With August coming to a close it is a time of mixed emotion. On the one hand summer is coming to an end, and if you dwell in Canada, like I do, then that means it won’t be long until the snow is flying and the mercury in the thermometer is plummeting.

However, those grey dreary clouds that come along with winter do have a silver line: Hockey Season! Not only do I get to play and watch hockey. It is also time to ramp up for another year in my NHL fantasy hockey keeper pool. Since I’m already researching for my own pool I figured I’d share my opinions to readers looking for an edge in their fantasy hockey pools and after exhaustive consideration I’ve come up with my ranking of the top 50 NHL fantasy hockey pool keepers for the 2011-12 season.

Now, ranking keepers for a hockey pool isn’t as simple as choosing the most skilled players. Several other factors affect ranking. If your pool is anything like mine then stats like hits, plus/minus, blocked shots, penalty minutes and shorthanded points are thrown in the mix. If you use a full stats column to determine player points in your pool then a lot more consideration has to go into the selection than just picking the guy with the most points.

Another factor is injury history. Yes, every player is at risk for injury, but some players (Sami Salo anyone?) just seem to have the injury bug worse than others. Marian Gaborik is a prime example of a player who gets drafted later than his talent would suggest he should simply because no one expects he’ll actually play an 82 game season.

Finally, you have to look at the future prospects of the player you are keeping. The idea behind a keeper pool is to have a “core” group of players that you can rely on year after year without making tweaks. Young players that are steadily improving make great keepers. Veterans who are the downslope of their careers don’t. Rookies are a risk, but obviously highly drafted players just have too much potential to pass up. However, players selected outside the top 10 in the NHL Entry Draft should probably be avoided until they’ve proven themselves at the NHL level.

One final note before I begin the countdown: This list includes only forwards and defensemen. Goalies tend to be statistically weighted more heavily than players and if I included them they would dominate the top half of the rankings. I’ll address Fantasy goalie ratings in a future article. On to the list:

Top 50 Fantasy Hockey Pool Player Rankings

50 – Mike Green

Though I’m starting off the list with a defenseman, don’t expect to see a lot of blueliners overall. Only a rare few can put up the sort of stats that justify their inclusion. Mike Green is one of those few. He has been a prolific scorer on the back end of the Washington Capitals’ attack for several years, and has 70 point potential. He has dealt with some injury woes the past couple of seasons, but if he can play an 82 game schedule look for him to return to 60-70 point production.

49 – Nathan Horton

Though the massive hit he suffered in the Stanley Cup Finals at the hands of Aaron Rome looked to have potentially devastating consequences word is that Nathan Horton is symptom free and ready to start next season and build upon the great campaign he had last year with the Boston Bruins. He is a good 50-60 point guy who can put up stats in categories like PIMs and Hits as well.

48 – Marian Gaborik

His pure talent would normally have him way higher up the list, but this guy is just too big of an injury risk for me to put him any higher. He and Brad Richards should make magic this year in New York, and if he can stay healthy then watch out. Don’t bet on getting 82 games out of this fragile star though.

47 – Joe Pavelski

“Little Joe” is swiftly emerging from the giant shadow cast by “Jumbo Joe” Thornton on the San Jose Sharks. He scored a career high 66 points last year, and though he took a step backwards in the playoffs compared to a year before I wouldn’t fret too much about the impact on his regular season production. At 27 years old he should be right in his prime and probably has a good five years left in the tank before you’ll want to think about dropping him.

46 – Duncan Keith

Though his 45 points last season were a sharp drop off from the 69 he scored in his Norris Trophy winning season, Duncan Keith is still arguably the most offensively gifted blueliner in the league, and should be back up in the 60-70 point range this season. He plays huge minutes for the Hawks, gets plenty of first unit powerplay time, and though his PIM total is generally low he does pretty well in other stat categories.

45 – Tyler Seguin

Though this former #2 overall draft pick sophomore was inconsistent in his rookie season there is too much talent there to rank him any lower than #45. Seguin showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign, including enjoying a couple of impressive games during Boston’s Stanley Cup run last spring. At only 19 years of age, Tyler Seguin has unlimited potential and could be a cornerstone of your fantasy keeper pool for more than a decade.

