Obviously you guys know that I’ve gone out of order with my rankings, but I had to get my Top 200 out there for everybody’s drafts.  If you’ve missed it, you can see those rankings here.  Today, I’m going to show you the method behind the madness of my forward rankings.  Part one will be out today, part two will be out tomorrow.  I’m going to try and get a bold predictions post out on Monday as well, and then the season will be underway.  As a heads up, I am going to be in London from Thursday until Tuesday.  I will probably only get to the site once per day, but I will be sure to answer everybody’s questions on all posts when I get the chance.  Thanks for your understanding.  And with that, the first half of my forward rankings.

Tier 1: Jesus On Skates

1) Connor McDavid 

Tier 2: Annual Hart Contenders

2) Nathan MacKinnon

3) Leon Draisaitl

4) Auston Matthews

5) Matthew Tkachuk

Tier Three: Tier Two Upside, Lower Floor

6) Mikko Rantanen 

7) David Pastrnak

8) Jason Robertson

9) Nikita Kucherov 

10) Jack Hughes

11) Kirill Kaprizov

Tier Four: Clear Second Round Picks, Maybe More?

12) Brady Tkachuk

13) Tage Thompson

14) Elias Pettersson

15) Sidney Crosby

16) Tim Stutzle

All of these players are covered in my Top 20 overall here.

Tier Five: 100 Point Possibilities With One Weakness

17) Brayden Point

18) Mitch Marner

19) Mika Zibanejad

20) Kyle Connor

21) Steven Stamkos

22) Aleksander Barkov

Point and Marner were covered in the Top 20.  I’m quite bullish on Zibanejad this season.  One, the Rangers power play has become a powerhouse, with Zibanejad arguably the focal point.  He had 39 PPP last season, including 20 goals, and it could repeat itself.  Two, he’s become an elite even strength contributor.  Three, the shot rate bounced back to over three per game, and if he plays with Panarin as he is at the moment, that number could even increase.  Four, he’s been incredibly healthy.  The PIM are low and the hits are below average if you use either, but Zibanejad looks the part of a late second rounder.

The encouraging part of last season is that Connor set a career high in assists.  He also had the lowest shooting percentage in his career; if he shot at his career norm, he would have had 38+49 with an elite shot rate.  As far as goals go, and solely goals, Connor is among the safest players for 30+ goals.  Even with bad luck, he still had 31 last season.  My guess is that he gets back into the 40’s this year and his plus-minus is fixed by the presence of Vilardi on that line.

Stamkos is mentioned as injury-prone, but the fact is that he’s had a few devastating injuries, but generally plays almost every game.  He’s one of the best PP players in the league, and his playmaking has only improved as he ages.  Stammer is extremely high floor and a nice safe pick in this range.

Barkov could have reached 100 points each of the last two seasons if not for injuries.  He’s always been a huge negative in PIM, so if your league includes them, he probably should be dropped a tier.  He’s also had quite the variance in goal rate over the last few seasons.  I expect his shooting percentage to settle somewhere in between the last two seasons.  If Barkov managed to stay healthy, we’d be looking at goals in the low to mid 30’s, with assists pushing towards 60.  With his solid shot rate, he’s both safe and with upside.

Tier Six: The Sixth Tier

23) Alex Ovechkin

24) Artemi Panarin

25) William Nylander

26) Timo Meier

27) Brad Marchand

28) Zach Hyman

29) Kevin Fiala

30) Roope Hintz

31) Andrei Svechnikov

32) Jake Guentzel

I didn’t have a good name for this tier, so I got really creative with it.  In actuality, there’s a lot of variety here and a lot comes down to what you’re looking for as part of the core of your team, including their match with your first two picks.  We know what we’re getting from Ovechkin at this point in his career: elite goals and shots, quality PPP, and poor even strength play.  In hits leagues, he belongs up a tier.

In terms of points, Panarin laps the rest of this tier.  The shots are slightly below average, as are the hits/PIM, which keeps him in this tier.  Panarin is also about to turn 32, and while there haven’t been signs of slowing down, he needs to stay in the 90+ point range to be worthy of this rank.  If your second round shifts more towards being a heavy goal scorer, Panarin is the perfect counterpart.

I ended up keeping Nylander where I originally had him, although I am tempted to slide him to the end of this tier.  The Leafs seem gung ho about playing him as their 3C for balance, which isn’t good for his fantasy value.  That said, I’m not convinced it lasts, and Nylander will maintain his PP1 spot.  He’s also been so good at even strength that Nylander provides a great floor.  He’s poor in PIM and dreadful in hits, so in banger leagues, he needs to drop a tier.

