We’re keeping things moving here on the hockey side of things at Razzball as we’re less than two months from the season starting! It’s not just me: Son has his top 10 out, everyone is posting their football rankings, and Smokey has the EPL RCL set up. That’s ignoring all of the good baseball psts as we approach the closing stretch. Today, I’m completing my top 40 forward lists. Nineteen of these guys were already covered in the top 10 and top 20 posts, so the focus will be on players 20-40. Let’s get going!
1) Connor McDavid
2) Nikita Kucherov
3) Nathan MacKinnon
4) Brad Marchand
5) Alex Ovechkin
6) Sidney Crosby
7) Evgeni Malkin
8) Taylor Hall
9) Tyler Seguin
10) Auston Matthews – All of the top 10 are covered here.
11) Steven Stamkos
12) Patrik Laine
13) Blake Wheeler
14) Jamie Benn
15) John Tavares
16) Claude Giroux
17) Jack Eichel
18) Vladimir Tarasenko
19) David Pastrnak – Everyone from Stamkos to Pastrnak is covered here.
20) Evgeny Kuznetsov – Alright, the first new player on this list. Kuznetsov finished over a point per game for the first time in his career last season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he made a big jump because Kuznetsov was finally put on the first power play unit. His even strength points per minute stayed the same (totals went up with slightly more ice time) but the good news is that they were already at an elite level. The shot rate also increased marginally to the point where it’s only a slight negative. It wouldn’t shock me if Kuznetsov gets to average in that regard, and he’s already a plus across the board in the other categories. Not much separates the rest of the players on this list, but I give Kuznetsov the slight edge.
21) Mark Scheifele – In terms of fantasy, Scheifele is pretty much Kuznetsov with potentially less penalty minutes. Scheifele has ranged anywhere from 14 to 48 PIM in his five full seasons so it’s hard to predict where he’s going to end up. His shot rate is also the lowest of everyone on this list, and you guys know how I don’t like that. So why is he here? Well, Scheifele is a virtual lock for a point per game and a great plus-minus. Additionally, he had only 16 PPP last season, a number that could easily go up given the prowess of the Winnipeg power play. Would it shock me if Scheifele put up 95+ points this year? Not really.
22) Patrick Kane – I wanted to put Kane lower, and maybe that’ll happen when I update. The problem is two fold. One, Chicago is trending in the wrong direction and quickly. Kane was a big part of that at even strength, as he was -20 despite getting over 65% of his zone starts in the offensive zone. In other words, Kane was given as good of a situation to produce as anyone in the league, and while he did score 54 points at even strength, the second line for Chicago was a massive negative. There’s a chance this -20 could repeat itself, but perhaps it ends up being an outlier. I lean a bit towards the former, but that’s far from a guarantee. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine Kane dropping below 75 points with those zone starts, and with the elite shot rate and power play contributions, I’m putting Kane here (for now).
23) Phil Kessel – Kessel is coming off the best regular season of his career, posting a career high 92 points (a whopping 42 on the PP), 36 PIM (also a high), and over three shots per game. He’s very similar to Kane in that the Penguins didn’t do well at even strength with Kessel on the ice despite heavy o-zone starts (64.8%). There’s also a near-zero percent change that Kessel can repeat 42 PPP. He had 30 PPP in 2016-17, so if we put Kessel back into that range, he’s still right around a point per game. Even with the impending regression in PPP, he’s still going to be elite in that category, and being around a point per game with a strong shot rate, Kessel is extremely safe. Unlike his centerman, Kessel hasn’t missed a game in the past eight seasons, making him worthy of a very late second round pick or a third rounder.
24) Patrice Bergeron – Depending on the year, Bergeron is a five or six category stud (with PIM). Bergeron missed some time last season, but he was right at a point per game with 3.5 shots and a +21 rating. Bergeron has been a plus player for 11 straight seasons, including +12 or better in seven of the past eight seasons. Generally, Bergeron misses very little time, and he’s the key cog for arguably the best line in hockey. The reason I think Bergeron’s jump last season is sustainable was his jump in o-zone starts. Bergeron had generally been a player well below 50%, but the last two seasons that has jumped to 54.7% in 2016-17 and 59.4% last season. The Bruins need offense from this line and they have proven more than capable. It’s another case of a very safe player who does have some built-in upside.
25) Jakub Voracek – Like the rest of the top Flyers, it was an excellent year for Voracek. He finished with 20+65, 50 PIM, and almost three shots per game. While I don’t expect a repeat of 35 PPP, a high number is a lock on the Philadelphia top unit. The return of JVR and the presumed growth of Patrick as the second line center should get Voracek improved linemates at even strength this year. It’s assist heavy, but Voracek hits all the categories at average or above and like so many of these players in this group, has been incredibly healthy. He’s a great fit in almost all team builds with your first two picks. For example, I’d pass on Voracek if you started off with McDavid and Scheifele.
