Congratulations, you landed a top-five draft spot this fall in your fantasy hockey league. You have the chance to add a star to your roster right out of the gate.
But the pressure’s on, too. You can’t blow the opportunity by selecting a first-round bust. No worries. Our experts are here to help you take the best available player, whether you are picking No. 1 (let’s be honest, it’s Connor McDavid — just click “Draft this player,” and be done with it) or No. 5 (just a tad less clear).
Our panel includes ESPN fantasy hockey writers Sean Allen and Victoria Matiash, senior NHL writer Greg Wyshynski, NHL national writer Emily Kaplan and ESPN fantasy hockey editor Ben Arledge.
Here’s our look at those top five picks. First-pick selections were weighted with five points, second-pick selections were given four, third-pick three, etc. The points were then added up to give us a final top-five ranking. Read below for each expert’s individual picks and a brief explanation.
Note: These rankings consider standard league scoring.
Allen: I think the first round is stacked this season. Beyond the five I’ve listed here, I think there are at least another five to seven players who can offer similar value by touching on all the main categories (with the exception of penalty minutes). Given McDavid’s ceiling, he’s the easy one to take first overall, but I’m soft on the order for the remaining four. Production ceilings are the key for me here. I think all these players (and others) offer safe floors for what we will get this season, but it’s the ceiling that helped me narrow down the focus here.
Tavares is in a position to blow the doors off his already elite fantasy stats with the up-and-coming Maple Leafs. Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (one of those players just outside this grouping for me) are unstoppable as a duo. Crosby is Crosby, and there’s no reason to expect him to slow down yet. And MacKinnon showed last season that he is ready to be a fantasy superstar and still isn’t into his prime (he’s only 23).
Matiash: Whenever grilled at an NHL draft about his next selection, former general manager Brian Burke would exasperatedly grumble about the obviously superior strategy of selecting the best player available, regardless of positional need. I’m with him. McDavid is the finest offensive hockey talent on the planet. Why take a left turn with someone else? In my opinion, Crosby ranks a clear second as the best skater behind the Oilers’ dynamo.
Then it gets a little trickier. Following the “Summer of Ovechkin,” there are concerns about the Capitals’ captain suffering a lingering hangover. I’m not bothered. If anything, having finally sipped from Lord Stanley’s Cup, Ovi appears ready to repeat. He’ll feel duly inspired to do his part by nearing, if not bettering, this past season’s output of 49 goals and 38 assists on a league-leading 355 shots.
In fourth and fifth position, I’m going slightly off board with Seguin and Laine, respectively. The Stars’ top center — who somewhat quietly racked up 40 goals on 335 shots while averaging nearly 21 minutes per game — will only benefit from having a returning Valeri Nichushkin as an asset on the club’s No. 1 power play. Laine will score 50 goals for the Jets this season. That both players are competing on expiring contracts offers additional appeal.
Wyshynski: I’m expecting McDavid to score, like, 160 points, so if (when?) the Oilers miss the playoffs again, he can shove the stats page in the faces of “gotta be in it to win it” Hart Trophy voters and be like, “Are you not entertained?!” Kucherov continues to grow as a player, and having Stamkos and J.T. Miller on his line certainly will help with that growth. Crosby hasn’t had a season under a point-per-game pace, while Ovechkin probably has another Rocket Richard Trophy in him. My final spot came down to Benn and Brad Marchand, and I opted for the Stars captain to increase his point totals in new coach Jim Montgomery’s puck-possession system.
Kaplan: I was in Toronto at BioSteel camp when McDavid said he wanted to score even more this season. That might sound crazy greedy, but it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t think it’s possible. Almost every player I’ve talked to this summer agrees that the torch has been passed from Crosby to McDavid as the league’s best player. I have Kucherov over Ovechkin only because I believe the celebration-weary Capitals might lag a bit to start the season. MacKinnon and the Avalanche’s top line will accept the same do-it-all responsibilities in Colorado. Considering the team’s lack of depth, they’ll be the ones buoying this team all season (so definitely target Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog later in drafts).
Arledge: The support of taking McDavid and Kucherov with the top two picks is well outlined by my colleagues, so I’ll focus on the spot where I differentiated a bit: taking Tavares over the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin. The new Toronto centerman is coming off his third career 80-plus-point season, and his 37 goals trailed his career best by just one. Now he gets Mitch Marner on the wing? Sign me up. With opponents needing to also account for the Auston Matthews line, Tavares might have a little more space to play with in Toronto as well. Toss in the power-play boost he gets with the Maple Leafs, and you’re getting a high-floor, sky-high-ceiling guy with that No. 3 pick. As an additional note, Claude Giroux just missed my top five and makes for a solid pick at the back end of the first round.