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NHL Best Puck Classic: Updating The Four Pillars of Drafting for Round 1 Advancement

Introduction:


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Last year, I focused entirely on advancing from my ‘Draft Pod’ of 12 teams. 3 of 12 advanced or 25% of teams within each of my 150 drafts moved into the playoffs. I thought with my “edges” I could go for 35%...maybe best case scenario I could see 40% advancement. In my wildest imagination, I never thought I would eclipse the 50% of my 150 rosters moving out of their pods. Underdog changed the format from 3 to 2 of 12 teams advancing. The field also learned from my last year's success already and I’m sure it will be much more challenging to get that many dart throws at the $25,000 first prize.


Still, with the new wrinkles thrown our way, I am not going to deviate much from the strategy. We also found that many of these priors were “proven” to be correct. I add quotations to the word proven for two reasons. One, I am hesitant to say we have the sample size to truly say anything is optimal for advancing or finals construction. Two, some of the things we found do make us look correct, but if we did impact the market enough with last year's posts/rankings/etc. could we have shifted the 2022 data to make us look correct?


Both are possibilities and should be kept in mind. I’m not saying any of this is “solved”, what I will say is that we did learn some important information that should help even the best Underdog NHL Drafted gain an even larger edge or get a new to the sport drafted ready to dominate the lobbies!


Pillar #1 Value-Based Drafting Revisit

A pillar you can likely use in any sport, using ADP as a heuristic is more likely going to benefit you over the long run. I will note, we threw out ‘Value’ for the final two rounds of each draft as it’s really not relevant that deep into the player pool. Using rounds 1-14 gives us 168 selected players, many of who will be taken in every lobby. Considering there are 32 NHL teams, that is 5.25 players per team which is likely 4 forwards, the top projected Power Play defenseman, and a goalie still leaving 0.75 of a player to spare.


All this is to indicate, we are not drafting any projectable “duds” in these rounds. Meaning, if we are to take any “player x ADP 100” at pick 120, we are getting a value on a likely useful player more than a full round after most others will be taking ‘player x” AND we also have added a “player x” caliber player at that approx. 100th selection.


There is more explanation into this pillar within the noted article from last year such as, a “value” today might not be a “value” tomorrow with shifting ADP’s, but rather than drone on check all of that out in the best puck download. Let's get to the data.


Below we have summarized all 2022 drafts by how the drafter did at selecting their players relative to ADP. A “Reach” is anyone grabbing a player three or more spots ahead of ADP, meaning at Current ADP minus 3 or earlier (a player who goes at pick 94, per UD’s provided ADP for that draft, being selected at pick 90 would be defined as a Reach), a “Value” is a skater taken one or more spots after their Current ADP, and the rest are “At ADP”.



We can assume many in the 10+ values were on the auto-draft train which likely led to some

unfavorable construction after the n=9 values mark. Pretty self-explanatory from the chart, but reaching too much is bad, and drafting value, while good, is not the entire story.


As you can see, reaching doesn’t necessarily mean poor results. While the most success was found when not reaching, reaching a few times still had a 28+% success rate. Clearly, consistently reaching is wrong, but that doesn’t mean you become a slave to ADP entirely. So let’s revisit some other pillars to consider while drafting.


Pillar #2: Roster Construction Revisit





Here is where some of the “sample size is too small” stuff from the beginning comes into play. Considering 3230/5640 total or 57.3% of all entries fit the same two incredibly similar structures, 3-7-3-3 and 4-6-3-3 when looking at C-W-D-G. These are the graphics we used last year and they only tell part of the story. They tell us over 16 rounds what construction was used, but not where the draft pick capital was allocated.




The above table is the result of placing a value on every single pick. To spare the data and boring math equations, consider a best fit, logarithmic curve summarizing a very high value for early selections (particularly the first round), lessening in differentiation between picks as we approach the final round. See the Morning Skate Podcast Discord for the full details, if interested.


Putting all of the entries into buckets for their positional allocation and dividing the entire contest into quintiles, we find that the lowest investment into Center and highest into the Wing position was a big differentiator in 2022 in terms of driving advance rate. It is important to note for Defense that Cale Makar’s injury-riddled season + Erik Karlsson’s Norris trophy season (he was picked in the mid 100s!) drive those low-leaning results.


