Fantasy Hockey forward draft tiers: Plenty of star power

Doug Greenberg, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Forwards generally represent the foundation of a fantasy team’s offense, so attaining the right combination could make or break your season. With that in mind, I’ve put together a collection of forward tiers to reference ahead of drafts. The advice here is based on the rules for a standard Yahoo head-to-head league that values goals, assists, plus-minus, power-play points, penalty minutes and shots on goal.

Tier 1: The Phenoms

Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin

The top tier is reserved for the best players of this generation — skaters with higher floors and ceilings than almost everyone else in the league. These guys are sure to provide stable production in every stat category (except maybe PIM).

McDavid showed last season why he very well could be a generational talent, as the Hart Trophy winner dialed up his first 100-point campaign at the age of 20. Kane experienced something of a drop-off in production, but he still managed almost 90 points and should again reach or exceed that this season. Crosby continued his reign as the face of the league and was only held back (as is often the case) by injuries. Ovechkin disappointed widely last season, but the fact remains that he’s one of the most gifted scorers in the league, so a bounce-back campaign wouldn’t be surprising.

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Tier 2: The Elite 

Brad Marchand, Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews, Jamie Benn, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski, John Tavares, Mark Scheifele, Nicklas Backstrom, Blake Wheeler, Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, David Pastrnak, Wayne Simmonds, Jeff Carter, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine

Here we find forwards who’ll still provide top-level production, but have yet to establish themselves among the aforementioned names. Make no mistake, though — these guys will be offensive forces and could even surpass their phenomenal counterparts by season’s end.

If not for his well-documented history of injury trouble, Malkin would occupy a place in the top tier due to ranking fourth on Pittsburgh’s all-time scoring list with 832 points, but his limited number of games keeps him at the top of the second tier. Marchand finished last season fifth in points with 85, and his agitator persona also allows him to rack up heavy penalty minutes; Simmonds is known for helping out in that category too. Draisaitl, Pastrnak, and Laine will each look to follow up their breakout campaigns after recording 77, 70, and 64 points, respectively.

Tier 3: The Upsiders

Jack Eichel, Artemi Panarin, Filip Forsberg, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Toews, William Nylander, Mike Hoffman, Mitch Marner, Cam Atkinson, James van Riemsdyk, Nikolaj Ehlers, Sean Monahan, Jeff Skinner, Claude Giroux, Viktor Arvidsson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ryan Johansen, Jakub Voracek, Eric Staal, Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Jonathan Huberdeau, Taylor Hall, Logan Couture, T.J. Oshie, Nazem Kadri, Ryan O’Reilly, Henrik Zetterberg, Vincent Trocheck, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Kesler, Ondrej Palat, Mikko Koivu

Most of these players have yet to achieve elite status, but they hold tremendous upside that could take your team to the next level if you draft them wisely. Many of them are young and could earn elite status with strong seasons.

Eichel is proving why he was worthy of the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft behind only McDavid; considering he managed 57 points last season despite missing 21 games, he has as much upside as any player in the league. Panarin is on the cusp of fantasy superstardom, so his move to Columbus for the 2017-18 campaign will reveal whether he’s truly an elite player without Patrick Kane by his side.

Tier 4: The Wild Cards

Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, Vadim Shipachyov, Tyler Toffoli, Anze Kopitar, James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Brandon Saad, Alexander Radulov, Chris Kreider, Matt Duchene, Brayden Schenn, Jordan Eberle, Kyle Okposo, Jaden Schwartz, Aleksander Barkov, Marcus Johansson, Mark Stone, Nick Bonino

This tier inherently presents the most risk, as it’s inhabited by players who are going through a transitional phase; they are either joining new teams, returning from major injury, or simply experiencing general uncertainty surrounding their potential production. Draft them with care.

Guentzel and Sheary came out of nowhere last season to post gaudy scoring totals on a line with Crosby, so it’ll be interesting to see whether they can repeat — assuming they still run with Sid. Saad has become one of the most reliable two-way players in the league, so it will be interesting to see if his return to Chicago will allow him to keep taking 200-plus shots along with impressive plus-minus numbers. The Vegas expansion team is providing new opportunities for both proven and unproven talents, including the KHL import Shipachyov, the goal-savvy Neal, and the 2016-17 breakout Marchessault, all of whom are risky but exciting prospects on draft day.

Tier 5: The Bright Futures

Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, Jordan Weal, Matthew Tkachuk, Alexander Wennberg, Mikael Granlund, Max Domi, Nathan MacKinnon, Nino Niederreiter, Sebastian Aho, Mika Zibanejad, Jonathan Drouin, Dylan Larkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Sam Reinhart, Kevin Hayes, Rickard Rakell, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Strome, Brayden Point, Anthony Mantha, Teuvo Teravainen, Josh Ho-Sang, Andre Burakovsky, Kevin Fiala, Robby Fabbri, Jakob Silfverberg

The players in this tier are all 25 or younger and have shown flashes of brilliance in their brief time in the league, but have yet to truly take off. A number of these youngsters are approaching make-or-break points in their careers, making them high-risk, high-reward options.

The first two picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, Hischier and Patrick, were scoring machines for their respective junior-league squads, so if they can adjust to NHL speed with relative ease, their talent could lead to great production. Weal averaged over a point per game in the AHL last season and appears primed for a breakout campaign following the departure of Brayden Schenn.

Tier 6: The Fillers

Nick Foligno, Jason Spezza, Kyle Palmieri, Kyle Turris, Evander Kane, Zach Parise, Patric Hornqvist, Anders Lee, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic, Justin Williams, David Krejci, Daniel Sedin, Gabriel Landeskog, Derek Stepan, Alexander Steen, Henrik Sedin, Tyler Johnson, Patrick Maroon, David Backes, David Perron, Jason Pominville

This tier is filled with players who won’t dazzle on the scoresheet weekly but remain reliable options nonetheless.

As the Blue Jackets keep maturing, Foligno will continue offering sound overall production, especially assuming that he maintains his power-play role and a decent volume of penalty minutes. Spezza isn’t the player he used to be, but a revamped Stars squad should allow him to post his fifth consecutive season of 50-plus points if he stays healthy.