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.
It's time, folks. Alex Ovechkin is officially back among the elite fantasy forwards, and this time, you can't argue it. And we're not talking about him moving up because of his current five-game goal-scoring streak -- this goes back long before then.
On Feb. 26, I moved Ovechkin up five spots in my forward rankings to the No. 13 overall slot. Several readers criticized the move, saying he didn't deserve the bump. He did. For starters, on Feb. 23, Ovechkin recorded a hat trick and an assist in a 5-1 victory over the Devils -- sure, that's nice. But look a little further back and you could see how he was slowly rounding into form.
On Feb. 3 (the Capitals' ninth game of the season), Ovechkin notched a power-play assist, a plus-1, two penalty minutes and five shots on goal -- nothing too special, but a solid fantasy line nonetheless. He carried over that strong performance into a five-game point-scoring streak in which he totaled three goals and four assists while averaging 4.6 shots on goal per game. This gave fantasy owners a glimpse of hope that Ovechkin might be returning to his dominant fantasy ways. Unfortunately, after the five-game streak, the Washington captain was then held without a point for three straight contests while posting a minus-3 rating.
But looking more closely at those three games, Ovechkin never seemed to lose his confidence or his edge -- he managed 16 shots on goal and seven hits. Then, of course, came his breakthrough hat-trick night against the Devils.
Since that point, Ovechkin has been, well, mostly Ovechkin-like. Sure, he went three games without a point from March 9 to 12, but he has looked more like the player he was three years ago than the player he was back in January, and his current hot streak has him back in the mix as one of the most dominating forwards in the game. He's more aggressive with his forecheck, adapting to opposing defenses quicker, shooting the puck as often as possible, and he's been a major force on the power play, leading the NHL with 10 man-advantage goals -- something fantasy owners surely love.
In the 15 games since Feb. 23, he has eight goals (five on the power play), eight assists (two PP) and has averaged four shots on goal per game. During his current five-game goal-scoring streak Ovechkin has nine points, has not posted a minus rating once and has averaged five shots on goal per game. Clearly, he's playing the best hockey of this season right now.
While the goal-scoring streak will eventually come to an end, don't expect Ovechkin's fantasy stardom to start falling anytime soon. He has 31 points in 32 games, he leads the NHL in power-play goals (10) and shots on goal (his 136 are tied with Evander Kane) and is currently ranked third among all players in Yahoo! fantasy leagues. Ovechkin may have had a cold start to the 2012-13 season, but he's now performing exactly how I expected.
Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs -- An increase of 26 spots in the rankings is quite large, but it's time to pay respect to Kadri. When we handed out our midseason fantasy hockey awards, Kadri was mentioned three times as the biggest surprise (or runner-up) to that point. It's time to not be surprised by what he's doing. Kadri (14 G, 21 A, plus-18, 19 PIMs, 7 PPP, 75 SOG) is currently the 13th ranked player in Yahoo! leagues and has been one of the most prolific scorers for the last month -- he has nine goals and 21 points in his last 15 games. Kadri is having the biggest breakout season of any player and should be relied on for heavy production, even if he does regress a bit.
Andrew Ladd, Jets -- Perhaps Ladd is more than just a good captain and a gritty power forward. With 14 goals, 18 assists, a plus-9, 11 PIMs and 82 shots on goal, Ladd is proving he's a fantasy dynamo capable of helping owners in just about every category (excluding PPP, where he has just four). Ladd has been extremely consistent all season long (six points in seven January games, 14 points in 13 February games, 12 points in 13 March games) and should be started with complete confidence.
Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche -- It may have taken him a few games to get going since his return from injury (he had one goal and three assists in his first eight games back), but clearly, Landeskog is starting to get comfortable. He has four goals and a helper in his last five contests and has looked good while skating on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Chuck Kobasew of late. Landeskog is averaging 2:39 of power-play ice time per game this season (up from 2:09 last season) and could continue to rise in the ranks going forward.
Joe Pavelski, Sharks -- If you take a look at Pavelski's season game log, you'll quickly notice two things: he was phenomenal in January (4 G, 8 A in his first seven games) and he has really struggled since then (4 G, 3 A since Feb. 2 -- a span of 24 games). At the latter rate, Pavelski's stats scream "drop me," but you can't just go dropping a guy you likely spent a fifth- or sixth-round pick on (he was drafted on average with the 62nd overall pick in Yahoo! leagues). You simply have to hold out hope that he turns things around. Pavelski is still averaging over 19 minutes of ice time per game with 3:33 of it on the power play, and after potting a goal and an assist on Monday, there's hope he snaps the skid soon.
David Backes, Blues -- One of the trendiest picks in fantasy hockey coming into the 2012-13 season (and deservedly so after consecutive outstanding all-around fantasy seasons), Backes has been one of the biggest disappointments for his owners this year. While his 16 assists and 36 PIMs have been fine, he has underachieved in every other fantasy category -- most of all with just three goals in 31 games. Currently in the middle of an 11-game goalless drought, you're best off starting someone else on your roster.
