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.
Three players are tied for the NHL lead with 13 assists. Evgeni Malkin and Martin St. Louis are two of them -- not a huge surprise. The other is Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg is a household name, and while he was known in the past as a premier goal-scorer, he has clearly shown in the last three years that it's his playmaking abilities that have defined him.
After posting 43 goals in 2007-08, many fantasy owners began to expect Zetterberg to continue to score goals at that kind of rate -- especially given the fact that he often found himself on the same line as Pavel Datsyuk. However, since that 43-goal breakthrough, it's been a steady decline in the goals category -- he averaged 25 goals over the next four seasons.
But on the other side of the stat column, Zetterberg's assist production has been elite. Since 2008-09, Zetterberg has averaged 48 assists per season and even finished fifth in the NHL in 2010-11 with a career-best 56 helpers. Zetterberg's shot totals have also been on a steady decline, showing he's more willing to dish the puck than put a shot on goal (he had 358 in 2007-08, 309 in 2008-09 and 2009-10, 306 in 2010-11 and 267 last season).
Taking a closer look at Zetterberg's production this season (5 G, 13 A, plus-6, 10 PIMs, 8 PPP, 45 SOG in 12 games), you'll quickly realize he's in line for one of the best seasons of his career (of course the totals won't compare to years past because of the condensed season). A lot of this success has come playing on a dominant line with Johan Franzen and Damien Brunner -- the trio has been remarkable. In fact, Zetterberg and Brunner have each recorded a point on the same goal eight times this season. Brunner leads the Wings with six goals and Zetterberg has assisted on five of them.
The other major factor in Zetterberg's dominant play this year is his power play production, where he, Datsyuk, Franzen, Brunner and Niklas Kronwall form one of the League's most lethal units. Many fans expected Detroit's power play to suffer with the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, but Zetterberg still has eight power-play points on the season (good for fifth best in the NHL) and is averaging just under five minutes of PP time per game (4:53). With that kind of talent on the ice together for five minutes per game, you can expect Zetterberg to continue to put up significant points with the man advantage.
Zetterberg is currently the No. 2 overall player in Yahoo! fantasy leagues and the No. 1 player in the past two weeks. He has put his name back in the conversation for fantasy elite thanks largely in part to his success in dishing out the puck -- we've got him ranked 14th this week and he will continue to rise if he keeps at this rate. Start him with complete confidence and if you can acquire him via trade, you should do so immediately -- Zetterberg's decline in production over the last couple of years will be a distant memory by the end of this season.
Eric Staal, Hurricanes -- Staal moves into our top-10 forward rankings thanks to a hot streak that has been as good as anyone's this season. After being held without a point his first two games, Staal has recorded eight goals and six assists over his next nine. Put those 14 points next to his peripheral stats (plus-10, 12 PIMs, 2 PPP, 44 SOG) and you'll quickly realize he's deserving of his new ranking. Staal is centering Carolina's go-to offensive line with Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty, and all three players have been extremely valuable -- the trio combined for nine points in Monday's win against the Islanders. Despite not being on the ice at the same time with his brother Jordan, having him on the same team seems to have given Eric a new sense of superstardom.
Jamie Benn, Stars -- It may have taken Benn a few games to get going, but he's slowly starting to show his true self. Through seven games Benn has posted four goals, three assists, a plus-2, eight penalty minutes, two power-play points and 21 shots on goal -- including four goals and six points in his last three contests. Recently, Benn has been centering Dallas' top line with veterans Jaromir Jagr and Brenden Morrow, and he's clearly a difference-maker -- the Stars have won their last three games. Benn is a point-per-game caliber player and could even be good for a PIM-per-game as well. Enjoy the ride, folks.
