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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Pronger making headlines again when Hall of Fame vote comes down

Brian Costello
Chris Pronger signs autographs at the 2014 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Just a couple days after seeing his playing rights traded to Arizona from Philadelphia, Chris Pronger will be in the spotlight again when the Hall of Fame announces he and Nicklas Lidstrom are two of this year’s inductees.

The Hall of Fame’s 18-member selection committee is meeting today to discuss this year’s candidates. Former players and builders need at least 75 percent approval (or 14 favorable votes). Pronger, who last played during the 2011-12 season and has been on the Flyers long-term injury ever since, is as sure-fire a candidate as you’ll see. So is Lidstrom, the most decorated defenseman in the history of the NHL not named Bobby Orr.

Pronger, of course, was a brilliant two-way defenseman who was a major player in Anaheim’s 2006-07 Stanley Cup triumph. He also was a key cog in two other teams getting to the Cup final, the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. Pronger had 157 goals and 698 points in 1,167 games over 18 seasons. He won both the Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy in 1999-2000, while with the St. Louis Blues, one of five teams he played for.

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2015 Draft Preview – Heavily armed Winnipeg Jets can shift focus to contending

Matt Larkin
Nikolaj Ehlers (Photo by Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images).

The Winnipeg Jets farm system led our 2015 Future Watch Rankings and boasted six of the league’s top 75 prospects. Anything extra GM Kevin Cheveldayoff nabs at the draft is gravy. It also will provide him with trade bait should his team ascend to Cup contention next year.

PICKS:
Round 1, picks 17 and 25
Round 2, pick 47
Round 3, pick 78
Round 4, pick 108
Round 6, pick 168
Round 7, picks 198 and 203

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
Winnipeg has potential franchise players on the way, but there’s no guarantee those players are ready to be elite. The Jets are competitive now and could use immediate help, especially among their top six forwards. A true first-line center and/or sniper would do wonders.

LONG-TERM NEEDS:
The Jets are set for young blueliners and have some dynamic scoring forwards in the pipeline. They have outstanding goalie prospects, too. But the divide between the Western Conference’s haves and have-nots correlates with which teams have big, strong pivots and which don’t. Winnipeg needs a monster center. Mark Scheifele took a nice leap this year, but, as good as he is, he’s not physical enough to make defensemen shake in their boots.

CAP SITUATION:
All the Jets’ core players have at least a year left on their deals. Scheifele and blueliner Jacob Trouba have another season before restricted free agency. So there’s space for a significant splash, though it would make things messy a year from now when Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd hit free agency. Cheveldayoff must work hard to keep UFA Michael Frolik. Frolik has been a revelation in a checking role.

IN THE SYSTEM 2015-16:
Nikolaj Ehlers lit up the QMJHL in 2014-15. He’s sure to make the NHL and challenge for the Calder Trophy this fall. Puck-moving defenseman Josh Morrissey isn’t far off, but the Jets are deep enough at ‘D’ that they don’t have to rush him. They’re solid with a top four of Byfuglien, Trouba, Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers.

DID YOU KNOW:
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg’s top goaltending prospect, won the inaugural Mike Richter Award in 2014 as the top NCAA Div. I netminder, posting a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

THN will be releasing its Team Reports from Draft Preview for each of the 30 NHL franchises in the week leading up to the NHL Draft. Read them in our “Draft” channel.

2015 Draft Preview – The Washington Capitals make investments

Jakub Vrana (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Capitals pulled off a pretty neat trick the past few years: mining the second half of the first round for talent and consistently hitting on it. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson and Marcus Johansson all qualify, and picking in that range can be tricky. Add in no-brainer lottery pick Alex Ovechkin plus Nicklas Backstrom and you’ve got a pretty good homegrown core already. All told, Washington has drafted quite well.

