The beauty of Fantasy sports — or part of it, anyway — lies in every player’s ability to choose his or her own adventure. And when I say “adventure,” I mean “Fantasy format.” Differences in formats can add up to huge differences in player value, so as you check out this tiered preview of NHL forwards for the 2016-17 season, keep in mind that we’re talking about their value in 12-team, CBS head-to-head leagues – a format that offers no extra points for power-play or shorthanded assists versus even-strength assists, no points for shots on goal, and no points for hits. That changes the game a lot, so make sure when you reference this list that you have your own Fantasy format(s) in mind.
As in our other positional previews, players are listed within the tiers in an approximation of their overall ranking, which is based on rough projections I’ve compiled, based on what we know right now, in the middle of July. Additionally, this 11-tiered list goes a bit deeper than what you might draft in a standard 12-team format in hopes of accommodating the most Fantasy owners possible without getting ridiculous.
Tier 1: The top 0.01 percent
Patrick Kane , Sidney Crosby , Alex Ovechkin , Jamie Benn
No surprises here unless you expected to see a few more names at the top of the list. Kane was in a class of his own last year, but one has to think he won’t eclipse 100 points again. Still, I’m projecting 95. Crosby got off to a slow start last year and still ended up with Crosby-esque numbers; I expect him to forego the slow start this season and come rather close to Kane, maybe even surpass him. Ovechkin’s looking for his fourth straight 50-goal season, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t get it; Benn’s improved his (non-lockout-shortened) point totals from 63 to 79 to 87 to 89 over the last few campaigns, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in the high 80s again.
Tier 2: The top 1 percent
Vladimir Tarasenko , Joe Pavelski , Connor McDavid , Johnny Gaudreau , Tyler Seguin , John Tavares , Evgeny Kuznetsov , Corey Perry
A lot of these guys may have hard feelings about getting excluded from the front of the class, but as good as they’ve been and are going to be, they haven’t done it yet. Still, it’d be little surprise if, for instance, McDavid ended up leading the NHL in scoring, outpacing even the 86 points I’ve projected for him. Health’s the key for Seguin; he’ll drop down a tier if he ends up playing about 70 games for the third consecutive season.
Tier 3: Lesser stars
Phil Kessel , Steven Stamkos , Nikita Kucherov , Filip Forsberg , Anze Kopitar , Aleksander Barkov , Tyler Toffoli , Evgeni Malkin , Nicklas Backstrom , Patrice Bergeron , Claude Giroux , Blake Wheeler , Ryan Johansen , Ryan Getzlaf , Joe Thornton , Taylor Hall
Here again we have a number of players who could very reasonably blow up and outperform their third-tier ranking, but there’s a noticeable drop-off from what I expect to get out of the Tier 2 guys to the Tier 3 guys. Malkin, of course, is one of the top five most talented players in hockey, but injuries keep him down in this tier because you often end up missing him when you need him the most. The Kessel ranking obviously reflects his postseason performance, which I expect him to carry forward into the new campaign. Toffoli may seem like a fish out of water among this illustrious group, but I fully expect him to serve as the Los Angeles Kings ‘ top right winger and exceed last season’s totals of 31 goals and 58 points, though it’s his elite plus-minus (how’s plus-35 last year strike you?) that truly boosts him into heady company. A Hall explosion is coming in New Jersey; I can feel it. And we’re looking at bounce-back campaigns for a pair of elite centers in Giroux and Getzlaf.
Tier 4: Steady hands, elite upside
Mark Scheifele , Jonathan Toews , Wayne Simmonds , Jakub Voracek , Brad Marchand , Nathan MacKinnon , James Neal , Jaden Schwartz , Vincent Trocheck , Kyle Palmieri , Brandon Saad , Jonathan Huberdeau , Jack Eichel , Daniel Sedin , Matt Duchene , Artemi Panarin , David Krejci , Alex Galchenyuk
A number of guys in this group have the talent to reach 70 points this year – Scheifele, Toews, Voracek, MacKinnon, Saad, Eichel, Duchene, Panarin, Krejci and Galchenyuk all have what it takes to challenge that mark. But I can’t very well predict half the league to hit that lofty total, so these guys get left out, but that won’t stop them from serving prominent roles for Fantasy owners. Trocheck’s emergence as a power-play wunderkind last season lands him in this crew; similarly, Palmieri developed into a driving force for the New Jersey offense and now has the benefit of playing with Hall. It’s going to be exciting to see what Eichel does in Year 2. Panarin’s ranking may seem low for a guy who picked up 77 points last season, but a lot of that had to do with playing with Patrick Kane, and we’ve already learned the lesson that we simply can’t count on line combos to stay together in the long run even if they’ve had success in the past.
