Last season, we were stuck believing Alex Ovechkin would bounce back from his sub-standard 2010-11 season in which he posted 32 goals and 85 points, and so he found himself atop our fantasy rankings for the second consecutive year. Unfortunately, he didn't quite deliver like we hoped -- he finished the season as the 36th-most valuable fantasy player in Yahoo! Leagues. This season, we find a new name on top of the list, and to little surprise, that name is Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin put together arguably his best fantasy season of his six-year NHL career, and that says a lot considering he had 106- and 113-point seasons under his belt already. Last season's 109 points were easily tops in the League (12 more than Steven Stamkos); his 50 goals were second to Stamkos' 60; his 34 power-play points ranked second behind Claude Giroux's 38; his 339 shots on goal were 10 more than teammate James Neal for most in the NHL. Toss in his plus-18 rating and solid 70 penalty minutes and you can see why Malkin ran away with honors for the most valuable fantasy player.
But now it's time to look into the crystal ball. Can he do it again? We're here to tell you we believe he can, and maybe even more.
How about everyone else, you ask? Below is a breakdown of NHL.com's consensus top-50 overall fantasy hockey players. You'll find explanations for why we believe youngster John Tavares is more valuable than veteran Henrik Sedin, or why Bobby Ryan still cracks our top-50 despite a disappointing 2011-12 season. How many defensemen and goalies crack the ranks? Just look below to find out.
The overall ranking order is based on NHL.com's composite rankings determined by fantasy experts Matt Cubeta, Pete Jensen, Sergei Feldman and Chris Foster (average of each expert's selections).
NOTE: Positional ranking based on combination of last season's Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey position assignments and NHL.com's 30 in 30 lineup projections. Ranking reflects each player's fantasy value, taking into account statistical history, performance in default Yahoo! categories (G, A, +/-, PIM, PPP, SOG) last season, potential future lineup placement, strength of projected linemates and our expectations of how they will perform this coming season.
1. Evgeni Malkin, C
Outlook: In prime of hockey career at just 26 and with James Neal on his wing and Sidney Crosby on the ice during power-play time and crunch time late in games, Malkin could potentially do even more in 2012-13.
2. Steven Stamkos, C
Outlook: Has become model of consistency averaging 82 games, 52 goals, 94 points, plus-3, 59 PIMs, 34 PPP, 291 SOG over last three years -- could supplant Malkin from top spot by season's end.
3. Sidney Crosby, C
Outlook: Easily most-productive player in hockey when on the ice, but because of injury questions, there's some risk. If healthy for full year (he's healthy right now), expect him to be No. 1 fantasy player.
4. Claude Giroux, C
Outlook: Playmaker has seen point totals increase from 27 in rookie season to 47, 76 and 93 last year -- PIMs decreased last season but 30-plus goals and 95-plus points is realistic for Flyers' top weapon.
5. Henrik Lundqvist, G
Outlook: First non-center on list had dream season last year (39 W, 1.97 GAA, .930 SV%, 8 SO) and could better those numbers this season -- expect 40 wins on improved Rangers team with elite defensive core.
6. Jonathan Quick, G
Outlook: Was top Yahoo! fantasy goalie last year and impressed even more on way to Cup title with 16-4 record, 1.41. GAA, .946 SV%, 3 SO -- look for close to 40 wins with GAA around 2.10 and SV% near .925.
7. Corey Perry, RW
Outlook: Potential for more value as RW clearly has least amount of elite options. In "down" year, Perry still had 37 G, 127 PIMs, 277 SOG last year and should rebound closer to his outstanding 2010-11 season.
8. Daniel Sedin, LW
Outlook: Last year's 30-goal, 67-point season was worst since 2003-04, but Sedin still ranked 23rd among all Yahoo! players due to solid peripheral stats -- expect point-per-game numbers this season.
9. Alex Ovechkin, LW
Outlook: Like Perry, a "down" year still resulted in 38 G, 65 points, 303 SOG. With offensive-minded Adam Oates as coach, expect production to climb back toward his more usual 40-plus goals, 80-plus points.
10. James Neal, LW
Outlook: After just 45 points in 2010-11, Neal erupted with 40 G, 41 A and 87 PIMs last year, earning the No. 3 Yahoo! player. Alongside Malkin, top-10 overall production still possible, just not quite like last year.
11. John Tavares, C
Outlook: Could crack top-10 and find himself with 35-plus goals, 90-plus points and over 300 SOG this season -- only fantasy flaw is lack of penalty minutes, but few players are as talented as Tavares in NHL.