44 – Tyler Ennis

Another sophomore with huge potential, Tyler Ennis, who will turn 23 at the start of the NHL season, has a little more maturity and consistency to his game than the younger Tyler Seguin. His offensive skills are impressive and he has shown himself equally capable as a goal scorer or playmaker. Look for Ennis to break out in 2011-12 and push the point a game mark.

43 - Jason Spezza

This player has always been an enigma to me. Much like Alexei Kovalev, he has world class talent, but for some reason just can’t consistently play up to his potential. That being said, even with wasted potential Spezza manages to put up pretty decent numbers. Despite missing time in each of the last two seasons he has managed to put up close to a point a game, and with Ottawa in full rebuilding mode Spezza should get huge minutes which should have him improve on that ratio. At 28 years old he still has 4 or 5 good seasons left as a keeper.

42 – Dany Heatley

Heatley is another player that has seen his stock plummet in the past couple of seasons. Spezza’s former Ottawa Senators teammate was supposed to shoot out the lights playing with Joe Thornton in San Jose. However, his two seasons there didn’t live up to expectations and he managed just 65 goals in 162 games. He gets a fresh start with the Minnesota Wild now, but without the same caliber of offensive help that he enjoyed in San Jose it is hard to imagine he’ll improve much on his 26 goal, 64 point season of 2010-11.

41 – Alexander Semin

Though his passion level can certainly be called into question, his raw talent absolutely cannot. This young Russian star dwells in the enormous shadow of Alex Ovechkin in Washington, but he has plenty of flair of his own. He shot is ridiculous, and he might just have the best release in the league. Last season he took a step back offensively under the new defensive regime in Washington, but in the two seasons prior he netted 74 goals and 163 points in just 135 games. Surprisingly, he puts up pretty significant PIMs every year so that is a little icing on the cake. If he can finally play a full 82 game schedule he has a decent shot of being 100 point man at some point in the future.

40 – Dustin Brown

Some might be raising eyebrows over my inclusion of Brown on this list, but his ranking is due to his ranking strength in multiple categories. He pushes 30 goals and 60 points consistently, is always one of the league leaders in hits, was a +17 last season and racked up 67 PIMs for good measure. Not a particularly flashy player on the ice, he is great fantasy player and at 26 still has plenty of mileage left on him.

39 – Shea Weber

Fresh off a record arbitration award Shea Weber should be primed for his biggest year yet. With a rocket of a shot from the back end look for Weber to push the 20 goal mark, and if your pool includes power play goals and/or points then he will be a valuable commodity for sure.

38 – Patrick Sharp

With all the press that gets heaped on Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago, this talented centerman flies under the radar. However, his offensive output over the past couple of seasons certainly demands plenty of respect. With 137 points over the past two years he ranks right up there with Toews’ and Kane’s offensive output. He also puts up good points on both the powerplay and while shorthanded, so can definitely be a triple threat in your pool. Only his age (32) kept him from a higher ranking on the list.

37 – Loui Eriksson

Speaking of underrated players, there may be no NHL forward who gets a shorter shrift attention-wise than Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars. In his last 3 seasons with the club he has scored 92 goals and put up 207 points. He is a consistent offensive machine. One caveat though: Eriksson is a finesse player, so don’t expect a lot in the PIMs or hits categories, but if offensive stats are your main focus then he is a great pickup.

36 – Paul Stastny

The son of former Quebec Nordiques superstar Peter Stastny proves the old adage that the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. While he might not have the same offensive prowess as his dear old dad, Paul is certainly capable of being a point a game player. As a key offensive cog on the young Avalanche Stastny commands plenty of powerplay time, so should put up good numbers in that category as well. At just 25 years old he is now coming into his prime, and it isn’t inconceivable his season averages, if he can stay healthy, will push the 90 point range in coming years.

35 – Brad Richards

The most coveted free agent of this past off-season’s annual feeding frenzy, Richards could shoot out the lights over the next couple of seasons with the New York Rangers. One of the best playmakers in the game today, Richards should thrive playing with Marian Gaborik. Obviously a big key to Richards’ success in the Big Apple will be the health of Gaborik, but even if the Slovakian star goes down Richards has proven in the past he has the ability to make players around him significantly better. At 31, Richards still has 4 or 5 good years left, and should score 80-90 points in those years, with a large percentage of those points coming on the powerplay.

