Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another year of Fantasy Hockey! I am LackeyDrinksOnMe, a Sabres fan who works in college admissions by day and devours hockey analysis by night. Last year, I had a weekly column about week-long streaming opportunities, targeting mostly-available players with multiple games per week, trying to fill slots for the slowest days. In my book, more player starts means more TOI, and the more time you have players on the ice the greater the chance for a lucky assist or to rack up a few extra hits or blocked shots.
I’ve been working on a top-100 skaters for your reading pleasure, ranking skaters on 17-18 stats including points per game, points/TOI, Wins Above Replacement, Expected Goals and Actual Goals, and Offensive Point Shares, to name a few. Part of what I’ve been trying to do has been to average these metrics for a holistic impression of a skater’s talent, but also supplementing those raw rankings with player age/development and the occasional eye test.
Like Viz indicated, once you get past the first few names there can be very little separation between certain players, and this obviously isn’t meant to be a comprehensive or be-all end-all ranking. Rather, it’s to give you another perspective on where players are being valued, and might reinforce an idea you have about a skater or surprise you with a hot take. I’ll gladly take questions in the comment section.
Without further ado:
1) Connor McDavid – What can be said here? If he’s available draft him. If he isn’t, trade up. If you can’t, find value during the season. First in points, first in Offensive Point Shares, great possession stats and expected goals. He’s everything you want to build a team around- me being me, I only worry about old injuries coming back to haunt players.
2) Nikita Kucherov – I loved Kucherov’s possession and play style all year, and it will only get better as the team around him gels the way they did in the second half of last year. Kucherov would be a clear number 1 by nearly any metric, but McDavid is there.
3) Alex Ovechkin – Yep, I’m still valuing Ovi as high as third. His SOG is a ridiculous stat, and I don’t expect him to slack off as long as he can still skate. Coupled with the high shot rate is a consistent Expected Goals, so he’s not just firing away, he’s taking great shots at nearly every opportunity he’s been given. With a strong Power Play role (#1 in PP/TOI/GP), I’d say he’s going to be pay dividends.
4) Taylor Hall – I’m much higher on Hall than other writers, and I get that. Everything about Hall lines up for another terrific season, without many changes on his line pairing. Terrific Points/TOI, great expected goals, and phenomenal possession numbers. His contributions should remain excellent without much risk, and the payoff could be monumental considering the talent that is there.
5) Sidney Crosby – In only one or two seasons Crosby will start to get a little long in the tooth, which doesn’t mean he can’t play the crap out of some hockey right *now*. Only slightly behind the leaders in some counting stats and metrics like points shares or Wins Above Replacement, Crosby is still a straight shot for a high round pick.
6) Nathan MacKinnon – The breakout season happened in a big way, maybe a year late, but it was exciting and now everyone is eager to get in on MacKinnon. I would be too, if it weren’t for an expected-goals value that indicates he got lucky fairly often. I would expect some regression, making MacKinnon an 85-point player instead of nearly 100. Potato, potahto, but enough to have me looking a little sideways.
7) Brad Marchand – Like Viz, I also like Marchand higher than other writers. Absolutely top-notch production in spite of missing almost a fifth of a season. Marchand has great metrics and skates on one of the top three or four lines in the NHL. You might give your buddies a jump if he goes this early, but everything is coming together for Marchand and for Boston and a third 85 point season is right on the horizon.
8) Steven Stamkos – I don’t like the injury history, but this man can produce on the ice and does an excellent job contributing across the board. Maybe weaker in some counting stats because he’s made of glass, but the Lightning are terrific from top to bottom and Stamkos is a main driver of that. If we get a full season in the books 70 points is the absolute floor with room for so much more.
9) Claude Giroux – An extremely productive year with the background stuff to back it all up, I would bank on Giroux to replicate his success. A solid supporting cast that is only going to get better, Giroux’s role on the power play and expected-goal metrics that don’t indicate too much luck should make Giroux one of the first off the board.
10) Evgeni Malkin – Speaking of ‘made of glass’, Malkin only missed four games last year and his competitive scoring made every Malkin owner quite thankful. I would expect this kind of productivity to continue considering his line mates in Pittsburgh, but keep in mind that other than last year, he hasn’t played more than 69 games in a season since 2012-13. The reward is there, but make sure your league comes with an IR slot.
11) Blake Wheeler – A strong contributor in all categories, Wheeler has established himself as a wily veteran but has now tasted the success that the Jets have been working for for a while. Solid expected goals, good PIM and hits, and a huge power play presence make Wheeler a terrific top pick in any league format, with 75+ point potential.
12) John Tavares – Moving to Toronto is an upgrade, and even if Tavares is bumped to the second line for some reason he will see an improvement in the play of his linemates. Toronto has re-tooled and is poised for a playoff run, and the raw skill is there. I would take Tavares above Mathews on the age and experience factor. Tavares knows where his game can take him, and now will have the support to establish himself as a constant threat. I would expect a very productive season and could take him higher than 12 if the lines in Toronto clear up.
