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The Front Line: Season-ending forward rankings

Tuesday, 04.23.2013 / 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.

We've made it. It's been a fast few months, but the end is finally here for fantasy hockey owners. In all likelihood, you're either already done with fantasy hockey, battling it out in the championship round of your head-to-head league or hanging on for dear life at the top of your rotisserie league. Either way, it's probably been a treacherous season, as all fantasy hockey seasons seem to be, and through good and bad decisions, tough ones and easy ones, you've made it to the end. While fantasy hockey is just about over, there's never a bad time to reflect on the year that was and start looking ahead to the future.

From Patrick Kane scoring the NHL season's first goal, to Sidney Crosby proving that he's still the most dominant player in the NHL when healthy, to P.K. Subban taking the fantasy world by storm as the new top defenseman, to Alex Ovechkin rediscovering his elite form, this season has been filled with storylines galore. NHL.com's fantasy hockey staff has discussed these storylines and highlights on a daily basis and hopefully we provided you with enough good advice to help you in your leagues.

Today, the advice ends. Instead, I will send you off with a look at my season-ending top-100 fantasy forward rankings and I'll discuss some player values for next season.

Many things will change between now and September (when most fantasy hockey drafts begin to take place), but as of April 23, 2013, this is where I believe the world of fantasy hockey forwards stands.

A LOOK AT THE TOP

Who gets the honor of holding down the No. 1 ranking throughout the offseason? How about who's second and third? Let's have a look ...

Ovechkin has held the top spot for the last two weeks, but assuming Crosby will be healthy at the start of the 2013-14 season, he has to be the No. 1 forward in all leagues. Of course there's some definite risk in drafting Crosby because of his injury history, but let's be honest, his most recent setback (broken jaw) was a fluke one. As long as he's not experiencing concussion problems, I wouldn't hesitate to select Crosby first overall come draft day next season. In 36 games, Crosby had 15 goals, 56 points (still the most in the NHL), a plus-26 (fourth in NHL), 16 penalty minutes, 17 power-play points and 124 shots on goal. That kind of point production (1.6 per game) is simply unheard of by anyone these days and it makes Crosby the most lethal fantasy player around.

As for Ovechkin, there's no arguing what he's done for owners this season, and that's why he's No. 2. After a slow start, Ovechkin returned to his old form and proved he still has plenty left to offer. He is currently the No. 1 fantasy player in Yahoo! leagues and leads the NHL with 30 goals, 16 power-play goals and 208 shots on goal, and is tied for the NHL-lead with 25 power-play points. It has been great to see Ovechkin transform his game under Adam Oates and it makes him a safe pick at No. 2 next year.

The No. 3 forward ranking spot was between Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin, but based on consistency, I have to give it to Stamkos. Malkin was the fantasy MVP last year and the No. 1 forward coming into this season, but injuries and a lack of goal scoring derailed his season -- he still averages over a point-per-game, so we're not worried going forward. However, Stamkos has proven once again that he is one of the best pure goal-scorers in the NHL, and being that goals are harder to come by than assists, Stamkos' fantasy value is always sky-high. His 28 goals trail only Ovechkin and while his minus-9 didn't help owners this year, Stamkos still contributed plenty in the other categories (26 A, 32 PIMs, 18 PPP, 147 SOG). But here's what I like best: his consistency. Over the last three NHL seasons, no one has more points than Stamkos' 242 (Martin St. Louis is next at 228) and no one has more goals than Stamkos' 133 (Corey Perry is next at 102). How can you argue that?

MOVIN' ON UP

This season brought about many great surprises at the forward position (Pascal Dupuis, Nazem Kadr and Jiri Tlusty among many others), but here's a look at three players that outperformed expectations this season that I believe can sustain -- or better -- their production next season.

Chris Kunitz, Penguins -- Over the course of his career, Kunitz has been a consistent secondary forward for two star-filled lines. Back in Anaheim he played the grind-it role on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. He was successful there and his name began to emerge in fantasy hockey. In Pittsburgh, things started quietly but eventually he found his way on the wing of whatever line Crosby was centering. He was successful then, too. But in 2012-13, Kunitz took his game to a new level. He delivered fantasy dominance in just about every category (21 G, 28 A, plus-29, 39 PIMs, 16 PPP, 100 SOG) and I believe playing alongside Crosby in 2013-14 will mean he can continue to be a force.