34 – Patrick Marleau

Though he is annually vilified for his lack of post-season contributions (though he does have 26 points in his last 32 playoff games), there isn’t much to criticize about Patrick Marleau’s regular season production. Over the past two seasons he has a total of 81 goals and 156 points while playing in all 164 of his team’s games. One great plus about Marleau, despite the fact that he will turn 32 before the start of the 2011-12 regular season, is his durability. He has only missed a grand total of 31 games over his 13 NHL seasons.

33 – Derek Roy

Though an injury last season limited him to just 35 games, Roy still put up 35 points and has consistently pushed that point a game pace over the last four seasons. Like Loui Eriksson is Dallas, Roy never seems to get his due, but he is certainly a dynamic, highly skilled forward, and at age 28 should be poised to have his best season yet.

32 – Drew Doughty

No, he hasn’t signed with the Los Angeles Kings yet, but with his incredible talent at such a young age it is only a matter of when, not if, the deal gets done. Defensemen have been a rare commodity on this list, but Doughty is definitely deserving of a spot among the high scoring forwards. Though he took a step back offensively, scoring only 40 points last year after a 59 point sophomore campaign, Doughty came on in the second half of the season. Look for him to have a big year offensively, and if stats like PIMs and hits count in your pool he will serve you well in both of those categories as well. Just 21 years old, Doughty can be a cornerstone of a fantasy hockey keeper pool for the next decade or more.

31 – Chris Stewart

As you can tell I am a fan of players who can put up big stats in multiple categories. Chris Stewart certainly fits into that mold. A hulking power forward with a great shot, Stewart can punish his opponents both on the score sheet and in the corners. He certainly has the potential to be a 40 goal scorer, and always gets his fair share of PIMs and hits. Just 23 years old, the sky is the limit with Stewart. If he can get comfortable in St. Louis he should put up big numbers for years to come.

30 – Phil Kessel

One of the best young snipers in the game today, Phil Kessel has a deadly combination of speed, stick-handling ability and a laser beam of a shot that makes him a bona fide threat to score 50 goals one day. He has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last three seasons, and with the addition of Tim Connolly to the Leafs’ roster Kessel should finally have a slick playmaker to help him in Toronto. If they can find chemistry Kessel should significantly improve upon the career high 64 points he had last season.

29 – Jarome Iginla

Yes, he might be getting a little long in the tooth in the keeper world, but this guy is still getting it done. Yes, he will likely be plagued by yet another slow start, but come season’s end you can expect Iggy to be up among the league leaders in goals and points. Not only is he good for the points, but he also gets a decent amount of hits and PIMs as well.

28 – Jeff Carter

With speed to burn, hulking size and a nose for the net, Jeff Carter is a coach’s dream. He scored 115 goals in the past three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers before being shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets this summer. Though the Jackets aren’t exactly noted for their offensive prowess, Carter should still have the opportunity to put up big numbers, playing alongside superstar Rick Nash, and no doubt playing big minutes on the powerplay.

27 – Joe Thornton

Though he has diminished from the dominant player he was back in 2005-06, when he captured both the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, Jumbo Joe Thornton is still one of the biggest offensive threats in the league, and certainly challenges for the title of the NHL’s best playmaker. Thornton’s 70 points last year were his lowest total since 2001-02, but in my opinion this is an anomaly, not an indication of fading talent. Though he might not hit the 100 point plateau again in his career he should be a point+ a game player for the next four or five seasons.

26 – Ilya Kovalchuk

Maybe the best pure shooter in the game today, Ilya Kovalchuk has been a goal machine since breaking into the league with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02. Since then he has scored at least 40 goals on five separate occasions and has twice eclipsed the magical 50 goal mark. Since moving to the New Jersey Devils and signing an astronomical contract Kovalchuk has been a disappointment. However, after a horrendous first half to last season Kovalchuk managed to find his groove again and finished the season with 31 goals. Look for him to return to his old form this year. He should score 40 goals and push 80-90 points.

