By Ryan Dadong, RotoWire
Special for Sportzshala Sports
When it comes to preparing for fantasy drafts, it’s understandable that a lot of focus is on the later rounds. This is where the most deviation from draft to draft will occur, and picking an underrated late player who has a great year can put you ahead. However, for those strong late picks to push you to the edge, you need to build a solid foundation in the early rounds.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who you should pick in the first round, depending on where you end up in the draft.
These recommendations are based on a 12-team league, but you can easily adapt this advice to smaller or larger formats. Also, note that for each choice, I’m assuming the recommended choice is selected. If you have a sixth overall pick but my third overall recommendation is still available, please accept my third overall pick.
Choice #1 – Recommendation: Connor McDavid
It’s not that McDavid is guaranteed to be the best player overall in the 2022-23 season, but that he’s the closest thing to a win-win among the cream of the crop. Aside from a collarbone injury in 2015/16, McDavid has managed to stay remarkably healthy, scoring at least 30 goals and 97 points in each of his last six campaigns. Add to that the fact that he easily led the NHL in points per game (1.47) over that period, and it’s a boring pick for first place overall, but a better one nonetheless.
Choice #2 – Recommendation: Leon Draisaitl
Draisaitl doesn’t have the impressive track record that McDavid has, but that’s not a significant gap. Over the past four seasons, Draisaitl has averaged 1.42 points per game to McDavid’s 1.59. Draisaitl tends to be slightly better than McDavid at scoring goals, and like his Oilers counterpart, he has managed to stay healthy for most of his career. He is also eligible for LW in the Sportzshala leagues, which gives him additional flexibility.
Choice #3 – Recommendation: Auston Matthews
It’s easy to recommend a player who scored 51 goals in 50 games in 2021/22, even if that statistic comes with the caveat that it’s not a true 50-for-50 because he went from November 24 to April 9, not the first 50 campaign games. Matthews finished with 60 goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the second year in a row. He has minor injury issues and isn’t as strong on offense as McDavid or Draisaitl, but Matthews is the most dangerous scorer in the NHL.
Choice #4 – Recommendation: Cale Makar
Makar’s first three seasons were unrealistic, and even if he turns out to be at his peak – which is unlikely – we’re still talking about a defender capable of scoring around 30 goals and scoring 80 points in a season. It is this target setting that makes Makar such a rarity. Adam Fox, Victor Hedman as well as Roman Josie may challenge the UMass product in terms of points this season, but the fantasy manager who takes Makar will get the projected best blue player in terms of goals.
Choice #5 – Recommendation: Nathan McKinnon
McKinnon broke out in 2017-18 and hasn’t looked back. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged 1.31 points per game, which puts him on par with Draisaitl (albeit with fewer goals) and second only to Nikita Kucherov and McDavid in general. However, while on average he’s in the same field as these three, he hasn’t had a truly outstanding campaign – at least not by the incredibly high standards set by these peers. McKinnon did not finish higher than fifth in points in any season, and he only reached the 40-goal mark once, compared to McDavid and Draisaitl three times and Matthews four.
This is not to belittle McKinnon, but simply to note why he is listed under these players in my recommended draft order.
Choice #6 – Recommendation: Igor Shesterkin
Goalkeepers are generally more risky than attackers or defenders. However, if you can pair your team with an elite goaltender, you will save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run. Andrey Vasilevsky is a worthy option here due to his long history of success with an elite team, but I can’t help but think that Shesterkin’s time has come. Showing great promise, Shesterkin really broke through in the 2021-22 season, making him an obvious choice for the Vezina Trophy as well as a contender for Hart. The goaltender even gets involved in discussions about the Heart Trophy, a rarity that highlights just how dominant Shesterkin was last season. The 26-year-old goalkeeper could play at the same level again in 2022-23.
Choice #7 – Recommendation: Kirill Kaprizov
Another rising star who lived up to last season’s hype, Kaprizov became the Wild’s centerpiece and their best striker since…to be honest, ever. He doesn’t have the track record that some of the other forwards on this list brag about, which put him a bit off, but consider that last season’s 108 was the best Matthews and McKinnon ever did, and his 47 goals broke the record. the career heights of McDavid and McKinnon.
Choice #8 – Recommendation: Andrey Vasilevsky
Although I believe that Shesterkin surpassed Vasilevsky, both options are excellent. Vasilevskiy has demonstrated a level of stability rarely seen in a goalkeeper. From 2017–18 to 2020–21, he was a Vezina Trophy finalist every season, and while he missed that mark in 2021–22, he still had an amazing campaign. Vasi was also the perfect source of wins with the elite Lightning team playing in front of him.
Choice #9 – Recommendation: Mikko Rantanen
Rantanen is classified as safe, but not exciting. He set a career high with 36 goals and 92 points in 75 games last season, which is enough to make most players jealous, but slightly less than some of the other forwards I’ve singled out and even some I rate. . below it. However, Rantanen has been a solid player, averaging 1.14 points per game in his last five campaigns. Still undrafted first round players who could have done better than him are taking a little more risk. Given the average selection result in the first round, a poor selection can devastate your team. For this reason, you usually want to hedge safe bets in the first round.
Choice #10 – Recommendation: Nikita Kucherov
If there is one exception to the no-lose betting rules, it is Kucherov, although he is a bit difficult to define. When he’s healthy, he’s just as good as they are, but the problem is that he hasn’t been healthy for the last two campaigns. Unfortunately, he missed the entire 2020/21 season and only played 47 games last year. If you pick him, you can’t be sure how many games you’ll get, but if he stays healthy, you could end up with a player of the same level as McDavid.
Choice #11 – Recommendation: Alexey Ovechkin
Another game… like that. It is logical to assume that the player, who will be 37 years old before the 2022/23 season, is in danger of being rejected, but Ovechkin has not succumbed to logic so far. He reached the milestone of 50 goals for the ninth time in his career in the 2021/22 season. You can’t ignore his age, but you also can’t ignore his long track record of success.
Choice #12 – Recommendation: Roman Josie
Which of the defenders is better to choose after Makar is a moot point, but I’m leaning towards Yozi. His 96 points last season was the most by a defenseman since Phil Houseley in 1992-93, but Josie had more than one good year. He broke the 50 mark six times and won the Norris Trophy in 2019/20 with 65 points in 69 games. He likely won’t match Makar in goals, but Yosi is a serious contender to lead all the blueliners in points in the 2022-23 season.