Evander Kane, Jets -- By this time next season there's a very good chance we'll be talking about Kane as a top-10 fantasy forward. The Jets power forward has quickly transformed himself into a Perry-like player thanks to his knack for scoring goals, taking tons of shots and recording plenty of penalty minutes. If you project out Kane's current stats over the course of an 82-game season, you'd be looking at this kind of value: 29 goals, 58 points, 332 shots on goal and 142 PIMs. That kind of stat line is fantasy gold and at just 21 years old, Kane should join the fantasy elite by next season.

Derek Stepan, Rangers -- Stepan came into the year ranked 216th in Yahoo! leagues and is now currently ranked 30th thanks to an outstanding third NHL season. After improving his point production from 45 to 51 in his second season, Stepan has been nearly a point-per-game player this year (40 in 45 games) while becoming the Rangers' No. 1 center -- he also has a plus-22 rating and 10 power-play points. Becoming the team's No. 1 center means great things for the 22-year-old as you can expect him to have Rick Nash on his wing. These two players developed great chemistry over the course of the season and I believe Stepan could post 70 points as early as next year for fantasy owners.

Honorable Mention: Max Pacioretty, Taylor Hall, Wayne Simmonds

BOUNCEBACK CANDIDATES

Pretty straight forward -- these guys all had rough seasons in 2012-13, but I believe they could put up big numbers in 2013-14:

Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche -- After winning the Calder Trophy last season, many fantasy folks expected big things out of Landeskog in 2012-13. Unfortunately, the Swedish forward didn't deliver as expected. At just 20 years old and already the face of the Avalanche franchise, there's plenty of reason to believe Landeskog will bounce back in a big way. While his point production was significantly down (16 in 33 games), his peripheral stats show he was still an effective player -- his shots on goal remained high (averaged 3.2 per game this season -- 3.3 last year) and he still recorded penalty minutes at a similar pace to last season (.67 per game this season -- .62 last year) -- meaning Landeskog could easily match or better what he did as a rookie in 2013-14.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers -- It's not a coincidence both Landeskog and Nugent-Hopkins struggled this season -- often times players have difficulties making adjustments in their sophomore season after having a good rookie campaign. But make no mistake, both players are going to be dominant fantasy players for many years. Nugent-Hopkins had an extremely rough January and February (1 G, 6 A in 18 games), but his play picked up in March (1 G, 10 A in 13 games) and has been solid enough in April (2 G, 4 A in nine games) to expect him to return to his rookie-season ways next season. RNH is surrounded by plenty of offensive talent in Edmonton and with his playmaking abilities, there's reason to believe he could record at least 60 points next year.

Milan Lucic, Bruins -- Drafted on average with the 49th overall pick coming into the season, Lucic is currently ranked 131st in Yahoo! leagues. He has certainly been the demise for many fantasy teams this season and I won't be shocked if there's a lot of bitter owners that will pass on him come draft day next season. Don't be one of them. Sure he was a healthy scratch for the Bruins on Saturday, but Lucic is a critical piece of Boston's success, and the same goes for fantasy owners. In the two seasons prior to this year, Lucic averaged 28 goals, 62 points, a plus-18 and 128 penalty minutes. It's not easy to find that kind of versatility and as long as he remains a top-six forward for the Bruins (which he should), I have every reason to believe Lucic will again be a top-50 fantasy player in 2013-14.

Honorable Mention: Marian Gaborik, Jarome Iginla, David Backes

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Whether it's a rookie (Jonathan Huberdeau) or just a young player that outperformed our greatest hopes (Nazem Kadri), fantasy owners always end up with at least one talented kid on their squad that provides some unexpected value. Here's a look at three players you should keep an eye that could fill this role next season:

Brandon Pirri, Blackhawks -- Pirri, the 59th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, currently leads the AHL with 75 points in 76 games with the Rockford IceHogs, while also chipping in a solid 72 penalty minutes. If he can find a spot on the Blackhawks' roster, he could turn into a valuable fantasy player.

