The one treat to tackling a dynasty NHL ranking for the first time here at ESPN.com: There is little to no debate about the top two players (perhaps even the top three). As we did following the lockout in 2005-06, we are going to enjoy some generational talent for the next few years.
While Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews won’t finish every season for the next five years atop the fantasy rankings or the ESPN Player Rater (that’s just not the reality of how superstardom works), you’d be hard pressed to find someone to argue a different player to select for a long-term keeper league. Although, just for the record, I have Jack Eichel as No. 1 in 2021-22.
At it’s core, these dynasty rankings are compiled with a non-penalty keeper league in mind and forecasts for the next five years of hockey. In other words, the players are ranked based on a even balance of the next five NHL seasons. Yes, quite simply, this was an exercise to rank the top 250 players for this season, then again for next season, and so on and so forth until the 2021-22 campaign.
It was then a matter of taking their cumulative rank, dividing by five and ranking one more time. In other words, this ranking is not weighted toward the present. Each player’s rank was determined with equal weight given to each of the next five NHL seasons: 20 percent for 2017-18, 20 percent for 2018-19, 20 percent for 2019-20, 20 percent for 2020-21 and 20 percent for 2021-22.
How do you rank NHL fantasy contributions five years into the future? Very, very carefully. Some of the factors that played into where each player slotted for each of the next five years were: talent, track record, supporting cast, opportunity, projections, scouting and traditional aging curves — specific to defensemen, forwards, snipers, playmakers and goaltenders.
I also approached these rankings from the mindset of an owner trying to win each and every year, and that makes a big difference. It’s why you’ll see Craig Anderson and Henrik Zetterberg still among the top 250 players for the next five years, despite the fact they may only have one truly good year left in them. If you’re in rebuild mode with your team, they obviously wouldn’t rank as high because they won’t help you all that much two years from now. Whether you are rebuilding or loading up for a run in your keeper league are personal factors that you will have to keep in mind as you disseminate the rankings.
The approach to these rankings also doesn’t factor for your league’s specific keeper rules. Are there contracts, salary, farm systems or limited keepers? A good way to think about these rankings is to pretend you’ve started a dynasty league from scratch for this season with no restrictions on your keepers and you want to try to win for the first five years. I know that’s an oddly specific circumstance, but these rankings are attempting to appeal and add value to as many readers as possible. And if you do happen to be starting a dynasty league from scratch this season with no keeper restrictions, well, lucky you.
As with all our rankings, these are based on an ESPN.com standard league with 10 categories, including goals, assists, power-play points, plus/minus, penalty minutes, average time on ice and shots on goal for skaters, with wins, save percentage and goals-against average factored in for goaltenders. The rankings also show where each player ranks at their position (players not in the NHL yet sometimes have a best guess at where they might land at forward). In addition, their redraft ranking from my July edition is shown for a frame of reference (remember that this rank will change in the coming weeks, too).
It may seem a bit aggressive, but from what we’ve seen from all three of them so far in their young careers, I felt comfortable ranking McDavid, Matthews and Eichel as the top three fantasy assets starting in 2018-19. The next “generational” talent could conceivably show up on the scene by 2021-22, but scouting the Pee Wee ranks seemed a bit excessive for this exercise.
However, I did have a peak at next year’s draft class. Rasmus Dahlin, Ryan Merkley, Brady Tkachuk, Joseph Veleno and Andrei Svechnikov all got a look for these rankings. Svechnikov, whose brother Evgeny also made the cut, was the only one to sort into the top 250.
Depending on which study you read, you’ll find a wide range of suggestions for the “prime” or “peak” NHL age. Generally speaking, most studies suggest that “peak” for forwards and goaltenders comes around 25, but that those players can stay in their “prime” until they are closer to 30. Goal scorers tend to fade sooner than playmakers (but again, depending on style, that’s not a hard and fast rule). Goaltenders generally decline with age on a consistent slope until they are around 35. As for defensemen, many of them “peak” a bit later — closer to 27 — and can stay in their “prime” sometimes into their mid-30s.
All that said, with a lack of consensus, these age curves were only really a guideline when looking at how a player might fare during the next five years. However, with prognostication as the goal, a player’s age factored quite heavily into the final decision.
The highest ranked players that didn’t make our July top 250 for this season are Darnell Nurse (153), Pierre-Luc Dubois (159) and Ryan Pulock (167). Consider that some foreshadowing for when we get back into redraft rankings in October.
Although it’s impossible to forecast for trades or future free agency, goaltenders on the same team have a direct correlation in the rankings. For example, as Pekka Rinne fades in our rankings during the coming years, Juuse Saros has a steady rise to overtake him (I’m guessing Rinne has two more years left in his 34-year-old frame). Of course, the landscape will change as teams without an obvious heir apparent (cough, Ottawa) make moves to address their goaltending.
While it might seem unfair to consider injury history for the next five years, it’s something that impacts fantasy value. I didn’t make injury history a factor for every player, but I’ve been writing about fantasy hockey long enough that when it comes to ranking someone like Kris Letang, there’s just too much risk. If this were on a per-game basis, it’s a different story. But we have to take into account the entire seasons, which includes the likelihood that a player will miss a fair chunk of some of them.
Because the final ranking is a combination of each player’s ranking over each of the next five years, math made the final decision where each player ended up in the final rankings. Because of that, there are some I don’t feel good about – both positively and negatively. But I put so much effort into the season-by-season rankings, I wasn’t going to fiddle with where the chips fell after the fact.
Some players I feel ended up too high
Top 300 fantasy hockey rankings
The return of the NHL draws near, and Connor McDavid sits atop the top 300 rankings to start the fantasy season.
It’s good that this future offensive blueliner got out of the crowd in Anaheim, but top 100 still feels high for a young defender on a team that is going to have a few years of building ahead.
In hindsight, the “McDavid effect” was probably applied to too many players in the rankings, but without knowing who McDavid’s linemates will be for the next five years, we have to account for the possibility that any winger could get the chance — and the impact, by the way, is huge. Just ask Patrick Maroon.
Faulk is only one year removed from fantasy superstardom, Jaccob Slavin broke onto the scene last year, Noah Hanifin is on the verge of a breakout and Haydn Fleury is on his way sometime in the next couple seasons. If they stick together, this group will be the 2015-16 Nashville Predators blue line 2.0, but the exact pecking order is difficult to pin down.
Some players I feel ended up too low
Saad is returning to his original team where he previously won two Stanley Cups and made a name for himself on a line with captain Jonathan Toews. Did we mention he is still only 24 years old?
While some players benefitted in these rankings from being on teams on a clear upswing in the overall standings, some ended up getting penalized for being on teams that don’t have a bright immediate outlook. Things will get better in Colorado, and Rantanen is a very skilled forward, but just when the team will finally turn a corner is hard to predict. The same factor influenced rankings for players on the New Jersey Devils, Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks. Things will get better, but when?
As much as Nylander deserves to be in consideration for dynasty leagues, he is one of scores of young players who missed the top 250 because these rankings are designed for trying to win every year for the next five. For every Dion Phaneuf, Mike Smith and Patrick Marleau that made the cut because of their immediate contributions, there is a Madison Bowey, Sam Steel and Nylander who are the better longer-term dynasty additions.