Putting together rankings for the distant future is always a fun exercise, but it's also a stressful endeavor. How much stock do you put in a player's recent history versus long-term trends? How do you weigh his age versus his style of play or position? What about his current contract situation versus any potential for movement versus his present team's cap room for additional help? How about a prospect's current level versus his team's NHL depth chart?
There is a lot to consider, and sometimes I err on the side of caution. There is plenty of wiggle room, after all. When you consider the base fantasy value of players, once you get outside of the top 50, the value curve tends to start evening out.
As the steep hill of value turns into a gentle grade, it's perfectly fine to miss on a prospect here or a bounce-back candidate there because the replacement value is closer to what you might lose out on in terms of draft capital. However, the potential to hit on that special pick who can climb up the value curve toward the steeper area can be well worth the roll of the dice.
Think about the value that came from drafting Morgan Rielly, Max Domi, Robin Lehner, Elias Lindholm, Erik Gustafsson or Jacob Trouba this season. In the case of Rielly, you ended up with the No. 4 fantasy defenseman. In the case of Lehner, you found a top-10 fantasy goaltender. Lindholm and Domi were both top-30 forwards. Not a one of these players was taken among the first 100 picks in drafts this season.
Yet despite not "jumping off the page" with potential heading into the season, they still made the rankings and were projected for improvements that turned them into late-round selections in many 2018-19 fantasy drafts. For every Gustafsson or Trouba you can land late in your draft, you more than make up for the Casey Mittelstadt, Ilya Kovalchuk or Kevin Shattenkirk selections.
That's why you might see some surprises sprinkled into these rankings after about the top 150 or so. Why? Because these players are in situations that could play perfectly for success -- and the replacement value drop-off if I'm wrong is negligible. That's not to say the rankings from No. 150 to No. 300 are a bunch of dart throws. Far from it. But, when we are talking about rankings for a season that will begin six months from now -- after the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL draft and a potentially wild free-agent offseason -- a little upside baked into the rankings is a good thing.
The top 10
Nikita Kucherov is a no-brainer No. 1 after getting darn close to 130 points.
Connor McDavid is still the best in the game but needs a supporting cast.
John Tavares and Auston Matthews didn't earn top-10 value this season, but they will be the new Crosby-Malkin of the fantasy world for many years to come. They'll play apart at even strength, together on the power play and be dominant in all facets.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the only non-forward in this tier. At full health, he'll break the NHL wins record next season.
Alex Ovechkin was not supposed to still be here based on his age. Oh, he wasn't going to disappear, but I thought a slow fade would begin. Nope. Dude is still lights out.
This is going to be a very decent free-agent class, and a scary-good restricted free-agent class. In fact, as taboo as offer sheets seem to be in the NHL, some of these restricted free agents may be tempting enough that we get to see a few such signings.
Among forwards that will be free agents, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Matt Duchene, Joe Pavelski, Anders Lee, Gustav Nyquist, Kevin Hayes, Brock Nelson and Mats Zuccarello look to hit the open market. On the blue line, Erik Karlsson is the prize, with Jake Gardiner and Alexander Edler as consolation. In net, Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov and Lehner will all headline, while Petr Mrazek, Brian Elliott, Mike Smith and Cam Talbot also should tantalize.
Here's the scary list, though. Check out some of the restricted free agents: Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, Brayden Point, Timo Meier, Brock Boeser and Kyle Connor at forward, Zach Werenski, Ivan Provorov, Charlie McAvoy and Trouba on defense, and David Rittich and Jordan Binnington in the crease. Those are some big names due some big paydays -- some of them on teams that will be up against the cap. If nothing else, this crew could cause some major player movement in the offseason as teams try to make things work.
New to the rankings
Here are the players who weren't ranked among the top 450 for 2019-20 in January's dynasty rankings.
Jordan Binnington (until proven otherwise, he's the Blues' goaltender of the future), Tyler Bertuzzi, Michal Kempny, Kaapo Kakko (concerns about an adjustment year to North American hockey are fading), Carter Verhaeghe, Joe Thornton (it looks like he'll play forever), Marcus Pettersson, Peyton Krebs, Oliver Wahlstrom, Arthur Kaliyev (the only other 17-year-olds to reach 50 goals in the OHL since 2000 are Jeff Skinner, Alex DeBrincat and Steven Stamkos), Anton Khudobin and Brett Pesce.