By Shawn Hutchinson, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
A strong group of forwards, the basis for every successful fantasy hockey team, is usually the top priority on draft day. Most of your early-round picks will be up front, and you want to make sure you have high-scoring options on your roster.
Here's how the top forwards in the NHL break down into different tiers for this season. Players in similar tiers have similar value, though the order the players are listed should not be considered a firm ranking. These tiers are based on Yahoo's default scoring settings.
Tier 1: Oil rises to the top and the cream of the rest of the crop
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews
What do these four players have in common? They're all a virtual lock for 100 points and likely well more than that, as long as they stay healthy. McDavid might very well be in a class of his own. Draisaitl is his trusty partner, though he's more than capable of doing his own thing. MacKinnon and Matthews are superstars in their prime — consider MacKinnon for a pure offense boost, while Matthews sets himself apart with goal-scoring and elite shot-blocking for a forward.
Tier 2: Everything but a Hart Trophy
David Pastrnak, Jason Robertson, Jack Hughes, Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkachuk, Kirill Kaprizov, Nikita Kucherov, Mika Zibanejad, Mitchell Marner, Elias Pettersson, Tage Thompson, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos
Any of these players could have a 100-point season this year, and it wouldn't come as a surprise. They might get into the conversation for year-end awards, but the players in Tier 1 likely have those nominations locked down. Questions such as age (Crosby, Stamkos) or evolving team situations (Pastrnak, Pettersson) could invite some risk, but these players should probably be off the board after the first two rounds either way.
Tier 3: Reliable stars
Tim Stutzle, Nico Hischier, Brady Tkachuk, Timo Meier, Jack Eichel, William Nylander, Kyle Connor, Brayden Point, Artemi Panarin, Aleksander Barkov, Roope Hintz, J.T. Miller, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Tuch, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho
Some up-and-coming stars, some established names — all are consistent and reliable forwards who will put pucks in the net while maintaining significant roles with their teams in 2023-24. Some minor age-related regression risk exists with Ovechkin and Panarin, but they should still do enough with point production to be worth the early-to-mid-round investment.
Tier 4: No guarantees, but decent upside
Joe Pavelski, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jake Guentzel, John Tavares, Matthew Boldy, Zach Hyman, Dylan Larkin, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, Kevin Fiala, Anze Kopitar, Carter Verhaeghe, Adrian Kempe, Tyler Toffoli, Alex DeBrincat, Johnny Gaudreau, Clayton Keller, Martin Necas, Jesper Bratt, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele, Connor Bedard, Pavel Buchnevich, Matty Beniers
Any of these players should be capable of a 70-point season, though it could take only one or two things going wrong for them or their teams to derail those hopes. With Pavelski and Kopitar, the risk is age. Nugent-Hopkins, Toffoli, Keller, Hyman and Skinner are among the prominent names who could regress from career-high performances. Dubois and DeBrincat are players in new places. They could have impacts on Larkin's and Kempe's respective value, either positive or negative.
Other players in this tier are typically reliable contributors, but at a lower level and with more volatility than those in the tier above. The upside is there if guys such as Gaudreau, Scheifele and Tavares can get back to established levels. Verhaeghe, Buchnevich, Bratt and Boldy all have short histories of success but at a high enough level to be attractive to risk-averse fantasy managers.
Of particular note is Bedard, the No. 1 overall pick this past summer. While there's no questioning the individual talent, the early-season favorite for Rookie of the Year will be playing on a team that's still deep in a rebuild. As such, his range of outcomes could be anywhere from 60 to 90 points and likely with a poor plus-minus rating.
Tier 5: Proceed with caution
Bo Horvat, Brad Marchand, Claude Giroux, Andrei Svechnikov, Brock Nelson, Jordan Kyrou, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Evgeni Malkin, Jared McCann, Jamie Benn, Filip Forsberg, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dylan Cozens, Jonathan Marchessault, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Andrei Kuzmenko, Patrik Laine, Nazem Kadri
Most of these players have at least one major red flag — age, skewed percentages in 2022-23, shaky team situations, smaller roles on deeper teams, etc. It's easy to see them being reliable contributors and potentially draft-day steals, but it's just as easy to see them suffering serious regression. Be particularly mindful of injury risk with players such as Svechnikov, Forsberg, Ehlers and Laine.
Some of these players are also solid bounce-back candidates, including Huberdeau, Kreider and Horvat (post trade). Betting on them to reach their peak levels might be risky, but they might be able to do better than they did last season.
Tier 6: Bench-fillers
Dawson Mercer, Viktor Arvidsson, Evander Kane, Rickard Rakell, Nick Suzuki, Valeri Nichushkin, Brandon Hagel, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mikael Backlund, David Perron, Chandler Stephenson, Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny, Mark Stone, Cole Caufield
These players will all play key roles on their teams but without the glitzy numbers of some of their teammates. Many of these players are reliable middle-six options who can move up the lineup. Again, some have injury risks (Nichushkin, Stone, Arvidsson), but that doesn't disqualify them from being perfectly acceptable bench players in fantasy.
Tier 7: Other options
Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Troy Terry, Drake Batherson, Jake DeBrusk, Trevor Zegras, Taylor Hall, Seth Jarvis, Max Pacioretty, Lukas Reichel, Bryan Rust, Wyatt Johnston, Anton Lundell, Lucas Raymond, Brayden Schenn, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Patrick Kane, Ivan Barbashev, Tom Wilson, Robert Thomas, William Eklund, Nick Schmaltz, Josh Norris, Barrett Hayton, Matthew Knies, Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson, Mason McTavish
This is a mix of decent veterans, top-six players on bad teams, middle-six players on good teams and rookies. Players such as Fantilli, McTavish, Zegras and Hayton have among the most upside given their potential for growth, as they're still early in their careers. Hertl, Kuznetsov, Wilson, Raymond, Barbashev and Thomas should all play larger roles on their teams than they'd be likely to elsewhere, giving them extra potential.
Kane is the outlier here, as his recovery from offseason hip surgery has gone well. While he's still likely to miss time to begin the season and he remains a free agent while recovering, he could be available at a discount on draft day. Still, hip surgery is a tough one for any player to return from, and at 34 years old, there's a lot of risk here. He's best drafted by fantasy managers willing to be patient for his return and expecting 50-60 points rather than his former point-per-game glory.