Ah, the delicate dance of playoff pools. They’re so much more subjective than regular-season pools. Simply deciding which players you like, pointing and clicking doesn’t cut it. Drafting a good post-season team requires balancing the need for good players with the need for players who will enjoy deep playoff runs and play lots of games.
Quick: who’s a better hockey player, Artemi Panarin or Tyler Johnson? Why, it’s ‘The Bread Man’ Panarin, of course, but you won’t see me pick him over Johnson in any playoff pool. Panarin’s eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets face Johnson’s 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1. I project the Bolts take the series in five games – and reach the Stanley Cup final. So that means 20-plus games of Johnson and five games of Panarin.
The rankings below are thus largely influenced by my playoff projections. I have Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg and San Jose emerging from their respective divisional brackets to make the final four, FYI, so players from those teams get a boost in the rankings.
Of course, it’s a risky game to base every pick on the projected bracket results. Johnson over Panarin? Sure. But Johnson over, say, Evgeni Malkin feels like going too far. Players capable of racking up points even in a short playoff stay (i.e. Nathan MacKinnon) or players on teams that at least have a chance to make a deep run based on roster talent (Boston, Calgary, Toronto, Nashville) won’t get mercilessly penalized in the rankings.
You must take this list with a massive boulder of salt. Before consulting it, consider building your own bracket, then adjusting these rankings if you project different teams to go far in the post-season. My regular-season top 200 is a trust-me-and-follow-it ranking set, but the playoff top 100 is more like a road map of players to keep in mind, a cheat sheet if you will. Good luck!
1. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Lightning: The best offensive weapon on the planet on the best team with the best chance of a deep playoff run. The first overall pick could not be easier to figure out.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Lightning: The safest bet among goalies to make a run at the 16 wins needed for a Cup, and the rate stats should sparkle as usual.
3. Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning: Rediscovered identity as a top-tier goal scorer but has maintained last season’s improved playmaking, making him the total package.
4. Brayden Point, C, Lightning: More likely to draw the tougher defensive assignments than Stamkos. Not that it ever seems to stop Point from posting monster offensive totals, though.
5. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals: Can only rank the reigning 2017-18 Conn Smythe and 2018-19 Rocket Richard winner so low. A good chance the Bolts must go through the Caps to reach the final.
6. Mark Scheifele, C, Jets: A monster in playoffs with 14 goals last spring. His size and two-way smarts tailor his game nicely to post-season.
7. Blake Wheeler, RW, Jets: If the Jets overcome a lackluster stretch run to realize their enormous potential, the captain will play a major role on scoresheet.
8. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Capitals: His 32 points last year were highest playoff total of the past nine seasons.
9. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Flames: Should rank higher. Has Conn Smythe upside on first-place team. But he’s totally at the mercy of his goalies. How far can Mike Smith and David Rittich take Calgary?
10. Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins: As long as the Pens are in it, Sid will rack up points, but how deep can they go? Capitals, a potential Round-2 opponent, have the book on them now.
11. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Jets: Finally has a healthy D-corps in front of him. “Off” year, but all goalies’ save percentage at lowest league-wide average in 10 years, so his numbers weren’t that bad. Had a .916 save percentage after all-star break.
12. Victor Hedman, D, Lightning: All Lightning stars are fantasy gold. Only reservation with Hedman is whether he’s being rushed back from an injury at less than 100 percent.
13. Brent Burns, D, Sharks: His 83 points were most by any defenseman since 1995-96. Sharks’ highly rated offense will continue to run through him in playoffs.
14. Braden Holtby, G, Capitals: Didn’t dominate in regular season, but that’s better than last year when he wasn’t even the starter to open playoffs. Holtby will be fine. Have confidence in the Cup ring.
15. Evgeni Malkin, C, Penguins: One of best post-season performers in NHL history, and I see him at least playing double-digit games.
16. Patrik Laine, RW, Jets: Nightmarish season by his standards. Only 50 points?! He has a new RFA deal to hammer out this summer. Few players have more to gain with a big post-season showing.