Thus, if you are reaching a handful of times, it is best to do so to acquire goalie and winger capital. I think this is still MORE important than locking down correlation for general advancement out of your pod. I also think anyone who is drafting will notice that there are many top tier centers who slip into the final rounds while winger is painful to try and catch up late in drafts.


Pillar #3: Players Who Fit Underdog Scoring Revisit


I think we are pretty well on our way to understanding this metric and ADP will continue to shine a light on the players who do better in the UD Scoring format by accruing shots, blocks, and hits in addition to the sexy stats of goals and assists. Pass-first players should be less expensive than their shot-first peers.

Simply, use the rankings and you will be all set here. I think the one-time edge in the summer of 2022 is largely gone and as such, we need to figure out new ways to outsmart our draft lobbies.


Pillar #4: Correlation Between Players Revisit


This is the section I think that gave me my biggest edge last year over the field. While others were using their reach picks to acquire the correlated pieces to build this lovely puzzle, I was beating them at Wing and Goalie. I remember some disagreement with my placement of #4 Pillar and it can be argued that in the finals the Bryan Rust-Jake Guentzel correlation was the main catalyst for $10k. Correlation IS important, but it is less important than allocating your resources wisely when it comes to advancing to the playoffs. Future work will be done to determine what the best strategies are to advance within the playoffs, and that will likely favor stacking vs. completely uncorrelated builds.



There is no doubt that some stacking is good, that’s why you see 7 skaters stacked having the most success, and a nice normal curve around that number. The thinking there is overcommitting to stacking (by, say, drafting ten correlated skaters) will likely lead you to missing ADP values and reaching more frequently, which we’ve already shown is bad to do regularly.


Let’s look at types of stacks now. If we assume that the majority of drafters who used proper construction are better than the field, how did they fare when correlating? Should we be creating large stacks, or smaller ones for each team represented on your roster?



This is really where the insight comes from, in that there’s tangibly not a huge difference between 2 and 3 man stacks in general and results worsen as the stack gets larger.


However, when you apply the context of “let’s assume reasonable drafting” (and 3C - 7W - 3D - 3G is used in lieu of a more elegant signal here), you see that those who drafted good roster structures and avoided a 3+ stack on their team advanced at a 35% advance rate. Those who stacked came in at just 29%. Still well above the field, but there’s only so many spots to score each week (six non-goalie positions), and odds are tacking on a third piece doesn’t necessarily raise your floor throughout the season.


This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever take a 3+ player stack. To me, it is saying, IF you are reaching to force more stacking, which I assume most sharp drafters were, it can cost you. Some sub-pillars to consider:

  1. Focus on getting the best player available at positions of need.

  2. Take stacks as they fall out naturally.

  3. Rest assured that getting sniped on correlation in the NHL streets doesn’t mean pain.


Conclusions


The largest takeaway from last season's data is not forcing stacks and rather using your draft capital to your advantage for winning at positions with less depth. Of course, you should still be taking one of the Elite Four Centers at the top of your draft board. I would not be opposed to waiting until Round 15/16 to close out a Connor McDavid draft if others in your lobby want to vacuum up 5 or 6 Centermen.


We are once again using the “Value” provided in our draft pods, determined by ADP, to our advantage while being more strategic about each “Reach”. Of course, at this point in the draft window, ADP is likely to change, so a reach today might not be a reach tomorrow. Thus, draft with confidence in your player takes, but know that taking things too far could come back to burn you if you’re wrong. There are enough edges to gain that risking it all on your player evaluation might not be necessary to still have an edge on the field!


I am completely open to straying from the 3C-7W-3D-3G template, but do it with purpose. Likely, you will be better off allocating more to Winger than C/D (not less!) especially if the perfect storm falls into your lap that you simply cannot pass up (Example: McDavid/Tage Thompson start or something that rarely happens in lobbies and you just run 8 wingers.)


I will see you in the Underdog Lobby! Use Promo Code PUCKLUCK at sign up for up to $100 match on your first deposit!


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