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The Front Line: Steen rises from injury-plagued past

Tuesday, 10.15.2013 / 12:00 PM
Matt Cubeta  - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

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 insider all season long.

Alexander Steen's best season was 2009-10, his second as a member of the Blues, when he had 24 goals (seven of them on the power play), 47 points and a plus-6 rating in 68 games.

At that time Steen was 25, and as a first-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002 (No. 24), Blues fans were hoping this would be the emergence of a true superstar. He followed that breakthrough season with career-bests of 51 points and 218 shots on goal in 72 games, leaving many to believe this was a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately injuries took a toll on Steen the next couple of seasons and derailed his high expectations.

Now, four seasons later, we can see that Steen, still just 29, is performing at a level we hadn't seen over his 10-season career. Perhaps he's right on schedule after all; he just had a few bumps in the road.

Steen has developed into one of the most underrated forwards in the NHL and has received praise from coaches, teammates and colleagues throughout the early parts of the 2013-14 season. While his hockey IQ isn't of the utmost importance to fantasy owners, his production certainly is.

Through four games Steen has four goals, four assists, a plus-5 rating, four penalty minutes, two power-play points and 13 shots on goal, leaving him as the 15th-most valuable fantasy player in Yahoo leagues. Only Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have more points than Steen's eight. Do I expect him to sustain these rates? Of course not. But I do believe he has the potential to be a top-40 overall fantasy player. He's skating on St. Louis' top line alongside a rejuvenated David Backes and another budding and progressing superstar in T.J. Oshie. The trio looks extremely comfortable and could evolve into one of the League's premier lines offensively and defensively.

However, the one major question will be whether Steen can avoid injury. If he remains healthy, look for him to live to up the expectations the Maple Leafs had when they drafted him in 2002, the Blues fans had when he broke out in 2009 and fantasy owners have after seeing his first four games this season.

TRENDING UPWARD

Patrick Marleau, Sharks -- A notorious fast starter (nine goals, 14 points in his first seven games last season), this season has been no exception for Marleau. He has one point in each of his five games and has yet to post a minus rating in any of those contests. The combination of Marleau with Logan Couture and Tyler Kennedy has been performing consistently and hopefully Marleau doesn't fade like he did last year (one goal, seven points in his final 16 games).

James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs -- For the last few seasons it was Joffrey Lupul playing alongside Phil Kessel and benefiting; this season it's been van Riemsdyk and it's going quite well. Van Riemsdyk has five goals and an assist in six games while averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time per game. He's shooting the puck at will (23 shots on goal), is averaging 3:43 of power-play ice time per game, has two power-play points and eight penalty minutes.

Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes -- Skinner's hot start (two goals, five assists, plus-4) is no flash in the pan. After a rough season in 2012-13, the 21-year-old is performing like he did as a rookie in 2010-11. Skinner might not be playing on an elite line, but it hasn't mattered and fantasy owners should be taking notice.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Claude Giroux, Flyers -- The Flyers are trying to do as much as they can to get their offense, and Giroux, going. The 93-point performer from two seasons ago has one assist in six games and has seen his linemates change nearly on a nightly basis. Regardless of who he's skating with, until he shows us he's back to his old self, you might be best benching Giroux.

Nail Yakupov, Oilers -- I had high hopes for Yakupov. In fact, I predicted he would score 38 goals this season, which he still might reach, but things have gotten off to a terrible start in 2013-14. Yakupov was held without a point in his first four games and has been a healthy scratch in two straight games. I usually prefer to give players around 10 games before making any rash fantasy decisions, so I wouldn't drop him just yet, but I'd certainly bench him for the time being.

Ray Whitney, Stars -- Whitney, on the cusp of falling out of the top 100, has one assist in four games. What's most alarming is that the 41-year-old is seeing just 1:37 of power-play ice time per game and usually that's Whitney's specialty. Instead, the Stars have been using forwards Jamie Benn, Alex Chiasson and newcomers Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley on their top power-play unit, pushing Whitney to the second group. He's still a premier playmaker, but you might want to consider other options for now.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Alex Killorn, Lightning -- Killorn, 24, showed promise last season with seven goals and 19 points in 38 games as a rookie. This season has gotten off to an even better start with two goals, four assists, a plus-2 rating, two power-play points, six penalty minutes and 12 shots on goal in five games. Killorn and Valtteri Filppula have found chemistry on the second line and he's also getting nearly two minutes of power-play ice time per game. All of this makes him a player worth keeping a close eye on.

TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

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 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (same)

3 Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same)

4 John Tavares, Islanders (+1)

5 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (-1)

6 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (same)

7 Corey Perry, Ducks (+1)

8 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (+1)

9 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (+1)

10 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+3)

11 Zach Parise, Wild (+3)

12 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (-1)

13 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (+5)

14 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (+6)

15 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (+2)

16 Anze Kopitar, Kings (same)

17 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (-2)

18 Martin St. Louis, Lightning (+1)

19 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+2)

20 Evander Kane, Jets (+2)

21 Claude Giroux, Flyers (-9)

22 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+1)

23 Marian Gaborik, Blue Jackets (+3)

24 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (+4)

25 Logan Couture, Sharks (+2)

26 Taylor Hall, Oilers (-2)

27 Jason Spezza, Senators (-2)

28 Tyler Seguin, Stars (+2)

29 Bobby Ryan, Senators (+3)

30 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (+3)

31 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (same)

32 Jamie Benn, Stars (-3)

33 David Backes, Blues (+3)

34 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (+3)

35 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (same)

36 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (-2)

37 Thomas Vanek, Sabres (+1)

38 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (+10)

39 Derek Stepan, Rangers (same)

40 Milan Lucic, Bruins (+7)

41 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (+8)

42 Matt Moulson, Islanders (-1)

43 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (-3)

44 Joe Thornton, Sharks (+7)

45 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (same)

46 Ryan Kesler, Canucks (-2)

47 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (-1)

48 Brad Marchand, Bruins (-6)

49 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (+14)

50 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (+23)

51 Jeff Carter, Kings (+14)

52 Andrew Ladd, Jets (+1)

53 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (+2)

54 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (+5)

55 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (-5)

56 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (same)

57 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (-5)

58 Brent Burns, Sharks (+19)

59 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (-1)

60 Mikko Koivu, Wild (same)

61 Loui Eriksson, Bruins (-4)

62 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (-8)

63 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (-2)

64 Nail Yakupov, Oilers (-21)

65 David Perron, Oilers (+1)

66 Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (-2)

67 Jason Pominville, Wild (-5)

68 Dustin Brown, Kings (+1)

69 Ryan Callahan, Rangers (+1)

70 Alexander Steen, Blues (+19)

71 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (+3)

72 Justin Williams, Kings (-1)

73 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (+3)

74 Chris Stewart, Blues (-6)

75 Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (-8)

76 Tomas Hertl, Sharks (+20) DTD

77 T.J. Oshie, Blues (+4)

78 Tomas Fleischmann, Panthers (+5)

79 Brad Richards, Rangers (+12)

80 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (same)

81 Mike Richards, Kings (-2)

82 David Krejci, Bruins (same)

83 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (-5)

84 Kyle Turris, Senators (+4)

85 Vincent Lecavalier, Flyers (-10) DTD

86 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (-2)

87 Blake Wheeler, Jets (-2)

88 Teddy Purcell, Lightning (NR)

89 Mikhail Grabovski, Capitals (-3)

90 Alex Galchenyuk, Canadiens (NR)

91 Derek Roy, Blues (NR)

92 Patrik Elias, Devils (same)

93 Jakob Silfverberg, Ducks (NR)

94 Brayden Schenn, Flyers (+5)

95 Damien Brunner, Devils (-1)

96 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (-3)

97 Ray Whitney, Stars (-10)

98 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (same)

99 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (-4)

100 Teemu Selanne, Ducks (same)

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Michael Ryder, Milan Michalek

Injured: Rick Nash, James Neal, Alexandre Burrows, Sam Gagner, Scott Hartnell, Nathan Horton, Mike Cammalleri, Carl Hagelin, Martin Havlat, Charlie Coyle, David Jones

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