26) Jonathan Marchessault – I assume this could be my most controversial ranking of this post (perhaps the next guy). Time to attempt and justify it! One, Marchessault’s individual numbers aren’t ripe for regression like his other teammates. Sure, it could hurt his assists slightly because his linemates lose a bit in shooting percentage, but that’s no guarantee. Two, Marchessault’s shot rate is elite and the penalty minutes are average at the least. Three, he posted only 16 PPP, a number that could increase to cancel out some even strength regression. Four, he played only 17:30 per game last season. Given that Vegas has lost a bunch of their depth this offseason, I think we see the top line get to 20 minutes per game. There is no five, I hope those four are enough!
27) Vincent Trocheck – I’ve long loved Trocheck and that paid off handsomely last season. Trocheck set career highs across the board with 31+44, 54 PIM and 287 SOG. The acquisition of Mike Hoffman also helps Trocheck quite a bit. The main concern is that Trocheck played 21:22 per game, a number that can’t go up. The good news is that Bob Boughner really loves to ride his studs and the Panthers depth hasn’t improved much so it’s repeatable. Trocheck also received only 42.5% o-zone starts, so he’s already proven that he can produce given a difficult situation. While this is a super aggressive ranking, I love Trocheck’s fit on every team in the third round. I assume you’ll be able to wait a round or two past this point to draft him, but I’m targeting him everywhere.
28) Filip Forsberg – It went under the radar, but Forsberg actually tied a career high in points (64) despite playing only 67 games. The injury was a fluke and he had never missed a game prior to this season, so that’s not a concern. Forsberg comes ahead of this big tier behind him because he should score more goals than anyone behind him and the penalty minutes and shot rate are both going to be average, bare minimum. It’s scary that he’s only 24 years old for the entire season as well. Smashville should be a powerhouse again, so a big plus-minus should come with Forsberg pushing (I’m predicting topping) a point per game.
29) Aleksander Barkov – This tier goes from Barkov down to 35th overall. Most of these guys are players aren’t guys I target because they need to push a point per game to pay off value because they don’t give you PIM or SOG. Barkov has the best shot rate of the bunch so he tops this group, and I do like him the most. Barkov made a nice jump last season to 78 points in 79 games despite getting 40% o-zone starts. The other gain was a massive jump in shot rate to over three shots per game, which now becomes a huge bonus. He also has built-in upside with only 17 PPP and his age (23 when the season starts). In other words, there is still upside here despite the lack of penalty minutes.
30) Artemi Panarin – I’m not too concerned about Panarin’s contract situation. His first year in Columbus made it clear that he wasn’t a product of playing with Kane in Chicago, setting a career high with 82 points. Breadman’s shot rate is pushing three per game now, the plus-minus looks to be a near-certainty as a plus, and the PIM isn’t a complete disaster. No matter where he ends up (I suspect he ends up staying in Columbus), Panarin should push a point per game and should be worth a pick late in the third round.
31) Johnny Gaudreau – The player rater is far from perfect, but Gaudreau finishing as the 35th best forward last season despite scoring 84 points in 80 games shows the problem with him. That said, the shot rate is slightly above average and if he can repeat last season’s career high 26 PIM, it’s not so bad. He should put up around a point per game, but as long time readers know, I don’t expect to draft Gaudreau anywhere.
32) Anze Kopitar – In real life, Kopitar would be in the top 10. For fantasy, it’s hard to justify putting him higher than this despite posting a career high 92 points last season. Like Gaudreau, Kopitar is coming off a big season and was still only 18th among forwards. He shot an unsustainable 17.5% and had a big boost in plus-minus at +21. He’s posted a ton of monster seasons in the past in terms of plus-minus, but a few duds have also been mixed in. Perhaps Ilya Kovalchuk can cut down some of the regression, but Kopitar is coming off the best season possible for him and he was barely a top 20 forward. He shot 2.5 shots per game which was much higher than the previous three seasons; will that drop if he plays with Kovalchuk? I might end up sliding Kopitar down some more which pains me, but it’s all about draft value. He was a mainstay on my teams last year as a bounceback candidate, and now his value is probably too high.
33) Mitch Marner – Marner didn’t score his third goal last season until the 35th game, yet he still finished with a nice 69 points. The 21 year old appears to be the biggest beneficiary of the Tavares signing as Marner should immediately slide on his wing. I think we see Marner take another step forward this season and he reaches the point per game mark. It feels eerily similar to Kuznetsov, who started off miserably in 2016-17, finished strong, and then topped PPG in the following season. I suspect that Marner is going to be a hyped name come draft time, but it looks to be justified.
