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Fantasy top 100 forwards: Preseason rankings

by Pete Jensen / NHL.com

As part of NHL.com's preseason fantasy hockey draft coverage, NHL.com will preview each of the three positions this week, with Pete Jensen on forwards, Brian Metzer on defensemen and David Satriano on goalies. These positional outlooks will include the writer's individual standard-league rankings, offseason reaction and all the strategy and advice you'll need on draft day.


OVERVIEW

Alex Ovechkin, who turns 30 on Sept. 17, is in his prime and the most valuable fantasy player in the game. He led the NHL in goals, power-play goals and shots on goal by wide margins last season, and was second in power-play points and tied for fourth in points. Since 2012-13, no one has more goals, PPP or SOG. His peripherals (58 penalty minutes, 259 hits in '14-15) solidify his standing, and he went from a minus-35 in 2013-14 to a plus-10 last season, addressing his lone weakness.

The Washington Capitals got stronger by adding T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, and one of them will play on Ovechkin's opposite wing. If you're worried about center Nicklas Backstrom's health as the season approaches, up-and-coming Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov is poised to play with Ovechkin in the worst-case scenario. Ovi also retains dual eligibility in Yahoo. Case closed.

Although there's a consensus No. 1, there's little separation between the centers who should account for picks 2-6. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has the highest NHL career points-per-game average among active players (1.36) and will center newcomer Phil Kessel in training camp, is the safest bet at No. 2. Close behind is New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who finished second in Yahoo's year-end forward rankings. It's uncertain who Tavares' linemates will be, but he's a threat to win the scoring title and is the best goals-assists-PPP-SOG producer out there.

Had Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, No. 4 in my rankings, not missed time because of a knee injury last season, he would have formed the NHL's top point pair with Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn. Rounding out my top five, Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning is a toss-up; however, Stamkos is no longer dual-eligible in Yahoo, and that was enough for Giroux (C/RW) to jump him. It also helps that Giroux, who led the NHL in power-play points (37) last season and leads in points since 2010-11, has a linemate (Jakub Voracek) who finished among Yahoo's top five last season.

Not to be overlooked, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin has averaged more than a point per game in his career (1.20) but is going so late (No. 8 among forwards) because he's missed 10-plus games in three straight seasons and has played 345 of a potential 458 games since 2009-10. Outside the top 10, Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks deserves mention as a value pick (Yahoo average draft position: 13.4). He's a threat for 40-plus goals when healthy alongside center Ryan Getzlaf and is a perennial points, SOG and plus-minus standout; with anywhere from 60 to 100-plus PIMs, he could easily finish a top-five asset.


TRENDING TOPICS

Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh Penguins

What happens when a five-time 30-goal scorer and two-time 80-point producer joins a team that already has two top-10 players? We're about to find out. Kessel, who had the fifth-most points and second-most SOG from 2010-11 to 2013-14, could join Crosby and Malkin with 80-plus points apiece this season. Kessel has jumped from 49th among forwards entering the offseason to 12th, and it's totally justified. The trade could also take pressure off Chris Kunitz and/or David Perron, resulting in bounce-back efforts. Patric Hornqvist will lose some power-play time with this move but will still flank Crosby or Malkin at even strength.

Patrick Sharp to Dallas Stars

Patrick Sharp, who was the sixth-ranked player in Yahoo leagues in 2013-14, has a chance to bounce back from an unlucky season after being traded to Dallas. (Photo: Dallas Stars)

Sharp had an unlucky season in 2014-15 but was already on my bounce-back player list before he was traded to Dallas by the Chicago Blackhawks. He gives the Stars even more second-line depth alongside Jason Spezza, and he should be on one of the points on a power-play unit that desperately needed a boost last season. Sharp had three straight full seasons of 30-plus goals before scoring 16 on 7.0 percent shooting in 2014-15. I would target Sharp in the 50-60 range despite the fact that he's going on average with the 84th pick. Remember, he finished as the sixth-best player in Yahoo leagues based on performance in 2013-14. Chicago was just as deep offensively that season as Dallas is today.

