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The Front Line: Malkin, Penguins forwards excelling

Tuesday, 12.03.2013 / 12:00 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

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The Front Line: Malkin, Penguins forwards excelling
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin went from outside the top 50 fantasy players in Yahoo leagues to the No. 4 overall player in less than two weeks -- and some teammates aren't doing too shabby either.

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.

UPDATED TOP 100 FORWARD RANKINGS


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.

Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 35
SOG: 80 | PIMS: 26 | +/-: 1
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
Steve Downie
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 14
SOG: 48 | PIMS: 63 | +/-: 10
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
Ryan Callahan
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 11
SOG: 55 | PIMS: 6 | +/-: -7
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) 51 Matt Moulson, Sabres (-1)
2 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (same) 52 Tomas Hertl, Sharks (+2)
3 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (+4) 53 Andrew Ladd, Jets (-2)
4 Corey Perry, Ducks (same) 54 Justin Williams, Kings (+1)
5 John Tavares, Islanders (-2) 55 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (+9)
6 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (same) 56 David Krejci, Bruins (+4)
7 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (-2) DTD 57 T.J. Oshie, Blues (+5)
8 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (+1) 58 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (-5)
9 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (-1) 59 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (-3)
10 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+3) 60 Kyle Turris, Senators (-1)
11 Zach Parise, Wild (same) 61 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (same)
12 James Neal, Penguins (+7) 62 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (+7)
13 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (-1) 63 Loui Eriksson, Bruins (same)
14 Logan Couture, Sharks (same) 64 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+1)
15 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+2) 65 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (+6)
16 Anze Kopitar, Kings (same) 66 Jeff Carter, Kings (+4)
17 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+1) 67 Bryan Little, Jets (+5)
18 Rick Nash, Rangers (+5) 68 Mike Richards, Kings (-2)
19 David Backes, Blues (+1) 69 Kyle Okposo, Islanders (-2)
20 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (-5) 70 Steve Downie, Flyers (+15)
21 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (+4) 71 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (+13)
22 Bobby Ryan, Senators (same) 72 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (+1)
23 Alexander Steen, Blues (+5) 73 Chris Kreider, Rangers (+6)
24 Jamie Benn, Stars (-3) 74 Shane Doan, Coyotes (+4)
25 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (+2) 75 Ryan Callahan, Rangers (-7)
26 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (same) 76 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (+5)
27 Claude Giroux, Flyers (+4) 77 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (+5)
28 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (+2) 78 Paul Stastny, Avalanche (-2)
29 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (+3) 79 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (-2)
30 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (NR)* 80 Vincent Lecavalier, Flyers (same) DTD
31 Joe Thornton, Sharks (+3) 81 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-7)
32 Martin St. Louis, Lightning (-3) 82 Martin Hanzal, Coyotes (+10)
33 Jason Spezza, Senators (-3) 83 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (-8)
34 Taylor Hall, Oilers (+1) 84 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (+10)
35 Ryan Kesler, Canucks (+3) 85 Chris Stewart, Blues (+3)
36 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (+4) 86 Brad Marchand, Bruins (+9)
37 Thomas Vanek, Islanders (-1) 87 Dustin Penner, Ducks (+12)
38 Milan Lucic, Bruins (+4) 88 Mike Cammalleri, Flames (-4)
39 Derek Stepan, Rangers (-2) 89 Dustin Brown, Kings (same)
40 Mikko Koivu, Wild (-1) 90 Blake Wheeler, Jets (+3)
41 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+2) 91 Clarke MacArthur, Senators (NR)
42 Brent Burns, Sharks (+6) 92 Frans Nielsen, Islanders (-6)
43 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (+2) 93 Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (-3)
44 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (+5) 94 Brayden Schenn, Flyers (+4)
45 Evander Kane, Jets (-4) DTD 95 Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets (NR)
46 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (same) 96 Patrik Elias, Devils (+1)
47 Brad Richards, Rangers (+5) 97 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (NR)
48 Jason Pominville, Wild (-1) 98 Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-2)
49 David Perron, Oilers (+8) 99 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (+1)
50 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+8) 100 Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks (NR)

* 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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