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.
Going into the season, five New York Rangers cracked my top 100 forward rankings: Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard and Brad Richards. This probably doesn't surprise anyone, as all five players carried decent value coming into the season.
However, the Rangers struggled out of the gate, losing seven of their first 10 games, and all five players either disappointed when on the ice or found themselves on the sidelines due to injury.
But in late October, the Rangers started to make some changes to their lineup, specifically to their top two forward lines. They also got a key player back: Carl Hagelin. Since Oct. 29 (when Hagelin returned to the lineup), the Rangers have gone 6-1-0 and have looked like a completely different team. And it's no surprise Hagelin has been at the center of this resurgence.
Last season, when the speedy forward recorded a point, the Rangers went 14-2-1, when he scored a goal they were 8-1-1 and when he tallied at least two points, they were 5-0-1. Hagelin is a difference maker for the Rangers, and he could be one on your fantasy roster as well.
Fast forward to today and the Rangers quietly have six forwards ranked inside my top 100 (this excludes Nash, who's still out with an injury, and Brassard, who has slumped with seven points in 17 games). As you can see in the table to the right, all of the currently ranked Rangers forwards have increased their value since the season began, and in most cases, it's all because of the recent play.
Derek Stepan -- 42 (preseason rank) -- 39 (current rank) - +3 (difference)
Ryan Callahan -- 68 -- 63 -- +5
Brad Richards -- 96 -- 53 -- +43
Carl Hagelin -- 135 -- 87 -- +48
Chris Kreider -- 150 -- 79 -- +71
Mats Zuccarello -- 221 -- 93 -- +128
Rick Nash -- 9 -- Injured -- NA
Let's take a closer look at the Rangers' top two lines, with their Yahoo ownership in parenthesis after each player's name:
Zuccarello was a healthy scratch on Oct. 24 against the Philadelphia Flyers, but on Oct. 29 Alain Vigneault decided to try something new out with him. Vigneault formulated this trio and they have been together ever since, combining for seven goals and 23 points in seven games. They have dominated play when they're on the ice and during those seven contests, not one of them has finished with a minus rating in any given game. Stepan and Zuccarello also see plenty of time on the team's top power-play unit, while Kreider is being used on the second group. In the past 14 days, Stepan is ranked third, Zuccarello is fifth and Kreider is 20th in Yahoo leagues. They are a unique line with Kreider providing speed, Stepan providing vision and Zuccarello providing playmaking.
While this combination of forwards hasn't been intact as long as the previous set, they have primarily played together since Callahan returned from a broken thumb on Nov. 4. During that time, they have combined for five goals and 14 points in four games. In Hagelin's seven games since returning from offseason shoulder surgery, he has four goals, four assists, a plus-7, eight penalty minutes and 14 shots on goal. He helps in all facets of fantasy hockey except for points on the power play, where he is hardly used. Richards has turned his game completely around after disappointing during the lockout-shortened season and is showing he still has plenty left to offer to his fantasy owners. Callahan has battled through injury problems but still has seven points in nine games, with three of his goals coming on the power play.
The bottom line is all six of New York's top forwards need to be owned in far more leagues. And when Nash returns to the lineup (which could be nearing), there's going to be a seventh player that will be productive on Broadway -- we'll see how Vigneault fits him into the lineup, but he's one of the League's most dynamic forwards and is definitely a must-start player.
Bobby Ryan, Senators -- Ryan is right on the cusp of being a top-20 forward thanks to his current six-game point-scoring streak in which he's totaled three goals and seven assists. Ryan is officially comfortable in Ottawa and is currently on pace for the best season of his career.
Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks -- On Monday, Sharp was named the third star for the week ending Nov. 10 and now he's seeing a big bump in the fantasy rankings. Sharp has three goals and eight assists over his past seven contests and 67 shots on goal on the season, which ranks 10th in the NHL. He's been skating on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and is finally producing like we expected.
Mike Richards, Kings -- After starting the season without a goal in his first 10 games, Richards has found the back of the net five times in the past seven. He now has 16 points in 17 games, and despite only having four penalty minutes Richards' power-play production (six points) has made up for that.
