It’s time to take my annual journey through the NHL writing 20,000+ words ranking everyone throughout the NHL.  I’m starting with the top 20 overall today, before doing two defensemen posts, at least one goaltending post, four forward posts, and another ranking list for the top 200 overall.  These rankings go towards a scoring focus, meaning G, A, PPP, and SOG, while also acknowledging plus-minus and PIMs as categories that most people use.  I do not look at hits and blocks, although I will mention where there is extra value in the hits department specifically.  Let’s get to it!

1) Connor McDavid – Let’s not overthink the top spot.  Sure, McDavid didn’t keep his place from the shortened season, but he still had 44+79.  His shot rate took a massive jump forward to almost three per game.  He had 44 PPP.  I get the temptation to take Matthews because he could score 60+ goals again with an incredible shot rate.  The facts are that McDavid’s floor blows everyone else’s out of the water, and his overall ceiling is also the highest.  Would it shock you if he had 50+100 in a season, or very close to it?  It definitely wouldn’t surprise me.  Thank your lucky stars if you get the first pick and take McDavid immediately.

2) Auston Matthews – As much as I like the next two guys, Matthews has made himself the clear #2 player for me.  He scored 60 goals in 73 games taking almost five shots per game.  His assist rate also skyrocketed.  Matthews is a bit of an injury risk, but his floor is what, 50 goals per 82 games?  He’s pretty much the younger Ovechkin from a fantasy perspective.

3) Nathan MacKinnon – This tier goes from here through 5th overall.  One of these years, MacKinnon is going to play every game and score 115+ points.  Why not this year?  He’s a lock for an elite shot rate and plus-minus.  His time on ice is also a lock to stay above 20, especially with Kadri gone.  If you want to be safe and you have the third pick, take my #4 (no spoilers!).  I’m rolling the dice on MacKinnon in that spot because he seems like a guy who still wants to put together that monster season after getting paid, especially since he could end up the highest paid player in the NHL.  It’s all a matter of avoiding a fluky injury again.

4) Leon Draisaitl – It’s probably unfair to Draisaitl to be ranked 4th instead of 3rd, but I won’t apologize for my own rankings!  Draisaitl put up another 110 points this season, this time with 55 goals and 55 assists.  The shot rate approached 3.5 per game, easily a career high, while solid in every other category.  Draisaitl has had 105+ points in each of the past four seasons when you prorate the COVID shortened season.  There’s not really much else to say about these top guys.  Massively high floor, ceiling to the moon.

5) Nikita Kucherov – After returning from injury, Kucherov was incredible playing at a 44+77 pace.  The shot race bounced back to around 3.5 per game.  Kucherov’s ceiling clearly has him in my top five, and his per-game floor is so high that the gap between Kucherov and the next tier is quite large.  There are two reasons I have MacKinnon and Draisaitl ahead of Kucherov.  One, the injury risk.  Yes, MacKinnon misses some games here and there, but Kucherov missed an entire regular season and another half of a season in the last two years.  Second, his power play points from last season are unsustainable.  As good as he is, 30 PPP in 47 games is an absurd pace even for Kucherov.  If Kucherov plays every game, I expect his point totals to be right around MacKinnon’s and Draisaitl but with a lower shot rate than MacKinnon, and with less goals than Draisaitl.

6) Kirill Kaprizov – I can already tell that I would dread getting the sixth pick.  That’s not because I dislike Kaprizov, what’s not to love?  He’s coming off a 47+61 season with 3.5 shots per game.  It just feels like a step behind Kucherov and the rest and I don’t see Kaprizov being able to push into that top five.  The only hope is that his 19 minutes per game ends up going into the 20’s, but I don’t expect that given how Evason has rolled his lines in the past.  Regardless, somewhere in the ballpark for last season is completely reasonable for Kaprizov.  He’s as dynamic of a winger as there is in the league now.  In the first couple rounds, I’m generally playing it safe because all of these players are great and I want the high floor.  All of Kaprizov’s numbers, both underlying and on the surface, are incredible.  For now, he sits at the top of this tier.

