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The Front Line: A look at the top 10 fantasy players

Tuesday, 12.17.2013 / 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.

We see it every year. Early on in each season, there's plenty of shuffling among the top-10 fantasy rankings -- this goes for Yahoo league rankings and my rankings. I have to try and determine where I believe each player fits in with so few games accounted for. If a superstar gets off to a slow start (Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers), do I drop him significantly or leave him high in the ranks with expectations he will return to past seasons' form? If a player comes out of nowhere to perform at the level of a superstar (Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues), do I rank him among fantasy's elite?

These are the questions that are most difficult to answer during the first month of the season. However, we're nearly three months into the 2013-14 NHL season and trends have now turned into realities.

Giroux is no longer a roster detriment like he was in the first few weeks of the season, but he's still ranked 52nd in Yahoo leagues. That's certainly not what we expected and that's why he's ranked 26th in my latest set of top 100 forwards. Steen's hot streak has lasted all season and he's currently the 10th most valuable fantasy player in Yahoo leagues, leading him to earn a top-20 place in my ranks for how I expect him to perform from this point on.

We see cases like Giroux and Steen throughout the ranks, where players have earned their high ranking or have fallen significantly despite being an early draft pick back in September.

Throughout all this player shuffling, consistency has finally started to develop within my top-10 forward rankings.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has held down the No. 1 rank all season long, and he's also been the No. 1 fantasy player in Yahoo leagues for just about the entire season.

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin started the season as my No. 3 forward but for the most part, he's been No. 2. Only Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has prevented him from being No. 2 for the entire season, and Stamkos would likely have a case for that spot if not for his injury.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had a rough start to the season and hasn't been a consistent goal scorer, but thanks to a November that saw him post 25 points in 15 games, he's back up to the No. 3 spot. As long as his linemate, James Neal, can remain healthy (and free of suspensions), I would expect Malkin to remain this high going forward, assuming he too can stay healthy.

Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks has been a top-10 forward for most of the season, but he's moved all the way up to the No. 4 spot this week. He's in the middle of arguably the best streak of his career with four goals, 13 assists and a plus-9 rating during his current nine-game point-scoring streak.

The Anaheim Ducks' Corey Perry comes in at No. 5 and has proven once again that he's the ultimate six-tool fantasy player.

Perry's teammate, Ryan Getzlaf is No. 6 and as I pointed out last week, he's in the middle of a fantastic season.

New York Islanders captain John Tavares started the season as my No. 5 forward and right now he's ranked 18th in Yahoo leagues. However, with exception to his minus-6 rating, Tavares is putting up points at a higher clip than he ever has in his career (37 in 34 games).

Crosby's wingman, Chris Kunitz, was unbelievable last season and is backing that up with an equally impressive campaign this season. He doesn't carry the superstar name as some of these other top-10 players, but make no mistake, Kunitz provides near Perry-like value.

At No. 9 is Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who I ranked fourth overall coming into the season. Toews has been a bit streaky this year but he won't underwhelm in any category and when he goes on a hot streak, he's as productive as anyone.

Rounding out my latest top-10 ranks is Daniel Sedin. The Vancouver Canucks forward has hovered around the 10-spot for most of the season and like Toews, he won't hurt you in any category. Playing alongside his brother, Sedin has the potential to move up a few spots, but he'll likely never fall below 15th either, which makes him very reliable.

While players like Neal, the Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise, the Detroit Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel and a few others all have a shot to crack the top 10 later on, heading into the holiday break, this is who I believe will be the 10 best fantasy players in the game for the remainder of this season.

With the holidays and the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic nearing, NHL.com's weekly fantasy hockey content (Fantasy All-Access, The Front Line, On the 'D'-fence and In the Cage) will return after the New Year. However, with the midway point of the 2013-14 NHL season approaching (Jan. 2, 2014), we will be releasing our updated top-200 overall fantasy rankings on Monday, Dec. 23.

TRENDING UPWARD

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers -- Hall is going to hurt your plus/minus (minus-9). That is a fact and you have to accept it. However, his point production is outstanding and he has the potential to move up even further in my forward ranks. With five goals and four assists in his past seven games, Hall now has 28 points in 28 games with seven of them coming on the power play and he's also averaging 3.4 shots on goal per game.

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks -- Saad has been in and out of my top-100 rankings, but riding shotgun alongside Kane should see Saad's value soar the rest of the way. The sophomore forward has five goals and two assists in the past seven games and his plus-18 on the season is second among all forwards.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks -- While Daniel remains a top-10 forward, Henrik is falling out of the top 20. Sedin is usually good for a point per game, but right now he's not coming close to that despite his team's success. The Canucks captain has four points in the past eight games and just 13 shots on goal during that span.

