And now we reached the meat of the rankings.  Forwards generally make up half of your roster, if not more, and they dominate the beginning of drafts.  For today, I’ll have around 50 guys separated into tiers and will have more on Thursday.  Let’s get right to it!

TIER ONE: EASY AS 1,2,3

1) Connor McDavid

2) Nathan MacKinnon 

3) Leon Draisaitl

The top three couldn’t be any easier for me.  You can possibly talk me into adding someone to the bottom of this tier, but I think this is trivial.  McDavid is McJesus, MacKinnon is just as safe with a slightly smaller ceiling, and Draisaitl has played his way into this conversation after the last two seasons.  That’s all I’m going to say about these guys as this isn’t where a real choice needs to be made, it’s further down in the first round and beyond.  If you’re lucky enough to draft in the top three, congrats on the head start.

TIER TWO: FIRST ROUND PICKS

4) Auston Matthews

5) Brad Marchand

6) Patrick Kane

7) Artemi Panarin

8) Jack Eichel

9) Alex Ovechkin

10) Sidney Crosby

I debated putting Matthews at the bottom of tier one, but the lack of PIM hurts a bit, and more importantly, the assists aren’t at the level of the top three.  Make no mistake about it, Matthews is the betting favorite for the Rocket for a reason.  This Marchand ranking is contingent on him being ready for game one, but I expect him to be.  I admittedly have no idea how I want to rank 5-8 here and it could change by Friday’s top 200 post.  While Pastrnak being out to open the season could hurt the PP, Marchand’s ability to hit all of the categories extremely well makes it easy to build going forward.  Kane has shown no signs of slowing down, and while I don’t see the 100 point pace per 82 games again, he should be over a point per game with four shots per game.  Panarin’s first season in New York was Hart worthy.  Pushing his shot rate to over three per game helped and his linemates should improve, at least one of them.  I don’t think he’ll be quite as good as last season, but he should be at the peak of his career right now.  Eichel has gotten better every season and now gets to play with Hall.  He could easily put up 70 points in this 56 game season and it wouldn’t be a surprise.  I put the two biggest legends of their generation at the bottom of this tier.  Ovechkin only put up 19 assists last season which is the problem with taking him this early.  If you do, you have to make up the assists later.  However, the goals and shots are still as good as it gets.  Crosby’s shot rate dropped towards 2.5 per game last season which is why I have him at the bottom of this tier.  It could bounce back, but he’s 33 now and shot rates usually don’t make a big jump back up.  He’s still a first rounder for me, but this could be the last year for it.

TIER THREE: POINT PER GAME AND THEN SOME

11) Evgeni Malkin

12) Mitch Marner

13) Mark Scheifele

14) Brayden Point

15) Andrei Svechnikov

16) Elias Pettersson

17) Steven Stamkos

18) Sebastian Aho

19) Mikko Rantanen

20) John Tavares

21) Jake Guentzel

I debated calling this the tier of preference because really, the second round comes down to doing what you want.  You can go with Josi, you can go with a goalie (although I’d advise against it), or you can take your pick of forwards.  On a per-game basis, Malkin could end up being the #1 forward.  I know that sounds crazy, but he’s an absolute monster.  In a 56 game season, he has even less time to get injured.  I know it’s a gamble and understand why you would pass on him altogether, but I love Malkin this year with Rust and Zucker on his wings.  The shot rate drags Marner down but he’s a great bet for playing at a 90+ point pace (reminder, all paces over 82 games).  Scheifele has been over a point per game for four straight seasons and has boosted his shot rate over the last two seasons.  He’s incredible safe.  Point is a bit risky with Kucherov down, but I simply think he’s this good of a player and the shot rate could increase without Kuch.

I was all in on Svechnikov last season and I am again. He’s an incredible play driver, his shot rate took a big jump in year two and should take another one, plus he played only 16:44 in 2019-20.  That number could push close to 20 per game, and then we’re talking about a Brad Marchand type in fantasy.  Pettersson is pushing towards being a top 10 forward, but I have a little pause because it’s a question who his RW will be (probably Virtanen?).  The shot rate isn’t elite yet either, but if it gets there, Pettersson could push towards leading the league in goals.  Stamkos is like Malkin in terms of injury risk, but you can’t doubt the performance.  He’ll be an even bigger focal point on the power play again and has the ability to put up 30 goals in a shortened season.