Brandon Saad to Columbus Blue Jackets

Saad being traded from the Blackhawks to the Blue Jackets makes the forward arsenal in Columbus even deeper, with Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell also left wings in the top-nine equation. The most notable takeaway from this move is that the 22-year-old power forward should see much more power-play time than he did in Chicago and could exceed his career PPP output (22 in 208 games) in 2015-16 alone. I fully expect Saad to make the jump from a 50-point, 200-SOG player to the 65-point, 250-SOG realm playing alongside a top-20 asset like center Ryan Johansen, and that could help right wing Cam Atkinson finally bust out as well. Even if Foligno and Hartnell's power-play time diminishes, they're still category cogs who should be drafted and finish in the top 100 of all formats.

Value of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel

McDavid and Eichel are the most talked-about prospects in years, and each is fantasy-relevant right out of the gate of his rookie season. McDavid could score 70-75 points alongside rebound candidate Taylor Hall with the Edmonton Oilers, so I'd comfortably draft McDavid in the 40-45 range in standard leagues. He's going earlier (Yahoo ADP: 34.5), but I wouldn't draft him that high unless it's a keeper league, in which case he's arguably a top-10 pick. Even if the point production is there, the category coverage may be lacking on a suspect defensive team like the Oilers. In addition, only five rookies since 2005-06 (Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Patrick Kane -- and Paul Stastny!) have scored 70-plus points in a season.

Connor McDavid has a chance to score 70-plus points alongside Taylor Hall in Edmonton, but is he worth being taken as early as the third round? (Photo: Getty Images)

The risk-reward factor surrounding McDavid is enormous, but I'd much prefer to use my first three picks on sure things.

As for Eichel (Yahoo ADP: 128), his immediate ceiling is not as high as McDavid's, but the gritty Buffalo Sabres prospect might provide better coverage. He could play alongside Matt Moulson and maybe even on the top line with Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis. Buffalo has a chance to be better than many expect, Eichel could score 55-60 points, and you can find him in middle rounds. Then again, if McDavid is a once-in-a-generation fantasy rookie, anyone who passes on him will be kicking themselves. Bottom line: If you're a risk-taker, pick McDavid in the 20s or 30s. He might be worth it.

Injury concerns near the top

Backstrom is a question mark for the season opener while he recovers from hip surgery. Lightning playoff hero Tyler Johnson (fractured wrist) is not 100 percent, which will impact his draft stock and possibly the production of Nikita Kucherov and/or Ondrej Palat. Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens is being drafted outside the top 40 in Yahoo leagues because of concerns surrounding an offseason knee injury. Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings is coming off ankle surgery and could also miss the start of the season. All four will drop in drafts, but keep in mind none has had his injury timetable confirmed. If Pacioretty, Backstrom or Johnson is available outside the top 40, they need to be your priority, in that order. Wait for Datsyuk until his current ADP range (70.9), but he could be a steal if he ends up playing 65-70 games at a point-per-game rate.


CATEGORY COVERAGE

David Backes (C/RW, St. Louis Blues)

Yahoo ADP: 53.3

Backes' line lost Oshie this offseason, but the addition of grinder Troy Brouwer could turn out to be an even better fit on the Blues' top unit. Backes has a plus rating with 50-plus points and 90-plus PIMs in each of the past four full seasons with Alexander Steen, a top-40 player in each of the past two seasons, usually on his wing. His SOG and PPP production last season didn't blow anyone away, but he was respectable in each. Backes is as steady as they come in fantasy and is worth a fourth-round pick every year.

Andrew Ladd (LW, Winnipeg Jets)

Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd had a career year in 2014-15, and was the best category coverage asset League-wide outside of Alex Ovechkin. (Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI)

Yahoo ADP: 73.1

Ladd has been underrated for years, but he took his point production and fantasy coverage to a new level last season by setting career highs in points, PPP, PIMs and hits while also posting 224 SOG. He'll be in a top-six role again alongside Bryan Little and was a bright spot for a power-play unit that ranked in the bottom half of the NHL. It's mind-boggling to see him being drafted so low after finishing as one of the few six-category producers and among the top 30 overall fantasy players in 2014-15.