12. Henrik Sedin, C
Outlook: Elite for assists, plus/minus and PP points, but lack of goals (averages 18 over last 7 seasons), and SOG (avg. 138 over last 7 seasons) hurts value -- 100 points realistic, but won't help in two categories.
13. Erik Karlsson, D
Outlook: Has to be first d-man off board on draft day after what he did last year (19 G, 59 A, plus-16, 261 SOG), but don't be surprised to see some regression -- had just 2 points in final 11 games including playoffs.
14. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW
Outlook: With loss of Parise, Kovy could perform like he did in Atlanta as a one-man offensive show where he had five 40-plus goal seasons. Rating won't be great, but still just 29 and as lethal as anyone.
15. Anze Kopitar, C
Outlook: Last three-year average: 28 G, 77 points, plus-14, 19 PIMs, 27 PPP, 241 SOG -- posted 20 points in 20 playoff games and with plenty of talent around him, has potential for even better numbers this year.
16. Patrick Sharp, LW
Outloook: Followed up monstrous 2010-11 with even more productive stats last season (33 G, 69 points, plus-28, 17 PPP, 282 SOG). Will help you in every category but PIMs (38 each of last two seasons).
17. Pekka Rinne, G
Outlook: Our No. 1 goalie last year is third this year and despite loss of Ryan Suter, can still finish as top netminder due to elite talent and frame (6'5") while playing for a defensive-minded Nashville squad.
18. Rick Nash, LW
Outlook: Goals and points have decreased in each of last four seasons, but Nash is in prime (28) and finally on a contending team -- expect 40 goals again playing with Brad Richards and much improved plus/minus.
19. Scott Hartnell, LW
Outlook: Emerged as elite fantasy player last year with Perry-like production (37 G, 136 PIMs), but can he replicate? With Giroux at center, 30 goals seem feasible, but expect near certain regression.
20. Jonathan Toews, C
Outlook: Had 32 G, 76 points, plus-25 in 2010-11. Had 29 G, 57 points, plus-17 in 59 games last year -- a pace better than 2010-11. A healthy Toews could result in top-10 fantasy status and potential for even more.
21. Jason Spezza, C
Outlook: Trailed only Malkin, Stamkos and Giroux in points (84) and multi-point games (24) last year. Talent never questioned, just a matter of staying healthy (60 and 62 games played prior to last year's 80).
22. Zdeno Chara, D
Outlook: Hasn't posted less than 41 points and 86 PIMs since 2003-04. Finished as No. 2 Yahoo! fantasy blueliner in each of last two seasons and his plus-85 over last three seasons is 23 better than any other d-man.
23. Pavel Datsyuk, C
Outlook: After back-to-back 97-point seasons from 2007-2009, has averaged just 69 games, 23 goals and 65 points in three seasons since -- still close to point-per-game stats, but production could decline at age 34.
24. Zach Parise, LW
Outlook: Excluding 2010-11 season (13 games due to injury), goals, points, plus-minus, PP points and SOG have decreased in each of last three seasons. Now with Wild, could return to 35-goal, 80-point level.
25. Eric Staal, C
Outlook: Had rough start last year (11 G, 36 points, minus-23 in 51 pre-All-Star games), but returned to form with 13 G, 34 points, plus-3 in final 31 games. With new-look offense, could be in line for big season.
26. Marian Hossa, RW
Outlook: Big gap between Perry (No. 1 RW) and Hossa (No. 2), but if he can stay healthy all year, he could be a top-20 player (finished No. 16 in Yahoo! last year) -- will help in all categories but PIMs.
27. Tyler Seguin, RW
Outlook: Was arguably the biggest surprise last year, but most of production came in first half: 19 goals, 43 points, plus-34 in 46 pre-All-Star games; just 10 goals, 24 points, even rating in 35 post-break games.
28. Kris Letang, D
Outlook: Was top fantasy blueliner until injury, but still finished 13th among d-men in Yahoo! despite just 51 games played. Has potential for No. 1 status while quarterbacking a PP with Malkin, Crosby, Neal on it.
29. Phil Kessel, RW
Outlook: Goals, points have increased every year since joining Leafs in 2009, with last year's 37-goal, 82-point season easily his best. Has good chemistry with Lupul and should post around 35 goals, 70-plus points.
30. David Backes, C
Outlook: Still extremely underrated, Backes should be good for 25 goals and 55 points with a great plus/minus, around 100 PIMs and has potential to be a top-20 fantasy player -- draft him with confidence.
31. Henrik Zetterberg, C
Outlook: Hasn't scored more than 24 goals in each of last three seasons and his 69 points last year were lowest since 2006-07 -- not the player he used to be, we'd be cautious of drafting him in first three rounds.
