The 2021 NHL season is fast-approaching, and with only 56 games scheduled in this COVID-19-altered season, your fantasy picks will matter that much more. We watched last season get cut short as the Boston Bruins were named the President’s Trophy winners with the best regular season record. However, Boston will potentially start their season without their two most dangerous forwards David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, both recovering from offseason surgeries. Along with this, their 14-year captain Zdeno Chara has departed for Washington to play with Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
With COVID-19 still ever-prominent in professional sports, and the Canadian border still closed, the NHL has realigned the divisions within the league into the North Division (Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg), the West Division (Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas), the Central Division (Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay), and the East Division (Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington).
With no cross-country travel and a shortened season by 26 games, racking up points where you can get them is ever more prevalent. Here are my top NHL picks, one for each position in each division.
We’ll start with the North
Forward: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — Draisaitl is the obvious first choice, leading the league with 110 total points in 2020 (43G, 67A). Be wary though, the German winger finished the season with a +/- rating of -7, so draft wisely.
Defenseman: Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks — The young defenseman left a definitive mark on the league last year, landing 5th among all defensemen in points with 53 (15G, 38A) but did have a +/- of -10, which quite frankly isn’t shocking for a top line defenseman.
Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets — Even though Hellebuyck finished just below Montreal’s Carey Price in points, the Jets’ netminder led the league in shutouts (6) and finished second in wins (31).
Let’s move to the West Division
Forward: Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights — A lot of people thought after Pacioretty left Montreal that his production would drop, but he proved to be a force in the desert. The Connecticut native racked up 32 goals and 34 assists last season, and Vegas should do very well in their new, relatively thin West Division.
Defenseman: Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights — The 24-year-old had a phenomenal 2020 season, ranking 10th among all defensemen in points with 46 while posting a +12 rating.
Goaltender: John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks — While Gibson did finish with a 3.00 GAA, Anaheim is primed to see a lot of shots in a fairly evenly matched West Division, and that’s where your points come in as a goaltender. Even with Anaheim finishing 6th in the Pacific last year, Gibson still finished with a save percentage above .900 (.904). He’s making saves, and those saves will snag you some points.
Now to the Central Division
Forward: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — I’ll preface this by saying the only thing that’s gotten in the way of the Avalanche winning a Stanley Cup is their own injuries. That being said, MacKinnon landed at 5th in the league in points for 2020 with 93 (35G, 58A) and posted a +/- of +13. The Central Division is a dangerous one being as talented as they are, especially considering they’ll be playing each team eight times, so draft wisely.
Defenseman: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators — The Predators have been continuously left out of Stanley Cup conversations even after appearing in a Cup Final in 2017. Roman Josi has been pivotal in their success, putting up 65 points (16G, 49A) last season with a +22 rating. If you’re going to draft a defenseman high, make sure it’s Josi.
Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning — Vasilevski almost needs no explanation. He’s fresh off a Stanley Cup win, he’s a Vezina contender almost every year, and he put up four clean sheets last season too.
On to the East Division
Forward: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins — The only thing stopping Pasta from reaching 50 goals last season was COVID-19 cutting the season short. Pasta finished the halted regular season with 97 points (48G, 47A). Keep in mind, as I previously mentioned, he may not be ready to start the season coming off of offseason surgery, but it may be high risk with high reward.
Defenseman: John Carlson, Washington Capitals — Leading all defensemen in points with 75, Carlson was the unsung hero of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup title not long ago. Carlson finished 2020 with a +12 rating, which is impressive for any top line D-man.
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins — Rask seemed primed for a Vezina trophy last season, but like Pastrnak, his trophy aspirations were cut short for the same reason. Tuukka ranked 2nd among all goaltenders in save percentage (.929) and 7th in wins (26), which is understated considering he nearly split his time evenly with Jaroslav Halak.
Forward: Ryan Strome, New York Rangers — If you think of the Rangers, you might not necessarily think of a guy like Strome, but overlook his name no longer. Strome finished the season with 18 goals and 41 assists, and an even more impressive +21 rating. Your forwards don’t always need to be the ones putting up points, but if they can be on the ice when those goals go in, those extra points can make the difference.
Defenseman: Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets — Not exactly the biggest name on the marquee, but that’s not necessarily the name of the game here. The name of the game is points, which Pionk puts on the board. Finishing 2020 with 45 points (6G, 39A) and a +/- of +10, Pionk has potential to be a great sleeper pick at D.
Goaltender: Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars — After 2020, Dobby lives in the shadows no more. Fresh off a contract extension, Khudobin and the Stars are ready for redemption after coming close to winning the Cup. Oh, and by the way, he led the league in save percentage just above the man he used to back up (.930%).
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All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests.