Hockey, Learn

1 year ago

Getting ready for an NHL slate. Choosing the players

In the previous article, we discussed how to identify weak teams to pick against. This time, we will be discussing what players to choose, as well as some strategy-related issues. We are going to address each position: forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders.


In the year 2020, everyone knows stacking is essential in GPP tournaments. Hockey is no different. There is a restriction of maximum of 3 players from the same team on Fanteam (which I believe is wrong and should be adjusted to 4).

The current setup means you have two different options in regard to forward stacking.

The first one is a line stack. You simply take three skaters that play together at even strength. The NHL teams’ lines can be found at such resources as or

The second way of stacking is a 2+1 stack (2 forwards from the same line and 1 defenseman). Normally, it’s a power-play stack as well, given the correlation is a vital element of DFS.

There are some situations, however, when we stack forwards from different lines, making our stack power-play only. Some teams have two superstar players that regularly play on different lines with inferior partners. The line stack might not be the best idea in this case, so here comes a 2+1 power-play stack.

The best examples of it are the stacks like McDavid-Draisaitl-Klefbom, Crosby-Malkin-Letang, Zibanejad-Panarin-DeAngelo. Playing like this, you get exposure of multiple lines, and such kind of play is considered safer.

You can also create a 3-man forward stack that consists of skaters from two different lines. These 3 forwards should still play on the same power-play unit. For example, we could have chosen Ryan Nugent-Hopkins instead of defenseman Oskar Klefbom in the abovementioned Edmonton stack.

As you can see, there are different ways of stacking in the NHL.

Deciding what kind of stack to use depends mostly on the specifics of each team.

Sometimes a 3+0 stack and a 2+1 stack from the same team both look playable. In these situations, you have to make different lineups with both variations. That’s why I think Fanteam should allow the players make the 3+1 stacks as well.

In the NHL, the most goals are scored by the teams’ top-6 (the first and the second lines). The bottom-6 is practically irrelevant in terms of DFS when we speak about the current state of things on Fanteam.

In general, you should pay close attention to the slate size.

In large slates, limiting your exposure only to the teams’ top lines is the way to go.

In small slates, you can dig into the teams’ depth and pick the second line of the team.

For most NHL teams, it’s easy to identify what the best line of the team is, as it normally consists of the team’s studs. But sometimes, a team possesses two solid lines in the top-6, and choosing between them becomes tough. What comes to our aid here is the Line Tool at Natural Stat Trick. For example, the Vegas Golden Knights have two strong lines. These lines are Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith and Stone-Stastny-Pacioretty. Let’s figure out which of them is actually better:

The Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith line possesses 36.09 SF/60, 3.11 xGF/60, 33.71 SCF/60, and 12.17 HDCF/60 at 5-on-5 this season. The Stone-Stastny-Pacioretty line’ numbers are 41.57 SF/60, 3.32 xGF/60, 36.76 SCF/60, and 13.86 HDCF/60. Both lines’ underlying stats are very solid, but as we can see, the so-called «second» line of Vegas is actually better than «the first».

The Line Tool is useful not only in situations like this. It helps to understand how strong or weak a line actually is (offensively and defensively).

For example, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson trio posted elite 35.5 SF/60, 2.82 xGF/60, and 13.96 HDCF/60 numbers this season, whereas the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson line has poor 23.51 SF/60, 2.03 xGF/60, 9.82 HDCF/60. Ovechkin is a great one-off player regardless, but these stats show how bad actually Kuznetsov is as a center for Ovi. Knowing this stuff is important and will help you greatly with the preparation process.

Speaking of the Line Tool, you should know that the sample has to consist of at least 100 minutes to be representative. Everything between 60 and 100 minutes is still applicable to some extent. The sample size of fewer than 60 minutes is obviously pretty much useless. The question of what numbers are actually considered good when it comes to the line stats has no definite answer. I would say, comparing numbers of different lines would be enough for making a decision.

Normally I treat everything bigger than 30 SF/60, 2.5 xGF/60, 30 SCF/60, and 11.5 HDCF/60 as the solid numbers.


Choosing the right defensemen is not an easy task. Defensemen usually pick up points a lot less frequently than forwards. Not mentioning the fact that it is more unpredictable by nature. So, unless a defenseman is already a part of your power-play stack, how we can choose the best option? What factors might be important here?

First and foremost, make sure the defenseman is playing in one of the two power-play units of his team. Of course, I am talking about the value options here, not the elite guys who are present on the special teams by definition. Being involved on the power-play increases the likelihood of the attacking returns significantly.

Secondly, look at the defensemen' shooting activity. The more player shoots, the better option he is. Let’s look at the best NHL defensemen in terms of shots this season:

From this picture, we see how good Dougie Hamilton was this season. Despite playing only 47 games, he managed to register 40 points, 10.32 individual xG, 24 individual HDCF, and monster 3.61 SoG per game on average during this period. These are top-notch numbers.

The next point we should mention in regard to defensemen picking is shots blocked. I usually pay less attention to these stats, but they are still important because a defenseman on Fanteam gets the same amount of points for the blocked shot (0.5) and shots on goal.

Here are the best defenders in terms of shots blocked this season:

As we can see, not only defensive-minded defenders are on this list. Klefbom is averaging 3 blocked shots per game this season, which is a great bonus to his attacking returns he gets playing with McDavid and Draisaitl.

The things we discussed above are very useful, but the matchups remain the key factor in picking players. In regard to defenseman, power-play matchups they face are of utmost importance. For this reason, when choosing between different defenders, try to opt for a player with a better power-play matchup. That will lead you to success in the long run.



Given that the upside of goalies is limited, I prefer to fill out my goaltending spot last.

What you need primarily from your goalie is a win.

The bookmaker odds might be helpful here. The question is, whether we want to go safer and pay up for an elite goalie, or we should go for more budget options. I am personally not a fan of expensive goalies. They often don’t pay off their price tag, as there is no such thing as a guaranteed win in the NHL. Each game is unpredictable, so don’t be afraid of picking a cheap goalie who is going to have a busy night.

Also, it’s critical to understand how good a goalie you are opting for actually is. It’s likely that cheap goalies mostly are not good. But there are always a few goalies on the slate in this category who might be decent. To identify them, look at the SV% numbers of each goalie starting on a given slate.

Finally, don’t be blinded by the odds. Picking a backup goalie with a good matchup might turn into a trap. Backup goalies are often bad and tend to give up a few goals in every game. The high win probability also generally means a goalie isn’t going to face lots of shots. So, if the goalie doesn't win here, he is at risk of ending up with negative points. In fact, picking a good goaltender with a bad matchup might be a better idea than picking a bad goaltender with a good matchup.


That wraps up the main issues of the preparation process. Now you are familiar with how to target teams and know the core principles of choosing players in different positions. Next time, we will be discussing the more advanced stuff, which is a line matching. Take care and stay tuned!



Khan, a Ph.D. student in Economics, loves studying advanced sports analytics and using it to his advantage in DFS. Having started to play daily fantasy sports in 2017, he currently has a net profit of over 70000 euros. Sits in the top-5 of DFS players in Europe, finished 3rd in FanTeam's WCOFF 2018 and WCOFF 2020.