Damien Brunner, Red Wings -- Brunner's fantasy value reached a new low on March 25 as the talented 27-year-old was a healthy scratch against the Ducks. On Feb. 26, I talked about how consistent and dominant Brunner had been, but since then it's been a steady decline in production -- he hasn't scored a goal in the previous 13 games and has just five helpers during that time. Brunner is still skating on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula, so there's reason to believe he'll turn it around soon, but until then, stash him on your bench.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Mike Cammalleri, Flames -- With the trade deadline lurking, fantasy owners should definitely be keeping tabs on several players. One guy worth paying extra close attention to is Cammalleri, who, along with teammate Jarome Iginla, could end up being one of the bigger names moved before the clock strikes zero. Eligible at center and left wing, Cammalleri has nine goals and 22 points (with 12 of them coming on the power play) and could see a nice boost in plus/minus (currently minus-11) if dealt to a contending team.
TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARD RANKINGS
These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. 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 (same)
2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same)
3. Eric Staal, Hurricanes (same)
4. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (+1)
5. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (+14)
6. John Tavares, Islanders (+1)
7. Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+3)
8. James Neal, Penguins (-4)
9. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (same)
10. Rick Nash, Rangers (-4)
11. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (+2)
12. Corey Perry, Ducks (same)
13. Claude Giroux, Flyers (-2)
14. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (+3)
15. Anze Kopitar, Kings (-1)
16. Martin St. Louis, Lightning (-1)
17. Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (+3)
18. Zach Parise, Wild (same)
19. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (-3)
20. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+1)
21. Thomas Vanek, Sabres (+1)
22. Daniel Sedin, Canucks (+3)
23. Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+3)
24. Tyler Seguin, Bruins (-1)
25. Mike Ribeiro, Capitals (+6)
26. Nicklas Backstrom Capitals (+13)
27. PA Parenteau, Avalanche (+8)
28. Matt Duchene, Avalanche (-1)
29. Matt Moulson, Islanders (+3)
30. Joe Thornton, Sharks (-1)
31. Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (+2)
32. Taylor Hall, Oilers (-4)
33. Patrick Marleau, Sharks (-3)
34. Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (+26)
35. Patrik Elias, Devils (-1)
36. Logan Couture, Sharks (same)
37. Evander Kane, Jets (+3)
38. Andrew Ladd, Jets (+20)
39. Jakub Voracek, Flyers (-2)
40. Jamie Benn, Stars (+2)
41. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (same)
42. Bobby Ryan, Ducks (+1)
43. Mikko Koivu, Wild (+8)
44. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+3)
45. Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (+1)
46. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (+9)
47. Brad Marchand, Bruins (+2)
48. Jarome Iginla, Flames (same)
49. Joe Pavelski, Sharks (-11)
50. Chris Stewart, Blues (+9)
51. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (+3)
52. Sam Gagner, Oilers (+5)
53. Jason Pominville, Sabres (-1)
54. Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (+17)
55. David Backes, Blues (-10)
56. Jordan Eberle, Oilers (-6)
57. Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-13)
58. Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (+6)
59. Jeff Carter, Kings (-6)
60. Marian Gaborik, Rangers (-4)
61. David Clarkson, Devils (same)
62. Cody Hodgson, Sabres (+3)
63. Ray Whitney, Stars (+6)
64. Johan Franzen, Red Wings (+3)
65. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+16)
66. Michael Ryder, Canadiens (+11)
67. James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (-5)
68. Dustin Brown, Kings (-2)
69. Jaromir Jagr, Stars (+5)
70. Alexander Steen, Blues (+5)
71. Jiri Tlusty, Hurricanes (-1)
72. Milan Lucic, Bruins (-9)
73. Brad Richards, Rangers (-5)
74. Jordan Staal, Hurricanes (-1)
75. Teemu Selanne, Ducks (+1)
76. Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (NR)*
77. Justin Williams, Kings (+6)
78. Troy Brouwer, Capitals (+11)
79. Mike Richards, Kings (+3)
80. T.J. Oshie, Blues (+10)
81. David Perron, Blues (-3)
82. David Krejci, Bruins (+6)
83. Ryan Callahan, Rangers (-3)
84. Loui Eriksson, Stars (+1)
85. Derek Stepan, Rangers (+6)
86. Dany Heatley, Wild (same)
87. Blake Wheeler, Jets (+10)
88. Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche (+6)
89. Teddy Purcell, Lightning (-2)
90. Damien Brunner, Red Wings (-18)
91. Brayden Schenn, Flyers (-12)
92. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues (+4)
93. Devin Setoguchi, Wild (+5)
94. Daniel Alfredsson, Senators (NR)
95. Andy McDonald, Blues (NR)*
96. Tyler Ennis, Sabres (+3)
97. Carl Hagelin, Rangers (-3)
98. Kyle Turris, Senators (-6)
99. Cory Conacher, Lightning (-4)
100. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (NR)
Injured: Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Kesler, Danny Briere, Milan Michalek, Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, Brandon Prust, Steve Downie, Patric Hornqvist
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