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Don't expect many surprises with this list — it's really hard to go wrong in the first round. That is, unless you draft like a homer. Or only pick guys on Canadian teams. Or take on an injury risk.
Or forget to turn off the auto-pick. Or worse, panic-pick while trying to turn off your auto-pick.
Here's all you need to know about this list. First, I love defenders, but not in the first round. Brilliance like Bobby Orr's would change that, but that doesn't currently exist.
Second, goal scorers will always rank higher than playmakers, no matter how many apples they bag. Not that there's anything wrong with a good honey crisp (or 12). It's just that goal scoring is hard.
Third, goalie runs are real. The first guy goes and everyone panics. So be the one who starts that run. Especially when twinetenders count for four of 10 categories in most Yahoo leagues.
Now on to the top 12 (OK, 13).
Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers
I love what Nathan MacKinnon did this postseason. And it's hard to look past Leon Draisaitl's goals/points Hart win. But let's get real for a minute — are you going to pass on the McSavior if you're in the top spot? Thought not. McDavid can take over any game, any night. He's a 40-goal, 120-point, 45+ power-play point guy, especially with the addition of Tyson Barrie this offseason.
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche
Mack went full beast mode in the 2019-20 postseason, dominating every time he hit the ice. He can do it all, including leading the league in SOG. MacKinnon is going to carry the Avs to the Western finals next season. Maybe more. He'll score just like McDavid and deliver 50% more shots. He'll also post a significantly better plus-minus. Hmm … maybe he should be number one.
Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers
I debated Draisaitl at number two because he's a 50-goal threat who will pot 110 points with ease, including dozens on the power play. However, his lackluster plus-minus rating puts him behind MacKinnon. But if he gets LW eligibility, I'm shifting him up. Maybe he goes first in that scenario.
Kooch is the best offensive threat off the flank and should be a 40-goal, 100-point stud for a few more years. His work on the power play also stands out (other than last season).
Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Rocket Richard is Matthews' to lose this season. I'm betting on 55-60 snipes over a full season. His release may be the best in the NHL right now.
What's the difference between Panarin and Kucherov? Not much. The Bread Man's offense should be close to 35/95 for a few more years. Add a little yeast to his power-play production and up he rises.
Kane was on track for his third 100-point season in his last five until COVID-19 shut down the world. That spells great things for fantasy managers in 2020-21, even on a rebuilding Hawks' squad.
The Eichel Tower carried play and delivered elite production for Buffalo in 2019-20. Now he has Taylor Hall on his flank. Two words: Lethal duo. Eichel has a chance to deliver a 40-goal, 100-point season in 2020-21, perhaps more.
Ovie is a legit 50-goal threat who will contend for the league lead in SOG and sit top-12-15 in hits. Last year, the Gr8 was robbed of his eighth Rocket Richard trophy in nine seasons … on a technicality. He may be 35, but he's still among the best at what he does.
Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Rantanen was on a 110-point pace to start 2019-20 before an injury put him out for six weeks. Pick him if you need a 35-38 goal, 100-110 point stud on your squad. He and the Avs are on the rise.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
Fantasy managers get the yips for goalies early in every draft I've done. Vasy is the best of the best and he plays a lot of games. He'll be one of just a handful who actually wins 30 games in 2020-21. That matters. A lot.
Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets; Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Snake drafts mean the last pick in Round 1 and first in the second are interchangeable. They're also critically linked — you can't afford to screw up the turn. You pretty much need to take a goalie here or you'll end up with a pylon or a prayer in your blue paint. Hellebuyck is the next best option and like Vasy, he's a heavy-minute unicorn in a league that splits time in platoons. He should get 30 wins (with great ratios).
Honorable mentions (alphabetical order):
John Carlson, D, Washington -- He had 21 points in his first 12 games last year. Then 54 in his next 57. Carlson isn't a 90-point defender, but he has averaged over 70 points over the last three seasons. Great, yes. Exceptional? Nah.
Roman Josi, D, Nashville -- Josi should be the first defenseman picked. Take out Carlson's early brilliance and Josi was the more productive guy last season. His +71 shot differential is a difference-maker.
Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh -- Injuries have taken a toll on his brilliance and that's too much risk for me in Round 1.
Brad Marchand, LW, Boston – He's expected to miss the first two weeks of the season and linemate David Pastrnak for four more. Torey Krug, who was the dreamy disher on the PP, is gone. But COVID-19 isn't and that means Tuukka Rask may stay home in Finland. That's a lot to overcome.
David Pastrnak, RW, Boston -- Pasta would be fifth on this list if he wasn't set to miss the first six weeks of the season. His 50-goal season will come in 2021-22.
Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver -- He's on the rise, but I'm worried Braden Holtby's declining skills will suppress the whole team's production. Everyone will have to do more at their own end.
Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay -- His power-play production last year was a concern.
Mika Zibanejad, C, NY Rangers -- Another year with the Bread Man on his line? And maybe Alexis Lafreniere? Put the points on the board!