Mike Ribeiro, Capitals -- We've got Ribeiro ranked 50th in our updated forward ranks (moving up 14 spots). In Yahoo! leagues, Ribeiro is currently the 19th-ranked player. Clearly he's overachieving a bit, as he was selected on average with the 128th pick during fantasy draft season, but either way Ribeiro has been delivering for his owners in more than one way. Ribeiro has been moved onto a line with Alex Ovechkin and they seem to be working well together -- the Washington center has three goals and three assists during a four-game point-scoring streak. Ribeiro might not shoot a lot (he has just 15 on the season), but he makes up for that with solid penalty minute production (14) and excellent power-play numbers (3 PPG and 5 PPA). You should expect Ribeiro to fall in the Yahoo! ranks, but there's reason to believe he could move up to as high as the top 40 in our rankings by next week.
Claude Giroux, Flyers -- The Flyers just can't seem to get things going right early on in the 2012-13 season. One of the major concerns is the lack of production from their captain and offensive catalyst, Giroux. The 25-year-old center scored goals in each of his first two games, but has just one in the last 11 contests. He has seven points on the season, and five of those points have come on the man advantage -- about the only category Giroux has been valuable in. Linemates have shuffled in and out with Giroux -- from Danny Briere to Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Tye McGinn and Brayden Schenn -- but nothing seems to be clicking right now. So what's going on with Giroux? Clearly, one of his main recipes to success is Scott Hartnell. Since Hartnell went down with an injury on Jan. 22 (the Flyers' third game of the season), Giroux has just one goal and four assists in 10 games. He has not been able to get into an offensive groove without Hartnell on his side. Hartnell creates space for the crafty Giroux, and without him there opposing defenses have been able to focus solely on shutting Giroux down -- and they've been successful. Until his enforcing linemate returns, Giroux will likely continue to disappoint his owners.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues -- Tarasenko hogged all the buzz in the early parts of this season -- and deservedly so considering he had five goals and four assists in his first seven NHL games. But since that red-hot start, Tarasenko has just one point (an assist) in the previous five games. What's even more alarming is that he's a minus-7 and has averaged just 1.4 shots on goal during that span. Clearly opposing teams took notice of the Russian's play and have made it a focal point to contain him. Tarasenko still has plenty of time to develop and adjust as a player, but this cold streak has put things in perspective for his owners -- he's not a fantasy star just yet.
Dustin Brown, Kings -- Brown was one of the most sought after fantasy players in all drafts coming into this season after he had a remarkable playoff run (8 G, 12 A, plus-16, 34 PIMs, 59 SOG in 20 games). And one would think playing on a line with Anze Kopitar would do wonders for his fantasy value. Unfortunately, it seems like that playoff momentum did not carry over. Maybe it was the long layoff, maybe he just got hot at the right time last season, but either way Brown's fantasy value will be nothing more than what he's delivered on average in the last four years -- 25 goals and 55 points. Those aren't exactly bad numbers over the course of an 82-game season, but they're also nothing too special. Brown is a solid fantasy player that will chip in with some penalty minutes (he has 10 in 11 games so far), but it looks like he'll never jump from that average to dominant group.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Matt Frattin, Maple Leafs -- Frattin continues to fly under the radar in fantasy leagues with his Yahoo! ownership at just 18 percent despite posting seven goals, three assists and a plus-6 rating in 10 games this season. Frattin's season got off with a bang, notching a goal and two helpers in his season debut and he hasn't looked back since. While he is surely giving owners more than they could have possibly dreamed of, don't expect Frattin to continue his dominant play as he's scoring at an unsustainable rate -- his seven goals have come on just 18 shots, a scoring clip of 38.9 percent. Frattin is receiving just 1:12 of power-play ice time per game and only 12:53 of total ice time, another sign pointing to a decline in production going forward. He seems to have found flawless chemistry with linemates Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur, but Frattin is one of the most glaring cases of a sell-high player.
TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS
These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings.. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.
