2014 Outlook: There is something to be said for the kind of consistency and greatness that Stamkos brings to his fantasy hockey owners. Will one of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin probably finish ahead of Stamkos when all is said and done? Maybe. But recent history also suggests two of the other three will suffer down seasons or injury. Do you want to take a lottery ticket with your first overall pick or do you want the guy who has consistently been just behind the eventual winner for most valuable fantasy forward each season? When the sure-thing bet isn't a huge step down from the lottery ticket, you take the sure thing every time. Stamkos will get 50 goals, take a run at 90 points and produce on the power play. Other players will have similar gaudy numbers, but only Stamkos brings a resume with the consistency to achieve them every season.
2014 Outlook: Can we blame Crosby for suffering yet another injury-shortened campaign last season? It's difficult to say he is brittle when it's an errant puck that slammed into his face. Then again, it has been four seasons since Crosby graced us with a full campaign. It did appear as though he was back to full speed from his head-injury woes last season, but there is always a lingering risk of re-injury with such ailments. We do know that Crosby will put up drool-worry fantasy stats when he is on the ice, to the extent that we would suggest using the second-overall pick to acquire him. His ability to completely dominate the game stuffs almost all the relevant fantasy categories you are looking for. If Crosby can play all 82 games, he will be in contention for the Art Ross Trophy, but we suspect he will miss a game here or there due to his all-out style of play.
2014 Outlook: The upside is so scary good with Malkin, but the injury history is almost more troubling than that of teammate Sidney Crosby. While Crosby's particular head injury was perhaps more troubling from a long-term perspective, Malkin has provided us with just one healthy and productive campaign in the past four seasons, and even that season saw him miss seven games. But in that 75-game campaign in 2011-12, Malkin provided fantasy owners with a glimpse of just how great he can be. Those 50 goals and 109 points just two seasons ago are not to be dismissed in a fantasy draft. The Penguins are still stacked enough on offense to keep Crosby and Malkin both busy, even on separate lines. And it's inevitable that the dynamic duo will be paired on the power play, which was as dominant as ever in 2013. We could split hairs all day over the order in which Crosby, Malkin and Alex Ovechkin come off the board, but we'll take Malkin's recent performance history as a trump card on Ovechkin.
2014 Outlook: Ovechkin had one of the most incredible finishes to a fantasy hockey season we have seen in many a season in 2013. His 14 goals in 13 games to finish the month of April were particularly impressive. The tear he went on was enough to make him the most valuable forward in all of fantasy for the 2013 campaign. It seems as though Ovechkin finally found a groove under coach Adam Oates, and we should expect more of the same headed into this season. But wait & why isn't Ovechkin the clear-cut choice for No. 1 overall? His play was so good at the end of last season there can be a tendency to view Ovi through rose-colored glasses, but we need to remember how low the lows were. Don't forget that he went on a skid from 109 points, to 85 points, all the way to 65 points in the 2011-12 season. While we believe that coaching was almost solely responsible for the lack of fantasy production from Ovechkin, it still checkers his past just a touch.
2014 Outlook: An ever-improving supporting cast, a winger who responds perfectly with his chemistry and a track record of consistent improvement make Tavares a tantalizing choice after the Big Four are off the board in your fantasy hockey draft. While there can be an argument to go goaltender at the No. 5 overall draft position, Tavares has certainly made a case for being considered in the same discussions as the elite forwards. Tavares took a big step forward with his goal scoring during the lockout-shortened campaign and even more help is on the way to make the Islanders' offense command some respect. Between newcomer Pierre-Marc Bouchard, rookie Ryan Strome and the still-improving Kyle Okposo, Tavares and Matt Moulson will find a new threat for their top line that could help Tavares boost his overall numbers into that upper echelon of fantasy forwards.
2014 Outlook: Perry has a secret weapon that none of the other top-flight fantasy forwards possess: his penalty minutes. Thanks to Perry's agitating style of play, he will spend upwards of 120 to 150 minutes inside the NHL's sin bins this season. This makes him one of the only forwards to perennially top 100 penalty minutes, 30 goals and 65 points. There may be a tendency to recall Perry's 50-goal season from 2010-11, but recall it as an aberration and not the norm. Perry has shown a 30-to-35-goal pace again for two consecutive seasons. Take him for his combination of offense and PIMs, not for the Rocket Richard Trophy in his closet. Perry only needs Ryan Getzlaf at his side to continue to produce and the pair should have no problem picking up where they left off last season.
2014 Outlook: He will come darn close to leading the league in assists, and Giroux will find a way to do it without an elite-scoring winger on his line. Whether he does it by turning Jakub Voracek into a pseudo-superstar or by re-igniting the scoring flame in Vincent Lecavalier, Giroux will find a way to get his assists and, therefore, the bulk of his fantasy value. Having turned in solid fantasy seasons with linemates ranging from the combination of Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr to the duo of Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, one thing Giroux has proven is his ability to rise to the top regardless of surroundings. So whether he is reunited with Hartnell, paired with Lecavalier or remains with Voracek, the Flyers' centerpiece on offense will find the scoresheet. The question of how his plus/minus will fare is an entirely different conversation, and one of the reasons he could fall out of the first round of your draft.
