For a solid fantasy hockey draft strategy, there is much to consider for goalies and defensemen. When it comes to forwards, it's a much simpler proposition. First off, get to know your point system. This can make a huge difference in ranking your players. For example, if your league counts goals and assists equally (join a new league), then guys like Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin are valuable commodities. In leagues that favor goals over assists, you can knock these playmakers down the list a bit. Pay attention to penalty minutes, too. If you just look at points, you might miss the value that Steve Downie brought to fantasy teams last year, blending goals, assists, and a buttload of PIMs.
As with other goalies and defensemen, it's wise to group your players in tiers. It helps when you're trying to decide which position to pick. If there's a tier 1 forward available, but the best goalie out there is down in tier 4, you'll get more value taking the forward. This is an art that must be mastered through mock drafts.
Leagues can also vary dramatically in their approach to classifying forwards. Some lump all forwards together, others separate centers from wingers, while others go as far as left wing / right wing distinction. If this is your league, you've got even more work to do. I'll be following up soon with an article that focuses more on league-specific draft strategies for the major sites out there (CBS, Yahoo, etc.).
For now, let's dive in to the top 15 fantasy forwards for 2010. Note: For the purposes of this article, I'm grouping all forwards together and assuming a fantasy scoring system which heavily favors goals (so no hate mail from Henrik lovers out there, please).
1. Sidney Crosby
By claiming his first Rocket Richard Trophy last season, Crosby completed the one element to his fantasy stats that were somewhat lacking (at least compared to the other elite players). There's not a weakness in his game, and he's entering his prime years. For my money, he's the safest bet as your #1 forward.
2. Alex Ovechkin
If you're wandering Crosby vs Ovechkin, the simple answer is, who would you rather cheer for? Either way, you'll get your points. One factor to keep in mind is Ovechkin's antics. How many games will he miss due to suspension and/or injuries from his reckless style of play. Either way, you'll keep plenty of points.
3. Steven Stamkos
Stamkos proved in his sophomore season that he's ready to be mentioned with the big boys, after splitting the Richard Trophy with Crosby and topping out at 95 points. He will challenge for the goal scoring lead and total points this season.
4. Evgeni Malkin
Injuries kept Malkin out of the scoring race last season, but he'll be right back in the mix this season. Don't discount him for this year, as some may be tempted to do. 100 points are in the cards for Geno.
5. Niklas Backstrom
Is there a limit to how good this kid can get? In his first three seasons, he's gone from 69 to 88 to 101 points, and hasn't missed a game yet in his career. He's even cracked the 30 goal plateau, so we're looking at a complete package in terms of fantasy stats. You could make a case for him in the top 3.
6. Ilya Kovalchuk
If you need goals, Kovalchuk is absolute money. He's topped 40 goals for the past 6 seasons and shows no signs of stopping now. Assuming his contract situation gets resolved, he should be high on your list again this season. Look for another run at 50 goals this season.
7. Dany Heatley
Heatley is about as consistent as they come in terms of top scorers in the league. 40 goals and 40 assists are a given for the winger. If he and Thornton can establish some better chemistry this season, he could potentially get himself back into the 50 goal club.
8. Alexander Semin
In terms of per talent, there are few players in the world on the same level as Semin. The problem is the extras. Between injuries, off-ice decisions, and occasional spells where he can't hit the net for games on end, he can be a risky pick, particularly in the first or second round. Then again, when he's on, he's worth the pain. They may not be able to keep him in D.C. forever with the other salaries on the books, so enjoy the production while it lasts.
9. Zach Parise
Parise reached elite status in 2008-09 when he capped out at 45 goals and 94 points. He slipped a bit last season, down to 82 points. The good news is that the dip in numbers may cause other GMs to undervalue him. In 5 seasons, he's sat out a total of 3 games. Despite Kovalchuk's presence, he's the go-to guy in New Jersey and should challenge for the scoring title this season.
10. Patrick Kane
Love him or hate him, there's no denying that Kane has become a solid fantasy forward who may soon join the elite. He recorded 88 points in his third NHL season and kept up the pace throughout the playoffs. The Hawks still have plenty of offensive talent in town and Kane should lead the team in all categories. Look for him to land in the 90 point territory in 2010-11.
11. Daniel Sedin
Despite losing out to twin brother for the scoring title last season, Daniel is my choice for best fantasy Sedin. Had it not been for his early season injury, which kept him out of 19 games, he would crushed Henrik's goal totals and may have won the Art Ross himself. Look for him to make a run at 100 points this time around.
12. Marian Gaborik
It's going to take more than one season of 76 games played before I'm willing to risk a first round pick on Gaborik's health. If you took a chance on him last year, it obviously paid off, as he returned to 42 goals. If he's still on the board in the 3rd round, go for it. Otherwise, place your bets on a safer number.
13. Henrik Sedin
Full credit goes to Henrik for winning the scoring title, particularly while going a stretch without brother Daniel. The bottom line, however, is that it will be a monumental task to repeat such a performance. There are just too many other stars out there at his level. In terms of total fantasy value, he loses some big points due to his goal/assist ratio. If you're picking a forward in the first round, he better be topping 30 goals, which Henrik has never done. He may get back to 100 points, but when 80 of those are assists, you're not getting your money's worth. Someone is bound to pick him higher than he deserves. Don't be that guy.
14. Joe Thornton
With Joe, what you see is what you get. 20+ goals and a buttload of assists. If he could ever make up his mind to shoot the puck, he'd be a top 5 player every season. As it stands, he's still a good center to have on your roster. Consider this: in the past 7 seasons, he was beneath a point-a-game just once. He's also annually among the leaders in +/-. Can't really go wrong here.
15. Anze Kopitar
Kopitar stormed the castle last October, running out to a early lead in the scoring race. However, after injuries to his linemates, he came back down to earth. He still finished with respectable career-highs of 34 goals and 81 points. There's no denying his talent, and as a team, the Kings are clearly on the rise. Expect him to repeat in the 80 point range next season.
To see the rest of my top 120 forward rankings, visit: http://www.landsharkhockey.com/LS/tools/DraftRankings.aspx. You can also customize your own list there.