While things didn’t completely click for Meier after the trade to the Devils, I have zero concern.  The shot rate is among the best in the league, and playing with Hischier should do him wonders.  He’s very similar to the current Ovechkin, except with a bit more uncertainty in terms of his PP role, and a lock to be better at evens because of playing with Hischier.

Marchand was one of the guys I had the most difficulty with.  I have no idea what’s going to happen with his shot rate.  Is he going to be the second PP option after Pastrnak with the centers gone?  How much is Bergeron gone going to hurt?  At the end of the day, his ability to hit all of the categories gives him a high enough floor to be in this tier.  If the shot rate goes back towards three per game without Bergeron’s high usage, then Marchand can blow past this ranking.

Hyman is the perfect fit as a passenger with a superstar.  He delivered in a big way, finishing as the 21st best forward last season.  Hyman is a plus in every category, and the PPP has room to increase if he keeps his spot on the top unit all season, even as the fifth wheel.  Even with that potential increase, around the 20th best forward seems like his ceiling, so I’m comfortable having him in this tier.

I was tempted to move Fiala, but I don’t know if his minutes will go up, or if it will stay in the 17-18 range.  His first year in L.A. was outstanding with over a point per game, three shots per game, and the best PPP total of his career.  Fiala had a below average shooting percentage by his standards, which gives him more upside.  If he clicks with Dubois, we could see huge things.

The Dallas first line can lay claim to the best line in hockey, and Hintz is a major factor.  It would be even better if they played as much as other top lines.  Alas, Hintz should be good for around 40+40, and there’s upside if the Dallas PP1 takes a step forward.  It’s not the most exciting stat line, but Hintz continues to be underrated.

For the next two guys, I’m assuming they’re back in the first two weeks of the season, if not opening night.  Svechnikov hasn’t quite reached the level that I expected from him, but remarkably, he’s still only 23 years old.  The shot rate, PIM, and hits are all elite, so the base line is there.  It’ll take the PP improving a bit, or simply Svechnikov’s game continuing to develop, for him to jump up a tier.

I was tempted to move Guentzel up on the chance that he’s ready for opening night now.  I decided against it because there really isn’t anywhere for Guentzel to go from where he already is.  Guentzel has been in the same range for five straight seasons, and assuming health, he will stay at that level this season.  He’s gotten a bit feistier which helps his overall value.  I don’t have much to say about him; Guentzel is simply a solid fantasy asset.

Tier Seven: Good, But How Good?

33) Dylan Larkin

34) Evgeni Malkin

35) Nico Hischier

36) Sebastian Aho

37) Jack Eichel 

38) Carter Verhaeghe

39) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

40) Matt Boldy

41) John Tavares

42) Alex Tuch

43) J.T. Miller

44) Dylan Cozens

45) Clayton Keller

I like all of these guys, but there are questions about whether we want to buy off a career season, buy their continued development, or buy that they stave off age regression.  Larkin doesn’t cleanly fit into these three groups, but the second question is somewhat relevant.  He’s 27 and should be entering his prime.  He has a better offensive winger than ever before.  He finally became a top end PP contributor.  But can he get out of the gutter at even strength?  Larkin fits every team build which is why I’m a fan.  He was the 36th overall forward last season despite the poor even strength play, so if it does improve, Larkin can end up with the players in the tier above him.

Geno is similar to Larkin in terms of their overall stat line.  He’s a lock for elite PP production, and should be right around a point per game.  The thing is that Malkin is an injury risk, and he’s also been bad at even strength for a few years.  He did play all 82 games last season, but it was the first time in 5+ years that he didn’t miss 10+ games.  The 37 year old is so talented that I expect him to continue producing at this level, but it is risky.

Hischier took a massive offensive leap last season.  He put up 80 points despite facing top competition every night.  I’m not sure where it goes from here.  He gets Meier on his wing, but it’s hard to see another jump for Hischier offensively.  He’s the fifth wheel on the power play, but he’s never getting easy matchups.  Now, he doesn’t need to get any better to pay off this rankings.  Just keep expectations in check.

Aho has been right around the point per game range for five seasons now.  The problem for his overall value is that the Carolina PP lags far behind the top units around the league.  Aho only had 15 PPP, which is a big hit to his value.  He’s had two good seasons on the power play in the past, but it’s far from consistent.  Perhaps it clicks, but I don’t want to pay up for it.

