Fantasy hockey can be a tricky game for even the most seasoned veteran. An injury can force you into becoming a waiver-wire junkie or making an ill-conceived trade. One of your top picks can also go all "Scott Gomez" on you and become an overqualified paper weight.
There's typically very little suspense about the top 10 players ranked on anyone's list, and you'll probably not be surprised by mine either. Once you get past the top 10 to 15 picks though, the rest is pretty subjective.
Any fantasy hockey owner has a specific strategy, or at least the successful ones do. Some owners look to add pieces to their collective roster in order to make the team stronger. Others rely on star power to overcome all odds, placing their faith in a "name" player to lead their team to glory.
In any 10-to-12 team league, there will always be a limited number of stars to go around, so you have to do your homework to get players that will bring the most value to your team regardless of your strategy.
There's sure to be someone on this list that I have left off for one reason or another so be sure to take it personally, and as always, enjoy!
Scott Hartnell leads things off for me at No. 50. He could go higher in some circles, but he'll need another year like 2011-12 to warrant a higher ranking to me. Hartnell gives you above-average scoring and a solid physical game, too.
Bobby Ryan has gotten a lot less pushy about his trade demand to leave Anaheim since earlier this summer. The young American winger was top-10 material on most boards the last two years, but he'll need to do something special to get back to that level.
After topping the 100-point mark just two seasons ago, Alex Ovechkin's favorite set-up man has yet to sniff anywhere near that total. A point-per-game average was in play for the Swedish center last season before a head shot cut a promising effort short.
The talented Anaheim center should rebound nicely from an awful 2011-12 campaign. Getzlaf has top-shelf talent around him and an offensive-minded coach that could help him return to top form.
As the heir to the Vancouver goalie throne, all eyes will be on Cory Schneider. With career numbers that literally equal one solid year by his predecessor, Roberto Luongo, Schneider better win quickly.
He performed well when called upon in limited duty, but can he handle the rigors and expectations of being "the man" in Vancouver?
Young San Jose center Logan Couture has emerged as the second favorite fantasy option in San Jose, replacing Patrick Marleau. His star is on the rise, and at only 23 years old, he will be a force for years to come.
Couture will improve on his numbers all across the board as he becomes more seasoned as a pro.
Talented center Jamie Benn has maybe the most complete game of any Dallas Star. Dallas' free-agent spending spree could make his numbers go up even higher next season, as the talent around him got a lot deeper.
A player like Milan Lucic could quite literally average a Gordie Howe hat trick every night. The physical, bruising Bruin winger is only 24 and could become a premier power forward in the mold of Brendan Shanahan.
Loui Eriksson is possibly the most underrated player in the league. The talented Swedish winger has averaged over 70 points over the past three years on below-average Dallas teams.
Taylor Hall could and should be ranked higher, but the former Edmonton No. 1 draft pick has had a tricky history with injuries.
Last year's freak accident left Hall with a nice scar on his mug that helped his street cred, but not his stat line. He could explode this year with a full slate of games and nice chemistry with his top-flight linemates.
Tuukka Rask falls into the same category as Cory Schneider in Vancouver—amazing numbers as the backup. However, Rask at least had a full (and impressive) season while Tim Thomas was out. Getting the bulk of the starts on a talented Bruins team could be statistical bliss for Rask owners.
One of the forgotten stars in Chicago, Patrick Sharp has relished his role as third or fourth fiddle in the windy city. With the lower profile of the two wingers named Patrick, Sharp has put together a solid three-year stretch for the Blackhawks and still has plenty left in the tank.
Massive Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara could legitimately rank higher, but age might take a little off of his game this year. You can still chalk him in among the NHL leaders in shots and defensive points, but look for a decline from the big, 35-year-old Czech defender despite last year's career highs.
The top-flight Penguins goalie had a forgettable end to the 2011-12 year, as he was lit up in the playoffs by rival Philadelphia. Adding quality backup Tomas Vokoun will give Fleury a needed break from the workload he had become accustomed to without hurting his fantasy totals.
Now that he has a Stanley Cup to his name, can Drew Doughty become the player that he had been pegged to be by the experts? After a spectacular sophomore season, Doughty has seen his numbers sputter. An impressive playoff showing leads me to believe that the Kings defenseman could return to form this year.