2014 Outlook: What has Kessel managed to do the last couple seasons? Well, despite what the fan base in Toronto might tell you, Kessel has earned heaps of respect in the fantasy hockey world by becoming a consistent 40-goal threat with an array of linemates. We are still awaiting the perfect storm to see Kessel shoot past 40 goals, and this coming season with a very respectable Maple Leafs club could be just the right situation. The Leafs are returning a healthy Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk as top offensive threats, and Nazem Kadri is on the rise. While added pieces like David Clarkson and David Bolland might not be first-line options to directly aid Kessel, they will bolster the ranks and ultimately give him more space to operate by keeping opponents in check. Still just 25 years old headed into this season, he's just entering his prime.
2014 Outlook: Zetterberg stuffs stats across the board, with a slight emphasis on his playmaking ability. The result in fantasy hockey is an often-overlooked Top 10 forward who could use a little more respect. Even in campaigns which can be considered "down" seasons for him, Zetterberg churns out fantasy value for the Red Wings with goals, assists, power-play production, shots on goal and, often times, plus/minus. The Red Wings have brought in some new toys for the offense this season, including veteran scorer Daniel Alfredsson and consistent center Stephen Weiss. It will be an improvement on last season's offense, and offer a chance for Zetterberg to find better chemistry than he ended up having with Damien Brunner in the NHL last season (despite the duo's chemistry in the Swiss league).
2014 Outlook: Boy, did Kane have a nice bounce-back season last season. That's right, Kane's stellar performance in the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign was not a breakout; it was a bounce-back. Kane's prorated numbers from last season bring him back up to (and a little beyond) the pace he put up in the 2009-10 NHL season. To be sure, he was on a 40-goal pace for an 82-game season last season, but his overall points would have been just seven more than he had in his third NHL season. The bottom line is that we've seen this before from Kane, and he still sunk down to the 23-goal, 66-point season he had in 2011-12. Now, maturity issues outside the rink are not something we tend to analyze, but Kane's antics have certainly been well documented. It does make sense that he would turn a corner as a 24-year-old, and will be here to stay as a first-round worthy fantasy fixture. That said, he scored the same number of goals the past two seasons despite the fact he played 82 games in one of them and only 47 games in the other. At the end of the day, Kane is an elite offensive weapon on the defending Stanley Cup champions that are still loaded in the top six. Here's betting on at least a point-per-game pace.
2014 Outlook: Kopitar brings a complete game to the ice and the result is often a strong fantasy performance for the defense-first Kings. As a consistent presence on the ice with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, Kopitar has found a groove that will inevitably bring him close to 30 goals and 80 points each season. The result for fantasy owners is consistent, if unspectacular, performance from the 26-year-old fantasy second-round staple. Should we continue waiting for another step forward from the Kings' top centerman? No, but that doesn't mean his production is anything to sneeze at. Just like Steven Stamkos has used consistency to edge into the top spot in our rankings this season, Kopitar is using consistency to stick around as a Top 12 forward.
2014 Outlook: It certainly makes Pavel Datsyuk's mantle-full of Frank J. Selke Trophy's more impressive when you consider that he isn't just one of the top defensive forwards, but one of the best fantasy forwards around, too. Datsyuk's creativity with the puck makes him a threat every time he is on the ice, and makes his linemates better. A virtual lock for a point-per-game pace, Datsyuk also contributes on the power play, and is liable for a rock-solid plus/minus. Though he doesn't appear to be a threat to approach 100 points like he was five or six seasons ago, Datsyuk's reliability make him a great choice as your first forward if you are picking late in your draft.
2014 Outlook: While the Sedin brothers may have peaked in the 2009-10 season, they -- by no means -- are plummeting in value. Both a threat for 85 to 90 points, the twins are still a great anchor for your fantasy squad. Henrik, as you will recall, is the playmaking brother that will finish with close to 75 assists and chip in upward of 20 goals. So if the ESPN Standard Game and most other fantasy leagues put a premium on goal scoring, why is Henrik ranked better than Daniel? Because Daniel's goal-scoring did plummet last season. In fact, Henrik scored 11 goals to Daniel's 12 last season, completely nullifying Daniel's only advantage in the battle for twin supremacy. If Daniel isn't going to threaten to double-up Henrik's goal tallies, then we'll take Henrik's extra assists as the difference when ranking them.
2014 Outlook: Toews has quickly transformed into a point-per-game, versatile centerman that can take over a game when he needs to. Already a two-time Stanley Cup champion captain at the age of 25, Toews will continue to lead the dynamic Blackhawks offense and pick up plenty of fantasy value along the way. It is even conceivable that if Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp manage to stay healthy, the Hawks' offense -- and therefore, Toews -- could even put up improved numbers when compared to the last couple seasons. One notable trend when selecting Toews to anchor your fantasy offense is the lack of power-play production when compared to other elite forwards. The Blackhawks' glut of talent has limited Toews' power-play points in recent seasons. With a similar offense returning and coach Joel Quenneville set in his ways, that doesn't appear likely to change.
2014 Outlook: Unlike in years gone by, Byfuglien looks positively svelte going in to camp this September. Still physically intimidating, and very "Big Buff"-like, just not sporting as much unnecessary padding as before. This bodes well for the Winnipeg Jets and his fantasy owners, alike. Fitness is a big factor in Byfuglien's case; the more he plays, the more he produces. A full 82-game campaign would conceivably see the imposing 28-year-old flirt with the 60-point mark, all the while racking up nearly 300 shots and around 80 PIM.