We can’t expect Aho to shoot 18% again, but that line has the chance to thoroughly dominate the Central.  Sixteen games against Detroit and Chicago?  Sign me up for that.  As the tier name suggests, Rantanen will be right around a point per game with upside to blow by it.  His assist rate on the power play dropped last season which seems fluky.  A small bounce back appears in order.  This may be a little low on Tavares, but he looked like he lost a small step last season.  That along with Marner moving to Matthews’ wing and having Nylander instead is enough to drop him towards the bottom of this tier.  The easy division keeps him here.  Guentzel scored 40 goals two seasons ago and played over a 40 goal pace last season.  The shot rate took another jump forward, and more importantly, he’ll have a permanent place on the first power play unit with Hornqvist gone.  Yes, he had it most of the time he played last year, but sometimes Rust had his spot and now he should be on PP1 all season.  I’m hoping his injury keeps his value down this year and I can get him in the third or even fourth round if goalies go on a big early run.

TIER FOUR: POINT PER GAME PLUS UPSIDE, SAFE POINT PER GAME, OR ELITE SPECIALISTS

22) Mika Zibanejad

23) Taylor Hall

24) Kyle Connor

25) Patrik Laine

26) Matthew Tkachuk

27) David Pastrnak

28) Mark Stone

29) Jonathan Huberdeau

30) Kevin Fiala

31) Max Pacioretty

32) Evander Kane

33) Aleksander Barkov

34) Johnny Gaudreau

35) Filip Forsberg

36) Patrice Bergeron

I really debated putting Zibanejad in tier three, but ultimately decided against it because of that 19.7 shooting percentage coinciding with a massive jump in shot volume.  Those things normally do not go together meaning regression is in the cards.  I think he’ll be slightly above point per game, but a goal rate around 10th best, not best in the NHL.  Hall played last season with Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Christian Dvorak as centers.  Now, he gets Jack Eichel.  It’s obviously a gamble, but one I’m making in the third round because if it hits, Hall could be a top 10 player again.  Connor has gotten better every season to the point where he should be discussed among the best goal scorers in the league.  Paul Maurice loves to give his top six huge minutes, the shot rate has reached elite levels, and the assists are climbing with the goals.  The gap between him and Zibanejad is negligible and really, Guentzel too.  By the time I update these, I may slide Guentzel down, although his PP boost gives him a path to distance himself a bit from these two.  Either way, Connor is massively underrated.

As mentioned with Connor, Winnipeg studs get big minutes.  Now, Laine gets a real center again in Stastny’s return.  The shot rate made a big jump and is sustainable with Stastny’s low shot rate, so I think Laine has a big year, especially in that division.  Stone is as safe as they come in fantasy.  Lock him in for a point per game and decent stats across the board.  Pastrnak comes down to personal preference.  I’d have him fourth overall if he was playing every game, but he’s out until early February in a best case scenario.  In a head to head league, I’m more likely to roll the dice thinking I just need to make the playoffs and I have a top 5 player I got in the 3rd round.  I would take him without hesitation in the fourth, but I suspect he’s gone by then.  In a 12 man league, I’d consider him early 3rd since that means I can team McDavid, MacKinnon, or Draisaitl with Pastrnak eventually.  If I picked in the middle, I’d probably pass, and if I picked towards the end of the third, I’d roll the dice on him.

Huberdeau is similar to Stone in that we know what to expect.  This may be underrating him a bit because of their upgrade in division, but Huberdeau’s shot rate keeps him down here.  After a brutal October, Fiala was around a point per game with an elite shot rate.  He was incredible in the bubble in Minnesota’s four games, and I think we see it continue this year.  There’s additional improvement in store just from increased ice time; last year he played only 15:24 which should get into the 18-19 range this year.  I may end up dropping Patches because of the ongoing trade rumors, but as long as he’s with Stone, he’s among the best shot rate players in the league.  He even set a career high in assists last season so Patches could be an all-around contributor finally.

Kane certainly won’t be an all-around contributor, but the penalty minutes and shots will be elite, and the goals could be.  The Sharks are extremely thin now so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kane’s minutes go into the 20’s.  After all, Boughner loves to give his top guys huge minutes. He’s not a need for every team, but if you end up with a lot of assists early, he’s a great fit.  Like his teammate, Barkov is extremely predictable.  That’s not a bad thing!  His minutes dropped a bit with Quenneville, but with their lack of depth, I can’t help but wonder if he creeps back into the 22 range.

