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The Front Line: Sharp's scoring paces fantasy action

Tuesday, 01.07.2014 / 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.

Welcome back. With the official midpoint of the 2013-14 NHL season behind us, it's time to focus on getting your team to win the title (rotisserie leagues) or getting your team to the fantasy playoffs (head-to-head leagues). We've seen plenty of fantasy action since Dec. 17 (my last "Front Line" story) and it should make for a fantastic finish in the second half.

Here are some of the highlights over the past couple of weeks:

Pittsburgh Penguins wing James Neal is no longer suspended and he's climbing the ranks quickly thanks to a stretch of six goals and six assists in his past five games. I've got him ranked eighth among all forwards.

The surprise story of St. Louis Blues wing Alexander Steen has taken a path for the worse as he's been out of the lineup since Dec. 21. Keep him on your injured reserve and hopefully he'll be back soon.

Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets are healthy again and performing like many of us hoped they would this season. Look for both of them to continue to rise as long as they can avoid injury.

Nathan Horton scored in his Columbus Blue Jackets debut and he's a player worth adding if he's still available. While I wouldn't expect much right out of the gate, Horton has upside and could help a fantasy squad earn a championship.

Fantasy owners have been waiting all season for the Philadelphia Flyers forwards (specifically Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell) to turn their games around, and it looks like that time may be now.

Patric Hornqvist is the first Nashville Predators player to crack my top-100 forward ranks this season. Keep an eye on both him and Mike Fisher, who have been red-hot and are available in many leagues (15 percent and 18 percent respectively).

But of all the excitement over the past three weeks, nothing has been as exhilarating as watching the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp. The center- and left wing-eligible forward in Yahoo leagues has been arguably the best fantasy player in the game -- he's ranked second in Yahoo behind only Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. However, Sharp's season got off to a rocky start, which makes his current stat line seem even more impressive.

In Sharp's first nine games of the season, he recorded just one goal and three assists. Since then (Oct. 28), he has 24 goals, which is far more than any other player (see table below). He also has 42 total points in the 36 games since the slow start.

MOST GOALS SINCE OCT. 28

Patrick Sharp -- 24

Alex Ovechkin -- 21

Chris Kunitz -- 19

Max Pacioretty -- 17

Corey Perry -- 17

Tyler Seguin -- 17

Jeff Skinner -- 17

James Neal - 16

Patrick Kane - 16

While Chicago teammates Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews hog many NHL headlines and are mentioned in MVP discussions, it's Sharp that's been the team's fantasy MVP to this point. He contributes in all categories and outside of those first nine games, he's been as consistent as any player.

His plus-22 rating is tied for second best in the NHL; his 16 power-play points are tied for ninth most among forwards; and his 176 shots on goal trail only Ovechkin. He's even contributed 24 penalty minutes this season, which has helped owners.

All told, Sharp is currently on pace for 45 goals, 83 points and a plus-40 rating, all of which would easily be career bests. He might not remain as the No. 2 fantasy player in Yahoo leagues for the rest of the season, but Sharp's definitely capable of performing like an elite forward, which is why I've got him ranked at No. 10 for the time being.

TRENDING UPWARD

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes -- If not for injuries, there's a chance Skinner would be among the top-10 scoring leaders in the NHL. Through 32 games, Skinner has 20 goals and 33 points, with 12 of those points coming in the past seven games (eight goals, four assists). Earlier in the season, Skinner's plus/minus was hurting his value, but thanks to this hot streak, he's got his rating back to a minus-2 on the year. If he can keep it close to even for the rest of the way, there's a god chance Skinner can crack my top-25 forward rankings in the future.

Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers -- Coming into the season I ranked Simmonds 62nd among all players (goalies and defensemen included). Unfortunately, Simmonds had struggled for most of the season and I had him ranked 79th among forwards on Dec. 17. Now he's back where he belongs inside my top 50 thanks to his play of late (nine goals, four assists and a plus-5 in the past nine games).

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues -- Remember when I said Sharp is second in the NHL in plus/minus? Well, the player he trails is Schwartz, whose plus-23 leads the NHL. In 39 games, Schwartz has posted a minus rating just five times. The sophomore has developed into an extremely reliable fantasy forward after posting eight goals and 13 points in 12 December games and should be started in all formats.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Rick Nash, New York Rangers -- Nash has the potential to be a top-15 fantasy forward, but he's certainly not playing close to that. Prior to Monday night's two-goal performance, Nash had just one goal in his past 11 games. It might be a good idea to stash him on your bench until he snaps the slide, but don't go doing anything too bold, like dropping him. Monday could be the start of his turnaround.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Lupul showed off his talents with a beautiful goal on Saturday, but unfortunately that's been his only point in the past five games and he has just three points over the past nine. Lupul has 12 goals and 22 points in 34 games, but his minus-12 has really come out of nowhere to ruin his fantasy stat line.

