Fantasy hockey draft - best category specialists

Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals may not be happy with all the trips to the penalty box, but if your league counts PIM, then you might be. Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Whether rotisserie or head-to-head competition is more your jam, category giants are often key to a successful fantasy season. Here's a round-up of those who excel at one facet of the game while maintaining a strong fantasy presence otherwise.

ESPN.com's Default Categories:

Goals: Outside of the most unconventional leagues, goals are the most precious fodder found in the fantasy field. Beyond the greater value attached to the act of putting the puck in the net on its own, one goal often satisfies a multitude of other fantasy categories. A power-play goal is a goal. Same goes for a short-handed tally and/or game-winner. A goal is a successful shot-on-goal. The near priceless hat-trick - the Manhattan parking spot of fantasy categories - is made up of three precious goals. You catch my drift. It's why we most frequently jump on elite scorers in the first round (yes, I still see you grab-a-goalie-first people), and it's why Alex Ovechkin, Mika Zibanejad, and Auston Matthews deserve selection straight off. But it's also why you should target a scoring asset like Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel, who could still be kicking around after a couple turns. Or, in even later rounds, Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets, who finished with 38 goals in 2019-20, averaging 0.54 per game.

Assists: In fantasy leagues where assists are prized equally to goals, Toronto's Mitch Marner is a gem. The Maple Leafs winger ranks sixth over the past two seasons with 119 total helpers - 1.14 points per game - despite playing fewer contests than those ranking above him. On the blue line, John Carlson is cream of the blue-line crop, unsurprisingly, considering his regular on-ice mates in Washington. More draft accessible is Hurricanes winger Teuvo Teravainen, who doesn't score too many goals but earns assists in bunches. And Sebastian Aho's linemate ranks 81st in ESPN's Top-300.

Power-play points: Oh definitely draft Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl in any league that rewards power-play production, the Oilers' one-two punch could blow others out of that special teams' pool again this season. But beyond those two overlords with the man-advantage, there are secondary, more accessible options available. For instance, a healthy portion of Jonathan Huberdeau's production often counts with the extra skater; the Florida forward finished fifth in power-play points this past season, beat only by Draisaitl, McDavid, David Pastrnak, and Nathan MacKinnon. That's good company. Huberdeau is also an excellent asset in the assists department. On the blue line, Quinn Hughes ranked third in PP production his rookie campaign, skating on a Canucks' top unit that should remain intact this year.

Short-handed points: They don't land often, but it's fun when they do. For what it's worth, Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston's Brad Marchand each have a total of 10 short-handed points over the past two seasons. Lesser fantasy asset Vladislav Namestnikov leads with 11 (again, over two campaigns).

Shots: Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty shoots the puck on net a lot (and often scores). As does feisty winger Brendan Gallagher, who's expected to have a moment this season on an improved Montreal roster alongside regular linemates Tomas Tartar and Phillip Danault. And unlike the league's top shooters - Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Ovechkin - Pacioretty and Gallagher should be available in mid-rounds of most fantasy drafts. The Knights winger in particular might be considered an underrated asset in head-to-head league.

Hits: Washington's Tom Wilson deserves a nod here, having crushed an opposing player an even 1,400 times through 440 contests - 3.2 hits per game - since 2014, good for sixth place in the league. Unlike the five skaters above him, Wilson also has 178 points to show for that stretch, the bulk counting the past three seasons. The newest banger on scene is entering his third year in Ottawa. Brady Tkachuk dished out 303 hits in 2019-20, finishing second only to Ryan Reaves in that category. The top-line winger also potted 21 goals and 23 assists, while earning 106 penalty minutes in 71 contests. A multi-category standout, Tkachuk appears primed for a breakout campaign, surrounded by a stronger supporting cast.

Blocked shots: While Oscar Klefbom - unfortunately shelved with a shoulder injury this season - blocked the greatest number of shots in 2019-20, Alexander Edler was right there with 162 in 59 games. The Canucks veteran also unleashed 108 hits and averaged 0.56 points per game, which isn't too shabby. Managers in H2H leagues should especially pay Edler attention. Others who sacrifice their bodies with painful regularity - but also score! - include Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, Colorado's Ryan Graves, and Ryan Pulock of the New York Islanders, who I believe is primed for a breakout season in 2021.