I’ve always been the low man on Gaudreau, but it only burned me once.  Last year was a disaster, but to be fair, his shooting percentage was the lowest of his career.  With a bounce back, he won’t be far from a point per game.  It’s not going to be exciting as 2018-19 was an outlier, but it will be fine, especially changing divisions.  I can’t quit Forsberg and I can’t help it.  He also shot the lowest percentage of his career and remains an incredible play driver.  I could end up moving him down a tier eventually, but after him, the big shot volume guys are all well-below average in assists.  Call me a sucker, but I’m going back to the well thinking his point per game season happens eventually.  Bergeron has been pushing a 40 goal pace over 82 the last three seasons.  He’s dominant at 5 on 5 making plus-minus a lock to be great, and there could be a path to even more shots early with Pastrnak out.  However, it can’t really be considered a plus that Pastrnak is down, so I’m dropping him to the bottom of the tier because the top line should start slower compared to past year’s.  Also, Bergeron is 35 years old now and while he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, it could happen at any time.

TIER FIVE: POINT PER GAME UPSIDE OR BORDERLINE ELITE SPECIALIST

37) Gabriel Landeskog

38) Blake Wheeler

39) J.T Miller

40) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

41) William Nylander

42) Bryan Rust

43) Nazem Kadri

44) Brendan Gallagher

45) Mathew Barzal

46) Pierre-Luc Dubois

47) Claude Giroux

47) Ryan O’Reilly

48) Nicklas Backstrom

49) Evgeny Kuznetsov

50) Sean Couturier

51) Mike Hoffman

52) Dylan Larkin

Landeskog is going to be a plus contributor in all categories making him a great pick once you reach the 5th round.  Best case is 2018-19 where he’s a point per game, worst case is something like 45 points in 56 games?  I’ve been the President of the Blake Wheeler Fan Club for a while, but there were some worrisome signs in his age 33 season.  The shot rate jumped to average, the assists plummeted at even strength and on the power play, and his ice time was the lowest in six years, albeit marginally.  I still like him plenty, but we have to temper expectations… he’s no longer a top 20 guy.  Miller’s first season in Vancouver couldn’t have gone any better.  As mentioned with Pettersson above, I’m a little worried about who their RW is going to be, but if Miller’s jump in shot rate is real, this spot is more than deserved.

RNH is coming off the best season of his career and there’s no reason to expect that to change as long as he’s with McDavid.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if RNH finally reaches the point per game mark.  I bumped Nylander slightly down just because he should be with Tavares and not Matthews, at least to start.  However, Keefe clearly believes in loading up the top power play unit, so Nylander remains extremely safe.  Rust was one of the biggest breakouts of last season and it didn’t appear to be a fluke in the slightest.  Yes, the shot rate was a bit high, but as long as Malkin stays healthy, I’m buying Rust.  As mentioned above in the Guentzel blurb, a full season of PP1 time for Rust should cancel out the shooting regression.

Kadri’s first season in Colorado took him back to his pre-Tavares Toronto level.  Saad’s arrival should strengthen the second line quite a bit so much like last season, I’m keeping my Kadri stock even at a higher level.  Gallagher is a shooting machine.  He generates more chances at even strength than anyone in the league.  No, that is not a typo.  It will be interesting to see how Julien sets up the Montreal lines, but no matter what, Gallagher is a great fit if your team is light on shots early.  It feels like it’s a matter of time for Barzal to blow up again like his Calder season.  It’s going to come down to the Islanders power play.  The only thing stopping Barzal from getting back to a point per game level is his PPP.  Obviously he could drop significantly soon if he remains without a contract as we approach opening night.

Dubois took a step back last season, but I think we see career highs this season.  One, he was still under 18 minutes per game last season which is ridiculous.  Two, his power play points are very low.  I don’t see why he only had 1+9 in 70 games; that’s due for an increase.  Three, it’s year four and he’s only 22 years old, it’s only natural to improve.  Four, there is no four.  Five, a healthy Bjorkstrand for a full season would go a long way.  Giroux still has a solid floor, but the ceiling is dropping.  His ice time dropped by almost 3:30 per game last season.  That’s the equivalent of five less games over 82 games.  Is it going to increase in a shortened season in his age 33 season?  I doubt it.  I feel comfortable taking Giroux in this range, but I have a feeling people will reach for him based on name value.  We know what RoR is at this point.  My concern is the shot rate.  I can’t remember anyone going from almost three shots per game to around 1.5 per game.  Absolutely insane.  I’m inclined to think he goes somewhere in the middle, but know that it’s going to be impossible for him to return value in this slot if his shot rate is the same as 2019-20.