25 – Anze Kopitar

The future sure looks bright for the Los Angeles Kings and this 24 year old Slovenian star is a big reason for that. A pure talent, Kopitar has been putting up big numbers ever since he first suited up for an NHL game. Over the past two seasons he has averaged just under a point per game and certainly has the ability to push 90 or even 100 points.

24 – Claude Giroux

I’ll admit, this guy completely flew under my radar. However the 2010 NHL playoffs introduced me (and the rest of the hockey world) to him in a big way. He notched 21 points in 23 games and was a major reason why the Flyers made it all the way to game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. In 2010-11 he proved he wasn’t just a flash in the pan, scoring 76 points in 82 regular season games and another 12 points in 11 playoff games. His offensive potential is so great that management felt comfortable dealing away both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in the offseason, feeling that Giroux could fill a large part of the void left by those two stars.

23 – Martin St. Louis

Before you crucify me for putting this guy so low, yes I know St. Louis was a Hart Trophy finalist last year, and he notched 99 points, making him second overall in NHL scoring. However, this is a list of keeper pool picks and as such, St. Louis’ age (36) cannot be ignored. That being said, his ability to defy Father Time thus far has been impressive, and of course he does play with a certain young superstar sniper by the name of Steven Stamkos, so he will probably earn a lot of easy assists. Ultimately, even at his age he is still a great pick and should have another three or four years of good statistical output left.

22 – Zach Parise

Though a devastating knee injury limited Parise to just 13 games last season, prior to that he was well on the way to becoming a true NHL superstar. In his last two full seasons he scored 83 goals and 176 points, and certainly has the potential to hit both the 50 goal and the 100 points marks. Not one to throw his weight around, Parise’s low PIM and hits totals keep him from a higher ranking, but goals, assists, points and powerplay stats shouldn’t disappoint if you take this Devil.

21 – Henrik Zetterberg

Another draft steal by the Detroit Red Wings, Henrik Zetterberg has emerged as one of the best two-way forwards in the league over the past six seasons. During that span he has consistently earned a point a game, all while starring in a defensive shutdown role. Though he might not have the sky high point potential of others on this list, he can be counted on for 80 points, should give you a good plus/minus rating and his hits and PIM totals are actually pretty respectable as well.

20 – Jeff Skinner

Though he only has one NHL season under his belt, that season was good enough to earn him a spot in the top 20 fantasy hockey pool keepers for this year. His 31 goals and 63 points earned him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, and with a maturity belying his young age (19) he shouldn’t be afflicted by the dreaded “Sophomore Slump”. With speed, intelligence and incredibly quick hands Skinner’s offensive numbers should jump up in a hurry. Don’t be surprised to see this player push the 100 point mark in the not-too-distant future.

19 – Ryan Kesler

Though he might not have the top end offensive talent that the Sedin twins do, fans of the Vancouver Canucks will tell you not to underestimate the skill of this “second line center”. Kesler’s combination of speed, determination, quick hands and his wicked wrist shot make him an absolute nightmare off the rush. He also has the willingness to stand in front of the net and racks up plenty of goals on tips. 80 points is probably his offensive limit, but he will also provide stats in many other categories including the always coveted shorthanded goals statistic.

18 – Bobby Ryan

If not for the fact that Sidney Crosby happened to be in the 2005 class of the NHL Draft , Bobby Ryan would have entered that draft year with a lot more hype surrounding him. As it was he was a bit of a forgotten man, but the Anaheim Ducks were certainly more than happy that they were the team lucky enough to land him with the #2 pick that year. At 6’2” and 218 pounds Ryan is a beast, and with great speed and a good set of hands to go along with that speed he is extremely tough to handle when he decides he wants to go to the net. He has scored at least 31 goals in each of the last three seasons, and should push 40 or maybe even 50 going forward.

17 – Rick Nash

Poor Rick Nash. One of the most dynamic, talented players in the NHL over the last half a dozen years, Nash has been forced to ply his trade in one of the most offensively-challenged systems in the NHL. Despite the fact that he has had virtually no one to play with Nash has still acquitted himself well, scoring 30 goals or more six times. This year Nash bears extra scrutiny, however, as with the arrival of Jeff Carter, Nash finally has a bona fide star to play with. If they can find chemistry in Columbus the two big forwards might be one of the best on-two punches in the NHL, and Nash should certainly smash his career highs for both goals and points.