17. John Tavares, C, Maple Leafs: One of the league’s most consistent scorers all season long. His ability to pile up goals in tight should translate to good playoff production. Question, of course, is whether Leafs survive Round 1 at all.
18. Brad Marchand, LW, Bruins: I’m one of the few picking Leafs to beat Bruins, but it could easily go the other way, meaning I wouldn’t shy away from Boston’s big line one bit. They’ll fill the net. So let’s rank them back…
19. David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins: …to back…
20. Patrice Bergeron, C, Bruins: …to back.
21. Kyle Connor, LW, Jets: Speedster heated up and really maximized potential down stretch with 10 goals in 19 games across March and April.
22. John Carlson, D, Capitals: An absolute workhorse in all situations with ceiling to be the top fantasy defenseman in the playoffs.
23. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals: Always seems to be overlooked, and that just makes him a bargain. Gets drafted as a No. 2 center but could score like a No. 1 in playoffs. Had 23 points in 20 games last spring.
24. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Jets: A game breaker who has shown ability to dictate play. Many playoff pools use simple, casual points-only scoring, but ‘Big Buff’ obviously gets a boost if your pool counts PIM and/or hits.
25. Jake Guentzel, LW, Penguins: Ranks top-five all-time in goals per playoff game. If you believe Pens can win more than two series, bump him up 10 spots or so.
26. Phil Kessel, RW, Penguins: More playmaker than shooter nowadays, but safe bet to produce at his usual point-per-game pace.
27. Sean Monahan, C, Flames: Johnny Hockey’s center should rank among playoff goal leaders for as long as Calgary stays alive.
28. Auston Matthews, C, Maple Leafs: Capable of going off for monster games. If his Leafs can play two rounds, he should be good for five or more goals, 10 or more points.
29. Mitch Marner, RW, Maple Leafs: Cooled a bit in second half and fell off 100-pont pace, but still safe bet for star-caliber output as Tavares’ right winger.
30. Mark Giordano, D, Flames: Defensive responsibilities are enormous, but he still put up best offensive numbers of his career in Norris-worthy season.
31. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Jets: Down year, no doubt, but this is a volume play on a team I’m picking to go all the way. Gulp.
32. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Flames: Gaudreau isn’t the only Flame capable of powering a line. Tkachuk can carry his group and thrives on chippy playoff-style play.
33. Tyler Johnson, LW, Lightning: Much better playoff pick than regular-season pick. His wagon is always hitched to a great linemate, whether it’s Kucherov, Stamkos or Point.
34. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Avalanche: A fantasy superstar, but I don’t expect Avs to escape Round 1, so I can’t rank him higher in good conscience.
35. Logan Couture, C, Sharks: Last three post-seasons: 40 games, 45 points.
36. Joe Pavelski, RW, Sharks: Equalled second-highest goal total of his career at 34 years old. Still gas left in the tank.
37. Matt Murray, G, Penguins: Health always a risk, but he’s a proven playoff guy: two Cup rings, 2.08 goals-against average. .923 SP in 44 appearances.
38. Tom Wilson, RW, Capitals: You know he’ll be involved on the physical side, and the big fella can play, too. Scored 22 goals in 63 games. That pace would’ve placed him second on Caps in a full season.
39. Morgan Rielly, D, Maple Leafs: Few D-men in better fantasy situations. Only one to reach 20 goals this season.
40. Pekka Rinne, G, Predators: Typically a solid regular-season goalie in fantasy. Playoffs? Spin that roulette wheel. You never know what you’ll get from him.
41. Erik Karlsson, D, Sharks: He’s back, but it’s debatable if he’s fully healthy. But maybe having only 53 games played will make him draft bargain for a change.
42. Tomas Hertl, C, Sharks: Finally delivered the big offensive production to match his talent, and his strong two-way game ensures he’ll get lots of minutes in playoffs.
43. Viktor Arvidsson, RW, Predators: The little guy scored at a 48-goal clip this season. We don’t talk about him enough.
