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Draft Kit - Middle Rounds Strategy: Grit Wins Championships

Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Dan Waldner

Dan Waldner covers hockey for RotoWire, and has been involved in fantasy hockey pools for 15 years. He's a lifetime Toronto Maple Leafs fan, a passion his wife puts up with and his daughter is starting to emulate.

Middle Draft Rounds: Grit Wins Championships

It is a truism of draft day that experienced fantasy GMs know well: early rounds win weeks; late rounds win championships. In the first few rounds, picks are often very predictable; this quickly goes out the window at about pick 50. Strategies become apparent from draft picks of other GMs - at this point, rookies stick out like sore thumbs. In those later rounds, inexperienced GMs often miss the hidden gems, relying on gut feelings and name recognition to select potential duds. Successful GMs stick to the winning formula: select players that are expected to provide a gritty cross-category brand of hockey, and forgo those one-stat wonders.

Note: The most popular league setup is Head-To-Head with six skater statistics: G, A, +/-, PIM, PPP, and Shots, and for the purpose of this article, we will be using these as our benchmarks. Always be cognizant of your league's scoring system and adjust accordingly.

As a case study, let's examine two small sample rosters:

Team A Team B
Patrick Kane Dustin Brown
Alexander Ovechkin Chris Kunitz
Steven Stamkos Mike Ribeiro
Jeff Carter Michael Ryder

At first glance, the rosters seem horribly lop-sided. Team A has the reigning Conn Smythe winner (Kane), the reigning Rocket Richard winner (Ovechkin), arguably the best pure goal scorer in the league (Stamkos), and a top-five scorer last year (Carter); Team B has some stars, but nothing that would suggest anything short of a slaughter. Based on their 2012-2013 season numbers, with Team A playing three more games than Team B:

G A +/- PIM PPP Shots
Team A 110 91 9 92 72 648
Team B 69 96 34 130 73 419

Team B would win 4-2. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The GM of Team A has effectively stacked his roster full of the same type of player. You routinely crush your opponent in a handful of categories, and almost default on the others.

In this case, Team A is missing players that excel in all categories; they're lacking those that play a hardnosed style of hockey.

With this scoring system, the best gritty players provide value that is consistent, across the board, and - most importantly - easily available outside of the early rounds. While they may not match the potent scoring of the league's elite snipers, they will contribute well in all areas.

When you build your rosters this year, be sure to add some of the following sandpaper:

1. Milan Lucic LW, BOS (2012-2013 Season: 46GP 7G 20A +8 75PIM 2PPP 79SOG)
The epitome of what this column looks for; Lucic is equally skilled at scoring as he is knocking opponents unconscious. While last season saw him frustrated at his sub-par performance, look for a bounceback year from the big winger. Expect more power play time and more shots as a result.

2. Zdeno Chara D, BOS (2012-2013 Season: 48GP 7G 12A +14 70PIM 4PPP 119SOG)
While the Boston captain's age has crept up, his fantasy value and production numbers have stayed consistently high. This is likely a direct result of his offseason fitness regimen and on-ice nastiness.

3. Chris Kunitz LW, PIT (48GP 22G 30A +30 39PIM 16PPP 113SOG)
After a career year, Kunitz has established himself as both an elite sniper, and gifted cross-category performer. While his totals are likely to drop from last year, don't be surprised if they are closer than you think. His linemates - Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis - are healthy to start the year, and if it stays that way, Kunitz may be able to surpass expectations yet again.

4. Johan Franzen LW, DET (2012-2013 Season: 41GP 14G 17A +13 41PIM 12PPP 116SOG)
As if he wasn't a strong enough player in his own right, Detroit's addition of center Stephen Weiss and veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson should take Franzen's production to another level. Potential drafters should expect a career year with this environment, and, if he's still magically available in the later rounds, should be an absolute steal.

