The Front Line: Who's the new No. 1 forward?

Tuesday, 04.02.2013 / 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.

Those of you that took the slight risk on draft day and selected Sidney Crosby with the No. 1 pick were rewarded handsomely for most of the season. Of course, that is, until he suffered an extremely unlucky bounce on Saturday against the Islanders that could keep him out for the rest of the regular season.

Devastating news for Crosby fantasy owners.

No one is capable of producing the all-round production Crosby gave his fantasy owners. His 56 points were 10 more than Steven Stamkos (who is second on the list); his 41 assists were six more than Martin St. Louis' 35; his plus-26 was second only to Chris Kunitz's plus-27; his 17 power-play points were tied for fifth-best; his 124 shots on goal were fifth-most in the NHL. There was simply no flaw to his game.

The big question is now this: Who takes the new No. 1 spot among our forward rankings? Here are five potential candidates:

Steven Stamkos, Lightning -- It's hard to find a more consistent performer in the NHL over the last four years. Outside of his minus-7 rating, Stamkos has been dynamite for his owners (25 G, 21 A, 24 PIMs, 15 PPP, 118 SOG).

Eric Staal, Hurricanes -- He was third on our rankings list last week, and with dominant production (16 G, 22 A, plus-14, 42 PIMs, 110 SOG) in every category except power-play points (five), you can see why Staal would be in the conversation for the No. 1 forward.

Evgeni Malkin, Penguins -- Malkin was the No. 1 forward in fantasy hockey last season and came into the 2012-13 season as NHL.com's No. 1 overall player, but due to injuries and a lack of goal-scoring (six), Malkin has been a slight disappointment for his owners. However, 26 points (14 on the power play) in 23 games is still impressive.

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals -- Last week I discussed Ovechkin returning to his elite form, and an argument can definitely be made for him to be the top forward for the rest of this season. He's currently on an eight-game point-scoring streak and is currently the fourth-ranked player in Yahoo! leagues.

Patrick Kane, Blackhawks -- There might not be a better story in fantasy hockey than the re-emergence of Kane as a dominant force. After posting a career-low 66 points last season, Kane has bounced back in a huge way with an outstanding stat line: 19 G, 24 A, plus-13, 4 PIMs, 14 PPP, 102 SOG.

So, who gets the honor?

Stamkos seems like the most likely choice -- I did have him ranked second to Crosby every week since Feb. 12 -- but with Crosby out, I'm selecting his teammate, Malkin, as the new No. 1 forward. Malkin's role will only become more vital to the Penguins, and like last season when Crosby was out, you can expect Malkin to deliver in big ways.

In the two games since returning from his injury, Malkin has posted a goal and an assist and is now the center of the team's top line with James Neal and Jarome Iginla on his wings. Malkin averages 4:43 of power-play ice time (19:23 of total ice time per game) and the Penguins are still loaded with plenty of talent. The only difference is that instead of Crosby being the go-to playmaker, it will now be Malkin, and I expect big things from him over the final four weeks of this season.

TRENDING UPWARD

Taylor Hall, Oilers -- With 36 points in 32 games, it's been an extremely solid season for Hall. However, his March production has been elite -- he has nine goals, 10 assists, a plus-5, four power-play points and 36 shots on goal in 15 games. The days when Hall was just tacking on assists are long gone, and he is starting to look like the 27-goal player (in 61 games) we saw last season prior to his injury.

Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs -- Lupul might always have the "injury-prone" label on him, but he's also starting to prove he is an extremely valuable fantasy player when he's healthy. Lupul has bounced around among Toronto's top two lines, but regardless, he has been sensational since returning from his injury -- he has recorded at least a goal in all six games and at least two points in all but one of those games (8 G, 5 A, plus-8, 8 PIMs, 3 PPP, 20 SOG). He moves up 24 spots in our rankings and will continue to rise at this rate.

Ray Whitney, Stars -- In the 11 games since returning from injury, Whitney has looked like his old self, posting five goals and five assists with five of those points coming on the man advantage. Whitney is somehow available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but should be added in all formats for the final month, especially if you need some help in the power play department.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Jordan Staal, Hurricanes -- While Staal's point production hasn't been too bad (9 G, 13 A in 34 games), the fact that he constantly finds himself on the ice against the opposing teams' top lines has done a number on his plus/minus -- he's a minus-11 on the season. Add in the fact he's only seeing 2:35 of power-play ice time and you're staring at a decent depth center, but not a must-start fantasy player. He has four points in his past 10 games and has been a minus-8 during that time without recording a plus rating once.

Brad Richards, Rangers -- Richards' ownership has dipped down to 79 percent, and at this point, if you still have him on your roster, it's a mistake. Over his past 11 games, Richards has four points and has been a minus-4 with two penalty minutes while averaging just 2.4 shots on goal per game. Richards still has the potential to turn things around, but this appears to be a lost season for the veteran center.

