By Sasha Yodashkin, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Forwards are the most important aspect of fantasy hockey teams, as they account for the vast majority of offensive stats. It's imperative to come away with a strong forward group on draft day, and one way to do so is to break the position into tiers. The best values in the draft are often the last few forwards left in a tier before a dropoff, and conversely, it's always a good time to fill a hole at another position right after a forward tier has been exhausted.
Of course, the most important aspect of a tiered approach to valuing forwards is building the tiers themselves, and that's what I'll be doing below using Yahoo average draft position (ADP) as a guide.
TIER 1 -- The no-brainers
Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl, Artemi Panarin, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Patrick Kane
All of these players except Ovechkin easily exceeded a point per game last year, and Ovie came just one point shy of that mark while tying for the league lead with 48 goals. None of them come into 2021 with any injury concerns, and while many of the players in the tier below have comparable ceilings, every member of this group of established stars offers both safety and upside in spades. Eichel is the only Tier 1 member without a 40-goal or 90-point season under his belt, but the 24-year-old has 160 points over the last two seasons and will have the best supporting cast of his career in 2020-21. Nikita Kucherov would have appeared in this tier, but he'll spend the entire regular season on long-term injured reserve after undergoing hip surgery, offering Tampa Bay a solution to its otherwise dire salary-cap crunch while still retaining the option for him to return for the playoffs when the Lightning will be allowed to exceed the cap ceiling.
TIER 2 -- The riskier stars
Sebastian Aho, Brayden Point, Sidney Crosby, Mikko Rantanen, Elias Pettersson, Mitch Marner, Andrei Svechnikov, Mika Zibanejad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Steven Stamkos, Brad Marchand, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Aleksander Barkov
If you pair a Tier 1 option with one of these Tier 2 forwards, you're on schedule. Snag another player from this group, and you should feel really good about the state of your team up front. Aho's on the border of sneaking into Tier 1 but would be the only player in that group with fewer than 150 points over the past two seasons. Point, Rantanen, and Barkov are coming off three-year scoring lows, and Point won't have the luxury of playing alongside Kucherov in 2021. The pair of Penguins centers and Marchand all have injury concerns heading into the season and aren't getting any younger. Pettersson and Svechnikov are young but haven't shown Tier 1 ceilings up to this point. Marner and Huberdeau are elite point producers but can't match the goal-scoring ability of the Tier 1 studs, while Zibanejad, Stamkos, and Guentzel have questions regarding durability rather than sniping ability.
TIER 3 -- Very good not great
Mark Stone, John Tavares, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Matthew Tkachuk, Gabriel Landeskog, Teuvo Teravainen, Patrice Bergeron, Blake Wheeler, David Pastrnak, Max Pacioretty, J.T. Miller, Johnny Gaudreau, Taylor Hall
These players are all capable of performing at Tier 2 levels if things break right but are expected to settle in slightly below that level of production, be it due to injury, age, or recent output. Scheifele, Miller, and Pastrnak were the only players in this tier to score a point per game last season. While hesitation over Miller is justified considering his previous career high was 56 points, I expect Scheifele to climb up draft boards if he participates in camp without limitations from the leg injury he suffered in the postseason. Pastrnak tied Ovechkin for the league lead in goals last season and would have been in Tier 1 if not for a hip injury that's expected to sideline him through mid-February.
TIER 4 -- Solid building blocks
Brock Boeser, Brady Tkachuk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ryan O'Reilly, Sean Couturier, Kyle Connor, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Claude Giroux, Mathew Barzal, Filip Forsberg, Elias Lindholm, Brendan Gallagher, Kevin Fiala, Evander Kane, William Nylander
Connor flies under the radar in a stacked Jets forward group, but the 24-year-old winger is being severely under-drafted with an ADP later than 70 coming off a 38-goal season, which was his third consecutive year over the 30-goal mark. He could be the steal of the draft if you grab him in the seventh round, and I wouldn't hesitate to take him even earlier. Most other players in this tier are steady but unspectacular performers who you can set and forget in your lineup but probably won't be the reason you win a fantasy championship. Those with a higher risk tolerance should target Fiala, who scored 14 goals and 26 points in his last 18 games.