44. Kris Letang, D, Penguins: In his healthy years, he always produces as an elite fantasy blueliner. Averages almost 27 minutes per game across his past four post-seasons, too.
45. Timo Meier, LW, Sharks: Shooting machine came into his own as goal-scorer this year. A young, fresh set of legs can seriously help a fairly old forward group.
46. Elias Lindholm, RW, Flames: Finished his breakout season with two goals in final 24 games. Major crash back to earth, so don’t reach too far for him.
47. Frederik Andersen, G, Maple Leafs: Boom or bust? Could implode and help usher Leafs out of playoffs in hurry. Or ‘Good Freddie’ could return and make the Leafs an interesting sleeper squad.
48. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Golden Knights: Vegas’ best edge over San Jose in Round 1 is goaltending. ‘Flower’ was a hero in last year’s post-season. Can he do it again?
49. Mark Stone, RW, Golden Knights: Best defensive winger in hockey can also score as a front-line player, but his team draws a tough Round 1 opponent. This year’s Sharks are deeper than last year’s.
50. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Avalanche: Rushing back from injury and team is an underdog, so he’s a risky investment despite his all-world talent.
51. Filip Forsberg, LW, Predators
52. Tuukka Rask, G, Bruins
53. Evander Kane, LW, Sharks
54. T.J. Oshie, RW, Capitals
55. Jordan Binnington, G, Blues
56. Paul Stastny, C, Golden Knights
57. Jonathan Marchessault, LW, Golden Knights
58. Sebastian Aho, C, Hurricanes
59. Roman Josi, D, Predators
60. Martin Jones, G, Sharks
61. Ben Bishop, G, Stars
62. Tyler Seguin, C, Stars
63. Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Avalanche
64. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, Blues
65. Ryan O’Reilly, C, Blues
66. Jamie Benn, LW, Stars
67. Torey Krug, D, Bruins
68. Mathew Barzal, C, Islanders
69. Reilly Smith, RW, Golden Knights
70. Alexander Radulov, RW, Stars
71. Andreas Johnsson, LW, Maple Leafs
72. Ondrej Palat, LW, Lightning
73. Artemi Panarin, LW, Blue Jackets
74. Ryan Johansen, C, Predators
75. Teuvo Teravainen, LW, Hurricanes
76. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Maple Leafs
77. David Krejci, C, Bruins
78. Jake DeBrusk, LW, Bruins
79. Kevin Hayes, C, Jets
80. William Nylander, RW, Maple Leafs
81. Brayden Schenn, LW, Blues
82. Mikael Granlund, LW, Predators
83. Mike Smith, G, Flames
84. Bryan Little, C, Jets
85. Anthony Cirelli, C, Lightning
86. William Karlsson, C, Golden Knights
87. Yanni Gourde, LW, Lightning
88. David Perron, RW, Blues
89. Cam Atkinson, RW, Blue Jackets
90. Petr Mrazek, G, Hurricanes
91. Nino Niederreiter, RW, Hurricanes
92. Ryan Ellis, D, Predators
93. Robin Lehner, G, Islanders
94. Anders Lee, LW, Islanders
95. J.T. Miller, RW, Lightning
96. Philipp Grubauer, G, Avalanche
97. John Klingberg, D, Stars
98. Jakub Vrana, LW, Capitals
99. Joe Thornton, C, Sharks
100. Alex Tuch, RW, Golden Knights
On the bubble: Sergei Bobrovsky, Kevin Labanc, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mikael Backlund, Charlie McAvoy, Dougie Hamilton, Jacob Trouba, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, T.J. Brodie, Matt Duchene, Ryan McDonagh, Nazem Kadri, Seth Jones, Justin Williams, Max Pacioretty, Tyson Barrie, Mattias Ekholm, Josh Morrissey, Mats Zuccarello, Zach Werenski, Josh Bailey, Alex Killorn, Zach Hyman, Patric Hornqvist, Gustav Nyquist, Shea Theodore