2017 Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Alex Ovechkin still among the top tier for forwards

Ovechkin is still one of the best. 

Most of the NHL's offseason festivities have concluded, and the league's 31 teams are slowly but surely shaping their rosters.

Your forward corps is generally the foundation of your fantasy hockey roster, but all forwards are not created equal. When it comes to categorizing them, there are several layers to consider - each one more interesting than the last.

The following groupings will work in any fantasy format using a 12-team setup. Standard scoring categories have been used as criteria, so nothing like hits, blocked shots or merchandise sales is included.

We'll go from the cream of the crop down to the projected disappointments, then round out with unknown performers and filler material. Follow the path to choose your optimal mix.

Tier 1: Royalty
Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin

Here are the best of the best:

  • McDavid receives top billing because he's considered a generational talent, and the other candidates have more high-end teammates who eat into their dominance. 
  • Despite a couple of subpar scoring seasons, Ovechkin remains a multi-category fantasy machine.

Tier 2: Nobility
Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Tavares, Brad Marchand, Vladimir Tarasenko, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Mark Scheifele, Nikita Kucherov, Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Pavelski, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jack Eichel, Logan Couture, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Artemi Panarin, Phil Kessel

Some skaters sit below the top tier, but they're not far off:

  • Tavares may have finished last year outside the top 25 in points (with 66), but he should receive a boost with the addition of Jordan Eberle. 
  • Stamkos is coming off a second season-ending injury, though he returns to a dangerous offense with a killer power play. 
  • Dallas locked up a legit netminder in Ben Bishop and signed shifty scoring winger Alexander Radulov, which has sent the hype for Seguin and Benn's production through the roof. 
  • Scheifele loses some exposure playing in Winnipeg, but he busted out for 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 79 games last season, earning elite status.

Tier 3: Consistency
Jeff Carter, Max Pacioretty, Patrice Bergeron, Leon Draisaitl, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Johansen, T.J. Oshie, Blake Wheeler, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Alexander Steen, Anze Kopitar, Cam Atkinson, David Pastrnak, Ryan Kesler, Matt Duchene, Tyler Toffoli, Mats Zuccarello, Aleksander Barkov, Tyler Johnson, Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Taylor Hall, James van Riemsdyk, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Kyle Okposo, Nick Foligno, Chris Kreider, Henrik Zetterberg

These players have generally been dependable, but they aren't expected to perform at superstar levels:

  • Toews will be reunited with buddy Brandon Saad -- together, they basked in Stanley Cup glory in 2013 and 2015 -- and that could send Captain Serious back to the high 60s or low 70s in terms of points. 
  • Duchene is a dynamic scorer, but his 2017-18 projection largely depends on which team takes the bait on his services in the likely event the Avs sell the two years remaining on his contract (valued at $6 million annually). 
  • Johnson just inked a seven-year, $35 million contract and will use that as motivation to improve. 
  • Hall enjoyed a solid first season in Jersey (tied for tops in team scoring with 53 points), but fantasy owners probably wish he was still in Edmonton trying to coexist with McDavid's all-world talent.

Tier 4: Expectancy
Jaden Schwartz, David Krejci, Ondrej Palat, Alexander Radulov, Mika Zibanejad, Martin Hanzal, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Drouin, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Galchenyuk, Jason Spezza, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Kyle Turris, Patrick Marleau, Jordan Eberle, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gustav Nyquist, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jakob Silfverberg

It's always interesting to generate projections for players whose career is in transition:

  • While Radulov and Saad now find themselves in promising situations, stellar production is not guaranteed. 
  • With Derek Stepan gone, Zibanejad gets first shot at the Rangers' No.1 center spot. 
  • Drouin should inject some life into an anemic Montreal attack. 
  • Marleau is as durable as any soon-to-be 38-year-old, but he might eventually be pushed out of a top-six role in Toronto. 
  • As for Silfverberg, he saw a notable uptick in power-play ice time with a corresponding reduction of duties on the penalty kill last season; it'll be worth seeing whether that trend sticks.

Tier 5: Prodigy

Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikael Granlund, Alexander Wennberg, Filip Forsberg, Sean Monahan, Sebastian Aho, Nino Niederreiter, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Matthew Tkachuk, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Viktor Arvidsson, Rickard Rakell, Elias Lindholm, Nikolaj Ehlers, Bo Horvat, Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Spooner

These guys are all 25 and under, but they've already turned heads:

  • Gaudreau and Monahan slipped a bit during the first half of last season, though they could evolve into consistent offensive contributors if coach Glen Gulutzan keeps limiting their shifts in the defensive zone at even strength.
  • Wennberg continues to serve as top pivot in Columbus. 
  • The 'Canes are looking to become contenders again, and their four reps in this section (Aho, Lindholm, Rask, Teravainen) will certainly help. 
  • Horvat is the burgeoning Canuck to keep tabs on in fantasy leagues, even if his increased workload makes it difficult for him to keep up defensively.

Tier 6: Misery

Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Zach Parise, Patric Hornqvist, Rick Nash, Jeff Skinner, Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Backlund, Brendan Gallagher, Derek Stepan, James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Derick Brassard, Andrew Ladd, Paul Stastny, Radim Vrbata, Joel Ward, Ryan Callahan, David Backes, Loui Eriksson, Valtteri Filppula, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey, Bryan Little, Frans Nielsen, Alex Killorn, Mathieu Perreault, Patrick Eaves, Michael Frolik

It's not that this group should be avoided; just don't expect previous peaks to hold up:

  • At 32, Perry isn't the sniper he used to be (down to 19 goals from 34 a year earlier). 
  • One of Maroon or Lucic will end up suffering by not getting to play alongside Connor McDavid, with the former the favorite to retain his sidekick role. 
  • Stepan is projected as Arizona's top center, but that doesn't mean much if the team can't score -- the 'Yotes ranked 27th at 2.33 goals per game last season -- and it's the same situation in Vegas, where neither Neal nor Marchessault will come close to approaching the 30-goal plateau.

