Predicting the fantasy hockey rankings for the 2021-22 season is not exactly an accurate exercise, but there is plenty of prognosticating we can do, so long as we try to hedge bets and rely on historical trends.
Honestly, in going through this ranking, my best friend has been the year in which each player was born. It's not a hard and fast rule, but the NHL is a younger man's game. Five years ago, in January 2013, our fantasy hockey top 10 included a lot of names you still know now.
The average age of that group is 27 years old. The Sedin twins and Hossa skew the group a bit on the older end. Now compare that to a rough top-10 ranking for the remainder of this season.
The average age of that group is 26 years old. Finally, here's my crazy, ridicuously-early top-10 ranking for the 2021-22 season.
There's an average age of 25 years old. Obviously, watching each NHL player's progressing age while ranking subsequent seasons factors enormously into the decision. Once a goaltender or player starts to enter his mid-30s, the safe bet is to reduce his potential for that season by a significant amount.
However, the real reason I wanted to show these three groups of top-10 rankings was to point out the biggest factor that will guarantee the rankings for five years from now are incorrect. In January 2013, Kucherov, Matthews, McDavid and Gaudreau weren't on the radar beyond long-term hopefuls, while even Benn and Tarasenko would have been bold choices five years out. I'm not saying I wouldn't have ranked them there back in 2013, but I'm doubting it.
Why? Because there's an immediacy bias to this kind of prognostication. You'll notice my top 10 for five years from now is entirely made up of players who are already successful at the NHL level. That will not be the case five years from now, but picking which current 14- or 15-year-old players will continue their superstar development arc is just tilting at windmills.
I've put them on the radar for this ranking, and some of the top future prospects are among those ranked here. But there is just no way I'm bold enough to place Alexis Lafreniere, Rasmus Dahlin and Jack Hughes in the top-10 rankings for 2021-22. Are they currently on the path to possibly be there? For sure. Lafreniere is on pace to match Nathan MacKinnon's age-16 QMJHL campaign, but he's not eligible until the 2020 draft. A lot can happen between now and then. Hughes has already blown away Auston Matthews' under-17 points per game in the U.S. National team program, but he won't be picked until the 2019 draft. Dahlin is looking to go first overall this June and is drawing comparisons to a blend of Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman -- but he's not in the NHL yet.
These dynasty rankings are an exercise in taking what we know now and trying to safely project the right moves in keeper leagues for the next several years. I could have made a top 10 for 2021-22 that included half a dozen players not in the NHL right now, but that wouldn't help anyone who isn't in a keeper league with me.
The rankings are an average of a top-250 ranking for each of the next five years. There are no points awarded in these ranks for almost making the cut. If the player was ranked 251st in all five seasons (that didn't happen), he received the same number of points for this ranking as a player ranked 706th for all five seasons. I did a hard cutoff at 250 players for each season. That does give a preference in this style of calculation to players who are currently in the NHL and contributing fantasy statistics, but that's a preference I wanted to give in these rankings.
Before we move on to looking at how things changed since we first debuted these dynasty rankings during the fall, I just want to give a hat tip to Seguin and Stamkos, who made the top-30 rankings for five years ago, today and five years from now.
Forwards on the move
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche (up 33 spots to No. 8)
MacKinnon was given some benefit of the doubt in the previous dynasty rankings, coming in at No. 33 overall. But since then, he's shaken off any of the doubts that he's an elite superstar in the NHL. The last couple seasons were more than enough reason to wonder if he was going to live up to his pedigree, but it's easy to forget about the bad times now. MacKinnon has already matched his 53 points from all 82 games last season in just 42 games this season.
Couturier is our poster boy for the fact that it's never too late if a player is still in his mid-20s. He had already carved out four seasons as a strong two-way center with minimal impact on the score sheet, so it was looking like that would be his profile going forward. However, this former QMJHL scoring phenom who was drafted in 2011 has quickly and thoroughly turned that projection on its head with a role on the the Flyers' top line. Mika Zibanejad is another example from the same draft class. While I haven't taken action in these rankings, this is a reminder that players can still come around six-plus years following their selection in the draft. Looking at the 2012 draft class, players like Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Hertl and Radek Faksa jump off the page as being potentially prematurely written off.
Eeli Tolvanen, C, Nashville Predators (enters ranks at No. 108)
Tolvanen will be my poster boy here for the unknown commodities. We can be absolutely sure there will be scores of players who haven't played an NHL game who will be dynasty commodities during the next five years, but we can't be sure who they will be. My favorite method for trying to wade through the prospects is historical age comparisons. It's not a perfect system by any means, but it gives us a frame of reference for how established NHLers performed under similar conditions to the current crop of prospects. Tolvanen jumps off the page a bit here given his current season. After posting the best seasons ever by an under-17 and under-18 Finnish player in the United States Hockey League, Tolvanen took his game to the KHL this season. All he's done there is already break Evgeny Kuznetsov's record for points by an 18-year-old. The Predators got a steal with Tolvanen, and although they may bring him along slowly, he looks like a future star.
The same process for Tolvanen is what I used to identify other prospects that I deemed worthy of inclusion on this ranking.
Defensemen on the move
Jones has hit his stride at the age of 23 this season. His 42-point campaign last season was just outside the top-50 historical seasons for a 22-year-old defenseman, but his current pace for this season is easily inside that group for 23-year-olds. On pace for 53 points, that total would come close to the likes of Shea Weber or Hedman for their age-23 season. While it looked last year like Zach Werenski would emerge first, Jones has taken the lead on development for now.
While Sergachev's jump in the rankings is significant, so is his current season. He already ranks 39th all-time for points by a 19-year-old defenseman. If he keeps his pace for this season (48 points), Sergachev will tie Tyler Myers and Bryan Berard for the fifth-best 19-year-old season of all time. Rick Hampton, Ray Bourque, Larry Murphy and Phil Housley would be the only players ahead of him (and Sergachev could surpass Hampton's 51 points with a strong finish).
Goaltenders on the move
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning (up 12 spots to No. 15)
With Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman, Sergachev and Vasilevskiy, would anyone be shocked if the Lightning won more than one Stanley Cup in the next few years? Vasilevskiy, like Sergachev, is having a season for the ages. His current save percentage is already the best all-time by a 23-year-old goaltender to start at least 30 games. If he can't maintain his .930 save percentage by the end of the season, he still has some wiggle room to have a better age-23 season than the likes of Carey Price (.923), Henrik Lundqvist (.922), Marc-Andre Fleury (.921), Braden Holtby (.920), Roberto Luongo (.918) and Tuukka Rask (.918). Those are his contemporaries. Historically, Andrew Raycroft (at least 50 percent of his team's starts) has the record at .926, and Bernie Parent is second at .925. By the way, he's not on pace to break the wins record for a 23-year-old goaltender. Nope. He's on pace to break the wins record for the NHL, period.