Goalie wins: Under normal circumstances (remember those?), busy goalie + successful team = many wins. Ta-da. The formula still applies, of course, but this otherwise straightforward category deserves extra scrutiny within this season's condensed 56-game schedule. Backups are going to play more. So now it's worth targeting a strong netminder who can handle a heavy workload, on a good team lacking a top-tier No. 2 option. In that spirit, Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck are elite options. Further down the rankings, I also like Carter Hart carrying the goaltending torch for a good Flyers team, Cam Talbot in his new Minnesota digs (plus Alex Stalock is out hurt), and Ilya Samsonov shouldering the load for the Capitals.

Goals-against/saves: Whether your league awards fractional points for saves and penalizes goals-allowed, or recognizes save-percentage and goals-against average cumulatively, the gist is the same: top fantasy assets face a lot of shots and stop most, if not all, of them. Active and stingy is what we want. Anton Khudobin is a standout as such, full-out owning the starter's gig with Ben Bishop hurt. The Dallas Stars netminder is also coming off rocking a .930 save-percentage and 2.22 GAA - never mind his run to the Stanley Cup Final - this past regular season. Arizona's Darcy Kuemper is another strong candidate, as long as Antti Raanta doesn't chew up too many starts. And Florida's No. 1 might be worth a roll of the dice this compact campaign - the Panthers are paying Sergei Bobrovsky too much money to sit idly by. A bounce-back season for the former Vezina winner could pay out handsome fantasy dividends indeed. (Note: Bob is deemed "unfit to play" at the time of this writing. Stay tuned.)

Shutouts: Quality netminders on defensively robust teams earn more shutouts than others. Elvis Merzlikins (5) finished second only to Hellebuyck (6) in that category in 2019-20, despite appearing in 25 fewer games. Entering the season as Columbus' top banana, Elvis could run with the gig over No. 2 Joonas Korpisalo. Nashville's Juuse Saros is another top shutout candidate as veteran Pekka Rinne winds up his Predators career as the club's ancillary option.

Custom Categories

Average time-on-ice: Putting in hefty minutes on-ice is just one of many reasons to draft Nashville's Roman Josi early. The Norris Trophy-winning defenseman offers the full fantasy package in just about any league. Ottawa's Thomas Chabot - pegged to be available in middle rounds of most drafts - is another overachiever in this category, leading the NHL by averaging 26:00 per game this past season. The young and ever-improving Senators blueliner also contributes nicely to offensive categories. I also like Seth Jones as a well-rounded asset who plays an exceptional number of minutes.

Plus/minus: Tell you what, it was a banner fantasy day in the Matiash household when my favorite regular league dumped this category, once and for all. Not only because I stunk at managing it, but mostly. However, if your league insists on sticking with one of fantasy hockey's original boxes to tick, know that Colorado defenseman Ryan Graves led the NHL with a plus-40 in his first full season. In fact, the 25-year-old has a host of fantasy tricks up his sleeve, excelling at blocking shots (already mentioned), and holding his own in shooting, scoring, and hitting. He's one of my favorite lesser-known assets this season. Or, back to plus/minus, just draft the more prominent members of the Lightning and leave it at that.

Faceoffs won: Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly is the reigning champ in number of faceoffs-won, three years running (finishing second only to Patrice Bergeron in 2016-17). The belt is his. Vancouver's Bo Horvat and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings will also earn you good numbers in the dot, while not serving as liabilities otherwise across your fantasy league's frame.

PIM: Ranked 119th overall in ESPN's Top-300, San Jose's Evander Kane is on another level in otherwise conventional fantasy leagues that additionally reward penalty minutes. The Sharks' sniper scored 26 goals on 216 shots though 64 games in 2019-20, while earning a league-topping 122 PIM. This isn't new behavior. He also led his squad in power-play points. Brady Tkachuk and Tom Wilson, abovementioned in the "hits" department, similarly find themselves in penalty trouble more often than others who also score regularly. Unsurprisingly.