32. Shea Weber, D
Outlook: Last four-year average: 19 G, 48 points, 55 PIMs, 20 PPP, 239 SOG. Despite loss of Ryan Suter, could see more puck possession and ice time, resulting in more fantasy value -- still an elite blue line option.
33. Jimmy Howard, G
Outlook: Made 57 starts last year and finished as sixth ranked Yahoo! goalie, but loss of Nicklas Lidstrom will hurt and new backup Jonas Gustavsson could steal starts -- still has potential for top-5 goalie status.
34. Marc-Andre Fleury, G
Outlook: Despite brutal playoffs (4.63 GAA, .834 SV%), had tremendous regular season (42 wins, 2.36 GAA) and should make 65 starts in net for one of NHL's best teams -- expect more of the same in 2012-13.
35. Marian Gaborik RW
Outlook: Would be No. 2 RW behind Perry if not for the fact that he'll miss approx. 20 games to start year. If he plays in 65 games, look for around 28 goals, 65 points with plenty of PPP, SOG and a good plus/minus.
36. Patrick Marleau, LW
Outlook: Goals and points have declined each of last three seasons, but his 111 goals during that time are fourth most behind Stamkos, Ovechkin and Perry -- expect 30-plus goals and a return to 70 points this year.
37. Patrick Kane, RW
Outlook: Had worst stats of career (23 G, 66 points), but still has potential to score 30-plus goals and post point-per-game numbers -- Hawks have plenty of offense and a healthy Toews and Hossa will help.
38. Joe Pavelski, RW
Outlook: Had career-high 31 goals last year and should surpass 30 goals, 65 points regularly going forward. If he stays on top two lines and continues to see 3-plus minutes of PP time, he could develop into top-30 player.
39. Jordan Eberle, RW
Outlook: Despite 34 goals and 76 points, Eberle's value was deceiving because of low PIMs (10) and SOG (180) totals, which is why he ranked just 63rd in Yahoo! last year -- still plenty to like, but he will likely regress.
40. Joe Thornton, C
Outlook: Had quiet first half last year, but came on strong after break with 10 G, 29 A in 35 games. Still won't shoot a lot and PIMs will be under 50, but 80 points are attainable considering his passing abilities.
41. Mike Smith, G
Outlook: Flourished in Phoenix's defensive system and emerged as fourth highest ranked goalie in Yahoo!, but expect stats closer to his career line of 2.56 GAA and .914 SV%, not last year's 2.21 GAA, .930 SV%.
42. Brad Richards, C
Outlook: Point totals have decreased from 91 to 77 to 66 over last three seasons, but a more comfortable second year in NY and centering Rick Nash could make him a point-per-game player again.
43. Martin St. Louis, RW
Outlook: Point production dipped to 74 last year after averaging 92 per season over previous five. Still has chance to eclipse 80 points playing alongside Stamkos, but low PIMs, SOG and weak plus/minus decreases value.
44. Jamie Benn, C
Outlook: Continues to improve every year with last season's 26 G, 63 points, plus-15, 55 PIMs, 203 SOG all being career-bests in just 71 games. Expect big things with solid all-around value and potential top-20 status.
45. Jarome Iginla, RW
Outlook: His 32 goals were still productive, but his 67 points were lowest since 2005-06. He shouldn't hurt you in any one category (with his minus-10 likely to improve), but his 40-goal, 80-point days are in past.
46. Ryan Miller, G
Outlook: Disappointing first half (12-15-2, 3.07 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO), but returned to form with huge second half (19-6-5, 2.08 GAA, .931 SV%, 5 SO) -- expect more of the latter on a Sabres team likely to rebound.
47. Taylor Hall, LW
Outlook: Improved every fantasy category from rookie season to sophomore year and should do so again in 2012-13 -- can be an elite player, but needs to prove he can stay healthy (65 and 61 games in first years).
48. Bobby Ryan, LW
Outlook: Was a big disappointment last year but still finished with 31 G, 57 points, a plus-1, 53 PIMs. Look for major rebound season and totals more like his 2010-11 season (34 G, 71 points, plus-15, 270 SOG).
49. Ryan Getzlaf, C
Outlook: After averaging 1.09 points/game for four seasons, points slipped to just 57 in 82 games last year. With his playmaking abilities and high PIMs totals (492 in 512 career games), Getzlaf could be a steal this year.
50. Dustin Byfuglien, D
Outlook: Despite just 66 games, Byfuglien still posted 12 goals, 53 points, 72 PIMs, 223 SOG and finished as 8th best Yahoo! defenseman. If he can stay healthy, he could end up being most valuable fantasy d-man.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes; Join in the conversation: @NHLFantasy
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