Mike Ribeiro, Phoenix Coyotes --The former Capital has 29 points in 41 games, but only three of them over the past 10. Like always, Ribeiro's not contributing much in the shots department (68 in 41 games) and his minus-3 is hurting owners as well. Those in shallow leagues might want to consider dropping Ribeiro and those in deeper leagues should bench him.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks -- Thanks to Dustin Penner falling into Bruce Boudreau's dog house, a door has opened for Silfverberg to skate on Anaheim's top line with Ryan Getzalf and Corey Perry. He has three assists in the past three games for a total of 11 points in 20 games. Add in his solid plus-6 and 56 shots on goal and Silfverberg makes for an interesting fantasy player to own, especially if he sticks on the first unit.

TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. Because we recently released our midseason top 200 overall fantasy rankings, there is no plus or minus for each player -- this is a clean slate for the second half of the season. Rankings are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

1 Sidney Crosby, Penguins

2 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

3 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins

4 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks

5 Corey Perry, Ducks

6 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks

7 John Tavares, Islanders

8 James Neal, Penguins

9 Chris Kunitz, Penguins

10 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks

11 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

12 Daniel Sedin, Canucks

13 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

14 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings DTD

15 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

16 Patrick Marleau, Sharks

17 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs

18 Claude Giroux, Flyers

19 Henrik Sedin, Canucks

20 David Backes, Blues

21 Anze Kopitar, Kings

22 Joe Pavelski, Sharks

23 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks

24 Matt Duchene, Avalanche

25 Logan Couture, Sharks DTD

26 Eric Staal, Hurricanes DTD

27 Taylor Hall, Oilers

28 Tyler Seguin, Stars

29 Jamie Benn, Stars

30 Joe Thornton, Sharks

31 Rick Nash, Rangers

32 Martin St. Louis, Lightning

33 Ryan Kesler, Canucks

34 Bobby Ryan, Senators

35 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes

36 Thomas Vanek, Islanders

37 Jarome Iginla, Bruins

38 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens

39 Milan Lucic, Bruins

40 Evander Kane, Jets

41 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs

42 David Perron, Oilers

43 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

44 Jordan Eberle, Oilers

45 David Krejci, Bruins

46 Kyle Turris, Senators

47 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs

48 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers

49 Jeff Carter, Kings

50 T.J. Oshie, Blues

51 Brent Burns, Sharks

52 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

53 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes

54 Kyle Okposo, Islanders

55 Jason Pominville, Wild

56 Derek Stepan, Rangers

57 Justin Williams, Kings

58 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets

59 Bryan Little, Jets

60 Jakub Voracek, Flyers

61 Blake Wheeler, Jets

62 Andrew Ladd, Jets

63 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens

64 Brad Richards, Rangers

65 Clarke MacArthur, Senators

66 Chris Kreider, Rangers

67 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers

68 Matt Moulson, Sabres

69 Shane Doan, Coyotes

70 Chris Stewart, Blues

71 Jaromir Jagr, Devils

72 Jaden Schwartz, Blues

73 Scott Hartnell, Flyers

74 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche

75 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs

76 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes

77 Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets

78 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings

79 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks

80 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes

81 Brad Marchand, Bruins

82 Mike Richards, Kings

83 Martin Hanzal, Coyotes

84 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers

85 Vincent Lecavalier, Flyers

86 Dustin Brown, Kings

87 Nathan Horton, Blue Jackets

88 Valtteri Filppula, Lightning

89 Patrik Elias, Devils DTD

90 Steve Downie, Flyers

91 Ryan Callahan, Rangers

92 Nick Bonino, Ducks

93 Reilly Smith, Bruins

94 Paul Stastny, Avalanche

95 Brayden Schenn, Flyers

96 Derek Roy, Blues

97 Dustin Penner, Ducks

98 Jiri Hudler, Flames

99 Patric Hornqvist, Predators

100 Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks

Injured: Steven Stamkos, Zach Parise, Alexander Steen, Jason Spezza, Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu, Johan Franzen, Loui Eriksson, Tomas Hertl, Cody Hodgson, PA Parenteau, Pascal Dupuis, Alexandre Burrows

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