The Front Line: Aging veterans providing early value

Tuesday, 01.22.2013 / 12:00 PM
Matt Cubeta  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Every Tuesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy forwards in his weekly segment: "The Front Line." From updated rankings to players you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy forwards expert all season long.

Welcome back, fantasy owners! With the season already feeling like we're halfway into it, the first three days of NHL action has given us plenty to look forward to for the remainder of the season in fantasy hockey.

Nothing was more rewarding for fantasy owners than being one of the fortunate to have a 40-year-old forward on your roster. Of course, we're talking about Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne or Ray Whitney. All three veterans got off to a fantastic start, and all three could end up being extremely valuable fantasy assets for the remainder of the season.

Jagr's Dallas debut got started with a bang, as he recorded two goals and two assists (with two of those points coming on the power play). Jagr followed up that performance with two penalty minutes and three shots on goal in a loss at Minnesota, giving him a very well-rounded fantasy line after just two games. While the penalty minutes won't last at that rate, there's no reason to doubt Jagr's ability to put up points -- he could finish the season close to 40 points, which is more than what most would expect considering he was drafted on average with the 149th pick in Yahoo! Leagues.

As for the 42-year-old Selanne, he's been even better after this short stretch. Selanne opened up his season against Vancouver with two goals, two assists, a plus-1, four penalty minutes, three power-play points and five shots on goal -- simply absurd. He was held without a point in Monday's win over Calgary, but throughout his career Selanne has done nothing but prove wrong everyone who thought his decline was on the way. He led the Ducks in points last year with 66 and could sustain point-per-game statistics this season. With Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf expected to improve, Selanne could be among the League leaders in power-play production.

While Whitney didn't have quite as eye-popping an opening weekend as Jagr did in his Dallas debut, he certainly gave fantasy owners hope for a good season in a condensed schedule. In two games over the weekend, Whitney posted one goal, one assist, two power-play points and four shots on goal. He had one of the best seasons of his career last year for the Coyotes, and with the amount of offensive depth he now has in Dallas, expect plenty of assists, power-play points and a good plus/minus this season.

Jagr, Selanne and Whitney should all be owned in fantasy leagues right now, but remember that playing three or four games every week of the season could take a toll on these guys. Temper your expectations, but know there could be a significant reward if things continue to click like they have in the early parts of this 2012-13 season.

On the flip side, several NHL rookies also got off to an extremely hot start over the weekend. However, they are cautiously ranked low for the time being. We cannot simply state (or believe) that just because Jonathan Huberdeau had a fantastic NHL debut that he should automatically be ranked higher -- he clearly has a lot to prove. The players ahead of Huberdeau and his fellow rookies (Mikael Granlund, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nail Yakupov) have shown us in years past that they can perform at a high fantasy level for a full season -- and that's something that cannot be overlooked by fantasy owners.

TRENDING UPWARD

Marian Hossa -- The big question with Hossa was how he would perform following a concussion during the playoffs. He has made a very clear statement in the early parts of this season: He seems to be just fine. With three days in the books, Hossa has four goals, one assist, a plus-three, six penalty minutes, one power-play point and nine shots on goal in two contests. Hossa is playing the wing with Jonathan Toews in the middle, and if you were able to land Hossa on draft day, it appears he's poised for another outstanding fantasy season.

Thomas Vanek -- Currently the top-ranked fantasy forward in Yahoo! Leagues, Vanek has been nothing short of spectacular for the Sabres. He's off to the best start of his career (2 G, 4 A, plus-3, 2 PIMs, 3 PPP, 12 SOG) and the newly formed line of Vanek with Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville is working out flawlessly right now. Vanek struggled with 26 goals last season -- the lowest since he scored 25 in his 2005-06 rookie year -- but if these first two games are a sign of things to come, his owners won't be disappointed.

Dany Heatley -- It's been a steady decline in production for Heatley -- back-to-back 50-goal seasons in 2005-06 and '06-07; 41 in '07-08; 39 in '08-09 and '09-10; 26 in '10-11; and 24 last season. However, things are looking up for Heatley, and he could easily exceed expectations for his owners this season. With Zach Parise now on the top line with Heatley and Mikko Koivu, there's a good chance Heatley could lead the Wild in goals with close to 20. He's off to a good start with two goals (both PPG) and an assist in his first two contests, and as long as he continues to see plenty of power-play time (5:05 per game so far), there's reason to think the old Heatley could return.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Jamie Benn -- Drafted on average with the 78th pick in Yahoo! Leagues, Benn has clearly not gotten on the good side of his owners. While he'll presumably take over as the Stars' No. 1 center between Jagr and Loui Eriksson, Benn isn't doing any good sitting on the sidelines. He has the potential to be an elite fantasy player, but for now, he sits in the No. 41 spot in our updated rankings. If he's on your team, the only thing you can do is stash him on your bench and hope he signs soon.

