THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Sport)

It’s never too early. Not even in the middle of summer.

The ideal image of fantasy hockey prep at this time of year might be curling up on a dock with THN’s Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide. That’s a great idea. It’s loaded with useful information, it projects the NHL’s top 300 scorers and it hits newsstands any day now.

But what happens when you’ve read that paper edition cover to cover? As the summer inches closer to fall and training camps start up, you’ll want another update in hockey pool expertise. That’s what this specialized list of rankings is for. I will update my top 200 players periodically, and with increasing frequency, until opening night of the 2015-16 season.

Think of this ranking set as a companion piece to the pool guide. The former focuses on points, while this list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Did last year’s list steer you right? It helped me win both my pools, so hopefully that buys your trust. Remember, these rankings are about fantasy, not real life, so a few stars will be listed lower than you might expect. Enjoy, and feel free to debate the rankings – and let me know about any glaring omissions – in the comment section below.

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Carey Price to Wild? Kopitar to Ducks? Redrafting 2005’s first round

Matt Larkin
Carey Price. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Sidney Crosby draft lottery. We’ve already celebrated by reviewing Sid the Kid’s best career moments. Now it’s time to delve into the 2005 draft. It’s famous for giving us Crosby and Carey Price, two of the best players at their positions this generation. Looking back, though, reveals the 2005 draft class is also memorable for being, well, so forgettable. Drafting Price and other stars such as Anze Kopitar meant navigating a minefield of busts.

A look at 2005’s first round, pick by pick:

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
3. Jack Johnson, Carolina Hurricanes
4. Benoit Pouliot, Minnesota Wild
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
6. Gilbert Brule, Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Jack Skille, Chicago Blackhawks
8. Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks
9. Brian Lee, Ottawa Senators
10. Luc Bourdon, Vancouver Canucks
11. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
12. Marc Staal, New York Rangers
13. Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo Sabres
14. Sasha Pokulok, Washington Capitals
15. Ryan O’Marra, New York Islanders
16. Alex Bourret, Atlanta Thrashers
17. Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes
18. Ryan Parent, Nashville Predators
19. Jakub Kindl, Detroit Red Wings
20. Kenndal McArdle, Florida Panthers
21. Tuukka Rask, Toronto Maple Leafs
22. Matt Lashoff, Boston Bruins
23. Niclas Bergfors, New Jersey Devils
24. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
25. Andrew Cogliano, Edmonton Oilers
26. Matt Pelech, Calgary Flames
27. Joe Finley, Washington Capitals
28. Matt Niskanen, Dallas Stars
29. Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers
30. Vladimir Mihalik, Tampa Bay Lightning

Woof. Of that draft class, three first rounders, Zagrapan, Pokulok and Bourret, never played an NHL game. Ten players, or one third, failed to reach 100 NHL games, albeit the late Luc Bourdon would’ve had he not died tragically in a motorcycle accident. The 2005 first round has produced four skaters with at least 300 NHL points. For perspective, the 2004 and 2006 groups each had four 300-point guys in the first five picks alone.

So how about we give the league a do-over on 2005’s first round? The rules: (a) any player from the class’ seven rounds is eligible; (b) draft order stays the same; (c) team needs at the time will be factored in; (d) hindsight is very much 20/20. This is all in good fun.

Here we go.

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Three playoff teams who could miss in 2015-16, and three non-playoff teams who could get in

Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Parity in the modern-day NHL creates such a delicate balance between teams that one year’s powerhouse is the next year’s dud, and vice versa. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, who went from Central Division champs to out of the playoffs, or the Calgary Flames, who went from rebuilding team to round 2 of the post-season.

In all, 2014-15 swapped Calgary, Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Washington, the New York Islanders and Ottawa into the playoffs, with Colorado, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Jose, Boston, Columbus, and Philadelphia falling out. That’s seven new teams out of 16, or 43.75 percent.

With that crazy stat in mind, which 2014-15 post-season qualifiers might slide out in 2015-16? And which teams might take their places? I’ve chosen three candidates in each category.

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Who are the 10 best NHL free agents left on the market?

Matt Larkin
Cody Franson. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

To sum up the NHL’s free agency season in three words: fits and starts. We saw a deluge of unrestricted free agents sign July 1, albeit not as many as we saw last summer, perhaps because the 2015 class is relatively weak and in lower demand. Over the past week, we’ve seen more restricted free agent signings than UFAs. A few of the more coveted names on the open market remain, however. Let’s explore some of them and where they fit best in light of which teams have filled roster holes and which haven’t.

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Who has lost the most fantasy value this off-season?

Matt Larkin
Antti Niemi. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

On Monday I explored which players have gained fantasy value based on off-season trades and signings so far. Some NHLers, however, lose value based on roster moves, whether it’s because they’re pushed down the depth chart by a new addition or because they’ve lost their key linemate to a trade or free agency.

Which players stand to produce less in 2015-16 based on summer transactions so far? Consider these names.

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Who has gained the most fantasy value this off-season?

Matt Larkin
Phil Kessel (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

With every off-season comes a flurry of trades and signings, which alter many players’ fantasy values. It’s not just the guys switching teams who change in fantasy pool worth, either. There’s a ripple effect. Player X may skyrocket in projected production after being dealt to Team Y, but the roster spot he leaves behind may open a hole for a certain prospect to climb the depth chart.

Which players have ascended the most in 2015-16 fantasy draft rankings so far? Here are some names to consider.

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2015 Draft Preview – Tampa Bay Lightning apprentice is now the master

Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, the NHL’s reigning GM of the year, was weaned by the Detroit Red Wings as a player and an executive, so it’s no surprise he puts such a strong emphasis on drafting and developing players. And it should come as no surprise he and the Lightning have had such positive results. Yzerman and his hockey department have restocked the Bolts’ system with a bountiful crop of young players. In the 2011 draft alone, the Lightning picked six players, and four of them – Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov and Ondrej Palat – have turned out to be bona fide NHL players.

PICKS:
Round 1, pick 28
Round 2, pick 44
Round 3, pick 64
Round 4, picks 118, 120
Round 5, pick 150
Round 6, picks 153, 180
Round 7, pick 208

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
Injuries tested Tampa’s depth on defense and, after trading Radko Gudas, the Lightning lack a physical and punishing force on the back end.

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2015 Draft Preview – Buffalo Sabres take baby steps with their baby faces

Ken Campbell
Sam Reinhart. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So how does a center ice corps of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson sound? Well, considering only two of the four can legally drink in New York State, pretty young. And considering the top end of that group, pretty darn promising. As a group, Buffalo will continue to take its lumps as the Sabres continue through a painful rebuild. When you finish 30th in the NHL in successive seasons, the rewards at the draft are potentially astronomical. Even with Eichel, the Sabres will still finish near the bottom, meaning they’ll be getting another gem in 2016.

PICKS
Round 1, pick 2
Round 1, pick 21
Round 2, pick 31
Round 2, pick 51
Round 4, pick 92
Round 5, pick 122
Round 6, pick 152
Round 7, pick 182

SHORT-TERM NEEDS
Buffalo’s future on defense is tied to Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, but if the Sabres are going to come close to competing in the next few seasons, they’re going to need depth, preferably in the form of a player who can help show the young blueliners the way.

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