1. Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers – 102 points
This isn’t tricky. This is one of the best two players in the world and he is getting better. He led the league in points-per-game last season. The only fear is he is so much better than the defencemen he faces that they sometimes do stupid and desperate things trying to contain him. When they’re desperate, they may test his health. Also, he skates with such speed and abandon, he is vulnerable. That’s the only warning. There are no player warnings. He’s going to be the best. He plays 82 and this is your number-one pick.
2. Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins – 93 points
This IS tricky. Not because Crosby isn’t right there in the same stratosphere as McDavid, but because he suffers so many concussions. They’ve ruined a season for him but he’s also recovered shockingly quickly. Winning a pool, most think, is about taking that gamble, and that’s true for the later rounds. However, losing a pool also is about taking a gamble in the early rounds. You need to accumulate points early. Let the other poolie take the player who may have an issue. If you pick second, is the extra five points worth the possible worst case scenario that the third-pick overall doesn’t have in his health portfolio? With that said, a healthy Crosby is your second pick.
3. Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning – 88 points
Now it gets much harder as there is very little between the third pick until about the tenth pick. Kucherov is your third choice overall because he is 24 years of age heading into the best years of his career. He will also have a better team to play with this season with the return of Steven Stamkos. His points-per-game was top five in the league, and it will get better than the 1.15 ppg that he produced last season as he enters the prime of his career.
4. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks – 85 points
It’s a rested and hungry Patrick Kane heading into this season with the surprising exit of the Hawks in four quick games against the Predators. Kane finished tied for second in league scoring last season and at 28, there is no reason to believe age will impact that point total from last year. The Hawks have lost Panarin but gained Saad. That won’t change his totals.
5. Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins – 84 points
An excellent 1.16 points-per game last season, but Evgeni Malkin also missed 20 games due to injury. At 31, the likelihood that he plays injury-free seasons decreases. If you cannot decide between a 31-year-old who could have injury issues versus a younger player with the same point potential without injuries, then take the younger player. These pools are won even more on games played than on points made. There are no guarantees but you can make the healthy choice.
6. John Tavares – New York Islanders – 82 points
Tavares is 27 years of age and heading into a contract year. Tavares is criminally underpaid and that’s about to end. He has nothing to prove, but will feel like proving it anyway. The hunger is there, the contract is there, the best years ahead is there; it is all there for Tavares to shine this season. This is Recrutes top gamble pick after he scored only 66 points last season. Ordinarily, you don’t win pools predicting bounce-back seasons, but there is no way that Tavares is done at 27. The trading deadline will be interesting as well. He could see a change of scenery if he still hasn’t come to terms with GM Garth Snow. The Habs would be the top choice for his services with the money to spend, the need for a number-one center, and even friends on the Habs team that he would like to play with. We’re slotting him high and calling for a huge comeback season.
7. Mark Scheifele – Winnipeg Jets – 82 points
This is an elite hockey player getting better every season. He is about to enter the best years of his career and he’s already outstanding. Scheifele is only 24. Jet fans should be excited about what their center position is going to look like with him in the one slot. Scheifele also was one of only nine players in the league to average more than a point-per-game. He’s one of those tremendous ‘no fear’ picks. Things that can go wrong are: being injury prone, diminishing skills, loss of best linemates, playing on a terrible team that can’t score and big-fat-lazy-attitude-inducing contract. When there’s ‘no fear’ there’s excitement in the pick. You know you’re in a pool you can win if this player is still around at 15 to 20.
8. Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning – 79 points
Stamkos played 17 games last season and had 20 points for one of the top points-per-game totals of 1.18, behind only McDavid and Crosby. However, he is quite a wildcard, If he stays healthy, you could steal him because he may drop down into the teens depending on how serious your poolmates are about injuries. At a certain point, this injury-ridden player becomes worth the gamble…and that’s at the nine spot. He’s only 27 and doesn’t have a lot of miles on him if he stays healthy. The Lightning are going to be far better than last season. I’m expecting them to take the division after missing the playoffs last season. A healthy Stamkos will lead them there.
9. Tyler Seguin – Dallas Stars – 78 points
Tyler Seguin only had 72 points last season for the Stars, but should push that number back up. Here’s why and it has nothing to do with his play. It has to do with the overall compete level of the Stars this year after acquiring a quality goaltender in Ben Bishop. The Stars will be competitive again with Bishop, Seguin and Benn leading them. Seguin is 25 years of age and last season will be an outlier in his career. No one performs all that well when your goalies can’t even reach a .900 save percentage. It affects everything, including point totals.
10. Leon Draisaitl – Edmonton Oilers – 76 points
It’s easy to get excited about this player. He had an amazing playoff run and with that size and age of 21, no one will argue that this wouldn’t be a great pick. However, one thought of caution here…. Draisaitl and McDavid go together, with McDavid still producing without Draisaitl but Leon not producing at the same pace without Connor. Draisaitl in the second-center position is a different points profile than Draisaitl on the wing of McDavid. Out of the five fear categories listed before, the linemates changing is the only one to worry about with Draisaitl.