Johan Franzen -- While Valtteri Filppula is a very crafty passing centerman, he's no Pavel Datsyuk, and that hurts Franzen's fantasy value. With youngster Damien Brunner playing the wing on Detroit's top line alongside Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Franzen finds himself on the second unit with Filppula and Mikael Samuelsson. Franzen recorded an assist in Monday's win over Columbus and is receiving over four and a half minutes of power-play time, so he'll likely still be a productive player to own, just don't expect past stats without Datsyuk on his side.

Blake Wheeler -- Many people are expecting similar production to last season (17 G, 47 A) out of Wheeler this season (he was drafted on average with the 154th selection), but we believe last season may have been a bit of a fluke. For starters, he's skating on a line with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little -- two solid players, but not exactly a dominant goal-scoring unit in the NHL. In two games, Wheeler has yet to notch a point and is a combined minus-3. Don't drop him yet, but definitely keep an eye on how Wheeler responds.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Panthers' second line -- While Alex Kovalev is not quite 40 yet (he will be on Feb. 24), he is another aging veteran that could carry some fantasy value this season. His Panthers debut got off to a fantastic start after he posted a goal and two assists to go along with a plus-2 and two penalty minutes while skating on the team's second line with rookie Huberdeau and fellow newcomer Peter Mueller. This entire line is worth keeping an eye on, and despite being held pointless against the Senators on Monday (along with the rest of their teammates), they could end up being the most productive line on Florida this season.

TOP 100 FORWARDS

These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries).

1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins

2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning

3. Sidney Crosby, Penguins

4. Claude Giroux, Flyers

5. Corey Perry, Ducks

6. Daniel Sedin, Canucks

7. James Neal, Penguins

8. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

9. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

10. Rick Nash, Rangers

11. John Tavares, Islanders

12. Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils

13. Henrik Sedin, Canucks

14. Marian Hossa, Blackhawks

15. Zach Parise, Wild

16. Scott Hartnell, Flyers

17. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks

18. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs

19. Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks

20. Tyler Seguin, Bruins

21. Jason Spezza, Senators

22. David Backes, Blues

23. Eric Staal, Hurricanes

24. Anze Kopitar, Kings

25. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings

26. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

27. Marian Gaborik, Rangers

28. Brad Richards, Rangers

29. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

30. Jordan Eberle, Oilers

31. Martin St. Louis, Lightning

32. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks

33. Patrick Marleau, Sharks

34. Jarome Iginla, Flames

35. Bobby Ryan, Ducks

36. Logan Couture, Sharks

37. Thomas Vanek, Sabres

38. Joe Pavelski, Sharks

39. Taylor Hall, Oilers

40. Joe Thornton, Sharks

41. Teemu Selanne, Ducks

42. Jamie Benn, Stars

43. Dany Heatley, Wild

44. Milan Lucic, Bruins

45. Mikko Koivu, Wild

46. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers

47. Loui Eriksson, Stars

48. Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs

49. Max Pacioretty, Canadiens

50. Matt Duchene, Avalanche

51. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks

52. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

53. Johan Franzen, Red Wings

54. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

55. Evander Kane, Jets

56. Jaromir Jagr, Stars

57. Ryan Callahan, Rangers

58. Dustin Brown, Kings

59. Mike Richards, Kings

60. Matt Moulson, Islanders

61. Brad Marchand, Bruins

62. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes

63. Jason Pominville, Sabres

64. Ray Whitney, Stars

65. Chris Kunitz, Penguins

66. Radim Vrbata, Coyotes

67. Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning

68. Jeff Carter, Kings

69. Alexander Semin, Hurricanes

70. Erik Cole, Canadiens

71. Patrik Elias, Devils

72. Jordan Staal, Hurricanes

73. David Perron, Blues

74. PA Parenteau, Avalanche

75. David Krejci, Bruins

76. Ryane Clowe, Sharks

77. Cody Hodgson, Sabres

78. Wayne Simmonds, Flyers

79. Nathan Horton, Bruins

80. Derek Roy, Stars

81. Milan Michalek, Senators

82. T.J. Oshie, Blues

83. Mikael Granlund, Wild

84. Mike Ribeiro, Capitals

85. Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers

86. Martin Havlat, Sharks

87. Damien Brunner, Red Wings

88. Derek Stepan, Rangers

89. Teddy Purcell, Lightning

90. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues

91. Travis Zajac, Devils

92. Shane Doan, Coyotes

93. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens

94. Chris Stewart, Blues

95. Andrew Ladd, Jets

96. Pascal Dupuis, Penguins

97. Nail Yakupov, Oilers

98. David Clarkson, Devils

99. Blake Wheeler, Jets

100. Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets

Injured: Ryan Kesler, Danny Briere, Kris Versteeg, Adam Henrique

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