Jumbo Joe Thornton may not be the 100-point machine he used to be, but he can still rack up numbers. The Sharks No. 1 center returned to form last season with a 77-point effort, putting him just a notch below the elite centers of the NHL.
The only bright spot of an awful Montreal season last year, Carey Price kept Les Habitants in the playoff picture until the bitter end. Statistically, Price was still a stud despite playing in 65 of Montreal's 82 games. Price turned 25 this summer and should be at his very best for the next few years.
Add Kris Letang to the list of players headed for a huge statistical year before injuries got the best of them. The Penguins defenseman was well on his way to setting career benchmarks in almost every category last year, before a series of head shots took 31 games from him. A clean bill of health could allow Letang to really explode this season.
Jarome Iginla may be on the back nine of a Hall of Fame career, but he can still bring it every night. The premier power forward in the NHL over the past decade and then some, Iginla has been as spectacular in the fantasy world as he has been on the NHL ice.
Under the definition of the opposite of power forward, you'll find Patrick Kane. The embattled Blackhawk forward is looking to make headlines this season for all the right reasons. Kane is looking to recover from back-to-back slumping campaigns and some bad offseason press.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could absolutely break out into a megastar this season, especially if he can add some meat to his slight, teenage build. RNH still challenged for the Calder Trophy despite missing 20 games with a couple of shoulder injuries.
As Jarome Iginla's career winds down, the title of NHL's best power forward could go to Colorado's Calder Trophy winner, Gabriel Landeskog. The bullish left wing never met a hit he didn't like and has established himself very quickly as a great scorer, too.
Despite the mega-deal he signed this summer, does Zach Parise himself think he is that valuable?
Sure, he put up 94 points once, but that was over four years ago, and the left winger hasn't come close to that total since. Parise still has value, especially at a thin left wing position, just don't expect close to 100 points again.
The final piece of what I call the "Boy Band Line" of Jordan, Ryan and Taylor in Edmonton, Eberle truly broke out last season. Expect more of the same from the super-talented Oilers winger. Eberle nearly doubled his rookie-season output with a near point-per-game effort last season.
Brotherly love might be the story in Carolina this season, and Eric Staal will be in the center of it. Staal has been the central figure in Carolina for eight seasons now, averaging over 70 points per season in that time. The additions of his younger brother, Jordan, and mercurial winger Alex Semin will add some spark to the Carolina attack and add numbers to Staal's already impressive resume.
Among the breakout performances of last season, Alex Pietrangelo's was just about the most impressive. Playing in a system that preaches defense first, the young St. Louis defenseman followed up his second year with another improved season. Look for more of the same from the 22-year-old blueliner this season.
The pride of America in goal, Buffalo's Ryan Miller was hardly that for the first part of the 2011-12 season. Miller and the Sabres went into the crapper for much of the first half of the season.
However, with their playoff standing in question, Miller hoisted the reeling Sabres onto his back and carried them through the last month of the season before falling short on the final day of the season. Look for a return to more consistent play from the former Vezina Trophy winner.
You could attribute it to playing with two of the best players in the world or just to maturity, but it's probably a combination of the two that saw James Neal explode last year. His 40 goals and 41 assists practically doubled his output from the previous year. Look for more of the same from the big Penguin left wing.
While we're on the topic of exponential increases in productivity, Tyler Seguin of the Bruins tripled his statistical output from his rookie season.
After spending a large part of last season among the top scorers in the league, Seguin seemed to fade late, but still finished with an impressive 67 points. His scoring was missed in the playoffs, as the Bruins fell in the first round to Washington. Look for an even bigger effort from the young Bruin this season.
Jimmy Howard's 2011-12 campaign was a microcosm of the Detroit Red Wings' season. After looking unbeatable for the first 50 games of the season, Howard got dinged up and went into a slump that lasted into the playoffs.
The Red wings were bounced in the first round by Nashville, and Howard went from Vezina contender to pedestrian. Expect a more complete season from the Red Wings backstop as both he and the Wings look to finish stronger.
One of the most polarizing topics at the conclusion of the season was whether or not Erik Karlsson was deserving of the Norris Trophy. After all, Karlsson's name was in the discussion more for his offense than anything else.
