The Front Line: Malkin, Penguins forwards excelling

Tuesday, 12.03.2013 / 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.

And just like that, Evgeni Malkin is back. How did it happen so quickly? The Pittsburgh Penguins forward went from outside the top 50 fantasy players in Yahoo leagues to the No. 4 overall player in less than two weeks.

After earning the week's No. 1 star, Malkin made his fantasy owners completely forget about his sluggish start when he had just three goals and 10 points in 13 October games. Thanks to an incredible November that saw him post four goals and 25 points in 15 games, Malkin's 35 points on the season trail only his teammate, Sidney Crosby, and by just one.

But for fantasy owners, Malkin has been even more valuable. His 15 power-play points are tied for the NHL lead with Alex Ovechkin; he is tied for ninth in the NHL with 13 minor penalties (good for 26 penalty minutes); and he has a plus-1 rating and 80 shots on goal which have certainly helped. He's been a completely dominant fantasy player, and most of this incredible production has come in the month of November. He would likely be the No. 1 player if not for his slow start.

In fact, if he's been a disappointment in any category it's been in the goals department, where he has seven. But considering he posted 50 goals in 2011-12, we all know he's capable of putting the puck home more consistently and has the potential to go on a goal-scoring streak at any point.

It's also no surprise Malkin's surge has coincided with the arrival of his linemate, James Neal. Neal returned to the Penguins lineup on Nov. 9, and while it may have taken this dynamic duo a few games to reconnect, on Nov. 20 their production began to soar. In the seven games since that time, Malkin has four goals, 11 assists and a plus-7 rating. Neal has seven goals, six assists and a plus-4 rating.

This level of play is exactly why coming into the season I ranked Malkin sixth among all players and Neal 11th. They are certainly elite players and should be counted out on for high-end production. In my current forward ranks, Malkin is all the way up to No. 3 while Neal has moved up to No. 12.

Crosby and another of his Pittsburgh teammates, Chris Kunitz, remain right in the thick of my top-15 as well, with Crosby at No. 1 and Kunitz at No. 10. While only one other Penguins forward cracks my top 100 (Pascal Dupuis at No. 93), there's no denying these four forwards easily make up the most dynamic team quartet in fantasy hockey. And right now, it appears nothing is capable of slowing them down.

TRENDING UPWARD

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks -- Besides the fact he can be used in a defense slot in Yahoo leagues, Burns has been a point-per-game player for the Sharks (eight goals, six assists in 13 games). Since returning from injury, Burns has been reunited with his talented linemates, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, and has recorded four goals, two assists, a plus-3 rating, one power-play point and 17 shots on goal in five games. As long as he remains on this line, Burns is easily a top-50 forward.

Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers -- Despite only playing in 22 games so far this season due to injury and having just one goal, Downie is still ranked 53rd overall in Yahoo. That's largely in part because of his 63 penalty minutes, but Downie also has 13 assists and a plus-11 rating. You might think the bulk of that excellent rating came when Downie was with the overachieving Colorado Avalanche, but you'd be wrong. He's actually a plus-7 in 11 games with the Flyers and was a plus-4 in 11 games with Colorado. While Downie is skating on the third line in Philadelphia, he is contributing plenty and should be started with confidence.

Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils -- Jagr has two goals and two assists in the past four games, bringing his season stat line to a very balanced 11 goals and 11 helpers in 27 games. Jagr is also a plus-10 and has a surprising 16 penalty minutes. Despite the fact he has just four power-play points, the possibility of him getting traded to a contending team later in the season only increases his value going forward.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets -- Kane played 7:25 on Friday against the Flyers before leaving the game with a lower-body injury. He was then held out of the lineup Monday and is currently day-to-day. Excluding the injury, Kane had been struggling on the score sheet with just one goal and no assists in the past five games. That one goal is also his only marker in the past 14 contests. Yikes. Don't go dropping this talented multi-category-covering fantasy player, but you might want to bench him.

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers -- While the return of Rick Nash certainly helps the Rangers, it actually appears to be hurting Callahan's fantasy value. Despite scoring his seventh goal on Monday, since Nash's return on Nov. 19, Callahan has just three points in eight games while seeing a diminished offensive role. Callahan is now on the second power-play unit, and that could do more damage to his value as four of his seven goals have come on the man-advantage. Although Callahan is currently skating with Brad Richards and Derick Brassard, he hasn't looked close to as valuable as he was last season (16 goals, 31 points, 144 shots on goal in 45 games).

Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres -- Hodgson has one point in the past six games and with just 17 points in 28 games on the season, he's not turning into the fantasy stud I was hoping he would be. There's still plenty of time for that, as he's just 23, but with the current state of the Sabres you're best off spot starting Hodgson only when he's on home ice -- he has seven goals and 11 points in 15 home games vs. one goal and six points in 13 road contests.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Nail Yakupov and Jonathan Huberdeau -- Both Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers) and Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) are extremely talented offensive players, but for now they have officially been removed from my top-100 rankings. They certainly have the potential to return, but there's just too much uncertainty in owning either gifted forward right now. This doesn't mean you should forget about them altogether -- if they go on a hot streak, you should look to grab them off waivers if they were dumped there and hope they turn their seasons around.

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 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (+4)

4 Corey Perry, Ducks (same)

5 John Tavares, Islanders (-2)

6 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (same)

7 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (-2) DTD

8 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (+1)

9 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (-1)

10 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+3)

11 Zach Parise, Wild (NR)*

12 James Neal, Penguins (+7)

13 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (-1)

14 Logan Couture, Sharks (same)

15 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+2)

16 Anze Kopitar, Kings (same)

17 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+1)

18 Rick Nash, Rangers (+5)

19 David Backes, Blues (+1)

20 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (-5)

21 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (+4)

22 Bobby Ryan, Senators (same)

23 Alexander Steen, Blues (+5)

24 Jamie Benn, Stars (-3)

25 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (+2)

26 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (same)

27 Claude Giroux, Flyers (+4)

28 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (+2)

29 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (+3)

30 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (NR)*

31 Joe Thornton, Sharks (+3)

32 Martin St. Louis, Lightning (-3)

33 Jason Spezza, Senators (same)

34 Taylor Hall, Oilers (+1)

35 Ryan Kesler, Canucks (+3)

36 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (+4)

37 Thomas Vanek, Islanders (-1)

38 Milan Lucic, Bruins (+4)

39 Derek Stepan, Rangers (-2)

40 Mikko Koivu, Wild (-1)

41 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+2)

42 Brent Burns, Sharks (+6)

43 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (+2)

44 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (+5)

45 Evander Kane, Jets (-4) DTD

46 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (same)

47 Brad Richards, Rangers (+5)

48 Jason Pominville, Wild (-1)

49 David Perron, Oilers (+8)

50 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+8)

51 Matt Moulson, Sabres (-1)

52 Tomas Hertl, Sharks (+2)

53 Andrew Ladd, Jets (-2)

54 Justin Williams, Kings (+1)

55 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (+9)

56 David Krejci, Bruins (+4)

57 T.J. Oshie, Blues (+5)

58 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (-5)

59 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (-3)

60 Kyle Turris, Senators (-1)

61 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (same)

62 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (+7)

63 Loui Eriksson, Bruins (same)

64 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+1)

65 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (+6)

66 Jeff Carter, Kings (+4)

67 Bryan Little, Jets (+5)

68 Mike Richards, Kings (-2)

69 Kyle Okposo, Islanders (-2)

70 Steve Downie, Flyers (+15)

71 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (+13)

72 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (+1)

73 Chris Kreider, Rangers (+6)

74 Shane Doan, Coyotes (+4)

75 Ryan Callahan, Rangers (-7)

76 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (+5)

77 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (+5)

78 Paul Stastny, Avalanche (-2)

79 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (-2)

80 Vincent Lecavalier, Flyers (same) DTD

81 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-7)

82 Martin Hanzal, Coyotes (+10)

83 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (-8)

84 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (+10)

85 Chris Stewart, Blues (+3)

86 Brad Marchand, Bruins (+9)

87 Dustin Penner, Ducks (+12)

88 Mike Cammalleri, Flames (-4)

89 Dustin Brown, Kings (same)

90 Blake Wheeler, Jets (+3)

91 Clarke MacArthur, Senators (NR)

92 Frans Nielsen, Islanders (-6)

93 Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (-3)

94 Brayden Schenn, Flyers (+4)

95 Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets (NR)

96 Patrik Elias, Devils (+1)

97 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (NR)

98 Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-2)

99 Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks (NR)

100 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (same)

* Appeared on injured list last week

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Huberdeau

Injured: Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, Tyler Seguin, Marian Gaborik, Joffrey Lupul, Alexander Semin, Nathan Horton, Jakob Silfverberg, Mikael Granlund

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