Brayden Schenn, Flyers -- Schenn's March production has been a far cry from what he did in February. After posting six goals and 10 assists in 15 February contests, he has just three assists in 13 March games -- and that includes him notching points in his two most recent games. Schenn has proven to be extremely inconsistent, and that's a recipe for disaster for fantasy owners -- especially those of you in head-to-head leagues about to embark on a playoff run.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Tyler Toffoli, Kings -- The Kings' second-round selection from the 2010 NHL Draft has been impressive in the early goings of his NHL career with two goals, three helpers, a plus-5 and two power-play points in seven games. The key to Toffoli's production will be what line he skates on. On Sunday he was on a line with Brad Richardson and Kyle Clifford and received just 9:06 of ice time -- not exactly what we'd want. Prior to that he had been playing with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and if he can get back on that unit, good things could happen. Toffoli's owned in just two percent of Yahoo! leagues and could be a decent play down the stretch.

TOP 100 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. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (NR)*

2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same)

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (+2)

4. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (same)

5. Eric Staal, Hurricanes (-2)

6. John Tavares, Islanders (same)

7. James Neal, Penguins (+1)

8. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (+1)

9. Chris Kunitz, Penguins (-2)

10. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (+1)

11. Claude Giroux, Flyers (+2)

12. Rick Nash, Rangers (-2)

13. Corey Perry, Ducks (-1)

14. Zach Parise, Wild (+4)

15. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (-1)

16. Anze Kopitar, Kings (-1)

17. Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (same)

18. Martin St. Louis, Lightning (-2)

19. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+1)

20. Daniel Sedin, Canucks (+2)

21. Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+2)

22. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (-3)

23. Thomas Vanek, Sabres (-2)

24. Tyler Seguin, Bruins (same)

25. Taylor Hall, Oilers (+7)

26. Mike Ribeiro, Capitals (-1)

27. PA Parenteau, Avalanche (same)

28. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (-2)

29. Joe Thornton, Sharks (+1)

30. Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (+4)

31. Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (same)

32. Matt Moulson, Islanders (-3)

33. Matt Duchene, Avalanche (-5)

34. Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (+24)

35. Evander Kane, Jets (+2)

36. Mikko Koivu, Wild (+7)

37. Jarome Iginla, Penguins (+11)

38. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+6)

39. Jakub Voracek, Flyers (same)

40. Jamie Benn, Stars (same)

41. Patrick Marleau, Sharks (-8)

42. Andrew Ladd, Jets (-4)

43. Logan Couture, Sharks (-7)

44. Patrik Elias, Devils (-9)

45. Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (same)

46. Brad Marchand, Bruins (+1)

47. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (-6)

48. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (-2)

49. Bobby Ryan, Ducks (-7)

50. Joe Pavelski, Sharks (-1)

51. Sam Gagner, Oilers (+1)

52. Ray Whitney, Stars (+11)

53. Chris Stewart, Blues (-3)

54. Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (same)

55. Jordan Eberle, Oilers (+1)

56. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (-5)

57. Michael Ryder, Canadiens (+9)

58. Jeff Carter, Kings (+1)

59. Jason Pominville, Sabres (-6)

60. Dustin Brown, Kings (+8)

61. Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-4)

62. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+3)

63. David Backes, Blues (-8)

64. Johan Franzen, Red Wings (same)

65. Jaromir Jagr, Stars (+4)

66. Marian Gaborik, Rangers (-6)

67. Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+9)

68. Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-6)

69. Milan Lucic, Bruins (+3)

70. Alexander Steen, Blues (same)

71. David Clarkson, Devils (-10)

72. Troy Brouwer, Capitals (+6)

73. Justin Williams, Kings (+4)

74. Jiri Tlusty, Hurricanes (-3)

75. James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (-8)

76. Derek Stepan, Rangers (+9)

77. David Krejci, Bruins (+5)

78. Mike Richards, Kings (+1)

79. Teemu Selanne, Ducks (-4)

80. David Perron, Blues (+1)

81. Jordan Staal, Hurricanes (-7)

82. Brad Richards, Rangers (-9)

83. T.J. Oshie, Blues (-3)

84. Loui Eriksson, Stars (same)

85. Ryan Callahan, Rangers (-2)

86. Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche (+2)

87. Devin Setoguchi, Wild (+6)

88. Blake Wheeler, Jets (-1)

89. Tyler Ennis, Sabres (+7)

90. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues (+2)

91. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (+9)

92. Teddy Purcell, Lightning (-3)

93. Dany Heatley, Wild (-7)

94. Daniel Alfredsson, Senators (same)

95. Kyle Turris, Senators (+3)

96. Damien Brunner, Red Wings (-6)

97. Shane Doan, Coyotes (NR)

98. Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (NR)

99. Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (NR)

100. Brayden Schenn, Flyers (-9)

* Was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Cory Conacher, Carl Hagelin, Andy McDonald

Injured: Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Kesler, Danny Briere, Paul Stastny, Milan Michalek, Brandon Dubinsky, Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, Steve Downie

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