13) Patrik Laine – The Winnipeg Jets are hungry and nobody is hungrier than this young man. Sporting solid offensive numbers but maybe a shaky expected goal differential, Laine is young enough to continue developing and should continue to offer strong returns as a goal scorer and offensive threat.
14) Jack Eichel – Where-ever Jeff Skinner ends up, opposing teams are going to have to shuffle their lines a bit to deal with a new 1-2 punch coming out of Buffalo. Eichel has always had top-tier talent but has been surrounded by players who were either still developing or who didn’t give a damn. Eichel’s shot and possession metrics are solid without being flashy, but he’s still stepping into being a team leader offensively. Another note is that Eichel is 5th overall in PP TOI/GP. This Buffalo team feels surpsingly ready to turn the corner, and if your league has keepers I would be buying shares of Jack, pronto.
15) Phil Kessel – In 17-18, Kessel was an extremely productive fantasy asset. Top-tens in points per game and P/TOI, Kessel was also eighth in the league in Offensive Point Shares, a measure similar to baseball’s Win Shares formula to measure a player’s overall contribution to their team. I would draft Kessel with the expectations of some regression, maybe to 70-75 points, which is why I’m a little lower on him than others.
16) David Pastrnak – I missed out on Pastrnak in all my leagues last year, but I’m going to make sure to get a few shares for the 18-19 season. Totally consistent metrics-wise and an absolutely extraordinary skater, Pastrnak is on a top-heavy Bruins team and should see plenty of opportunities to continue pushing the envelope on where his talent can take him.
17) Vladimir Tarasenko – In my mind, Tarasenko is frequently under the radar as a top-flight forward. Featuring a high and established floor on a team that just got better with the addition of Ryan O’Reilly, Tarasenko could be taken without any qualms- 35G, 30A is as safe a bet as any.
18) Tyler Seguin – 17-18 was a show of consistency for Seguin, posting nearly 80 points, 25 on the power-play. I think the talent is there for a breakout, but Tyler is running out of runway on the prime of his youth. We could see an 85-90 point campaign, but I think the floor has been established around 70 and I don’t have any complaints about that.
19) Mark Scheifele – Strong points-per-game in spite of missing twenty games, Scheifele is a proven talent without great possession metrics. I don’t worry about that too much considering how good this WPG team is, but I worry about recurring injuries and about how the puck is controlled. Scheifele is a good 2nd-round pick and could be taken much higher if you don’t care about injuries.
20) Auston Matthews – I think we’re a few years away from taking Matthews as a legitimate first-rounder, but the talent is there. Now it’s about development and getting this Toronto team time to connect and achieve as highly as we know they can. Matthews is still a fairly raw talent and while he can play convincing hockey, he sports terrible possession metrics for a top-round pick and can struggle to find the back of the net with consistency. He might go in the first round, and a polite noise of disagreement might be in store.
21) Johnny Gaudreau – The Flames seemed to tread water with the Lindholm trade, but lost an asset in Dougie Hamilton. I still expect Johnny Hockey to take a huge step forward as he turns 25, with solid point production and shot metrics that reveal consistent production. If this keeps up and Calgary gels, Gaudreau could spearhead a playoff run with a ceiling as high as 90-95 points, so he’s this high specifically for the chance of that upside. Otherwise, this feels like a dart throw.
22) Aleksander Barkov – I’m going to be the only person this high on Barkov, but I am buying as many shares as possible. Solid shot and possession metrics with extraordinary linemates and an aggressive playbook in hand, I see Barkov taking a huge step forward if his shot rate increases only a little. When he gets the puck, he makes everything seem like a breakaway… worth it in case luck turns his way this season.
23) Jamie Benn – Conversely, I’m lower on Jamie Benn. I’m not sure what the problem was with Dallas last year, but if their woes continue or Seguin loses his footing, then I expect that the whole team- Benn included- will underperform. While Benn creates a lot of opportunities, there are plenty of guys I would take in front for a combination of higher ceiling and a still-being-established floor. If Benn rounds back into 14-16 form he’d be worth a first-round pick, but there’s too much “risk” for me to take him earlier than the second round.
24) Shayne Gostisbehere – I’m low on defensemen this year, and that’s saying something because I used to subscribe to a net-out fantasy hockey strategy. For absolute utility, I don’t think you’re going to find a better D-man to anchor your fantasy team. Depending on your draft position, you could gain a D-man with exceptional power play production with still-developing talent on a team that has found its identity. Great team contribution and possession numbers with an excellent role, Ghost Bear is my first defenseman off the board.
25) Jakub Voracek – I’ve never had Voracek on a fantasy hockey team, and it seems like every year I’ve tried to make a trade for him. Impressive production without being overly lucky from an expected-goals point of view and a strong role on the power play, Voracek is as good as it comes for a middle 2nd or 3rd round pick, and could be higher if you had a good gut feeling considering the trajectory of this Flyers team.
I’ll be back next week with 26-50. I hope this is helpful and that it will provide some reinforcement for how you are feeling or offer some uniquely high picks. I’ll respond to any questions or comments you might have throughout the week, so feel free to post!!