Eichel is in almost the same situation as Aho, as he had only 14 PPP last season.  But hey, keep Pietrangelo on the top unit over Theodore.  There’s no denying Eichel’s upside, and if the Vegas PP does fix itself, this ranking will be too low.  That said, he doesn’t take penalties and the hits are below average, and for how good his shot is, he’s never been a high shooting percentage guy.  Eichel only turns 27 this month, so like Larkin, he’s entering his theoretical prime, but I’m not sure Vegas plays in a way conducive for him to take a big step past the point per game range.

On one hand, it feels ridiculous to put Verhaeghe here when his career season last year was 38th among forwards, his exact ranking this year (coincidentally).  On the other, the shot rate is elite, he gets to play with a superstar no matter which line he’s on, and there’s a door open for him to be on the top power play unit.  Now, maybe Maurice jerks him around again and puts somebody else there, but it would be foolish.  Get Verhaeghe out there with the top guys, not ERod or Bennett or whoever else.  If that happens, even with some regression, Verhaeghe pays off this ranking.  I’m bullish on him coming close to a repeat.

RNH getting 104 points after his previous career high was 69 is insane.  He had 57 special teams points!  I simply can’t pencil him in for close to a repeat.  A point per game is certainly possible, but projecting RNH for 100 points again seems like a reach.  If I get burned, so be it.  I doubt he falls this far, but if he fell to the top of this tier, I’d strongly consider him if I’m short in PPP because even with a steep drop off, he can be elite on the PP.

In the last 20 games for Minnesota, Boldy had 15+8 with over three shots per game.  He shot an unsustainable percentage, but that shows the kind of upside Boldy has.  I wish they got him a more offensive center to play with, but I’m bullish on Boldy taking another step forward.  He became a focal point on the power play, and I wouldn’t be surprise if his shot rate jumped from very good to elite.

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little worried about Toronto going with this three center look.  Like I said in the Nylander blurb, I’m not convinced it lasts, but if it does, it’s a rough beat for Tavares.  Without having Marner or Nylander on his wing, I’m quite skeptical that he avoids a step back.  He’s already lost a step at even strength, so I don’t expect him to fall off a cliff because the Toronto PP should remain elite.  The shot rate also keeps his floor up.  But if Tavares played a chunk of the season with Knies and Lafferty, I would be selling the 33 year old.

Tuch seized his opportunity in Buffalo season, posting career highs across the board.  How much are we buying it?  I’m pretty convinced it’s real.  Tuch is such a force at even strength, and 20 PPP is certainly repeatable, if not potentially low.  His shooting percentage was a tad high, but at over three shots per game, the floor is solid.  It’s so hard to say what Granato does with the lines, but I’m not too concerned no matter what.

My heart is telling me that this is too low for Miller, who has been better than this two seasons in a row.  My brain is looking at these Canucks wingers and wondering how much Miller can carry these guys, considering he’s a dumpster fire defensively.  Miller will undoubtedly crush the power play, his PIM/hits are elite, and he’s stayed healthy throughout his career.  This is around his floor, so you can adjust accordingly.  But assuming Kuzmenko and Beauvillier stick with Pettersson, which is a safe assumption, we really need a Boeser bounce back for Miller to produce at even strength.

Cozens blew up in his second full season, putting up 31+37.  There’s a few things that stand out in terms of potential improvement besides natural growth.  Cozens played only 16:30 per game, a number that should go up.  The shot rate made a big jump year over year, and seems likely to do so again.  I really wish Quinn was healthy as both of his wingers (Peterka being the other) would also be on the upswing in their development curves.  I honestly have no idea what Granato is going to do with the lines, specifically if Benson is going to make the roster, but either way, the Sabres are going to score a ton of goals and Cozens will be a major part of it.

Considering that I’m expecting Arizona to take a step from the doldrums towards mediocrity, you can argue Keller should be higher.  He had easily the best season of his career last season with 37+49 and a solid shot rate for forwards.  I do have a few concerns, but overall, I’m not expecting much of a drop off.  One, he’s already playing close to 21 minutes per game.  With more talent around him, that can drop a minute or two.  The big one is that Gostisbehere and Chychrun are both gone.  They don’t have anyone close to worthy of quarterbacking a top PP unit.  His PIM also are an outlier, and his hits are extremely low.  Going from the 39th forward to 45th seems about right.