Steven Stamkos, Lightning -- Stamkos suffered a broken tibia on Monday that will require surgery and he will be out indefinitely. This is a devastating loss to his fantasy owners and there's really no way to replace someone of this caliber. Not only does this hurt Stamkos owners, but Martin St. Louis' fantasy value will also decrease without his linemate. If you have Stamkos on your team, a potential replacement could be Calgary's Mike Cammalleri. Obviously there's no one at Stamkos' level, but Cammalleri is a proven scorer that's off to a great start. Like Stamkos, Cammalleri has center eligibility and with seven goals in just 10 games, he could make up for some of those goals you're losing with Stamkos out. He's available in over 50 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Marian Gaborik, Blue Jackets -- Gaborik is one of the streakiest players in the League -- almost everyone knows that. Unfortunately, he's in a cold streak with one assist in the past six games. Gaborik falls in the ranks for the time being, but he'll get hot soon enough and find himself moving back up.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers -- While Nugent-Hopkins has 13 points in 17 games, just three of them have come in the past seven contests. To make matters worse, he has yet to record a penalty minute and has a minus-12 rating. He's certainly capable of turning things around, but right now you're best off benching him.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Dustin Penner, Ducks -- A few key forwards fell out of the top-100 rankings thanks to the return of several formerly injured players (James Neal, Taylor Hall, David Perron, Loui Eriksson, Teemu Selanne and Scott Hartnell), but Penner was right on the edge of making the list and is worth grabbing in deep leagues. He's playing on Anaheim's top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and the trio has been as productive as anyone lately. Owned in 29 percent of Yahoo leagues, Penner has one goal and seven assists to go along with a plus-10 rating over the past six games.
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 (+1)
3 Corey Perry, Ducks (+2)
4 John Tavares, Islanders (same)
5 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (+2)
6 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (+4)
7 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (+1)
8 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (-2)
9 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (same)
10 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (+4) DTD
11 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (same)
12 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (same)
13 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (same)
14 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+1)
15 Zach Parise, Wild (+1)
16 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (+3)
17 Anze Kopitar, Kings (+3)
18 Logan Couture, Sharks (-1)
19 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (+2)
20 Martin St. Louis, Lightning (-2)
21 Bobby Ryan, Senators (+8)
22 David Backes, Blues (same)
23 Jason Spezza, Senators (same)
24 James Neal, Penguins (NR)*
25 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (same)
26 Tyler Seguin, Stars (same)
27 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (-3)
28 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (same)
29 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (+9)
30 Evander Kane, Jets (-3)
31 Jamie Benn, Stars (+2)
32 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (+4)
33 Joe Thornton, Sharks (+1)
34 Taylor Hall, Oilers (NR)*
35 Alexander Steen, Blues (+4)
36 Claude Giroux, Flyers (-1)
37 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (-5)
38 Thomas Vanek, Islanders (-8) DTD
39 Derek Stepan, Rangers (+5)
40 Marian Gaborik, Blue Jackets (-9)
41 Ryan Kesler, Canucks (+1)
42 Matt Moulson, Sabres (-1)
43 Milan Lucic, Bruins (-6)
44 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (-4)
45 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+4)
46 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (-3)
47 Jason Pominville, Wild (+4)
48 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (same)
49 David Krejci, Bruins (same)
50 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (-5)
51 Andrew Ladd, Jets (+5)
52 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (-6)
53 Brad Richards, Rangers (+12)
54 Mikko Koivu, Wild (-1)
55 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (-5)
56 Justin Williams, Kings (-4)
57 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (same)
58 Tomas Hertl, Sharks (+1)
59 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (+1)
60 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (-6)
61 Kyle Turris, Senators (+10)
62 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (+2)
63 Ryan Callahan, Rangers (+13)
64 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (-6) DTD
65 Mike Richards, Kings (+9)
66 Kyle Okposo, Islanders (+9)
67 David Perron, Oilers (NR)*
68 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-5)
69 T.J. Oshie, Blues (-2)
70 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (+7)
71 Dustin Brown, Kings (-3)
72 Tomas Fleischmann, Panthers (-6)
73 Loui Eriksson, Bruins (NR)*
74 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (-19)
75 Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (-14)
76 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (-14)
77 Frans Nielsen, Islanders (+2)
78 Mike Cammalleri, Flames (+2)
79 Chris Kreider, Rangers (+8)
80 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (-12)
81 Vincent Lecavalier, Flyers (-3)
82 Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (-9)
83 Brad Marchand, Bruins (-2)
84 Chris Stewart, Blues (same)
85 Paul Stastny, Avalanche (+1)
86 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (-3)
87 Carl Hagelin, Rangers (+5)
88 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (-16)
89 Nail Yakupov, Oilers (-8)
90 Blake Wheeler, Jets (-1)
91 Alex Killorn, Lightning (-6)
92 Shane Doan, Coyotes (NR)
93 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (NR)
94 Mikhail Grabovski, Capitals (-4)
95 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (same)
96 Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (-3)
97 Bryan Little, Jets (+1)
98 Teemu Selanne, Ducks (NR)*
99 Sam Gagner, Oilers (-8)
100 Scott Hartnell, Flyers (NR)*
* Appeared on injured list last week
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