If there’s anyone who has less variance in their projected point totals than Backstrom, I’d like to see it.  We know who he is going to be in virtually every category.  Like RoR, I’m giving Kuznetsov the benefit of the doubt with his shot rate.  His power play points also dropped off a bunch mostly based on bad luck, so we should see a bounce back.  Couturier also had an ice time drop with Vigneault in charge, except not quite as much as Giroux.  He actually received more offensive zone starts last season, so assuming that continues to make minutes easier for Giroux, Couturier should go back to a level just below a point per game.

Hoffman just signed in St. Louis which is… interesting.  Hoffman is an elite offensive player, but one of the worst defensive players in the league.  Is he going to play with RoR?  It’s a strange fit to say the least.  Perhaps he plays with Schenn, but Schwartz has been stapled to his wing for a while.  Hoffman is a great goal scorer and we don’t care in fantasy that he’s a defensive sieve.  Hopefully his late signing drives down his ADP.  Lastly, I can’t quit Larkin.  Yes, the plus-minus could be awful again, but the division isn’t as tough as Detroit’s normal division, and they shouldn’t be quite as bad as a team this year (at least they’ll have competent goaltending).  I’m slightly bullish on a power play improvement with Zadina’s growth and Hronek’s continued improvement.

That’s all for now guys.  All of these 3,000 word posts are getting to me, but I hope you’re enjoying them and they’re of great help to you!  Tomorrow, I will add a second forward post that goes through somewhere around the top 100 forwards.  Then, it’s top 200 list time, hopefully for Friday but potentially Saturday depending on how much I can get done before New Year’s Eve.  As always, feel free to ask any questions, leave any comments, or give any suggestions below.  Thanks for reading, take care!

  1. Bobby Boom says:
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    Viz,

    You are the man! Long time reader and big fanboy here for years. Thank you for the goods every year, it is very appreciated! Need your insight for this one please…..

    Standard head to head league – 12 team keeper – dynasty

    Stats: Goals (G), Assists (A), Points (P), Plus/Minus (+/-), Powerplay Points (PPP), Shots on Goal (SOG), Hits (HIT) 10 total

    My keeper options: Point, Rantanen, Pettersson, Makar, Connor

    Pick the top 2 of the 3

    My picks- Point for sure and I’m leaning Rantanen over EP40 because of the Mackdaddy exposure and Mikko is just more of a filthy sniper I feel with more weapons around him in more fantasy goodness game environments…. your thoughts appreciated bro!

    Thank you.

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Thanks Bobby! Hope you’re doing well.

      Man, this is a very tough decision. I agree on Point for sure, I think we see that shot rate get a boost for this year which should help quite a bit. I think you can make a reasonable argument for any of the other guys. I think I marginally prefer Pettersson only because he’s two years younger and the better goal scorer, but the addition of points as a category in your league makes it razor thin as Rantanen should generally edge him out there, albeit barely. If you want to roll with Rantanen, I’m definitely not going to tell you that you’re wrong, we’re talking two cream of the crop guys. He’s a little safer, at least for this season, because of the questions of who is RW1 in Vancouver (assuming Boeser is with Bo), so if you’re leaning Rantanen, I say just go with it so you don’t regret flip flopping.

  2. Steve says:
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    Yo Viz, awesome work as always. Do you have some favorite forwards in later tiers that I should target? My draft is tonight and you are a master at hitting on sleepers, so I’d love some fliers to work with. Thanks man, congrats to your Bills btw.

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Hey Steve, thanks! It’s a nice to have a relevant team to root for for a change haha.

      I love Bjorkstrand again but I’m not sure how late you’ll be able to get him. Otherwise, a few guys I’m looking at:

      Dylan Cozens: will be in top 6, possibly with Eichel and Hall
      Kasperi Kapanen: should be on Crosby’s wing
      Jesse Puljujarvi: Right onto McDavid’s wing
      Dominik Kahun: Draisaitl’s wing, still annoyed the Sabres let him go
      Ilya Mikheyev: Really liked what I saw last season pre-injury, should be with JT and WN
      Dylan Strome: Dach is done and Toews out indefinitely, puts him back with Kane as 1C

      Defensively, it’s a little more guess work on PP time, but Grzelcyk is a big one, and with your last pick unless a super deep league, Mikko Lehtonen in Toronto. I find myself going with D earlier this season again. Best of luck!

