2023-24 Fantasy Hockey: 12 players to fade in drafts — yes, including Connor Bedard

By Jon Litterine, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

It’s no secret that knowing which players to target in your draft is a key to success in the world of fantasy hockey. However, it’s just as important to know which players to fade on draft day. With that in mind, here are 12 players fantasy managers will probably be better off avoiding in this year’s drafts.

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Skaters to fade in hockey drafts

Connor Bedard: F, Chicago Blackhawks (ADP: 37)

We’ll get the most controversial one out of the way at the start. Bedard, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, is arguably the best prospect to enter the league since Connor McDavid in 2015. At a minimum, Bedard’s the best prospect to be drafted since Auston Matthews, who entered the league a year after McDavid. Bedard’s likely going to be an exceptional NHL player right away, but his place on this list is entirely cost-related. People love prospects. Especially elite ones like Bedard. Could the 18-year-old finish with 30 goals and 70 points in his freshman campaign? Sure. But with that said, he’s going way too early in drafts for my liking. Bedard has been getting drafted before skaters such as Andrei Svechnikov, Zach Hyman and Alex Tuch. A year from now it may be a different story. But for now, I’m taking that tier of players over the unproven rookie all day long.

Evgeni Malkin: F, Pittsburgh Penguins (ADP: 52)

Malkin somehow appeared in all 82 games for the Penguins a season ago, posting 27 goals and 83 points. He’s still a very good NHL player. However, in the decade prior to last season, he appeared in 70 regular-season games just once. In short, while supremely effective when in the lineup, the odds are against the now 37-year-old future Hall of Famer to make it through the 2023-24 campaign in one piece.

Andrei Kuzmenko: F, Vancouver Canucks (ADP: 87)

Kuzmenko began his first NHL season hot, and he stayed that way throughout the 2022-23 campaign. He scored 39 goals in 82 games despite finishing with just 143 shots on goal. That’s a 27.3 percent shooting percentage. If that number is only cut in half this coming season, Kuzmenko should consider himself fortunate. He’s far more likely to finish in the 25-30 goal range than the 40-goal range in 2023-24.

Carter Verhaeghe: F, Florida Panthers (ADP: 42)

Verhaeghe’s 42-goal breakout a season ago appears more sustainable than Kuzmenko’s, but not to the point I’m a buyer. Verhaeghe’s career year came at age 28 while he was averaging 2:11 worth of power-play time per game, a low number for a player topping 40 goals. I want to see him put together another solid season before investing.

Brandon Montour: D, Florida Panthers (ADP: 101)

Montour posted no more than 37 points in any of his first six seasons in the league. He found a new level last year, finishing with 73 points in 80 games, placing him tied for fourth among all NHL defenders in scoring behind Erik Karlsson, Josh Morrissey, Quinn Hughes and Dougie Hamilton. Unfortunately for Montour, he underwent offseason shoulder surgery and will miss the start of the upcoming season. In early September, Montour’s return timetable was described by general manager Bill Zito as between November and January. That’s vague. I’m not rolling the dice.

Morgan Rielly: D, Toronto Maple Leafs (ADP: 256)

Rielly has been a top-tier offensive defender for years, but his numbers last season (four goals, 41 points in 65 games) were way down compared to two years ago (10 goals, 68 points in 82 games). The Maple Leafs signed John Klingberg to a one-year deal in free agency this summer and he began training camp as the quarterback for Toronto’s No. 1 power-play unit. If that change is permanent, Rielly has little chance of living up to his current ADP.

Jared McCann: F, Seattle Kraken (ADP: 63)

McCann finds himself in a similar situation to Kuzmenko. McCann scored exactly 40 goals a year ago after posting 27 two years prior, so he’s been trending in the right direction, but again, a shooting percentage of 19% is difficult to replicate. Don’t pay for 40 goals on draft day when you’re far more likely to only get 30 from McCann this year.

Nick Suzuki: F, Montreal Canadiens (ADP: 110)

Suzuki is a good NHL player. I’m not sure he’s a true No. 1 center on a Stanley Cup contender, but he’s certainly a 1B-type option at a minimum. His numbers last season (26 goals, 66 points in 82 games) were perfectly fine considering all the time Cole Caufield missed with his shoulder injury, but I don’t see a ton of upside here.

Alex Killorn: F, Anaheim Ducks (ADP: 138)

You would think the Ducks would have learned their lesson with Ryan Strome two years ago. Strome parlayed a few excellent seasons skating alongside Artemi Panarin with the Rangers into a five-year, $25 million deal with Anaheim. Strome had just 41 points in 82 games in his first campaign with the Ducks. Undeterred, Anaheim handed Killorn, who was coming off a career-high 27-goal, 64-point performance with the Lightning last season, a four-year, $25 million deal in free agency. Killorn will play this upcoming season at age 34. It was by far the most baffling signing of the summer.

Logan Couture: F, San Jose Sharks (ADP: 96)

Couture finds himself as a late addition to this list after suffering a lower-body injury in training camp, which is expected to keep him out “week-to-week.” Again, a vague timeline considering the exact injury hasn’t been disclosed. I wasn’t targeting Couture to begin with, since he’ll be playing for arguably the worst team in the NHL this year, but now I’m totally out.

Goalies to fade in drafts

Linus Ullmark: G, Boston Bruins (ADP: 38)

This one is almost too easy. Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy a season ago as the NHL’s best goaltender, and he deserved it. Going 40-6-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .938 save percentage for a team that set an NHL record for points in a season will do that. Well, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired, and the Bruins seem primed to take a step back in 2023-24. Toss in the fact Jeremy Swayman will get a fair amount of playing time and Ullmark is a clear fade.

Vitek Vanecek: G, New Jersey Devils (ADP: 132)

Those drafting Vanecek as a No. 1 fantasy goalie have likely forgotten that he was so bad in the postseason last year that he forced the Devils to go to unproven rookie Akira Schmid just to survive their first-round playoff series with the Rangers. I expect Vanecek to open the season as the starter, but I can’t see how you can confidently predict he’ll finish the season as the team’s workhorse goaltender.