5. Jamie Benn C, DAL (2012-2013 Season: 41GP 12G 21A -12 40PIM 10PPP 110SOG)
Sometimes the status quo is a good thing; last season's year-end tandem of Ray Whitney-Jamie Benn-Alex Chiasson should be back to start this year's campaign. This fourth year player has eclipsed his previous year totals in every season, and there's no reason to believe this year will be any different. While Benn had a disappointing +/- last year (-12), it is expected that this year he should return to his traditional plus-rating this year.

6. Keith Yandle D, PHO (2012-2013 Season: 48GP 10G 20A +4 54PIM 10PPP 130SOG)
One of the smoothest skating defensemen in the game, Yandle's offensive production often overshadows his newly developed nastiness on the ice. This physical upside is expected to develop this season in much the same way it did last season, and the continued development of his powerplay partner - Oliver Ekman-Larsson - should also help increase his PPP output slightly.

7. David Backes RW, STL (2012-2013 Season: 48GP 6G 22A +5 62PIM 5PPP 130SOG)
With the retirement of linemate Andy Macdonald, and the departure of David Perron to Edmonton, there are a number of questions surrounding Backes' ability to replicate his all-around game this year. Predicted linemates of Derek Roy and Chris Stewart should help ensure that Backes' game remains consistent, and increased power play time should elevate his PPP numbers.

8. Max Pacioretty LW, MTL(2012-2013 Season: 44GP 15G 24A +8 12PPP 163SOG)
Often a favorite of sleeper picks around the league, "Patches" is a great selection across the board. Because he doesn't yet have the star power outside of Montreal, he often slips further down the draft board than he should; if you can get him late, he's a steal.

9. Alexandre Burrows LW, VAN (2012-2013 Season: 47GP 13G 11A +15 54PIM 3PPP 140SOG)
While his linemates haven't changed, his coach has; John Tortorella demands a rough style of game that Burrows excels at. While his offensive production is not likely to vary significantly, look for his PIMs to skyrocket.

10. Shane Doan C, PHO (2012-2013 Season: 48GP 13G 14A +6 37PIM 3PPP 129SOG)
Throughout his long career, his stats have been reliable and consistent. Drafting Doan assures you 25G, 25A, 50PIM, +5, 15PPP and about 200 shots. That's about as good as a guarantee as you will get in any draft pick.

11. David Clarkson RW, TOR(2012-2013 Season: 48GP 15G 9A -6 78PIM 8PPP 180SOG)
With a new team comes the prospect of increased production and a better +/-; look for Clarkson to be a good option across all categories this season. If he can get some regular time on the second line power play unit, he's likely to eclipse his numbers in all categories.

12. Brad Marchand LW, BOS(2012-2013 Season: 45GP 18G 18A +23 27PIM 4PPP 91SOG)
After a long playoff drive, this super-pest will continue to be a thorn in the side of opponents, both on the scoresheet and in the penalty box. Be wary however; the Stanley Cup hangover may have a stronger than normal effect on Marchand.

13. Dion Phaneuf D, TOR(2012-2013 Season: 48GP 9G 19A -4 65PIM 16PPP 88SOG)
The Toronto captain has a chip on his shoulder this season - or at least more so than usual - having lost to Boston in the first round in spectacular fashion. Look for this year to be his best since his stellar season in 2007-2008 for Calgary.

14. Dustin Byfuglien D, WPG(2012-2013 Season: 43GP 8G 20A -1 34PIM 10PPP 142SOG)
If William "The Refrigerator" Perry ever learned to play hockey, even he would be afraid of Dustin Byfuglien. "Big Buff" finished top-ten in defensive scoring and first in shots for a rearguard while missing five games with a lower body injury. With Winnipeg's ascent in the standings, look for this year to be a career year for him.

15. Evander Kane LW, WPG (2012-2013 Season: 48GP 17G 16A -3 80PIM 4PPP 190SOG)
New linemates Devin Setoguchi and Mark Scheifele will give this Kane every opportunity to resemble another famous Kane. As with a number of other Jets this season, expect a breakout year, cementing Kane's place among the league's elite power forwards.