Tier 5: Steady hands, not as much upside
Jeff Carter , Jason Spezza , Mark Stone , James van Riemsdyk , Tyler Johnson , Derek Stepan , Patric Hornqvist , T.J. Oshie , Jaromir Jagr , Gabriel Landeskog , David Backes , Brayden Schenn , Logan Couture , Zach Parise , Jordan Eberle , Max Domi , Brendan Gallagher , Ryan O’Reilly , Reilly Smith , Bobby Ryan , Leon Draisaitl , Mike Hoffman
Carter, Spezza and Stone could just as easily fit into the tier above, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Despite the title, there’s still upside in this group with guys like Domi and Eberle (especially if he gets to play with McDavid), but most of these guys are simply highly competent forwards who will collect 50-to-60 points (in some cases, a bit more) without hurting you in plus-minus. Not bad! Backes is a big wild card in Boston, as he could go boom or bust depending on his position and line slotting. I like Johnson to bounce back, clearly, but not to the 72 points he put up two years ago.
Tier 6: The Tier of Tomas
Boone Jenner , Andrew Ladd , Rick Nash , Scott Hartnell , Kyle Okposo , Tomas Hertl , Ondrej Palat , Derick Brassard , Justin Williams , Tomas Tatar , Frans Nielsen , Bryan Little , Mika Zibanejad , Jeff Skinner , Alexander Steen , Patrick Sharp , Ryan Kesler , Tomas Plekanec , Auston Matthews , Henrik Sedin
Completely unintentionally, three guys named Tomas ended up in this tier. Just as well, since I needed a name for it. Plekanec is a well-known veteran quantity, but Hertl and Tatar both have terrific upside and the opportunity to play major roles in their teams’ offenses. Here we also find 2016’s No. 1 pick, Matthews, who’s obviously got so much upside that it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see him fly off draft boards well ahead of all these other guys. My projection for him may be conservative, but this Toronto team has a lot of pieces that need to gel; don’t overbuy. Steen would rank higher if not for injuries; Okposo would rank higher if not for the questions about how he’ll adjust to Buffalo and coach Dan Bylsma.
Tier 7: The Tier of variance
Jussi Jokinen , Victor Rask , Mikko Koivu , Dylan Larkin , Evander Kane , Jakob Silfverberg , Jori Lehtera , Rickard Rakell , Adam Henrique , Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , Kyle Turris , P.A. Parenteau , Carl Hagelin , Chris Kreider , Cam Atkinson , Jonathan Drouin , Mikael Backlund , Nikolaj Ehlers , J.T. Miller , Mikkel Boedker , Loui Eriksson , Charlie Coyle , Anthony Duclair
This crew could go in a lot of different directions. I expect some flak for listing the speedy and talented Larkin this low, but let’s face facts – he only picked up 45 points last year, which doesn’t play in a lot of shallower Fantasy formats. Are we comfortable projecting a leap to 60 in Year 2? Nugent-Hopkins and Turris seem like they ought to be higher, but both are coming off mediocre, injury-shortened seasons. I truly don’t really know what to expect from Hagelin in his first full year as a Penguin; will the HBK line stay together? Miller was the Rangers’ best player for stretches of time last year and will probably take on a more premier role this season, especially if they make more moves before things get started, but his offensive ceiling remains an open question. San Jose is a highly intriguing home for Boedker, who has basically guaranteed top-six minutes alongside Couture and Joonas Donskoi .
