I'm of the belief that no one wins a fantasy season in the first few rounds of the draft, although you can certainly trace back a disappointing campaign to that start. If you select Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick for example and he ends up being sidelined for a good portion of the season, that has the potential to cripple your team. But if he has a season like the one he's currently enjoying? Well in that case he's just meeting expectations. He's helping your team, but he's doing so proportional to what you paid for him, so in that respect there wasn't much of a net gain.
With that in mind I would argue that where you win is in the later rounds of the draft or even with your free agent pickups. The true MVP isn't the best player, he's the one that gives you the most bang for your metaphorical buck.
In honor of that concept, this week I'm listing the Top 5 biggest steals of the first half. I'll consider how well the player has done and measure it against what it likely took to get him.
5. Tyler Johnson (TBL) - C/RW - Average Pick: 177.5 (taken in 80% of drafts)
Johnson wasn't an unknown after he scored 24 goals and 50 points in 82 games in his rookie campaign, but he wasn't a safe bet to take another significant step forward in his sophomore season. For those that took him late in drafts though, he has rewarded them with 17 goals, 46 points, and a plus-25 rating in 43 contests.
There are really only two reasons he's not higher on this list. One is that he has been somewhat lackluster with the man advantage, at least compared to other star players. His 10 power-play points puts him in last place among the top-10 scorers. The other knock on him is that while he typically went late in drafts, he was almost always selected, so few got him for the absolutely bottom barrel price of a free agent pickup. Those grieves are obviously minor, but they are noteworthy compared to the players that ranked ahead of him on this list.
As a side note, Johnson suffered a lower-body injury on Monday. He's not expected to be sidelined for long, but he won't play on Tuesday.
4. Filip Forsberg (NSH) - C/LW/RW - Average Pick: 118.6 (taken in 9% of drafts)
Johnson ultimately lost his battle for the Calder Trophy last season. Forsberg isn't likely to lose his. We still have half a season left to play, but Forsberg is shaping up to be one of the best rookies we've seen in quite a while with 14 goals, 38 points, and a plus-22 rating.
Like Johnson, the main knock on him - and I admit I'm stretching the term - is the fact that he "only" has 11 power-play points. That he's eligible in all three forwards spots though is a big plus, but the main thing he has on Johnson is the fact that he was only taken in 9% of Yahoo drafts, making him fair game to be picked up early in the 2014-15 campaign.
3. Nick Foligno (CLM) - LW - Average Pick: 139.9 9 (taken in 5% of drafts)
Johnson and Forsberg are players that surprised fantasy owners by developing as quickly as he did. In the case of Foligno, people are surprised that he ever reached his current heights. After failing to record more than 47 points in a single season going into the 2014-15 campaign, the 27-year-old forward has 18 goals and 40 points in 39 contests.
Part of his jump has been due to the fact that the Blue Jackets have tied him to the hip of Ryan Johansen. They've frequently played together in both even-strength and power-play situations, the latter of which is particularly noteworthy as 20 of Foligno's 40 points have been recorded with the man advantage. Columbus has a mediocre 18-19-3 record this season, but Foligno's plus/minus rating hasn't been a burden either, although at plus-three it certainly hasn't helped many fantasy owners.
All-in-all, not bad for a guy that started the season on waivers in the vast majority of leagues.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko (STL) - RW - Average Pick: 159.6 (taken in 97% of drafts)
It might have been extremely rare to go through an entire standard league draft and not see Tarasenko get selected, but it's hard to place him lower than second on the list of best value picks. After all, for a late round selection you could have gotten arguably the best fantasy contributor of the first half.
Tarasenko might not be leading the league in a major category, but he helps in almost every regard. He's tied for third in the league in goals with 23, ranks third in plus/minus at plus-23, is tied for sixth with four game-winning goals, holds eighth place in shots with 144, and is tied for eighth in points at 44 in 42 contests. He also has 14 power-play points, which isn't spectacular, but still puts him a hair above some of the players ranked below him in this list.
Simply put, if you took a chance on him, you haven't been disappointed.
1. Nikita Kucherov (TBL) - LW/RW - Average Pick: 143.5 (taken in 3% of drafts)
Of all the players on this list, Kucherov's rise caught the most people off guard, as evidence by the fact that he was only drafted in 3% of Yahoo leagues. It's not surprising that Kucherov was so overwhelmingly over looked given that he had just nine goals and 18 points in 52 contests as a rookie in 2013-14.
He broke out this season in a huge way with 17 goals, 41 points, and a plus-25 rating in 44 contests. Those numbers put him marginally behind Tyler Johnson and Vladimir Tarasenko in terms of overall value, but obviously what sets him apart from them is that Kucherov was largely dismissed as a complete non-factor going into this campaign while most already assumed Tarasenko and Johnson would have at least some value. Top prospect Filip Forsberg and even Nick Foligno were more highly regarded from a short-term perspective than Kucherov, but so far Kucherov has been at their level.