16 – Taylor Hall

Though, like most NHL rookies, Taylor Hall’s first season was filled with plenty of ups and downs, there was plenty of evidence that the Edmonton Oilers’ selection of Hall with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft was completely justified. Fearless (some would say reckless), Hall drives the net with the same determination as Glenn Anderson did back in the heyday of the Oilers. His speed, vision, and puckhandling ability, particularly in full flight, make him hard to defend, and as he gains size, experience and confidence that difficulty will swiftly rise to near impossibility. With the Oilers still a young, rebuilding team it might take a couple of more seasons for Hall to really start to put up big points, but once he does he will pay back the decision to nab him as a keeper with interest.

15 – Eric Staal

When he scored 45 goals and 100 points in his sophomore season, Eric Staal served notice to the hockey world that he could compete with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as the NHL’s best offensive player. However, in the years to follow he wasn’t able to build upon or even maintain the level of play that saw him put up those numbers. That being said, he certainly has been no slouch offensively, putting up averages of close to a point per game. Rangy and strong, Staal is extremely difficult to handle both on the rush and with control of the puck down low. As Jeff Skinner continues to evolve Staal should be a beneficiary of that improvement. Though he might not hit 100 points again, he could certainly hit 90, and with good stats in other categories he is certainly worth using a valuable keeper spot for.

14 – Patrick Kane

At just 22 years of age Patrick Kane already has a Calder Trophy, and Olympic Silver Medal and a Stanley Cup winning goal. With his amazing skill it is hard to imagine that he is done adding to his trophy case. Kane has never had fewer than 70 points in a single season and with his top end talent and the skill of the players surrounding him in Chicago hitting the 100 point plateau certainly isn’t out of the question.

13 – John Tavares

Leading up to his draft year in 2009 the hype surrounding John Tavares rivaled that of Sidney Crosby’s 2005 selection. Tavares, as expected, went #1 to the New York Islanders that year, and since arriving on Long Island has done himself proud, netting 121 points in 161 career games to date. Not bad considering he has absolutely no one to play with on that team. Though he has amazing hands the real reason for his high ranking is his incredible hockey sense. He has that innate ability to arrive in a spot a half second before both the puck and a defender and gets a lot of easy goals as a result. Look for him to be 100 point threat in the not-too-distant future.

12 – Nicklas Backstrom

Like the rest of the Washington Capitals this guy admittedly had an off-year last season offensively. Don’t look for that to become a trend, however. Backstrom remains one of the slickest playmakers in the game and is an underrated goal scorer as well. He should continue playing with Ovechkin and though he won’t put up big stats in the hits and PIMs categories he will definitely be putting up big numbers in goals, assists, points and powerplay points for years to come.

11 – Mike Richards

I’m sorry Paul Holmgren, but what were you thinking? Brayden Schenn is certainly a blue chip prospect but Mike Richards is a proven franchise player, and should make a huge impact when he joins the Los Angeles Kings to start the 2011-12 season. Richards is one of those players that can do it all. He hits, fights, kills penalties, plays powerplay and puts up good offensive stats. He is one of the biggest shorthanded threats in the league, and can certainly help a fantasy GM in just about every statistical category possible.

10 – Pavel Datsyuk

Perhaps the best two way player in the league, Datsyuk is a coach’s dream come true. He is a ridiculously good stickhandler, and his offensive skills put him in the 90 point range on a yearly basis. Only two factors kept Datsyuk from a higher spot on this list: His age (33) and, like many others on the list, his hits and PIMs are pretty low. Still, nab this slick Russian forward and you won’t regret it. Not for at least five more years, anyways.

