TIG NWHL Fantasy Hockey: Trends in Team-Building

Over 60 teams were made. Let’s drop the puck.

We closed the door on The Ice Garden’s NWHL Fantasy League team registrations at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 20. All told, over 60 teams registered and over 120 different players were selected by fantasy managers to join their squads — for reference, 137 players (including those who opted out) signed contracts. As you might imagine, that’s a lot of teams to enter into a spreadsheet. Fortunately, I have grown quite fond of spreadsheets over the years.

With the NWHL regular season just hours away I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some trends in team-building by managers and thoughts on what to expect as we get ready to drop the puck in Lake Placid.

More fantasy managers chose players from the Boston Pride (172) and the Minnesota (143) Whitecaps than any other team. That made plenty of sense considering they were the two top teams in the league last year. Interestingly enough, the Toronto Six (97) had the fewest number of players selected, followed by the Connecticut Whale (98). This is likely a result of the Six not having a fanbase as established as the rest of the league, having players NWHL fans are less familiar with, having a bunch of rookies, or a combination of all of those factors.

It should also be noted that Boston and Minnesota were buoyed in representation by their superstar goaltenders. Amanda Leveille is on more fantasy teams (29) than any other player and Lovisa Selander (28) is right behind her. As if the debate about who the NWHL’s best goalie is wasn’t great already.

I know I have used the word “underrated” to describe Minnesota Whitecaps playmaking winger Jonna Curtis quite a bit here at The Ice Garden. I don’t think I can do that anymore after seeing how many fantasy managers chose her to lead their fantasy teams. Curtis, who had a value of 95 TIG Bucks, landed on 25 teams (and counting) of the 63 teams registered at the time of publication. That means 39.68% of fantasy managers are counting on her to have a big tournament in Lake Placid.

Rookie Sensations

Metropolitan Riveters rookie blueliner Saroya Tinker is on more NWHL fantasy teams than any other defender. In fact, Tinker was tied as the third most-selected player with Curtis when this article was written. Expected to be a shutdown defender who blocks plenty of shots, managers saw Tinker as a great value pick with her cost of 60 TIG Bucks.

The second-most selected rookie was Buffalo Beauts goaltender Carly Jackson. Jackson is on over one-quarter of all TIG NWHL Fantasy teams and is fourth among all NWHL goaltenders in being selected by managers, behind Leveille, Selander, and Connecticut’s Brooke Wolejko.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Madison Packer, Jillian Dempsey, Allie Thunstrom, Kaleigh Fratkin, Marie-Jo Pelletier, and McKenna Brand were among the most popular players for fantasy managers. Tinker, MJP, Fratkin, and Whale captain Shannon Doyle were the most selected defenders.

Two other rookies who are staples on fantasy rosters are the Boston Pride’s Sammy Davis and the Toronto Six’s Mikyla Grant-Mentis. Davis was the 1st overall pick of the 2020 NWHL Draft and is an early favorite for Newcomer of the Year honors but we all expect Grant-Mentis and a few others to have something to say about that. Davis and Grant-Mentis are on 22.22% and 19.04% of teams, respectively.

Surprises, Sleepers, and Fan Favorites

There were quite a few surprises in team-building. Boston’s Christina Putigna finished sixth in the league in scoring (29) last year but was chosen by only eight managers. Even more surprising was Pride sophomore forwards Lexie Laing and Tori Sullivan, who finished tied for fifth in scoring (25), being chosen by two and four managers, respectively.

To be fair, we don’t know how the lines will pan out on Boston and Putigna and Laing both came at a heavy cost with a cost of 90 TIG Bucks each. Sullivan carried a price tag of 85 TIG Bucks. I’m surprised she wasn’t on more rosters, but something tells me that had something to do with the rule of having no more than four players from any one team in your lineup. A lot of teams went for Jillian Dempsey, Kaleigh Fratkin, Lovisa Selander, and McKenna Brand, which didn’t leave room for other members of the Pride.

Riveters center Cailey Hutchison and Buffalo Beauts rookie defender Alyson Matteau were seen by managers as great value picks to round out their rosters. Having Hutchison cost managers 70 TIG Bucks and Matteau came at a price of 60 TIG Bucks. Whale veteran F/D Hanna Beattie was also a popular sleeper pick with a cost of 60 TIG Bucks. Beattie landed on nine teams — the same number as noted goal-scorers Emma Vlasic of the Whale and Audra Richards of the Whitecaps.

The Whale’s Elena Orlando and the Buffalo Beauts’ Kelsey Neumann were two fan favorites who found their way onto a significant number of teams. Over half a dozen managers of both players will be counting on Orlando to rack up plenty of blocked shots and for Neumann to get her chance between the pipes for the Beauts in Lake Placid.

Trial and Error

Whether or not you realized it when (and if) you submitted a team, you are contributing to an experiment. This is my best attempt to put together a fantasy league but by no means is the methodology or structure ideal. With any luck, we’re all going to learn a lot from this experiment. I already have ambitions of creating a fantasy game for the 2021 IIHF World Championships, but let’s see how this journey goes before plotting that course.

I have some concerns about overvaluing goaltending stats but I wanted to give real value to shutouts and wins. Perhaps I should have nerfed goalie stats by making even-strength goals against a negative value. We’ll soon find out if this is going to be an issue. In any event, if you are one of the managers who loaded up on goalies you should be feeling pretty confident right now.

Want More NWHL Fantasy Hockey?

Want more NWHL Fantasy hockey? Who doesn’t? Be sure to check out Spencer Fascetta’s work over at She Plays. You can read an introduction and a strategy guide they’re offering fans here and here for She Plays NWHL Fantasy Games Light the Lamp and Top Line!