My fantasy hockey draft prep is rather simple. There's a collection of players that I'll avoid like the plague for various, fairly illogical reasons, and there's a collection of players that I'd briefly consider selling off a kidney on the black market to ensure they're on my roster.
These are my Plant Your Flag players. The ones I've targeting for having the potential for huge season, some of whom I'll need to gobble up in the first round and others that might linger into the later ones. It's my second season providing 10 of them on ESPN.com. Please note that I was able to draft four of them on my team, which ended up getting edged in the championship final. Perhaps my fellow fantasy GMs might want to pay better attention to the following list, as I'm literally telling you which players I'm going to draft in case that wasn't obvious, you rubes.
Please keep in mind that we're paying special attention to what I consider to be the most important scoring categories: goals and power play output.
Here are the 10 NHL player on whom I'm planting my flag this season.
It's hard to play the stats projection game with players whose seasons are cut short by injuries, but would it surprise anyone to see Pasta turn a 101-point pace into an actual 101 points if he plays a full season? That's the catch of course: After hitting 82 games in 2017-18, he played just 66 last season. But if he's healthy, he's a next-level offensive talent and a ridiculous asset on the power play, where his 8.93 points per 60 minutes was second only to Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning, aka your reigning MVP.
What I'm looking for out of Matthews this season: At least 75 games, more power-play production (his 6.86 points per 60 minutes ranked him 16th) and a realistic threat to hit 50 goals. For some reason, I think we're going to get it from the Leafs star this season. Maybe it's the mustache. OK, it's probably the mustache.
The Sharks have been "next offensive star up" for the better part of two decades now, and Meier is primed to be the next guy in the sequence. He's likely on Logan Couture's wing, where he played a ton last season with a 53.35 expected goals-for percentage. And he's likely going to see a lot more power-play time after Joe Pavelski left for Dallas, after skating 1:48 per game with the man advantage last season. He was already a 30-goal, 66-point player last season who shoots a ton (250). Sky's the limit.
Yeah, I'm a believer. Even at his size. Even with the acknowledgement of the learning curve that comes with becoming an NHL center. Hughes has already flashed his considering offensive gifts in the preseason, playmaking at an acceleration like few players in the NHL can. The projections have him at 60 points. I'm wondering if that's the floor. I'm also wondering if we don't end up seeing Taylor Hall on his wing before too long.
Last season, the Rangers dropped to the bottom of the East like a boulder being tossed into the Hudson River, so it was easy to overlook that Zibanejad obliterated his career best in points (74, 20th among all centers) and set a new standard in goals (30). Now he gets Artemi Panarin on his line, one of the best complementary scorers in the game. Even if it's another horror show year for the still-rebuilding Rangers, the top line is just going to be scary.
Josi is a consistent even-strength performer (around 1.32 points per 60) who might end up as the NHL's second-best shot-producing defenseman behind Brent Burns. What makes him a delectable pick this season is the potential for a power-play bounce-back for him thanks to his post-P.K. Subban ascendance to the top point position, the arrival of Matt Duchene and the instillation of Dan Lambert as the new power-play coach. Oh, and he's in a contract year. Ka-ching.
The high watermark of Klingberg's career was in 2017-18, when he hit 67 points thanks to 22 power-play assists. Welp, the Stars added Joe Pavelski's net-front presence in the offseason, and the dude scores goals off his face. I'm expecting big things from Dallas this season, and thus big things from Klingberg, who broke into the top 20 in shots per game last season (2.39).
The second player on whom we're planning a flag that has yet to appear in the regular season. But the 10 playoff games Makar appeared in for the Avs showed a ton of promise for the 20-year-old defenseman. Fantasy hockey analyst Scott Cullen ranks him 15th in the NHL already, and for good reason: He's likely to inherit the point on the Colorado power play (seventh in the league last season) after Tyson Barrie was traded away. By far the most impressive development for Cale since they figured out how to turn it into a Caesar's salad.
Frederik Andersen, G, Toronto Maple Leafs
I think we all agree that Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning is justifiably the top goalie in fantasy hockey, coming off a Vezina Trophy win with a team that's amassed 116 wins over the past two seasons. But Andersen, to me, is the clear runner up. No one has started more games (192), faced more shots (6,221) and turned more aside (5,708) than the Leafs goalie in the past three seasons. His numbers are consistently good (.927 EV save percentage last season), and he plays a ton. Oh, Toronto might be the only team in the East that could reasonably post a better regular-season record than the Lightning.
I feel like I've given you a lot of players who will be snapped up in the first two rounds of your drafts, so allow me to end with a bit of a sleeper. Hutton was 18-25-5 with a .908 save percentage last season. He still plays for the Sabres, which means he's likely to get overlooked. But consider this: The Sabres hired Mike Bales, last seen resurrecting the Hurricanes' goaltending, as their new netminding coach. And Hutton's 13.5 goals saved above average last season put him in Tuukka Rask's league. He's still only one year removed from a career-redefining season with St. Louis. If he's around and I'm looking for another goalie, I'm planting my flag on Hutton.