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THN’s top 100 playoff fantasy players for 2018

Who are the best pool choices for the post-season? Unlike in regular season fantasy leagues, it’s about the team now, not the individual.

Take everything you know about regular season fantasy hockey pools, dump it in a garbage bag and toss it outside for the raccoons. The best way to compete in a playoff pool is to forget what you know about traditional pools.

The reason, of course, is that fantasy playoff pools are almost hybrids between team pools and individual pools. You’re betting on a player’s team to go deep as much as you’re betting on him. Nathan MacKinnon had a phenomenal season but probably is a foolish pick for a playoff pool when his plucky Colorado Avalanche draw the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Round 1.

With that in mind, these rankings reflect a blend of (a) great players I expect to go deep in the post-season; (b) decent players I expect to accrue good volume stats because their teams go deep in the post-season; and (c) great players who can still amass a useful cluster of points in the short term even if I don’t expect their teams to go deep. These rankings are obviously subjective and based on my predicted bracket. I forecast a final four of Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Vegas, with extra consideration to Boston, Toronto and Winnipeg, each of which I think could surprise and end up in one of the final four spots. I thus have players from those seven teams prioritized. It may be jarring to see elite scorers like Claude Giroux ranked so lowly, but I can’t justify a higher rank for a player I predict will be out after Round 1. If you have a different idea of which teams go deep, adjust your own rankings accordingly.

1. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning: Don’t overthink this one. The best player on the best offensive team, which I have reaching the Stanley Cup final.

2. Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators: He’s been the best fantasy goalie this season, and he backstops the team I’ve picked to win the Cup, so he’s an elite selection in playoff pools. You could pick him first overall if your pool weights goalie stats heavily.

3. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning: Faded after a torrid first half, but still a shoo-in first rounder with as good a chance as anyone to lead the NHL in post-season points.

4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins: ‘Geno’ is a powerhouse playoff performer. Maybe he wins your pool for you if you believe the Pens can repeat.

5. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins: Has won two straight Conn Smythes but with a pedestrian 14 goals in 48 games over past two post-seasons. Crosby was honored more for his two-way play than for all-out offense.

6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: Is he tired? Or can he rediscover the form that made him the top goalie in the first half? He has the ceiling to be the No. 1 overall fantasy pool performer in the playoffs.

7. Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg Jets: At the very least I expect two rounds of great production from Wheeler. And if the Jets get past Nashville, I would bet on a trip to the final, so all Winnipeg players have boom potential.

8. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins: One of the best per-game scorers this season, and his agitating ways make him extra valuable if your pool counts penalty minutes.

9. Phil Kessel, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins: A rock-solid selection almost always guaranteed good matchups because Penguins coach Mike Sullivan keeps him on a line separate from Crosby and Malkin.

10. Patrik Laine, RW, Winnipeg Jets: Can get so hot that he could lead the post-season in goals even if his team doesn’t reach the final.

11. Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators: Would like to put him higher considering I have the Preds going four rounds, but Forsberg is an A-minus fantasy contributor, not a first-round stud.

12. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: On top of being an elite fantasy defenseman, he may play upwards of 30 minute a night in the playoffs, giving him even more volume stats.

13. Mark Scheifele, C Winnipeg Jets: One of the game’s very best offensive centers. Pick him earlier if you think the Jets can get past the Predators.

14. P.K. Subban, D, Nashville Predators: Nashville has four draftable D-men in fantasy pools, but Subban’s the crown jewel because he brings the offense plus the PIM as a bonus if your league counts those.

15. Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh Penguins: Certainly a risk, as he’s injury prone and had a bad year, but he’s backstopped his team to two straight Cups. If Murray is going to get hot this year, now’s the time.

16. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins: Underrated because his linemates Marchand and Patrice Bergeron overshadow him. Pastrnak is a front-line fantasy winger.

17. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights: Forget the tired “Fleury isn’t good in the playoffs” reputation. It’s lazy. Past four playoff years: 35 games, .920 save percentage, four shutouts.

18. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins: He gets his numbers in the end even if he’s inconsistent and prone to the odd blowup game.

19. Ryan Johansen, C, Nashville Predators: Just doesn’t rack up points the way you want a No. 1 center to in fantasy pools, but Johansen should be valuable because he’ll play a lot of games.

20. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets: A risky choice seeing his first career playoff action, but his ceiling is as high as any goalie’s. He’s a high-end player on a legit Cup contender.

21. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings: The Kings/Knights series looks pretty close on paper, so Kopitar could turn a huge profit if the Kings get through the Pacific bracket.

22. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals: A shame to put the league’s top goal scorer this low, but even if Washington wins Round 1, do you really think this team gets to Round 3? Me neither.

23. William Karlsson, C, Vegas Golden Knights: The out-of-nowhere explosion for 43 goals was easily one of 2017-18’s best stories, but life will be tough with a steady diet of Kopitar against L.A., possibly suppressing Karlsson’s numbers.

24. Jonathan Marchessault, LW, Vegas Golden Knights: A bit banged up late in the season but returned over the weekend, so he should be good for start of playoffs.

25. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs: If only the Leafs didn’t draw Boston, Matthews could be a fantasy playoff beast. Has looked healthy and deadly in April.

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26. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins: The best shutdown forward of this generation is also an underrated fantasy commodity. Set career high in goals per game this year at 0.47.

27. Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning: Pace slowed over the past month, but the fiery waterbug is the classic tier-2 player who becomes a tier-1 in a playoff pool because he’s on a powerhouse team.

28. Viktor Arvidsson, RW, Nashville Predators: Handy goal scorer oddly has just four goals in 36 career playoff games. Is it possible the rigors of playoff hockey wear down his small frame?

29. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets: Got better as the season progressed. A stat-stuffer. One of the most fun players to own in fantasy.

30. Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators: Such a reliable source of offense and big minutes from the blueline.

31. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets: Talented but streaky, so you’re rolling the dice on catching him at the right time.

32. Artemi Panarin, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets: Proved this year that he wasn’t relying on Patrick Kane. Deserves more respect in real life and fantasy.

33. Evgeny Kuznestov, C, Washington Capitals: Another player who should be ranked 10 spots higher but gets penalized because his team’s playoff future is cloudy.

34. Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings: The reverse Fleury? Dines out on the Conn Smythe reputation but was subpar in his last playoff series. Still a good pick but not an elite one.

35. Brent Burns, D, San Jose Sharks: Arguably the best fantasy D-man in regular season pools. Could still do enough damage in a round or two to outproduce what most blueliners would do in four rounds.

36. J.T. Miller, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning: Point-per-game player on first line with Kucherov, Stamkos. This might be too low of a ranking. A league-winning type of playoff pick.

37. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings: A better scorer in the playoffs than regular season. A better scorer under John Stevens than Darryl Sutter. Doughty’s fantasy arrow is trending up.

38. Claude Giroux, LW, Philadelphia Flyers: How could I!? He finished second in league scoring! Just calm down and realize picking Giroux means you think the two-time defending Cup champs in Pittsburgh are going down in Round 1. Good luck.

39. Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville Predators: Bounced back from serious injury for career-best scoring pace. Taking three or four Nashville D-men isn’t the worst pool strategy.

40. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins: Has drawn some criticism for play in his own end this year, but fantasy owners don’t care about that. He’s still a force for poolies.

41. Kyle Connor, LW, Winnipeg Jets: Produced at roughly a 40-goal pace since start of February. Carries nice momentum into playoffs.

42. Yanni Gourde, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning: An amazing rookie year for the overachiever, but he hit a wall. One goal in his final 15 games. So don’t overpay.

43. Mitch Marner, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs: If Leafs can upset Boston, it will be because guys like Marner light it up while Bergeron is busy against Matthews.

44. Frederik Andersen, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: Can be a profitable draft pick if he slips far enough, as he can carry the Leafs at times, but he could also be golfing by month’s end.

45. Martin Jones, G, San Jose Sharks: Not spectacular but a solid second goalie pick on a team with potential to win a least a round.

46. David Perron, LW, Vegas Golden Knights: Check status carefully before drafting. Might not be healthy enough for Game 1.

47. Reilly Smith, RW, Vegas Golden Knights: Less upside than Perron but further ahead in recovery. Played April 7 and should be ready for Game 1.

48. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins: A high-end point producer on a good team. Anyone should want him on their fantasy squad.

49. Jake Guentzel, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins: Was magical in 2017 playoffs, tying Dino Ciccarelli’s rookie record with 21 points. Guentzel was rather ordinary in first full regular season, though. Does that make him a bargain or a risk at the draft table?

50. Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets: Really grew offensively this year into the upper-tier scoring threat he was always supposed to be. Finished season piping hot with 20 points in 16 games.

51. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Columbus Blue Jackets

52. William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

53. Jeff Carter, C, Los Angeles Kings

54. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks

55. Logan Couture, C, San Jose Sharks

56. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

57. Taylor Hall, LW, New Jersey Devils

58. Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose Sharks

59. Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

60. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals

61. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

62. Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers

63. Travis Konecny, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

64. Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Anaheim Ducks

65. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

66. David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins

67. John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks

68. Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings

69. Craig Smith, RW, Nashville Predators

70. Kevin Fiala, LW, Nashville Predators

71. Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

72. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins

73. Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers

74. James van Riemsdyk, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

75. Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

76. John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals

77. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

78. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

79. Evander Kane, LW, San Jose Sharks

80. Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles Kings

81. Rick Nash, LW, Boston Bruins

82. Kyle Turris, C, Nashville Predators

83. Philipp Grubauer, G, Washington Capitals

84. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

85. Eric Staal, C, Minnesota Wild

86. Jake Gardiner, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

87. Mikael Granlund, RW, Minnesota Wild

88. Paul Stastny, C, Winnipeg Jets

89. T.J. Oshie, RW, Washington Capitals

90. Bryan Little, C, Winnipeg Jets

91. Corey Perry, RW, Anaheim Ducks

92. Alex Killorn, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

93. Mikhail Sergachev, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

94. Bryan Rust, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

95. Derick Brassard C, Pittsburgh Penguins

96. Patrick Marleau, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

97. Erik Haula, C, Vegas Golden Knights

98. Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

99. Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, Columbus Blue Jackets

100. James Neal, RW, Vegas Golden Knights