Alexander Semin, Carolina Hurricanes -- Semin is healthy again, which is a good thing, but I think it's time to send him to waivers regardless of his health. Owned in 75 percent of Yahoo leagues, Semin has three goals and six assists in 22 games, including no points in the two games since returning from his injury. Semin has the skill to heat up in the second half of the season, and if that does happen, you can always go add him again.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Michael Raffl, Philadelphia Flyers -- Raffl is currently skating on Philadelphia's top line with Giroux and Jakub Voracek and so far, so good. The Austrian native forward has two goals and four assists in his past four games and while I don't expect him to keep it up (he might not even stick on this line), he could make for a nice pick-up for the immediate future and is worth monitoring.

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 (same) DTD

4 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (+2)

5 Corey Perry, Ducks (-1)

6 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (-1)

7 John Tavares, Islanders (same)

8 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (same)

9 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (+2)

10 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (same)

11 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+2)

12 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (same)

13 Zach Parise, Wild (-4).

14 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (+4)

15 James Neal, Penguins (same) SUSP.

16 Anze Kopitar, Kings (+1)

17 Logan Couture, Sharks (-3)

18 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (+3)

19 Alexander Steen, Blues (+3)

20 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (+3)

21 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (-5)

22 Rick Nash, Rangers (-2)

23 David Backes, Blues (-4) DTD

24 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (same)

25 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (+2)

26 Claude Giroux, Flyers (+4)

27 Taylor Hall, Oilers (+4)

28 Tyler Seguin, Stars (same)

29 Bobby Ryan, Senators (-4)

30 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (-1)

31 Ryan Kesler, Canucks (+1)

32 Jamie Benn, Stars (-6)

33 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (+4)

34 Martin St. Louis, Lightning (+1)

35 Joe Thornton, Sharks (-2)

36 Jason Spezza, Senators (-2)

37 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (-1)

38 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (+1)

39 David Perron, Oilers (+3)

40 Milan Lucic, Bruins (-2)

41 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (+2)

42 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (-2)

43 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (NR)*

44 Evander Kane, Jets (+4)

45 Mikko Koivu, Wild (-4)

46 Thomas Vanek, Islanders (-2)

47 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (+3)

48 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (+4)

49 David Krejci, Bruins (+5)

50 Derek Stepan, Rangers (-4)

51 Brad Richards, Rangers (-4)

52 Justin Williams, Kings (+1)

53 Jason Pominville, Wild (-2)

54 Brent Burns, Sharks (-9)

55 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (-6)

56 Kyle Turris, Senators (+4)

57 T.J. Oshie, Blues (-1)

58 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (-3) DTD

59 Jeff Carter, Kings (+9)

60 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (+4)

61 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (-4)

62 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (same)

63 Andrew Ladd, Jets (-2)

64 Mike Richards, Kings (+3)

65 Bryan Little, Jets (+1)

66 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (-3)

67 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (-2)

68 Dustin Penner, Ducks (+8)

69 Tomas Hertl, Sharks (-11)

70 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (same)

71 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (same)

72 Matt Moulson, Sabres (-13)

73 Kyle Okposo, Islanders (-1)

74 Chris Kreider, Rangers (-1)

75 Steve Downie, Flyers (-6)

76 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (same)

77 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (+5)

78 Blake Wheeler, Jets (+6)

79 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (-2)

80 Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets (+5)

81 Chris Stewart, Blues (+7)

82 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (-3)

83 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (+10)

84 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-3)

85 Clarke MacArthur, Senators (-2)

86 Martin Hanzal, Coyotes (-8)

87 Brad Marchand, Bruins (-1)

88 Dustin Brown, Kings (-1)

89 Patrik Elias, Devils (+3)

90 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (-1)

91 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (-1)

92 Mikhail Grabovski, Capitals (+2)

93 Derek Roy, Blues (NR)

94 Paul Stastny, Avalanche (-3)

95 Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (+1)

96 Mason Raymond, Maple Leafs (NR)

97 Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks (+1)

98 Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-3)

99 Alex Galchenyuk, Canadiens (+1)

100 Brayden Schenn, Flyers (-1)

* Appeared on injured list last week

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Brendan Gallagher

Injured: Steven Stamkos, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Gaborik, Shane Doan, Loui Eriksson, Ryan Callahan, Vincent Lecavalier, Alexandre Burrows, Nathan Horton, Jakob Silfverberg, Mikael Granlund

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