That is why he sits in the top 20 fantasy players in the NHL.
Karlsson's lone statistical flaw was his plus/minus, which he improved by plus-46 from the previous year. The NHL hasn't had a point-producing defenseman like Karlsson in a long time. Hopefully he can continue to produce at this high level for the remainder of his young career.
Karlsson's Ottawa teammate Jason Spezza also seems to be overlooked when it comes to appreciation of his talents. Spezza finished in the top five for scoring last season and is still only 29 years old. He is a point-per-game producer over the course of his career and has improved his game on both ends of the ice.
Add "Captain Serious" Jonathan Toews to the list of great seasons cut short. Toews was on his way to his finest statistical season yet before concussions sat him down for the remainder of the regular season.
Though he returned for the playoffs, Toews wasn't the same player when he came back. All systems are go for him to come back stronger than ever this year. Look for a huge year from Toews.
Everything seemed to finally fall into place last year for Phil Kessel, at least statistically. Setting career highs in goals, assists and points were nice for the embattled Kessel, though his Toronto team just missed the playoffs—again. Kessel will get you a ton of offensive numbers but will not be confused for a Selke candidate.
Speaking of defensive liabilities, Ilya Kovalchuk made everyone forget about his inability to play defense with a resurgent offensive season.
After an embarrassing 60-point effort with a minus-26, Kovalchuk rebounded with an 83-point season and a tolerable minus-9 rating. He could fall off with former teammate and captain Zach Parise skipping town, but Kovalchuk has shown that he can be a one-man show when he has no other options.
Despite a 31-point drop in production from two years ago, Henrik Sedin remains one of the top options when it comes to fantasy centers. The Vancouver personnel really hasn't changed since last season, except for in goal. As long as his brother is patrolling the wing, Henrik Sedin has a high-scoring ally.
The Nashville defensive corps suffered a major loss when Ryan Suter headed north for the winter. Chances are Pekka Rinne might have had a bit of a tantrum when the Philadelphia Flyers offered a fortune for the other half of the Predators' top defensive pairing.
A Vezina and (more significantly) NHL 13 cover finalist for 2011-12, Rinne has firmly established himself as a one of the elite netminders in the NHL. His heroics for Nashville will help ease the loss of Suter.
One of the major players moving this summer was Rick Nash, who came to the New York Rangers. While Nash was coveted by many, some felt that the Rangers gave up a lot to get him.
The absence of injured wing Marian Gaborik necessitated the decision to bring Nash on board. With the burden of a franchise off of his shoulders, Nash should flourish in his new arena. With top-level players around him, expect a big year from the former Columbus captain.
The other half of the Sedin tag-team is twin brother Daniel. While Henrik might have been more productive, there are certainly a lot more options at the center position. A late-season head injury curtailed what was going to be a significant drop in points from his 104 total of a year ago. Expect a bounce-back season from each Sedin as they look to rebound at the personal and team level.
Corey Perry followed up his Art Ross and Hart Trophy campaign of 2010-11 with a 38-point drop in total production, as his season seemed to mirror that of his team in Anaheim.
A coaching change and a failed scramble to make the playoffs failed to salvage the season for Perry and his Ducks. The good news is that coach Bruce Boudreau favors an up-tempo, offensive style of hockey, which fits in just fine with Perry and his offensive-minded teammates.
The optimism surrounding the New York Islanders is based on the rise of their best player, center John Tavares. The former No. 1 overall draft pick from 2009 has matured into one of the NHL's premier players. His 81 points led the team and placed Tavares among the top 10 scorers in the league. Tavares is solid across the board and is quickly becoming elite.
He may be the best player in New York. Sorry, Ranger fans.
Anze Kopitar had toiled in relative anonymity for the better part of his career since being the 11th pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2005. He has been productive since his rookie season, averaging just over 72 points per season.
He had 76 points last year for a Los Angeles team that was averaging 2.29 goals per game (via NHL.com), good for 29th out of 30 teams. The Stanley Cup Final showcased Kopitar's presence on the ice as one of the most complete centers in the game. A sleeper no more, grab Kopitar the first chance you get.