  3. Itookdonscherry says:
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    Forwards I likeclatecare Bjorkstrand, Tuch and Glass.

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      I don’t think you should be able to get Bjorkstrand later, I’m going to have him not too far outside this range which puts him firmly in the top 100. I’m a big fan. I do like both Vegas guys as well, targets I like.

      • Itookdonscherry says:
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        Another late round guy I like is Necas. He should get more time on PP this year.

  4. Teddy BB says:
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    Great job on your rankings, Viz ! Lots of great insight, as always.
    I’m picking my three keepers, and need your advice.
    League categories are Goals, Assists, PPP, +/-, PIM, Hits, SOG, ATOI
    I’m going with Draisaitl & Josi, but haven’t decided on #3.
    I’ve narrowed it down to Svechnikov and Hamilton. Hamilton helps in all my categories, but with hopefully more ice time (plus it’s a contract year), I’m leaning to the Russian.
    What do you think ?

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Thakns Teddy! I love Dougie, but I would go with Svech as well. There’s more upside than he’s shown (he’s still only 20), his ice time should also go up, and you already have the best defenseman in Josi. I think you have a chance of getting Hamilton back, but unless you have the first pick after keepers, you’d be hard pressed to get Svech back. I think you’re leaning in the right direciton.

  5. Nightpandas says:
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    Hey Viz

    Looking at keeping Nate Mac, Petterson, Huberdeau, Markstrom and one of JT Miller/Karlsson/Krug/Letang

    After a championship I have no picks until Round 7 of (of 12) so this is a consideration.

    Cats are below, only other rule is only one goalie can be kept, I need to keep one as they go early typically.

    1) Who do you like as my last keeper?
    2) Would you trade Nate and Markstrom for Vasilevskiy and Kyle Connor
    ************************************
    15 Team Roto League (keep 5)
    G/A/P/+-/PIM/PPP/SHP/SOG
    W/L/GAA/SV%/SHO/GS
    Max 164 Games for each position except 246 for Def
    35 moves for the season

    start 2 C: Mackinnon, Pettersson
    start 2 LW: Huberdeau, RNH
    start 2 RW: JTMiller (RW)
    start 3 D: Karlsson, Letang, Krug
    start 2 G: Markstrom, Saros, Francouz
    start 2 Util:

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Hey Nightpandas, hope you’re doing well.

      First off, I’ll answer #2 by saying no chance would I do that trade. MacKinnon is simply too good to trade away when the best piece coming back is a goalie, as good as Vasilevskiy is.

      The keeper question is a bit more difficult. Given that you don’t have a pick for that long, I’m going to say you need to keep a defensemen so that rules out Miller. I have these guys in the same tier, but I marginally prefer Letang. Yes, he’s an injury risk, but he’s a per-game monster and the Penguins still heavily rely on him. If you don’t want to take that risk, I would go with Krug over Karlsson on the hope that he steps right into Pietrangelo’s role for the Blues.

      • Nightpandas says:
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        Thanks Viz

        You don’t think all the goalie cats make a big enough difference? The only reason I would even consider this trade is because of the categories. Picking in round 7 I’m sure the goalie bin will be barren. Seems like the Canadian division will have more goals than the division Tampa plays in as well. I like your thinking in letang over Miller.

        Thanks again

        • Viz

          Viz says:
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          No I don’t, goaltenders are too high variance, especially in a shortened season. Vasilevskiy is the #1 goalie, but he could just as easily finish outside of the top 5, or even top 10, than being a top 2-3 guy. We know what MacKinnon is going to be and that’s a slam dunk top 10 player and a favorite to be top 3. There’s still 8 offensive stats compared to 6 goalie, and shootouts is just a crap shoot you can’t draft for. You’re way more likely to get some luck in net than randomly finding a 100+ point guy. You’ll be able to get by just fine with Markstrom and whoever else you get in a 15 teamer and can crush offense with MacKinnon, Pettersson, Huberdeau, and Letang.

          • Nightpandas says:
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            Sounds good! Appreciate the commentary

            One last one: just got offered Pasta for Huberdeau, intriguing from a keeper perspective

            • Viz

              Viz says:
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              Of course, no problem! I would make that move, it’s so much of an upgrade long term and he should only miss about one month of the season (hopefully). Pasta would be top 5 overall for me if he was starting the season, teaming him with MacKinnon long term is incredible. As long as you’re willing to take the hit to open this season, I’d do it.

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