Tier 8: Boring veterans, exciting prospects
Marcus Johansson , Troy Brouwer , Mitchell Marner, Nazem Kadri , Sam Reinhart , Paul Stastny , Gustav Nyquist , Sean Couturier , Chris Kunitz , Ryan Spooner , Joonas Donskoi, Justin Abdelkader , Mikael Granlund , Nick Foligno , Craig Smith , William Nylander, Nino Niederreiter , Patrik Laine , Dylan Strome, Brock Nelson
Marner, Nylander, Laine, Strome and Reinhart could all explode well up the list of forward value rather rapidly, but there are questions for many of those guys (with the exception of Reinhart and perhaps Laine) about playing time and linemates. What we mostly have here is a group of guys who seem likely to deliver 40-some points, although guys like Nelson, Nyquist, Couturier, Spooner and Donskoi could very well exceed that. Might as well chase the upside once you’re in this deep; the waiver wire will be there for you if it doesn’t work out.
Tier 9: Low expectations
Brandon Dubinsky , Anders Lee , Henrik Zetterberg , Jason Pominville , David Pastrnak , Marian Hossa , Michael Cammalleri , Eric Staal , Shane Doan , Andrew Shaw , Kevin Hayes , Alex Killorn , Matt Beleskey , Patrick Marleau , Travis Zajac
It’s sad to see big names like Zetterberg, Hossa, Staal, Doan and Marleau here, but we have to be realistic and acknowledge their declines. Staal was terrible for Carolina and useless for the Rangers last year; Zetter had the worst year of his career and is now 35; Hossa had the worst year of his career and is now 37; Doan surprised with 28 goals, but got lucky on shooting percentage and will turn 40 in October; Marleau went a career-worst minus-22 for a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Cammalleri’s seemingly never able to avoid the injury bug, which lands him in this crew. We’re still waiting for the version of Kevin Hayes who looked like a star coming out of college to show up, while it’s unclear whether Lee will be able to fill Okposo’s shoes on the Island.
Tier 10: Lower expectations
Martin Hanzal , Tyler Bozak , Sam Bennett , Carl Soderberg , Mike Ribeiro , Jordan Staal , Thomas Vanek , Jean-Gabriel Pageau , Ryan Strome , Nick Bjugstad , Elias Lindholm , Nick Bonino , Marian Gaborik , Jimmy Vesey, Teuvo Teravainen , Tobias Rieder , Joel Ward , Jarome Iginla , David Desharnais , Robby Fabbri , Tanner Pearson , Colin Wilson
Bozak’s always been miscast as a No. 1 center, so the hope in Toronto has to be that someone (cough, cough, Matthews, cough, cough) takes over that role and allows the 30-year-old to thrive on the second line. Even with all those minutes, he’s never cleared 50 points, so it seems silly to expect that this year. Fabbri showed a ton of potential in limited time last year, but is going to have a tough time breaking into the St. Louis Blues ‘ top-six mix, especially at left wing and center. Iginla faded hard last year, falling to 47 points and a killer minus-22 rating, marking his worst full season since the late 90s, and he’s now 39 years old. There’s still hope for a Strome bounceback, but it looks like he’s going to serve on the third line.
Tier 11: Roster filler and fliers
Ty Rattie , Antoine Roussel , David Perron , Jamie McGinn , Valeri Nichushkin , Lee Stempniak , Valtteri Filppula , Joe Colborne , Jason Zucker , Kyle Connor, Antoine Vermette , Frank Vatrano , Zack Smith , Leo Komarov , Jesse Puljujarvi , Alexander Nylander , Matthew Tkachuk , Anthony Mantha , Sven Baertschi
There are some reliable players in here, like Roussel, who are hurt by the CBS format, but are still quite useful in other leagues. I’ve always been a huge fan of Rattie, who’s on a one-way deal, but it’s going to be hard for him to crack the Blues’ top two lines. Perron and Nichushkin are perennial disappointments; I have little faith in them, nor in a repeat performance from 2015 standouts Stempniak and Smith. But it is hard to ignore Nichushkin’s upside at the end of a draft. Vatrano, Puljujarvi, Tkachuk, Nylander, Connor and Mantha have massive potential if they can win jobs, but the question marks about their roles leave them down here. Hey, it’s July — this list could very easily look quite different by the time Opening Night approaches.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Forward tiers