7) Mikko Rantanen – As good as Rantanen is, he’s also a clear step behind the top five.  That said, he played last season at a 40+60 pace, the shots are around 3.5 per game, and we know the plus-minus is going to be elite.  He’s basically the 90% version of Kucherov for fantasy falling behind in assists.  That’s a damn good player!  Rantanen also had the lowest shooting percentage of his career last season, albeit marginally so.  If MacKinnon has that crazy season that I think is in the cards, perhaps Rantanen gets a boost off of that.  The PIM and hits both went up quite a bit.  Here’s to hoping that’s the new norm and not an outlier.

8) Matthew Tkachuk – I was tempted to put Tkachuk at 6th overall.  I was tempted to drop him to the back end of this tier.  In the end, I settled on here.  Tkachuk was the #2 fantasy forward last season with 42+62, both career highs by a large margin.  He was over three shots per game for the first time.  He had his usual high PIM total.  The PPP skyrocketed.  The crazy outlier was he was +57.  To be blunt, that’s simply not repeatable.  If you ignore plus-minus, he was still a top ten skater last season.  I do expect some dropoff in his point totals, but Tkachuk smashing all the categories gives him a big boost.  Additionally, his time on ice is going to increase in Florida.  Last season, as good as he was, he only averaged 17:54 per game.  Maurice has a long history of playing his top players for 20+ minutes.  That extra 10% boost in ice time should counteract some of the regression at even strength.  Getting to play with Barkov is also a great scenario like he had in Calgary.  I’m simply bullish on Florida remaining as one of, if not the best, offensive team in the league, with Tkachuk fitting in seamlessly.

9) Cale Makar – It’s been a while since I had a defenseman ranked this high (I believe it was Burns in 2016).  My vote for second best player in the NHL, Makar found another level last season with 28+58 in 77 games.  Is a 30+62 point pace good for a defenseman?  I’d say so.  Now add in over three shots per game, elite STP, and the safest bet in the entire NHL to have an elite plus-minus, and you can see the case for making him a first round pick.  Sure, you’re going to be slightly behind in overall point production given who else is going in that range, but he can make it up in the other categories, and it’s easy to find players late in drafts that score points but have other warts.  Could it get even better for Makar?  You can’t rule it out, he’s still only 23 years old.  Usually, defensemen take off in year four.  He’s such a unicorn that I don’t even have any comparables for Makar.  If your league uses hits and/or blocks, he should be even higher.  The penalty minutes are low, but the hits are not.

10) Aleksander Barkov – I don’t really see a gap between Barkov and most of the guys coming in tomorrow’s top 20.  Barkov had the best season of his career, putting up 39+49 in 67 games.  The shot rate dropped, but is still over three per game, and he should get a boost playing with Tkachuk regularly.  Remember, Barkov didn’t play with Huberdeau much at even strength.  The Panthers did get a bit thinner offensively as well, meaning Barkov could get back to the 22 minutes he averaged under Boughner with Maurice.  Now, the PIM are going to be poor, and the hits are below average if you’re using hits.  Even with some shooting regression due to a career high shooting percentage, that can be cancelled out with his shot volume going back to the previous year’s 3.5 per game.  I really don’t like the back end of the first round when drafting this season, but if I’m in this spot, give me Barkov’s incredibly high floor.

That’s all for now guy.  1500 words only on the top 10!  I’ll be back tomorrow completing the top 20 before moving onto goaltenders over the rest of the week.  Tentatively, my plan is to do two goalie posts on Thursday and Friday covering rankings through the top 24 goalies and then goalies I’d like to stream in 12 man leagues, or see as a hold in deeper leagues.  As always, feel free to ask any questions, leave any comments, or give any suggestions below.  Thanks for reading, take care!