We all know that Alex Ovechkin had a down year by his standards, but when you have set the bar so high, you're bound to fall short from time to time. Don't pay attention to the rumors, Ovechkin will be back when the lockout ends.
I expect he'll be back with a vengeance, too. Despite his scoring stats being down, Ovechkin seemed to play with the fervor of his regular wrecking-ball self, hitting anything and everything in sight. He'll shoot every chance he gets, he'll hit everyone he sees and chances are his numbers will creep back up closer to what we have come to expect from the "Great Eight."
Firmly planting his flag atop the mountain of "Best Goalie in the Universe", Jon Quick put the Los Angeles Kings on his back for large portions of the 2011-12 season. Though he wasn't awarded the Vezina trophy for the league's best goalie, Quick would gladly take the Conn Smythe in its place every season.
The East Coast/West Coast rivalry between Quick and the Swedish Vezina winner from New York will be fun to watch for years to come.
Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk is regarded by many as the most complete player in the world—as skilled on offense as he is on defense. His stick work at each end of the ice has produced some of the best highlight reels in hockey. There should literally be a new fantasy category entitled "DK" that involves someone getting deked out of their pants.
Datsyuk sniffed around at the 100-point mark for a couple of seasons, but has struggled with injuries the past two years. A healthy Datsyuk is a dangerous Datsyuk. With a career plus/minus of plus-208 and a point-per-game clip, Datsyuk is an elite pickup in any fantasy league.
High above the rest of the common Bryzgalovs sits King Henrik Lundqvist. The only thing missing from this guy's trophy case is a Stanley Cup, but he should still be option No. 1 when you are looking at goalies (unless, of course, you want to "rep" the West Coast with some Jonny Quick).
As Lundqvist gets older, his GAA seems to get smaller. Last season he turned in a microscopic 1.97 GAA to go along with an absurd .930 save percentage and eight shutouts (via Yahoo.com).
Added bonus: Ladies love handsome Swedish dudes. If you don't want to get stuck watching token medical drama or the latest incarnation of horny-reality housewives, show your lady-friend a picture of handsome Hank, and on comes the Center Ice!
The only reason there should be hockey in Florida is Steven Stamkos. But then again, lets face it, he's not from Florida.
The Tampa Bay star center puts pucks in nets faster than you can say "relocate-the-Lightning-to-a-market-that-gives-a-crap."
Seriously, the guy has as much game as anyone in the league. I think everyone hopes that Steve Yzerman can build a relevant product in Tampa so that Stamkos is a regular in the playoffs, too. He's not going to win any Selke Trophies, but Stamkos will use his body on occasion. For a sniper on a bad team last year, he had a respectable plus/minus.
Save your booing and hissing for someone else, because I have Sidney Crosby third. Injury concerns are the only reason Sid isn't No. 1 or No. 1-A.
Crosby has improved his game immensely since he came into the NHL. He now backchecks regularly and is one of the top faceoff centers in the league. The specter of the head injuries will always be associated with Crosby because of the amount of time he has missed, but he's obviously worth the risk if you have the chance to draft him.
Claude Giroux had himself a pretty nice 2011-12, all things considered. He was tasked with the duty of replacing two of the more popular players on the Flyers, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Done and done.
He chased and battled Evgeni Malkin for the NHL scoring title. Done.
Took the Flyers into a playoff matchup against the hated Pittsburgh Penguins. Done.
He also got the cover of the latest NHL video game and rocked one of the more impressive, if chemically enhanced, mustaches during the month of November to support prostate cancer research.
None of this has anything to do with Giroux's fantasy value, other than the fact that he became a stat monster in only his third full season in the NHL. It probably comes down to where you fall on the Pennsylvania fence. There are three centers in the Keystone state, each worthy of your top pick. You can't really go wrong with any of them.
Runaway Russian freight train is the metaphor I used a lot when describing Evgeni Malkin last season. At times, the Russian center seemed absolutely unstoppable, carrying a Pittsburgh team that was playing without it's captain for two-thirds of the season.
Malkin decorated his trophy case with the MVP and scoring title, and he just turned 26 in July. Did I mention he did all this while "recovering" from season-ending knee surgery just eight months earlier? You can't go wrong with this guy as your top pick.