PICKS:
Round 1, pick 22
Round 3, pick 62
Round 4, pick 113
Round 5, pick 143
Round 6, pick 173

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
The Caps are solid in all areas right now, but a two-way center who can also score wouldn’t hurt – someone in a Ryan Kesler mode. With Jakub Vrana in the pipeline, skill is taken care of in spades. Read more

2015 Draft Preview – Vancouver Canucks making up for lost time

Jake Virtanen (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

There’s a 10-year chasm of futility in the Vancouver Canucks draft record that explains why the development system has been a world of hurt in recent seasons. Between the selections of Alexander Edler and Jannik Hansen in 2004 and the choice of Bo Horvat ninth overall in 2013, the Canucks don’t have a single draft pick playing for them. Sure, Cody Hodgson yielded Zack Kassian, and Frank Corrado is still a good prospect, but that’s nowhere near good enough.

PICKS:
Round 1, pick 23
Round 4, pick 114
Round 5, picks 144, 149
Round 6, pick 174

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
Secondary scoring has always been an issue in Vancouver. Sooner or later, the Sedin twins will start lagging. The issue will become more acute if Shawn Matthias, tied for third on the team with 18 goals, moves elsewhere as a UFA. Read more

2015 Draft Preview – It’s blue sky for the Toronto Maple Leafs

William Nylander (Getty Images)

It was a great indictment of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ drafting and developing when Brendan Shanahan fired the man who ran the hockey department, GM Dave Nonis, plus several key scouts two months before a pivotal draft. The scouting dismissals were on the advice of director of player personnel Mark Hunter, who has essentially been given the keys to the kingdom when it comes to picking and cultivating prospects. Hunter comes with an excellent track record of talent identification from his days with the London Knights, and the Leafs hired him to help find NHL-caliber players.

PICKS:
Round 1, picks 4, 24
Round 3, pick 65
Round 4, picks 95, 107
Round 5, pick 125
Round 6, pick 155
Round 7, pick 185

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
The Leafs have lacked a true No. 1 center since Mats Sundin. Tyler Bozak has good chemistry with Phil Kessel, but their defensive acumen is so lacking that Toronto’s top line, which also included James van Riemsdyk, made up three of the NHL’s bottom five in plus-minus. Read more

2015 Draft Preview – Is it too early for San Jose Sharks to turn back?

Nikolay Goldobin.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Years of frustration have come crumbling in on the Sharks. Despite a top-four group of forwards that’s as good as any other team in the league, the Sharks fell apart in the second half and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003. It’s only the second time in the 17-year career of homegrown talent Patrick Marleau that he’s gone home in early April without playing any post-season games.

PICKS:
Round 1, pick 9
Round 2, pick 39
Round 4, pick 106
Round 5, picks 130, 142
Round 6, pick 160
Round 7, picks 190, 210

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
San Jose needs a top-flight goalie in the worst way. Antti Niemi has had some good seasons and some very good seasons in his five years with the Sharks, but he never rose to the occasion in the playoffs, and the team is sure to let the 31-year-old Finn walk as a UFA. The Sharks also need depth among the D-corps.

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2015 Draft Preview – St. Louis Blues playing with house money

Matt Larkin
Robbie Fabbri (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues have everything. They’re as deep as any team in the sport at every position, and a few of their best drafted youngsters haven’t even reached the NHL yet. St. Louis’ needs are more about veteran experience than anything they have to nab at the draft table. GM Doug Armstrong thus has the freedom to pick any high-ceiling player who falls to him at any position.

PICKS:
Round 2, pick 56
Round 4, picks 94, 116
Round 5, picks 127, 146
Round 6, pick 176

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
The only tangible thing the Blues need is veteran support on defense, depending on what happens with UFAs Barret Jackman and Zbynek Michalek. More than anything, the Blues need intangibles like leadership and Stanley Cup experience. Their 2014-15 roster had no one who’d played in a final, let alone a Cup winner. Pursuing an accomplished UFA like Justin Williams makes sense. Read more