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The Underdog Best Puck Rankings, Explained

If you Google NHL best puck rankings, you'll quickly notice a page full links to PuckLuck's rankings and our partner The Morning Skate Pod's corresponding analysis.


Last season, we dominated the market by almost single-handedly reshaping the average draft position (ADP) of each player with our rankings. This season, we're back and able to boast that our own D.J. Mitchell walked away with heavier pockets as the Best Puck Champion.


If you're a fantasy football savant, you are familiar with just how optimal following best ball ADP can be. Underdog Fantasy does a great job setting initial projections, and months and months of drafting by fantasy experts and enthusiasts turns those projections into an ideal market correction.


Best Puck, on the other hand, works a little differently. As of today, Underdog still doesn't have rookies projected. Before our rankings dropped last week, the initial drafters had to guess on outputs of players like Connor Bedard, Devon Levi, and Adam Fantilli. There's also the curious case of the missing Nikolai Kovalenko from the draft room, but that is a discussion for another day.


Don't you worry though, we always have you covered. Let's take a deeper dive into our rankings this season and how they were formed.


Player Similarity


For years, I've worked on my model for projecting player statistics and to be honest it's always a work in progress. The correlating predictive values are always changing, and I'm personally never settled in my process. There's always room to improve.


Last season, the model was too reliant upon the prior two seasons' worth of data and missed out on major leaps by Jack Hughes and Tage Thompson. That's why I took a bit of a different approach this season.


Instead of lumping all players of a given age into the same aging curve, it's clear that some players follow a slower or more drastic development pattern. In order to properly measure a player's development, I decided to use similarity scores to draw close comparisons to each player's last two seasons and see what those players did in the following season.


The results varied, of course, but this way I was better able to analyze a jump in scoring rates of top-end talents. This also allowed simple analysis of a floor and ceiling of each player, giving us a better idea of which type of player could take a leap in production and who has a greater chance of bottoming out.


I could go into the regression method, percentiles, and statistical variables that went into this analysis, but I'll spare you all the mumbo-jumbo. Essentially, when combined with games-played analysis, we now have a projected total and projected upside for goals, assists, powerplay points, shots on goal, blocks, and hits necessary for each category that applies to Underdog's best puck scoring.


The Projections


Spoiler alert - Connor McDavid is ranked number one.


That's all you really need to know. If you remember though, we had Auston Matthews projected for the most fantasy points last season based simply on his highly-projected shooting output. Of course, an early-season wrist injury hampered that, and McDavid decided he wanted to become the league's top goal scorer (which he can do because he's...well...McDavid).


If you also remember, we strongly advocated for taking McDavid first overall in your best puck drafts last season. This is because despite the overall projections, you weren't going to get enough shares of McDavid (if any) if you passed on him when you had the chance.


You may also remember that the league's top goalies project higher than most skaters, which is something you need to be very careful of when evaluating your draft strategy. You shouldn't simply draft the highest projected player on the board, because there's other circumstances that weigh into whether a draft pick is optimal or not at that moment.


Since only one center, two wingers, one defenseman, one flex, and one goalie score each week, you need to properly account for positional value.


Replacement Value


If you're familiar with baseball's wins above replacement value, commonly known as WAR, then you know that each player's value is measured against what would be considered the value of the lowest ranked player in the Major Leagues. Therefore, that player is "replaceable".


The same concept is applied to our rankings. Morning Skate Pod's Matt Moody put together our research last season on the optimal number of players to draft at each position and confirmed that research yet again this week. The optimal distribution of the 16 draft selections in the Best Puck Classic on Underdog Fantasy is as follows:


C - 3

W - 7

D - 3

G - 3


Since two wingers score each week, it's best to at least double the amount of wingers to the other positions. Yes, you do have a flex spot that could apply to a center, winger, or defenseman, but taking too many centers or defensemen creates a logjam for scoring at the position.


Therefore, our replacement value is created by finding the score of the 36th ranked center, 84th ranked winger, 36th ranked defenseman, and 36th ranked goalie. Or, 12 times the number of players expected to be drafted at each position should each team draft optimally.


Applying this to the projections shifts things into better perspective in terms of drop-off at the position and just how much better the top players at the position are in comparison to your late-round options.


Average Positional Value


On top of replacement value, average positional value is applied to PuckLuck's best puck projections to help cross-examine each position. Centers, for instances, tend to score higher than wingers and defenseman on average. This devalues the position in comparison, and prioritizes drafting top players at other positions instead - knowing you can knab a better late-round center than winger.


Think of this the same way as value above replacement, but as value above average.


Rates and Upside


Since we're basing our rankings on a cumulative, season-long projection, it's important you also factor in each projected player's rate stats, since not everyone's on an equal playing field in terms of projected games played.


Evander Kane, for example, is coming off two significantly shortened seasons, so it wouldn't make sense to predict he'd play every game this season. It can happen, of course, and since you may only need him to score for you in key weeks his rates should be enough to warrant a quality draft pick.


New to the best puck rankings this season is upside. I wanted to also account for potential jumps to the next level for each player, since ideal outcomes is what we're really looking for in best puck.


Now, ceiling projections are not usually likely, but when weighed with likely outcomes we now have a better idea in theory of the true value of a player.


You'll find the 2023 PuckLuck Best Puck Rankings now include a "Player Rating", which is a weighted percentile of the best puck projection, best puck per-game rates, and upside.


Average Draft Position


The biggest variable in our rankings - and the one that will continuously change - is ADP. You may wonder why we even weigh in ADP, since it kind of smears our "true rankings".


The answer is simple. You do not want to over-draft a player when you can wait a round or two (or more) and draft the same player while also accumulating other quality talent in the process.


Last season, by weighing in ADP, we were able to wait for-ev-er on eventual Norris Trophy winner (and key playoff advancer) Erik Karlsson. If you went by our projections, Karlsson was projected with the top scoring defensemen in the league, yet his ADP allowed you to draft him much later than a Cale Makar, Roman Josi, Adam Fox, or even Rasmus Dahlin - all of whom he outscored.


ADP will shift as the best puck drafting season progresses, so our rankings will shift. It will be important to periodically refer back to the rankings page and re-download the file if you're importing straight to Underdog Fantasy for maximum value.


Final Rankings and Tiers


When combining the initial projections, positional value, rates and upside, and average draft position we're able to determine our final rankings and tiers.


The numbered rankings are more arbitrary and serve as a guide, whereas tier-based drafting is much more important to determine where the tier drops are among the available players and determining when to wait on a position or player.


The result? The gold standard in Underdog Best Puck drafting.


Combine these rankings with the draft strategy and analysis coming from D.J. and myself, and you'll be well-equipped to challenge for that $25,000 grand prize.


Happy drafting!

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