34) Leon Draisaitl – After being much lower than consensus on Draisaitl last season, I’m actually encouraged by what appears to be a down season at a quick glance. One, the shot rate took a nice jump to 2.5 per game (about average). Two, his power play points dropped from 27 to 11, meaning he actually improved his scoring rate at even strength. I suspect we see the power play points go back up. Three, Draisaitl was a possession monster compared to the rest of his teammates. The only reason that he was -7 was that Oilers goalies had a 87.1 sv% with Draisaitl on the ice. That is laughably bad and shouldn’t repeat itself. Unless the shot rate continues to climb, Draisaitl won’t give you much in the secondary categories, but the foundation is there for him to reach a point per game.
35) Mikko Rantanen – As evidenced by my ranking of MacKinnon third, I do not think Colorado’s top line was a one-hit wonder. Rantanen was a massive surprise last season with 29+55, a big jump in shot rate to over two per game, and a whopping 35 PPP. I think his shot rate could see another jump, but even if it does, it’s only going to reach the level of the guys ahead of him in his tier. Rantanen is easily the riskiest player in this tier for me, which is why I put him last. You could argue a bunch of the players behind him should be ahead of him, and I wouldn’t blame you if you made that decision depending on what you’re looking for. Even if we see a slight regression from the Colorado top line, they should still be great, with Rantanen being a big part of it.
36) Alexander Radulov – If you wanted to put Radulov and the next guy after Panarin, I wouldn’t argue with it. This comes down to team build, and Radulov hits all the categories better than the guys in front of him. Radulov was terrific in his first season with Dallas, scoring 27+45 with 72 PIM with a massive jump in shot rate. My hope is that Jim Montgomery keeps the big three together all season and doesn’t constantly switch lines like Hitchcock did. If that happens, Radulov could be a massive value even at this price point. Not many guys are pushing a point per game with 70 PIM.
37) Sean Couturier – I don’t hate Couturier by any means; he’s always been a great player in real life. However, when you take the biggest shot volume of your career by a mile and still have a career high shooting percentage, that doesn’t seem sustainable. I also think that there’s a non-zero chance that Couturier loses his spot on the top power play unit to JVR. I wouldn’t say it’s more likely than not, but it is somewhat of a concern. The Flyers shot 13% with Couturier on the ice last season, a number that is simply not repeatable. He already played 21:36 per game, so I don’t see any way he improves. My hope is that he sticks on PP1 and a boost there will cancel out some of the even strength dropoff. Couturier is also a possession monster making him a near-lock for a good plus-minus. If the shot rate is sustained, he should pay off this value even if he loses 5-10 points.
38) Evander Kane – I like the three guys to close this list quite a bit, and they are all quite different so you can target what you’re looking for. I’ve always been an aggressive ranker of Kane, and that paid off handsomely last season with 29 goals, 25 assists, 82 PIM and a massive 303 SOG. He closed the season on a tear; with the Sharks, Kane had 9+5 in 17 games with 25 PIM and 80 SOG. The amazing part was that including 0 PPG. Kane has never been a great power play player, and the assists will be lower than everyone else ranked to this point, but 30+ goals, 300 SOG, and big penalty minutes are well within reach in San Jose, especially if he’s with the Joe’s.
39) Brock Boeser – Boeser played at a 38 goal pace in his rookie season, and I actually think that is a realistic outcome for him this season. His best player comp in terms of similarity score is Laine, and I don’t think that’s a mistake. That’s not to say Boeser is going to be a 50 goal scorer (which I think Laine will be sooner than later), but Laine’s #1 comp is also Boeser, so this isn’t a fluke. He produced extremely well on a terrible team, and while the Canucks aren’t going to be much better (if at all), the additions of Pettersson and Dahlen should add some scoring threat outside of the top line. I think Boeser’s shot rate will go up a bit in year two (it does for almost all players) and that his minutes increase from 17:30. The upside is through the roof, but with a floor of 30ish goals, I think Boeser could provide a massive value in this range (around 50th overall).
40) Dylan Larkin – Time to close this post with a bang! I want Larkin on every team this season, so let me explain. One, Larkin made tremendous strides at even strength this season, scoring 52 points. That’s more than Crosby, Tavares, Seguin, and Tarasenko among others. His shot rate jumped back up to almost three shots per game. The penalty minutes jumped from average to a fairly big plus (61 PIM). Larkin had only 8 PPP, a number that could easily improve (sure, he’s not a great power play player, but that number is absurdly low for anyone who sees regular PP time), especially with Vanek back in the fold. His shooting percentage is due to go back up towards where it was in his first two NHL seasons. And he just turned 22 a week ago. The Red Wings are going to be bad, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid everyone on their team. I think we see Larkin reach the 75 point range, and given the quality of his contributions to the non-point statistics, he is positioned to be a big difference maker this season.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll get my list of the top 60 forwards out later in the week. As always, feel free to ask any questions, or give any comments or suggestions below. Thanks for reading, take care!