2019-20 Fantasy Hockey Forward draft tiers: Nikita Kucherov leads elite group at the top

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/5425/" data-ylk="slk:Nikita Kucherov">Nikita Kucherov</a> is a solid bet to be the first pick in hockey drafts this season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nikita Kucherov is a solid bet to be the first pick in hockey drafts this season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Paul BrunoRotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Unlike the disclaimer that appears at the bottom of your investment reports, I believe that past performance is indicative of future returns when it comes to predicting scoring totals for many NHL skaters. The key to being successful in your fantasy leagues, however, is mixing in players who will produce a spike in their totals that is not in line with their history. You'll normally find them among the ranks of those who are bouncing back from injury-plagued seasons or in the early stages of their careers, where they are primed for a breakthrough with new roster opportunities.

Here's a preview of this year's class of forwards, ranked by tiers.

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TIER 1A: The biggest names to target

Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, Leon Draisaitl, Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak, Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Taylor Hall, Blake Wheeler, Artemi Panarin, Alex Ovechkin, Jack Eichel

This list includes players who the non-hockey fan in your life will likely recognize. They're all coming off seasons where they produced at better than a point-per-game clip. This is the blue-chip grouping of elite forwards who can be expected to duplicate their production from last season. The only possible surprise inclusion here may be Taylor Hall, who tallied 37 points in 33 games in 2018-19. Don't forget, however, that he won the Hart Trophy just two seasons ago, and most prognosticators really like the additions that the Devils made this offseason.

TIER 1B: Elite skaters with question marks

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Evgeni Malkin, Sean Monahan, Claude Giroux, Alexander Radulov, Gabriel Landeskog, Mark Scheifele, Sebastian Aho

These players also scored at better than a point-per-game pace last season, but there are small question marks surrounding them for a variety of reasons. Boston's dynamic duo has played lots of hockey as front-liners and are among the few who are on the wrong side of 30. Some regression is inevitable in what has become a younger man's game.

Rantanen, Marner, and Point are separated from the 1A only by virtue of their current restricted free agent status. Should one or more sign a new contract early in the preseason, feel free to move them into the top grouping.

Matthews is among the top goal-scoring centers in the NHL, but his tendency to shoot first instead of setup his teammates along with his track record of back-to-back injury-marred campaigns costs him here. Tavares' value has been negatively affected by Marner's holdout, which is why he lands in this grouping despite coming off a career year.

Malkin, like Matthews, is an elite scorer who has also been unable to go injury-free in recent campaigns.

TIER 2 Slightly under elite but huge upside

Phil Kessel, Jonathan Toews, Tyler Seguin, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Tomas Hertl, Dylan Larkin, Matt Duchene, Sean Couturier, Mark Stone, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ryan O'Reilly, Elias Pettersson, Teuvo Teravainen, Alex DeBrincat, Jake Guentzel, Nicklas Backstrom, Mika Zibanejad

This group of players is a notch below the elite, but all are capable of reaching that point-per-game plateau, and some of them already have earlier in their careers. They're also all expected to be top-six forwards in their respective lineups.

With the move from the Penguins to the Coyotes, you might expect a drop for Phil Kessel this season, but it's important to remember that he was also an elite scorer in Boston and Toronto, where he wasn't surrounded by the Hall of Fame-bound Crosby and Malkin.

Toews rediscovered his top offensive form as the Blackhawks developed new, quality depth among their forward ranks last season, allowing him more playing time alongside his long-time running mate Patrick Kane.

Dylan Larkin is emerging as the centerpiece to a dynamic, young group of forwards in Motown and should easily do enough to stay in this peer group for the foreseeable future.

Jake Guentzel has cemented his place as the finisher who works best on Crosby's line. Coming off a 40-goal season and armed with a new, long-term contract, he's expected to continue to play an integral role in the Pens' fortunes.

Mark Stone left the Senators to join the Golden Knights last season and could see ample time on the team's top line alongside Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson this year, potentially forming one of the most potent forward trios in the entire NHL. He's also emerging as a team leader in his new digs.

TIER 3: Top linemen with capped ceilings

David Krejci, Vladimir Tarasenko, Max Domi. Logan Couture, Cam Atkinson, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, Joe Pavelski, Jakub Voracek, Timo Meier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Paul Stastny, Mats Zuccarello, Nazem Kadri

This group of players is also composed of skaters who are expected to hold top-six roles with their respective clubs this season. However, their scoring exploits fall short of the above-noted names.

David Krejci has long toiled in the shadow of the Bruins' top line, but he's continued to produce solid totals despite having a revolving door of players on his wings over the last few seasons. He's still expected to be one of the best two-way pivots in the NHL in 2019-20.

Tarasenko, who is regarded as one of the strongest skaters in the NHL and a highlight-reel talent, can move into one of the higher groups if he peaks this year, but there's nothing wrong with plugging him into your lineup and waiting patiently for him to produce the 70-point average of his last five campaigns.

Max Domi finally exploded with a 72-point campaign last year during his debut season in Montreal. There were whispers that he was unhappy with his time in Arizona and was much more motivated to play in one of hockey's capital cities. It showed last season.

Nazem Kadri is expected to smash his 44-point total of last season this year as he moves from a third-line role with the Leafs to a second-line assignment in a similarly deep Avalanche offense. He could return to the 30-goal plateau in 2019-20.

TIER 4: Bounce-back and breakout candidates

Anthony Mantha, Jake DeBrusk, William Nylander, Jamie Benn, Ondrej Kase, Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, Anders Bjork, Roope Hintz, Wayne Simmonds, Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, Jimmy Vesey, Charlie Coyle, Connor Brown, J.T. Miller, Jesperi Kotkaniemi

This tier includes players who are riding shotgun with the league's elite contributors, along with other skaters who are hoping for bounce-back or breakout seasons. They should be available in the mid-to-late rounds of your drafts.

Mantha only scratched the surface with his 48 points in 67 games played last season. If he can stick on a line with Larkin throughout the upcoming campaign, he could be in line for an 80-point performance.

DeBrusk has improved steadily over his first two seasons and should be ready to hold on to a top-six role in Boston this year. His offensive talents should mesh well with a veteran puck-distributor like Krejci.

Roope Hintz is a big, dynamic winger who is coming off a strong playoff effort. He should be ready to ply his trade among the bevy of skilled veteran forwards who fill out the Stars' top-two lines in 2019-20.

TIER 5: Deep-league targets and rookies

Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Sam Steel, Maxime Comtois, Taro Hirose, Martin Necas, Owen Tippett, Brett Howden, Drake Batherson, Ilya Mikheyev, Nikita Gusev, Cody Glass, Carl Grundstrom

If you're in dynasty leagues, you'll need to know which rookies are best positioned to have an impact in the NHL now and down the road.

Hughes and Kakko were selected first and second overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and are both expected to assume top-six roles with their respective clubs right away.

Batherson has a chance to do the same after notching three goals and nine points during a 20-game audition with the Senators last season.

Hirose will join the young talent group that has preceded him in recent years to redefine the Wings. Gusev, 27, will make his NHL debut this season after winning the KHL scoring title last year. Mikheyev will audition to make an early impact amid the Marner holdout and injuries on the Maple Leafs' roster.

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