Three Forwards to Fire You to the NHL Fantasy Title

Without a shadow of a doubt, fantasy sports are on the rise. In fact, according to Forbes, they will eventually change the entire US sports culture. The FSTA estimates that 57.4 million people are now playing fantasy games - compared to 56.8 million in 2015, 41.5 million in 2014 and 35.9 million in 2011. And of course, as audiences grew, the Internet even became awash with guides for fantasy dummies.

Fantasy sites are now able to offer brand-new concepts to appeal to punters, including the ability to draft new rosters and trade during the week and the opportunity to track picks during the draft whilst categorizing players based on different statistics. Fantasy websites are now more popular than ever before. Further indication of their popularity is major gaming brands taking an interest in them, with many examples including StarsDraft, which constitutes poker and casino provider PokerStars’ recent addition to the fantasy market.

Hockey hasn’t escaped the fantasy tide. The first league was formed in 1981 and the NHL fantasy hockey Twitter account now boasts almost 30,000 followers. A 2015 study by the FSTA even revealed interest in hockey was growing while interest in football had remained on the same level. Fantasy hockey differs from fantasy football or baseball as team schedules can vary greatly, so punters will normally be better off if they avoid head-to-head matchups and award about 50% of their prize pool to the regular-season champion.

As the new National Hockey League campaign is almost upon us, how will punters cope both with real and fantasy teams…? Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged victorious after pipping the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in the NHL Finals series – securing a fourth championship for the famous franchise; and it would take a brave man to back against Mike Sullivan’s men after their incredible effort last season.

Credt: ABCLocal.com
However, it is a new year and the slate has been wiped clean for all 30 NHL members. The road to the Stanley Cup is unpredictable at best but fantasy hockey players can be safe in the knowledge that certain forwards will ALWAYS be there to put the puck into the back of the net. Winning the fantasy hockey title is no easy feat but you will stand a fantastic chance if you follow our tips and secure at least one of these three men ahead of the new campaign.

Your three picks
Patrick Kane

Credit: ESPN.com
Look no further than fired-up forward Patrick Kane for your first forward selection this season. Following his off-field issues, Kane slipped down the draft order last year but as he returned to the Chicago Blackhawks for the start of the campaign and ran riot in the first few months of the season. In fact, Kane ended the best year of his career with an astonishing 106 points from 82 matches – a full 17 points ahead of Dallas Stars frontman Jamie Benn – hindsight is a wonderful thing. With so much knowledge and fantasy advice out there, you will be laughing if you somehow manage to snag Kane in your fantasy draft. 

Alexander Ovechkin
Credit: Perform Group
But when it comes directly down to goals, there’s only one man to lead your line – and that is Washington Capitals legend Alexander Ovechkin. The Russian, linked with a move to the Winnipeg Jets in the off-season, is a fan favorite across the NHL and his skills in front of goal are clear for all to see – he has scored at least 50 goals in each of the last three years.

In 2015, Ovechkin posted his worst fantasy points total since the 2011-12 season but his constant presence in front of goal makes him an absolute must-have. Despite his lack of assists, Ovechkin remains a prominent target in most fantasy leagues and you will have to take him very early on in order to ensure that you definitely acquire the talented Russian.

Sidney Crosby
Credit: USAToday.com
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain was inspirational throughout the NHL playoffs, notching an impressive 19 points in 24 appearances during the post-season. Crosby - who came second in our recent poll on the top forwards in the league - has now won two Stanley Cup titles. In fact, he has been labelled as one of the best on the planet - as showcased when he led Canada to the World Cup crown earlier this year. Crosby racked up a tournament-high 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in just six matches.

Crosby was ranked third behind Kane and Benn in the 15/16 stats and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him finish higher this time around. Over the past three years, Crosby has missed just nine regular season games - and he is one of the more reliable fantasy options.

Summary
Whilst you could make a viable claim for the likes of Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko or New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, these three men are a class above their rivals. With Benn, there’s always a slight worry that fellow Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin – who plays on the same line – could nick a few goals and assists away from Benn.

Meanwhile, Tarasenko will have to cope with added pressure after David Backes opted to leave the St Louis Blues in the post-season and Taylor Hall may take some time to adjust to life at New Jersey after leaving the Edmonton Oilers, although the latter could shine whilst performing for a playoff-hungry, competitive franchise.

With most fantasy games, it is better to stick with tried and tested stars – and continuity on the ice and the head office usually helps to keep the ship steady ahead of the new campaign. If truth be told, it may seem a little clichéd to recommend Kane, Ovechkin and Crosby but these three men are the best in the business and are well worth selecting in the opening round of the draft. Trust in your studs and a fantasy championship will come...

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