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Fantasy draft guide for leagues with hits category

by Pete Jensen

It's one of the hot debates in fantasy hockey: Is it better to categorize penalty minutes or hits?

Standard Yahoo formats don't take hits into account, but this alternative stat grows with each passing season and is now prevalent in more than one-third of all leagues.

Whether Yahoo will eventually institute hits as a standard category remains to be seen, but the hits inclusion instead of a more arbitrary stat like PIMs would make sense. Though PIMs can gauge the physicality of a player, the stat is centered around tactical penalties, which are detrimental in reality and can reflect undisciplined play. Players who use clean body checks on opponents can help their team regain possession of the puck and generate offense. That said, advanced statistics and the Stanley Cup Playoffs show how valuable possession anchors like Duncan Keith (16 hits in 80 games last season) can be, so hits don't always equate to real-life value.

With so much gray area, the discussion rages on -- but the only things fantasy owners need to be concerned with are their upcoming draft(s) and the categories in your league settings. If you're doing a PIMs league, immerse yourself in NHL.com's top 250 rankings. If you're going the hits route, study this cheat sheet leading up to draft day.

Below are more than 50 players who should be on your radar in hits leagues. Fantasy owners should value these assets a few picks/rounds higher than their standing in NHL.com's rankings depending on the degree of boost provided by their hits performance. For easy reference, I listed additional forwards and defensemen you should consider relevant in 12-team hits leagues.

NOTE: "Rank" is player's place in NHL.com's standard-league top 250, based on the average of Matt Cubeta and Pete Jensen's ranks. … "Elig." is position eligibility in Yahoo leagues. … "Avg." is hits-per-game average from last season. ... "Coverage" is categories of strength in addition to hits.

