We’re back continuing this season’s rankings. You guys know the drill by now so I’m not going to waste your time with a big introduction. My main thought is that the tier that started with #8 overall (check out the top 10 here) actually goes to around 18th overall instead of 15th. The gaps between these players are much smaller than in the past so you can go a lot of different ways based on personal preference. Do you want higher upside, the safer player, six category guys? All of this is in play and will make for some interesting draft strategy. Strategy will come in later posts, but for now, let’s get through the top 20:
11) Steven Stamkos – Stamkos was terrific last season scoring 29 goals and adding 59 assists, by far a career high. The Tampa power play was amazing, Stamkos was +18, and his 72 PIM were the second best of his career. What keeps him outside of the top ten is a lower shot rate than these players and we can’t count on a repeat of 72 PIM. Sure, it could happen, but his previous two full seasons ended with Stamkos recording 38 and 49 PIM. Where’s the upside with Stamkos? His 12.7% shooting was the lowest of his career, so hopefully that number goes back up towards his career average. While I think the injury risk is overplayed with Stamkos, the shift towards being more of a playmaker slide him down a few spots.
12) Patrik Laine – I came into starting my rankings thinking that Laine would surely be in my top ten. I mean, he just scored 44 goals at 19 years old. The path is certainly there for him to get there, but there are a couple things that put him here. One, his minutes actually went down last season to 16:29 per game. Two, his even strength production wasn’t at an elite level like his power play scoring was. Three, the penalty minutes are below average. All of this said, I still like Laine plenty. His shot rate jumped up to almost three per game, and if that number gets higher, 50 goals could be in the cards. It’s going to happen sooner than later, and with a floor around 40 goals, Laine deserves to be a late first round pick.
13) Blake Wheeler – The next two guys have long been personal favorites of mine and are very similar in terms of their play and fantasy statlines. Wheeler is coming off the best season of his career finishing with 91 points and as a massive plus in all six categories. As the number four overall forward last year, Wheeler was a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate for a large chunk of the season. I’d expect him to fall back to right around a point per game since he’ll be 32 years old and this past season was an outlier, albeit a small one. If you wanted a more well-rounded player, you can certainly justify taking Wheeler over Laine or Stamkos.
14) Jamie Benn – The Dallas first line was a massive success last season and my hope is that Jim Montgomery keeps them together for the majority of the season. Seguin, Benn, and Radulov were one of the best lines in hockey and resulted in all of them finishing as top 26 forwards. Benn was his usual steady self. You can lock him in for right around a point per game, 50+ PIM, quality STP and a good shot rate. Whether he gets over a point per game depends solely on his special teams production. His last three years: 35,26,24. No surprise his career high 35 STP resulted in a career high 89 points. Either way, the floor is something like a top 20 forward which makes him a great value in the beginning of the second round.
15) John Tavares – While I said that this tier goes from 8 to 18, I see somewhat of a separation between the group from 8-14 and 15-18. A small one, but I believe that it’s there. Do I think the change to Toronto is going to affect Tavares’ fantasy value much? I discuss that here. What it should help is his plus-minus which is his only negative. It will be interesting to see if Babcock decides to load up one power play unit or keeps a balance between the two as he’s done in the past. The thought of Tavares, Matthews, Nylander, Marner, and Rielly/Gardiner is scary and would give all of these guys a slight boost. If Babcock balances them and has both playing around 50% of the PP time, it’s hard to imagine Tavares repeating his 30 PPP from last season. Either way, we’re looking at a floor of something around 30+40 with upside from there.
16) Claude Giroux – If you fully believe in last season, then this is far too low on Giroux. He had 102 points smashing his previous career highs in most categories. The 30 PPP is completely sustainable given the success the Philadelphia power play has had over the years. My worry is that the 66 even strength points has a near zero percent chance of repeating. Giroux’s previous career best was 53 ESP, and he had 71 over the previous two seasons combined. Sure, Couturier has always been very good at even strength, but Giroux hasn’t, and I’m not buying into a repeat. Now, this ranking already has built-in regression. Knock Giroux down to around a point per game and with the elite special teams points, this makes some sense. That said, I’m not one to base my rankings off others, but if his ADP is around this mark, I’m going to slide Giroux down. The shot rate is average and the PIM are below average, so unless he’s putting up 85+ points, he’s not going to pay off this price point. As I mentioned in my top 10 piece, part of the reason I want to get this out earlier is to have a base line and adjust accordingly. Giroux is one of the main players this will serve a purpose for.
17) Jack Eichel – Eichel’s season was solid yet it went under the radar because of so many breakout seasons across the NHL. He posted 64 in 67 games pushing four shots per game. The difference between that and Seguin is around 10 points and a fixed plus-minus. Well, I’m not sure how good the Sabres will be to make plus-minus predictions at this point, but I would be stunned if Eichel is -25 again. The Sabres power play was a dumpster fire to begin last season and was a big factor in Eichel finishing with only 3 PPG. I fully expect that number to reach double digits this season. Add in Reinhart making big strides in the second half of last season, Sheary sliding onto Eichel’s left wing (a huge upgrade over his linemate’s last season), and some better puckmovers on the blue line (notably Dahlin), and we could see Eichel play at the level of a first round fantasy pick.
18) Brent Burns – Our first non-forward! My man Brent Burns aka Chewbacca should be back doing Brent Burns things. That means four shots per game with strong PIM and elite PPP. The two problems for Burns last season were that he was bad at even strength and that he shot a laughably bad 3.6%. The shooting percentage should fix itself to where he’s scoring around 20 goals again. For the plus-minus, the second half of the season saw Burns be a plus player, and the Sharks should be improved having Kane for a full season and the development of their young players. The season before Burns was +19, so anything can really happen with his plus-minus. If you remove plus-minus, Burns was the #1D last season after running away with that title (with or without +/-) in 2016-17 so that’s why he takes that title in my rankings.
19) Vladimir Tarasenko – Last season was Tarasenko’s worst since he broke out in 2014-15 scoring 33 goals and 33 assists, both lows. He’s also a near blank in penalty minutes. So why would I be thrilled to get Tarasenko in this spot? One, he posted a career high shot rate. Two, the Blues power play was awful last season finishing 30th in the league. That should be much improved with the arrival of RoR, making the top unit of Schenn-Schwartz-RoR-Tarasenko-Pietrangelo a potential powerhouse. Three, his shooting percentage was the lowest of his career by a decent margin. Even if that was partially caused by taking more shots, it should still see an improvement. Tarasenko looks poised for a bounce back and could move up my board as we inch closer to draft time.
20) David Pastrnak – Pastrnak’s season went a bit under the radar as he finished with 80 points and exactly three shots per game. Pasta was +10 and feels like a near lock to remain a double digit plus playing on Boston’s top line. It would be nice if his shot rate goes back to 3.5 per game, but even without that, this spot is right for him. Solid enough PIM and a big plus in every category make him a strong second round pick. There’s plenty of upside as well since he’s only 22 years old. There were a few other guys I was expecting to put above Pastrnak, but the more I looked at it, the stronger I felt that he needs to sneak into the top 20.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll have my next rankings post on Tuesday morning. Given that this list already has 19 forwards, I will probably post a top 40 forwards list, and then from there do 20 forwards per post. As always, please give any comments or suggestions, and ask any questions that you have, and I’ll be sure to respond. Thanks for reading, take care!