9 – Jonathan Toews

If you put phrase “clutch performer” into Google image search, Jonathan Toews’ picture would very likely be the first result to appear. Toews first showed his nerves of steel when he scored three consecutive shootout goals in the World Junior Championships to help Team Canada beat the rival Americans. Since then he has further cemented that legend, starring for Team Canada in the Olympics and captaining the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in almost 5 decades, winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP for good measure. Though he is very responsible defensively that doesn’t seem to hurt his offensive numbers. Toews put up a career high 76 points last season, and with his skill, intelligence and determination I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he cracks 100 points at least once in the next 5 years.

8 – Henrik Sedin

The Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner from 2010, Henrik Sedin is an assist machine. The best playmaker in the league today, Sedin seems to have eyes in the back of his head, and makes highlight reel plays on a nightly basis. Last year his offensive production dipped slightly (a mere 94 points), but look for him to return to triple digits in 2011-12 and to post excellent stats in assists, points, powerplay and plus/minus for at least another half decade.

7 – Daniel Sedin

Henrik’s twin brother is the most recent Art Ross Trophy winner, having captured the award with 104 points in 2010-11. His stats are a bit more balanced than Henrik’s as he is more inclined to shoot the puck than his twin. Again, he is statistically strong in a multitude of categories and playing for a powerful Canucks team for the next few years should make sure he remains in the hunt for the Art Ross for years to come.

6 – Ryan Getzlaf

Getzlaf ahead of the Sedin twins, you ask? Well, Daniel and Henrik are great players, but Getzlaf is no slouch himself, and he plays with a mean streak a mile wide. Providing that PIMs are a positive stat in your keeper pool he will serve you well. He is a point+ a game player, and if he can stay healthy this year should push 100 points. At just 26 years of age he has plenty left and should be a franchise cornerstone of any poolee lucky enough to nab him for at least a decade.

5 – Evgeni Malkin

Though injuries over the past two seasons have limited his production, this former Calder Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner still has the potential to put up massive offensive numbers. Not since Mario Lemieux have I seen a player of this size dominate the game with such little apparent effort. Malkin not only puts up fantastic offensive stats, but he has an edge to his game as well. He throws his weight around and he has average a PIM per game throughout his career to date.

4 – Steven Stamkos

He’s just 21 years of age but he has already had a 50 goal season and two seasons with more than 90 points. He has the best one timer since Brett Hull and with Martin St. Louis feeding him the puck he should continue to score a boatload of powerplay goals. With a dedication to improving on the ice and a commitment to fitness Stamkos should continue to improve over the next decade. Expect him to hit 50 goals several more times and he should be a perennial Art Ross threat as well.

3 – Sidney Crosby

The best player in the game today, hands down, and if not for his uncertain future due to post-concussion syndrome he would absolutely top this list. However, considering I am ranking fantasy keepers here I can’t award him a higher spot with his current injury status. Before he took a pair of head shots last season that put him out of action for the rest of the year he was absolutely tearing apart the league offensively. Though he played exactly half a season he put up 32 goals and 66 points, on pace to beat his career high of 120 points he’d set in his sophomore season. If he can return at 100% he will no doubt once again put up massive stats in goals, assists, points, powerplay points, plus/minus and even hits and PIMs.

2 – Corey Perry

Some might be astonished to see this dirty Duck ahead of guys like Stamkos, Malkin and Crosby, but that dirty style of play is exactly why I’ve ranked him ahead of those guys. However, Perry is not only going to get you lots of hits and PIMs he will also put up amazing offensive stats. Perry was the only player to hit the 50 goal mark last year, and finished third in NHL scoring with 98 points. His point totals have improved every season so far, and considering he just turned 26 there’s no reason that trend won’t continue for another four to five years.

1 – Alex Ovechkin

He had 85 points in 79 games last season, and that was considered a dreadful year. That pretty much tells you just how high expectations are for this Russian superstar. He’ll turn 26 prior to the start of the season and he already has a pair of Hart Trophies and has 50+ goals and 100+ points in four separate seasons. Not only do his offensive stats speak for themselves, but he is always found among the league leaders in hits and over the past couple of seasons he has been a sparkling plus-69. Look for Ovie to return to form this season. He should break both 50 goals and 100 points again, and should be an Art Ross threat for at least five more years.

There you have it, my picks for the top 50 Fantasy Hockey Pool keepers for 2011-12. Disagree? Leave your own picks in comments below.