Chris Kreider (LW, New York Rangers)

Yahoo ADP: 96.2

Kreider was a second-line fixture with the Rangers last season, covering every category in the process. He finished tied for second in goals (21) and tied for third in plus-minus rating (plus-24) on the Rangers, and was third in the League in points among players with 80-plus PIMs behind Hartnell and Backes (46). With now-retired Martin St. Louis out of the power-play picture, Kreider (1:52 per game on the power play) could be used more in those situations. With so much speed and toughness, a bit more goal-scoring with similar category coverage could put Kreider among the top 50 overall assets, making him a bargain as a draftee in the 90s range.


KEEP AN EYE ON

Alex Galchenyuk (C/LW, Montreal Canadiens)

Yahoo ADP: 156.4

The Canadiens plan to shift Galchenyuk to center, where he'll have a higher fantasy ceiling. Playing mostly left wing, Galchenyuk set career highs in goals (20), assists (26) and SOG (163) in 80 games last season, with room for further growth if he sees more than 2:13 per game with the man-advantage (12 PPP in 2014-15). If his road play improves and he centers Pacioretty for most of the upcoming season, this 21-year-old could be a gold mine.

Marko Dano (C, Chicago Blackhawks)

Yahoo ADP: 162.8

Whether he plays center or wing, Dano is destined to earn a top-six role with his new team. He was impressive on a per-game basis in a number of categories with the Blue Jackets last season and has strong puck-possession skills, which could only be further nurtured upon joining the defending Stanley Cup champions. Dano is attainable after the 13th round in standard leagues and one of the most promising under-23 players for keeper leagues, writes Sean McCullen.

Jakob Silfverberg (LW/RW, Anaheim Ducks)

Jakob Silfverberg
2015 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 18
SOG: 41 | +/-: 6
Yahoo ADP: 168.4

I've raved about Silfverberg's heightened postseason role and point production all summer, and his breakthrough season could be upon us if he remains on Ryan Kesler's line. He could score 50-55 points with a nice rating and 200-plus SOG if he improves on his low career shooting percentage (7.5 through 181 games). More power-play time could equal a top-100 overall finish.

Valeri Nichushkin (RW, Dallas Stars)

Yahoo ADP: 168.7

The 20-year-old was a work in progress but saw time with Seguin and Benn as a rookie in 2013-14 before missing most of last season because of a hip injury. He's fully healthy and projected to be stationed either with that same duo or on the second line with Sharp and Spezza. Either way, he's a potential late-round splash. I'd be willing to snatch him up 10 to 20 picks higher than where he's going on average in Yahoo drafts.

David Pastrnak (LW/RW, Boston Bruins)

Yahoo ADP: 175.7

During a 25-game stretch Feb. 8-March 31, Pastrnak held his own with 21 points, a plus-7 rating and 46 SOG. Boston still has to shake out its top-six picture on the wing with Brad Marchand, Jimmy Hayes, Matt Beleskey and Brett Connolly also in the fold, but this streaky yet prolific 19-year-old has the highest fantasy ceiling of the bunch.


TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

Below are Pete Jensen's forward rankings, which may differ from NHL.com's aggregate top 250. Use these as a basis for your selections on draft day. Standard-league Yahoo skater categories include goals, assists, plus-minus, PIMs, PPP and SOG.

