trades take place. There are any number of factors that happen that can change a No. 1 overall player into a run of the mill guy, or take an above average player into the stratosphere. Who knew that Alex Steen would be a fantasy monster in 2013 or that Semyon Varlamov would be a top three goaltender?

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you be as prepared as possible for your draft.

1. Have a plan. You may not know where you will be drafting in advance, but have an idea of how you want to build your team. This is especially important in hockey. Do you want to make sure you dominate in goals, points, shots and time on ice? Do you want to be a team that should be able to win assists and plus minus and kill the goalie categories? Do you want to grab the best defensemen available and build the forward spots with high upside, high risk guys? There is no right or wrong way to draft, but it is important to figure out what kind of team you want to have. If you have a plan going into the draft, you should never be caught flatfooted when it is your turn to pick.

2. Know the real-life rosters. It is not important to have encyclopedic knowledge of every team, but it is a good idea to have a general idea of where a player is. For example, right now, the Ducks are planning on having a top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Dany Heatley. Yes, Dany Heatley. Last year, if you drafted Dany Heatley in the first ten rounds, you were in deep trouble. Right now, he could be half dead and score 20-25 goals with 50 points playing with Perry and Getzlaf. He is a good sleeper pick right now. Key words being "right now."

3. Timing. The timing of the draft is important as well. Using the above example, Heatley is an excellent pick in the 100-150 area of your draft. As training camps move along, there exists the possibility that someone passes Heatley on the Ducks depth chart or he just stinks and is not able to stick with the top unit. This also gets us to players not currently on NHL rosters. You would be pretty foolish to draft Ilya Bryzgalov or Dustin Penner at this point since neither is employed. But as training camps get under way in the coming weeks, both players will likely find a home and may become draftable or downright startable depending on where they end up.

4. Do not be afraid to take a risk. Remember, there is no wrong way to draft. If you have a feeling about a guy and you want him, draft him. Obviously there are limits. If you had the first overall pick, you would not want to pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson, no matter how awesome he is. But when it's the third round and you need a defenseman, go for it. Use good judgement and the ranking tools. If you like a guy and he is ranked around 20-30 picks lower than the current pick of the draft, pull the trigger. If it is 50-100 picks lower, you can wait a round or two before making the leap. Plus you just might take another person's sleeper pick. It's a great feeling when you pick a guy that someone was waiting one more round to draft. Just know it can happen to you too.

5. The most important tip - HAVE FUN. Fantasy hockey should be an enjoyable way for you to follow one of, if not your absolute, favorite sports. Have fun with your draft. Enjoy the camaraderie. Hockey is almost starting, it is a good time to be a fan.

Next week: auction drafts and more advanced draft strategies.

Bonus section - The Five for Howling fantasy league is coming. There are interested players, but more are needed. Looking for a 10-team, rotisserie league. If more than 10 people are interested, the league can expand, but I would like to have committed players, willing to spend a whole year in the league. If you want to join, leave a comment, email me at the top of the page, or DM me on Twitter @TwoTonTwenty1. Let's have some fun!