TIER 5 -- Starter Material
Brayden Schenn, Travis Konecny, Mike Hoffman, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Jakub Vrana, Timo Meier, Sam Reinhart, Alex DeBrincat, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Victor Olofsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Kyle Palmieri, Logan Couture, Kailer Yamamoto, Tomas Hertl, Dominik Kubalik
You probably won't be mad you drafted one of these guys, but they all have something likely to prevent them from being true fantasy difference-makers. These factors include a defensive-minded coach (Dubois), limited skill set (Wilson, Palmieri), or expected decline in shooting percentage (Kubalik).
TIER 6 -- Talented youngsters and bounce-back candidates
Anders Lee, Alexis Lafreniere, Kirill Kaprizov, Jamie Benn, Anze Kopitar, Nazem Kadri, Alexander Radulov, David Perron, Dylan Larkin, Matt Duchene, Bo Horvat, Ryan Strome, Jack Hughes, Jonathan Toews, Sean Monahan, Nico Hischier, Cam Atkinson, Bryan Rust, Anthony Mantha, Tomas Tatar, Chris Kreider, Reilly Smith, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Seguin
Most of the names in this tier are veterans coming off down years, though you also have high-upside young guys (Kaprizov, Lafreniere, Hughes, and Hischier), as well as players like Strome and Rust, who found success last year but don't have the track records to climb up a tier. Tarasenko and Seguin could be worth stashing if you have an IR spot but will miss a chunk of the season after shoulder and hip surgery, respectively. Kirby Dach would have fit here as well before fracturing his wrist at the World Junior Championship.
TIER 7 -- Hole fillers and back of roster guys
Patric Hornqvist, Jaden Schwartz, Viktor Arvidsson, Nikolaj Ehlers, Joe Pavelski, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Reaves, Blake Coleman, Charlie Coyle, T.J. Oshie, Alex Killorn, Alex Tuch, Brandon Saad, Craig Smith, Phil Kessel, Quinton Byfield, Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Voracek, Kaapo Kakko, Kasperi Kapanen, Max Domi, Nick Suzuki, Tyler Bertuzzi, Brandon Tanev, David Krejci, Evgenii Dadonov, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kevin Hayes, Jason Zucker, Tim Stuetzle
How you treat this group of has-beens, low-end breakout candidates and specialists depends on what you want out of your last few picks. You can go with an established high-floor option worth keeping all season (Schwartz or Oshie), a player like Reaves who will help you win the hits category but give you almost nothing else, or a highly touted prospect such as Kakko or Byfield who could bud into a star but will more likely end up being waiver wire fodder in a few weeks. If I had to pick one player from this group, it would be Suzuki, who has the talent to lead the Canadiens in points this year after scoring 41 as a rookie.
TIER 8 -- Similar to Tier 7 but less exciting
Nick Robertson, Cody Glass, Zach Parise, Ryan Johansen, Jesse Puljujarvi, Roope Hintz, Andre Burakovsky, Dylan Strome, Vincent Trocheck, Zach Hyman, Anthony Cirelli, Josh Anderson, Mikael Backlund, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Robert Thomas, Brock Nelson, Dustin Brown, Paul Stastny, Jeff Skinner, Phillip Danault, William Karlsson, Tyler Toffoli, Eric Staal, Jonathan Drouin, Clayton Keller, Josh Bailey, Kevin Labanc, Denis Gurianov, Rickard Rakell, Nikita Gusev
This tier rounds out the players in the top 300 of Yahoo's ADP list. Like Tier 7, who you pick from this group will largely boil down to personal preference and whether you prefer to hope for a repeat performance from an established player like Nelson, a bounce-back season from the likes of Skinner, or a breakout from an up-and-comer such as Hintz.