1. Sidney Crosby, Penguins (+1)
2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning (-1)
3. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (same)
4. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (+1)
5. Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils (+4)
6. Rick Nash, Rangers (same)
7. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (+4)
8. Thomas Vanek, Sabres (+6)
9. Eric Staal, Hurricanes (+7)
10. Zach Parise, Wild (-3)
11. Claude Giroux, Flyers (-7)
12. John Tavares, Islanders (same)
13. Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (-3)
14. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (+9)
15. Corey Perry, Ducks (-7)
16. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (+6)
17. James Neal, Penguins (+1)
18. Martin St. Louis, Lightning (+3)
19. Daniel Sedin, Canucks (-6)
20. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (+4)
21. Patrick Marleau, Sharks (-6)
22. Marian Gaborik, Rangers (-5)
23. Anze Kopitar, Kings (-3)
24. Joe Thornton, Sharks (-5)
25. Jamie Benn, Stars (+11)
26. Joe Pavelski, Sharks (+2)
27. Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (same)
28. Brad Richards, Rangers (-2)
29. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+9)
30. David Backes, Blues (-1)
31. Henrik Sedin, Canucks (-6)
32. Jason Pominville, Sabres (-1)
33. Logan Couture, Sharks (-3)
34. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (-2)
35. Taylor Hall, Oilers (+4)
36. Teemu Selanne, Ducks (+6)
37. Johan Franzen, Red Wings (+4)
38. Matt Duchene, Avalanche (-3)
39. Tyler Seguin, Bruins (-2)
40. Jordan Eberle, Oilers (-6)
41. Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning (+4)
42. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (-9)
43. David Clarkson, Devils (+23)
44. Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+9)
45. Mikko Koivu, Wild (-5)
46. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (+4)
47. Bobby Ryan, Ducks (+1)
48. Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (-4)
49. Patrik Elias, Devils (+8)
50. Mike Ribeiro, Capitals (+14)
51. Evander Kane, Jets (-8)
52. Milan Lucic, Bruins (-6)
53. Jarome Iginla, Flames (-4)
54. Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-3)
55. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (-7)
56. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (-1)
57. Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (+3)
58. Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+1)
59. David Perron, Blues (-3)
60. Dany Heatley, Wild (-13)
61. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues (-7)
62. Matt Moulson, Islanders (same)
63. T.J. Oshie, Blues (-2)
64. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (-1)
65. Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (NR)*
66. Loui Eriksson, Stars (-8)
67. Damien Brunner, Red Wings (+7)
68. Cory Conacher, Lightning (+1)
69. Ryane Clowe, Sharks (-1)
70. PA Parenteau, Avalanche (+1)
71. Jordan Staal, Hurricanes (-1)
72. Brad Marchand, Bruins (-5)
73. Teddy Purcell, Lightning (-1)
74. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (+2)
75. Andy McDonald, Blues (-10)
76. Ryan Callahan, Rangers (NR)*
77. Sam Gagner, Oilers (+6)
78. Danny Briere, Flyers (-3)
79. Dustin Brown, Kings (-6)
80. Andrew Ladd, Jets (same)
81. David Krejci, Bruins (-2)
82. Kyle Turris, Senators (-4)
83. Nathan Horton, Bruins (-6)
84. Alexander Steen, Blues (NR)
85. Jaromir Jagr, Stars (same)
86. Jeff Carter, Kings (same)
87. Nail Yakupov, Oilers (+1)
88. James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (NR)
89. Tyler Ennis, Sabres (NR)
90. Mike Richards, Kings (-8)
91. Derek Roy, Stars (+8)
92. Derek Stepan, Rangers (-2)
93. Milan Michalek, Senators (-9)
94. Erik Cole, Canadiens (-7)
95. Adam Henrique, Devils (+1)
96. Blake Wheeler, Jets (-1)
97. Shane Doan, Coyotes (-5)
98. Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (same)
99. Tomas Fleischmann, Panthers (+1)
100. Chris Stewart, Blues (-7)
* Was listed on IR in last week's rankings
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