1 Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW, WSH 51 Patric Hornqvist, RW, PIT
2 Sidney Crosby, C, PIT 52 Jeff Carter, C/RW, LAK
3 John Tavares, C, NYI 53 Gustav Nyquist, C/LW/RW, DET
4 Tyler Seguin, C/RW, DAL 54 Jason Spezza, C, DAL
5 Claude Giroux, C/RW, PHI 55 Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, DET
6 Steven Stamkos, C, TBL 56 Ondrej Palat, LW, TBL
7 Jamie Benn, LW, DAL 57 Matt Duchene, C/LW, COL
8 Evgeni Malkin, C/RW, PIT 58 Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL
9 Patrick Kane, C/RW, CHI 59 Milan Lucic, LW, LAK
10 Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL 60 Jiri Hudler, LW/RW, CGY
11 Corey Perry, RW, ANA 61 Joe Thornton, C, SJS
12 Phil Kessel, RW, PIT 62 Chris Kreider, LW, NYR
13 Joe Pavelski, C/LW, SJS 63 Kyle Turris, C, OTT
14 Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA 64 Eric Staal, C, CAR
15 Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI 65 Ryan Kesler, C/RW, ANA
16 Max Pacioretty (INJ.), LW, MTL 66 Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, OTT
17 Ryan Johansen, C/RW, CBJ 67 Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
18 Rick Nash, LW/RW, NYR 68 Scott Hartnell, LW, CBJ
19 Jonathan Toews, C, CHI 69 Jarome Iginla, RW, COL
20 Nicklas Backstrom (INJ.), C, WSH 70 Marian Gaborik, RW, LAK
21 Tyler Johnson (INJ.), C, TBL 71 James Neal, LW/RW, NSH
22 Zach Parise, LW, MIN 72 Bryan Little, C/RW, WPG
23 Anze Kopitar, C, LAK 73 Derick Brassard, C, NYR
24 Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG 74 Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT
25 Taylor Hall, C/LW, EDM 75 Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW, WSH
26 Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW, DET 76 James van Riemsdyk, LW, TOR
27 Filip Forsberg, C/RW, NSH 77 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM
28 Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN 78 Derek Stepan, C, NYR
29 Connor McDavid, C, EDM 79 Jack Eichel, C, BUF
30 Logan Couture, C/LW, SJS 80 Mark Stone, RW, OTT
31 David Backes, C/RW, STL 81 Patrick Marleau, C/LW, SJS
32 Nikita Kucherov, RW, TBL 82 Tomas Plekanec, C, MTL
33 Alexander Steen, C/LW, STL 83 Jason Pominville, RW, MIN
34 Andrew Ladd, LW, WPG 84 Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW/RW, BUF
35 Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL 85 Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, FLA
36 Patrick Sharp, C/LW, DAL 86 Ryan Strome, C, NYI
37 Wayne Simmonds, LW/RW, PHI 87 Tyler Toffoli, LW/RW, LAK
38 Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL 88 Jaromir Jagr, RW, FLA
39 Marian Hossa, RW, CHI 89 Brandon Dubinsky, C/LW, CBJ
40 Pavel Datsyuk (INJ.), C/LW, DET 90 Brendan Gallagher, RW, MTL
41 Brandon Saad, LW/RW, CBJ 91 David Perron, LW/RW, PIT
42 Jordan Eberle (INJ.), RW, EDM 92 Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH
43 Nick Foligno, C/LW, CBJ 93 Mark Scheifele, C, WPG
44 Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS 94 Craig Smith, C/RW, NSH
45 Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN 95 Carl Soderberg, C/LW, COL
46 Johnny Gaudreau, LW, CGY 96 Mats Zuccarello, LW/RW, NYR
47 T.J. Oshie, C/RW, WSH 97 Thomas Vanek, LW/RW, MIN
48 Sean Monahan, C, CGY 98 Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
49 Henrik Sedin, C, VAN 99 Ryan Callahan, RW, TBL
50 Evander Kane, LW, BUF 100 Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA

Just Missed: David Krejci (C, BOS), Alex Galchenyuk (C/LW, MTL), Cam Atkinson (RW, CBJ), Jeff Skinner (LW/RW, CAR), Troy Brouwer (RW, STL), Tyler Ennis (C/LW, BUF), Mikael Granlund (C, MIN), Mike Hoffman (C/LW, OTT), Mikko Koivu (C, MIN), Justin Abdelkader (LW/RW, DET), Brayden Schenn (C/LW, PHI), Drew Stafford (LW/RW, WPG), Marko Dano (C, CHI), Kevin Hayes (RW, NYR), Anders Lee (C, NYI), Jori Lehtera (INJ. - C, STL), Jakob Silfverberg (LW/RW, ANA), Valeri Nichushkin (RW, DAL), Justin Williams (RW, WSH), Loui Eriksson (LW/RW, BOS), Paul Stastny (C, STL), Max Domi (C, ARI), Nazem Kadri (C, TOR), Teuvo Teravainen (LW, CHI), Colin Wilson (C/LW, NSH)

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