Tier 7: Maturity

Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, Tomas Hertl, Mikko Rantanen, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Brayden Point, Frank Vatrano, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Pavel Buchnevich, Andre Burakovsky, Tanner Pearson, Robby Fabbri, Sam Reinhart, Jason Zucker, Micheal Ferland, Kevin Fiala, Dylan Strome, Pavel Zacha, Phillip Danault, Nick Schmaltz, Tobias Rieder, Calle Jarnkrok, Nick Bjugstad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, Travis Konecny, Kyle Connor, Radek Faksa, Reilly Smith, Sam Bennett, Jimmy Vesey, Josh Ho-Sang, Brock Boeser, Sven Baertschi, Ryan Hartman, Jordan Weal, Christian Dvorak, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Artturi Lehkonen, Brendan Perlini, Andreas Athanasiou, Josh Anderson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Timo Meier, Markus Granlund, Nick Ritchie, Joel Eriksson Ek

This group is similar to Tier 5, but not as polished:

  • We'd like to see another hot playoff run from Guentzel before moving him up the charts. 
  • Rantanen is poised to use his size and skill to tear apart the opposition. 
  • Following a horrific sophomore campaign that can be attributed to opponents adequately countering his blazing speed, Larkin must refocus and play with more creativity. 
  • If Arizona is headed in a more offensive direction, then any of its young forwards noted here (Domi, Duclair, Strome, Rieder, Dvorak, Perlini) could benefit.

Tier 8: Mystery

Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, Bobby Ryan, Mark Letestu, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Sonny Milano, Jakub Vrana, Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev, Vladimir Sobotka, Sean Couturier, Tyson Jost, Sven Andrighetto, Nicolas Petan, Pontus Aberg, Jared McCann, Anders Bjork, Vadim Shipachyov, David Perron, Ryan Strome, Marcus Johansson, Boone Jenner, Tomas Tatar, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Plekanec, Kris Versteeg, Richard Panik, Benoit Pouliot, Antoine Vermette, Nick Bonino, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Jannik Hansen, Sam Gagner, Alex Burrows, Zack Smith, Evgeny Dadonov, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, Chris Kunitz, Jason Pominville, Patrick Sharp, Michael Cammalleri, Clayton Keller, J.T. Compher, Brett Ritchie, John Quenneville, Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford

We're still trying to figure out who these guys are, but you probably want to pick a few with upside at the back of your roster:

  • Hischier and Patrick -- the first and second picks from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, respectively -- earned their entry-level deals in short order, but they'll still need to show well in camp to wind up on the Opening Night rosters. 
  • Other hotshots like Jost and Keller are tricky to gauge because their roles this season are unknown. 
  • The elder Strome needed a change of scenery, and Edmonton is a prime landing spot in terms of his fantasy prospects. 
  • Shipachyov is going to be the top center in Vegas, and his huge production in the KHL indicates that he could ultimately rise into a much higher tier than this. 
  • Finally, at the time this column was published, the last three remain free agents - although Jagr, the ageless wonder, would be the only one worth considering.

Tier 9: Sufficiency

Jussi Jokinen, Craig Smith, Andrew Cogliano, Frederick Gaudreau, Bryan Rust, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky, Carl Soderberg, Brandon Sutter, Lars Eller, David Desharnais, Marian Gaborik, Devin Shore, Blake Comeau, Lee Stempniak, Tyler Ennis, Carl Hagelin, Austin Watson, Leo Komarov, Darren Helm, Scott Hartnell, Erik Haula, Patrik Berglund, Colin Wilson, Tanner Kero, Vince Hinostroza, Alex Burmistrov, Matt Read, Melker Karlsson, Marcus Foligno, Jesper Fast, Dmitrij Jaskin, Denis Malgin, Teemu Pulkkinen, Michael Raffl, Riley Sheahan, Ryan Reaves, Zack Kassian, Antoine Roussel, J.T. Brown, Tom Wilson, Matthew Nieto, Kyle Clifford, Brian Boyle, Matt Martin, Dominic Moore, Johan Larsson, Matt Moulson, Adam Lowry, Devante Smith-Pelly, Justin Abdelkader, Blake Speers, Matt Beleskey, Nic Dowd, Oscar Lindberg, Jason Chimera, Zemgus Girgensons, Jamie McGinn, Nick Cousins, Carter Rowney, Curtis Lazar, Matt Calvert, Joel Armia, Tomas Jurco, Joakim Nordstrom, Curtis McKenzie, Joe Colborne, Dustin Brown, Dale Weise, Andrew Shaw, Trevor Lewis, Paul Byron, Colton Sceviour, Tyler Graovac, Emerson Etem, Magnus Paajarvi

Unless something drastic happens, none of these guys will be relevant come October. 

  • Jokinen looks to be the most intriguing entry, as he could benefit by slotting beside any of Edmonton's top three centers... or he could drop completely out of the lineup. 
  • Rust shares some chemistry with linemates Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, but he only seems to shine in the postseason. 
  • Hartnell has been declining, but he's back in Nashville and able to contribute on the power play. 
  • The subpar squads usually offer the greatest variance in line combos, which is why you may want to consider the listed names from Colorado (Soderberg, Comeau, Wilson, Nieto, Colborne), Detroit (Helm, Sheahan, Abdelkader), Arizona (McGinn, Cousins), Vancouver (Sutter, Burmistrov) and Vegas (Eakin, Haula, Pulkkinen, Lindberg). 
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