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Draft Kit: Head-to-Head Draft Strategies

Jack Choros

Jack Choros writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Fantasy Hockey Draft Strategies That Will Crush Everybody In Your Head-to-Head Pool

Whether you're in a casual league or hugely competitive, strategy is the name of the game when it comes to winning the imaginary Stanley Cup that comes with kicking your friends' butts in a fantasy hockey league. Even if you didn't know a thing about fantasy hockey, you could find countless websites and cheat sheets on who to pick and what moves to make that would get you through and maybe even have you win your league.

However, when it comes to winning consistently, you've got to go deeper and become a student of the game within the game. You've got to have a strategy and go for the kill like the Roman dudes in the movie 300 ... motivated and ready for a dog fight.

Although there's a good chance no one will die or get hurt for having lost your pool, everybody wants to be a fantasy Spartan (at least I know I do), so without further ado, I present to you, the five strategies you need to execute in your fantasy hockey draft that'll make you a perennial contender.

Stick With Proven Performers

FINE! You caught me red-handed as can be, my first tip isn't exactly a big secret, but you'd be surprised how many people overlook proven performers in favor of their sleepers. Sleepers definitely have their place in fantasy drafts no matter the sport, but the fact is that most fantasy sleepers can be had early in the season via minor trades or waiver wire additions. Disagree with me? Raise your hand if you envisioned Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets putting together a Vezina Trophy worthy campaign last year ... cue the crickets. For all the times that you guess right in the late rounds on sleepers, you'll probably end up dropping just as many busts in favor of whoever happens to be hot. It's much easier to get value for a struggling veteran who has a proven track record than it is to recover from all your botched sleeper selections. Besides, true sleepers are picks that most people weren't keeping tabs on at the start of the season, hence the term "sleeper".

Look for Players in Upgraded Situations

Without a doubt one of the best ways to separate yourself from the competition at draft time is to look for players who may have recently changed teams or found themselves with added responsibility as they come of age. One player that fits both the above requirements is the Dallas Stars' newest forward and soon to be first-line center Tyler Seguin, who'll get a chance to show he's a number one center now that he's not behind the likes of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Scoring a career-high 29 goals in the 2011-12 season and following it up with 32 points in a shortened 48-game season isn't have bad for a player who bounced between the second and third line last year. No doubt Seguin will benefit greatly from having more of a featured role in Dallas. Other players in upgraded situations include Loui Eriksson, who went the other way in the Seguin and will probably line up with Krejci centering him in Boston. Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators should also see an upgrade, after finishing on a pace that would have seen him get less than 30 goals in a season over 82 games for the first time since he became a full-time big league player. Find guys in upgraded situations and cash in on their realized potential.

Identify Elite Goaltending

The last thing you want, particularly in deeper leagues with 12 or more teams, is to wake up in the morning, look at your roster and realize that you know what it feels like to be Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider circa 2012-13. Luckily for Luongo and maybe not so lucky for Schneider, the latter was shipped to New Jersey on draft day in June, where he'll wait for Martin Brodeur to retire or get hurt. Don't be stuck in a situation you can't get out of between the pipes and draft yourself two reliable starting goaltenders. It's much harder to find a surprise Vezina candidate than it is to find a sleeper at forward. Understand that and you'll be guaranteed to have a fighting chance in at least four or five out of 10 categories (depending on how much weight goalies garner in your particular league of course), just for picking two good goalies. It's as simple as that.

Value Positional Versatility

There's a certain peace of mind that comes with knowing you don't have to bench players that have a game scheduled because there are too many guys on your roster playing at the same time. A player on your fantasy bench is always worth zero, no matter how good he is in reality. Three of my favorite players to draft include Penguins forward James Neal (guaranteed powerplay time with either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby), Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (who is usually eligible as a winger in most leagues even though he's clearly a blueliner) and Sharks forward Brent Burns, who found himself on San Jose's first line and converted from playing on the blueline part way through the season (and got me an insane amount of fantasy value as a result). At least a few times in your draft, consider taking a player slightly lower than those of a higher rank that plays more positions, it'll pay dividends when your opponents have those higher ranked players riding the bench on a jam packed Saturday night.

Target Well-Rounded Category Fillers

So the title for this section doesn't exactly have the most strategic sounding name. Truth be told, I couldn't find another way to express the type of player I'm looking for here. Basically, what you want to try and find is that well-rounded mid-round pick who's tough enough to pick up some penalty minutes, skilled enough to chip in offensively, and back checks enough so that it won't kill your plus/minus stats. When push comes to shove on a busy night in the schedule, it's a lot easier to justify dressing a well-rounded guy who can provide numbers in multiple categories rather than a guy who just scores goals, or only racks up assists. Players who offer this style can help you squeeze out victories in a close matchup. Forwards like the Bruins' Milan Lucic, the Canadiens' Brandon Prust and Avalanche's Steve Downie represent the kind of guys you might be looking for in that area. To say the least, a guy who's not afraid to scrap and can still put the puck in the net is a rarity no matter how deep your league, so it's important to scoop those kinds of grinders up as you get ready for a long fantasy season.

You now have some of the basic strategies of a fantasy warrior set to battle thy enemies at all costs in pursuit of a fictitious yet meaningful championship that you'll be able to brag about in the offseason. At the end of the day, remember that it all comes down to execution and the ones who choose to look for value where others have clearly overlooked or dismissed are the ones who ultimately capture the Holy Grail.