Rank Forwards Elig. Team Avg. Coverage Analysis
1 Alex Ovechkin LW/RW WSH 3.20 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Consensus No. 1 asset; most goals, PPP, SOG since '12-13; top 10 since NHL started tracking hits
6 Jamie Benn LW DAL 1.46 G, A, PPP, SOG 2nd in points since '13-14; category cog entering prime for much-improved Stars; 2nd off board
7 Claude Giroux C/RW WSH 1.36 G, A, PPP, SOG Most points since '10-11; outhit Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares
14 Ryan Getzlaf C ANA 1.30 G, A, +/-, SOG Worthy of 1st-round pick in hits leagues; more value if blocks count (95 in '14-15, 2nd among 'F')
19 Max Pacioretty LW WSH 1.33 G, A, +/-, SOG Offseason injury & low PPP output concerning, but still among best points-rating-SOG contributors
29 Blake Wheeler RW WSH 1.62 G, A, +/-, SOG Finished 20th in Yahoo's year-end ranks; ADP is 61.3; one of League's most underrated players
40 David Backes C/RW WSH 2.84 G, A, +/-, PPP Scored 2nd-most goals (26) in '14-15 among those with 200-plus hits; as steady as they come
50 Gabriel Landeskog LW WSH 2.06 G, A, PPP, SOG Rating took hit with Avalanche's regression, but has averaged 62 points, 173 hits in past 2 seasons
53 Andrew Ladd LW WSH 2.62 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Durable power forward had 60 points for 1st time and shattered previous high with 212 hits in '14-15
57 Wayne Simmonds LW/RW WSH 2.24 G, PPP, SOG Yahoo ADP (90.7) far too low for such well-rounded track record; 3rd NHL-wide in PPG (46) since '11-12
58 Filip Forsberg C/RW WSH 1.32 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Surefire top-40 player in hits leagues; made up for late-season slump with point per game in playoffs
64 Nick Foligno C/LW WSH 2.44 G, A, +/-, PPP Breakout stud may dip in goals/PPP with Brandon Saad in mix, but opportunistic in any role
74 Ondrej Palat LW TBL 1.65 A, +/- Works dirty areas for 'Triplets Line'; covers assists and plus-minus with healthy dose of hits
75 Chris Kreider LW WSH 2.03 G, A, +/- Finished in top 60 in standard leagues because of PIMs; could score 25-30 goals with 150-plus hits
79 Evander Kane* LW BUF 3.22 G, A, SOG Sabres' center additions can help cause; 2nd-most SOG per game (3.7) since '10-11 behind Ovi (4.6)
81 Milan Lucic LW WSH 3.20 A, +/- Contract year for Lucic and Anze Kopitar, so rebound could be in store for each; T-10th in hits in '14-15
91 Scott Hartnell LW WSH 2.08 G, A, PPP, SOG One of four players (Ovechkin, Ladd, Landeskog) to amass 60 points, 200 SOG and 160 hits last season
95 Ryan Kesler C/RW ANA 2.09 G, A, SOG Points have fallen off in recent years, but hits/SOG strong; proj. line: Jakob Silfverberg, Carl Hagelin
120 Chris Kunitz LW WSH 2.85 A, PPP, SOG Phil Kessel could take pressure off Kunitz, who had 211 hits but dipped by 20-plus in three categories
129 Brandon Dubinsky* C/LW WSH 3.23 A, +/-, SOG 2nd-line 'C' who can score, win draws and rattle opponents; capable of 60 points, 200 hits, 200 SOG
135 Mats Zuccarello LW/RW WSH 1.54 A, +/- Playoff injury and PP woes (0 PPG in 2014-15) are concerning, but can rebound if he stays on top line
136 Ryan Callahan RW TBL 2.39 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Far from best scorer, but gets it done in all six categories; 7th among forwards in hits since '09-10
149 David Perron LW/RW WSH 2.11 A, SOG Stock tumbled after poor finish (3G on 60 SOG in 27 games); 25 goals, 100 hits, 200 SOG are feasible
159 Brayden Schenn C/LW WSH 2.43 A, PPP Undervalued PP producer who has yet to put it all together; 399 hits in past two seasons combined
164 Nick Bjugstad C WSH 2.06 G, SOG Strong in three categories but PP strides crucial since he won't be with Jaromir Jagr at even strength
172 Troy Brouwer RW WSH 2.51 G, +/-,
PPP
T.J. Oshie's replacement could break 50 points with 200-plus hits if he lands with Backes, Alexander Steen
176 Justin Abdelkader LW/RW WSH 2.15 G, PPP A lot hinges on health of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg; balanced scorer who hits a ton
180 Marko Dano* C CHI 2.69 A, +/-, SOG Strong totals (21 points, plus-12, 84 SOG, 94 hits) in 35 games in '14-15; sky is limit on wing for champs
196 Anders Lee C WSH 2.22 G, +/-, SOG Bulk of goals came on John Tavares' wing with Kyle Okposo out; ADP (173.3) makes him draft bargain
218 Jimmy Hayes RW BOS 2.04 G, PPP, SOG Brings physicality and finishing ability to Patrice Bergeron's line; expect 25-30 goals if he sticks
245 Mika Zibanejad C/RW OTT 1.86 G, A 46 points alongside mostly Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman; back-to-back seasons of 118-plus hits
238 Michael Raffl* C/LW WSH 2.57 G, +/- Sleeper if he sticks/stays healthy alongside Giroux and Jakub Voracek; T-17th in G/60 (67+ GP) last season
248 Dustin Brown LW/RW WSH 2.95 SOG Depth wing has consecutive 27-point seasons, but among best hitters ever (3.4 per game in career)
Rank Defensemen Elig. Team Avg. Coverage Analysis
33 Kris Letang* D WSH 1.90 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG 2nd-best points-per-game average (0.75) among 'D' since '10-11; 110-plus hits three times
35 Dustin Byfuglien* RW/D WSH 2.94 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Eligibility, coverage and hits make him a one-of-a-kind fantasy asset; No. 1 'D' in such formats
42 Shea Weber D WSH 2.13 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Offense dipped with Roman Josi's rise, but covers points, PPP, SOG, hits and blocks like no other
56 Brent Burns RW/D SJS 1.80 G, A, PPP, SOG Like Byfuglien, retains RW/D; back-to-back 245-SOG seasons & career-high 60 points in '14-15
59 Drew Doughty D WSH 1.85 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Does it all for fantasy owners; unlucky season on PP but remains quarterback and puck-possession giant
77 Oliver Ekman-Larsson D ARI 2.04 G, A, PPP, SOG Led all 'D' in goals (23); top-5 at position in hits leagues, especially with Keith Yandle gone
114 Justin Faulk D CAR 1.91 G, A, PPP, SOG Bright spot for Canes with career-best 49 points, 20 PPP, 238 SOG and 157 hits; better with each season
119 Aaron Ekblad D WSH 1.35 G, A, +/- 100-plus hits was icing on cake for Calder winner; solid across board; PP numbers will only get better
130 Dougie Hamilton D CGY 1.47 G, A, PPP, SOG Joins deepest 'D' group in NHL; should be 1st-unit PP with Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau & Co.
161 Johnny Boychuk D WSH 2.38 G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG Seamless transition to elevated role after trade to Islanders; no one expected such flawless coverage
178 Zdeno Chara* D BOS 1.98 A, +/- Age and health concerns after sizable step back in '14-15, but departure of Hamilton re-opens window.
186 Jack Johnson D WSH 1.99 G, A, PPP Has chance to lock down top-unit PP duties; weapons around him justify breakout candidacy
191 Jacob Trouba* D WSH 1.49 G, A Crowded 'D' picture in Winnipeg, but goal-scoring is game-changer (17 goals in first 130 NHL games)
192 Brent Seabrook D CHI 1.65 G, A, PPP, SOG Minus rating was unusual, but reliable in every other category; six straight seasons of 100-plus hits
193 Dion Phaneuf D TOR 2.37 A, PPP Career-low goal total (3), but PIMs/hits keep him fantasy-relevant; new regime could mean trade
204 Jake Muzzin D WSH 2.45 G, A, PPP, SOG Shooting percentage upswing led to career season (10 goals, 31 assists); consistent SOG and hits producer
206 James Wisniewski* D CAR 1.67 G, A, PPP PP specialist joins Faulk on Carolina's top unit after playoff benching in Anaheim; Sekera 2.0 if healthy
226 Erik Johnson* D WSH 1.98 G, SOG Buy-low veteran had 12 goals, 93 hits and 107 blocks in 47 games before season-ending injury
239 Michael Del Zotto* D WSH 2.39 G, A Revitalized at even strength (23 EV points led Flyers 'D'); best hits rate of career (2.4 per game)
240 Travis Hamonic D WSH 3.00 A, +/- 3rd in command on Isles 'D', but tied for 23rd in hits last season with career-highs in points & rating

Other relevant forwards in hits leagues: Matt Beleskey* (LW, BOS), Tommy Wingels (LW/RW, SJS), Lance Bouma (C/LW/RW, CGY), Matt Martin (LW/RW, NYI), Charlie Coyle (C/RW, MIN), Shane Doan (LW/RW, ARI), Nino Niederreiter (RW, MIN)

Other relevant defensemen in hits leagues: David Savard (CBJ), Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF), Matt Niskanen (WSH), Alec Martinez* (LAK), Radko Gudas* (PHI), Simon Despres (ANA), Dan Girardi (NYR)

* Played fewer than 70 games in 2014-15

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