Sven Baertschi, Flames -- Pegged by many as a sleeper coming into this season, Baertschi has just two goals and seven points in 18 games for Calgary. Not exactly what we were hoping for -- perhaps we jumped the gun just a bit. Expect much bigger things next year.

Mikael Granlund, Wild -- Just like Baertschi, Granlund didn't live up to the hype placed upon him by many (2 G, 6 A in 27 games). This kid's skills are for real and in a year or two, he will turn into an elite fantasy forward. Don't forget about him on draft day.

TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

These are the final fantasy forward rankings for the 2012-13 NHL season -- including players that are or were injured. They are based on how they performed during this season and expectations of how they will perform next season.

1. Sidney Crosby, Penguins

2. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

3. Steven Stamkos, Lightning

4. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins

5. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

6. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks

7. Eric Staal, Hurricanes

8. Rick Nash, Rangers

9. John Tavares, Islanders

10. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks

11. Claude Giroux, Flyers

12. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs

13. Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils

14. Corey Perry, Ducks

15. Chris Kunitz, Penguins

16. James Neal, Penguins

17. Anze Kopitar, Kings

18. Martin St. Louis, Lightning

19. Zach Parise, Wild

20. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings

21. Daniel Sedin, Canucks

22. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

23. Henrik Sedin, Canucks

24. Marian Hossa, Blackhawks

25. Jason Spezza, Senators

26. Alexander Semin, Hurricanes

27. Evander Kane, Jets

28. Taylor Hall, Oilers

29. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

30. Tyler Seguin, Bruins

31. Max Pacioretty, Canadiens

32. Matt Duchene, Avalanche

33. Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks

34. Marian Gaborik, Blue Jackets

35. Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs

36. Jamie Benn, Stars

37. Mike Ribeiro, Capitals

38. Joe Thornton, Sharks

39. Thomas Vanek, Sabres

40. Matt Moulson, Islanders

41. Ryan Kesler, Canucks

42. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks

43. Jarome Iginla, Penguins

44. Jakub Voracek, Flyers

45. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

46. Derek Stepan, Rangers

47. Brad Marchand, Bruins

48. Mikko Koivu, Wild

49. Logan Couture, Sharks

50. Patrick Marleau, Sharks

51. Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs

52. Andrew Ladd, Jets

53. PA Parenteau, Avalanche

54. Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning

55. Dustin Brown, Kings

56. Wayne Simmonds, Flyers

57. Jeff Carter, Kings

58. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens

59. Bobby Ryan, Ducks

60. Joe Pavelski, Sharks

61. Johan Franzen, Red Wings

62. David Backes, Blues

63. Pascal Dupuis, Penguins

64. Brad Richards, Rangers

65. Jason Pominville, Wild

66. Jordan Eberle, Oilers

67. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

68. Milan Lucic, Bruins

69. Scott Hartnell, Flyers

70. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes

71. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers

72. Mike Richards, Kings

73. Michael Ryder, Canadiens

74. Ray Whitney, Stars

75. Sam Gagner, Oilers

76. Chris Stewart, Blues

77. Loui Eriksson, Stars

78. Radim Vrbata, Coyotes

79. Patrik Elias, Devils

80. Justin Williams, Kings

81. Cody Hodgson, Sabres

82. T.J. Oshie, Blues

83. Ryan Callahan, Rangers

84. James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs

85. Jaromir Jagr, Bruins

86. David Krejci, Bruins

87. Blake Wheeler, Jets

88. Ryane Clowe, Rangers

89. Nail Yakupov, Oilers

90. Teemu Selanne, Ducks

91. Jiri Tlusty, Hurricanes

92. Troy Brouwer, Capitals

93. Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche

94. Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers

95. David Clarkson, Devils

96. Teddy Purcell, Lightning

97. David Perron, Blues

98. Derick Brassard, Rangers

99. Dany Heatley, Wild

100. Kyle Turris, Senators

Just Missed: Jordan Staal, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Galchenyuk, Tyler Ennis, Steve Ott, Alexander Steen, Brandon Saad, Brandon Dubinsky, Milan Michalek, Brenden Gallagher, Martin Havlat, Cory Conacher, Brent Burns, Damien Brunner, Brayden Schenn

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