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The Front Line: Final forward ranks and a look ahead

Tuesday, 04.08.2014 / 12:00 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

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The Front Line: Final forward ranks and a look ahead
The last edition of "The Front Line" for the 2013-14 season ranks the top NHL forwards heading into next season and offers advice on bounce-back candidates and young players worth monitoring.

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.

FINAL TOP 100 FORWARD RANKINGS


We are nearly at the finish line, and yet again it's been an incredible fantasy hockey season. Although NHL teams still are fighting to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs or battling for position, we fantasy owners are at the end of the road. Standard head-to-head leagues are now complete and though some rotisserie leagues might come down to the final game, most of those are likely locked up as well.

Hopefully our NHL.com fantasy hockey staff has helped you earn some bragging rights this season. Sadly, my advice to you comes to a close today. Now it's time to reflect and start looking ahead.

From Sidney Crosby staying healthy all season long to Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Evgeni Malkin missing lengthy periods of time, we've seen plenty of surprises from the forward position. Patrick Sharp currently is the No. 3 forward in Yahoo leagues; who saw that coming? Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin are all top 10 overall players in Yahoo leagues, while both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are outside the top 100. Jaromir Jagr found the fountain of youth and has been a top-40 forward pretty much all season long, while 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon has had one of the most prolific rookie seasons in recent memory.

It has been a season that overflowed with storylines, excitement and heroics, and while many things may change between now and the first fantasy hockey draft for the 2014-15 season, below is where I believe the forward position stands at this very moment.

A LOOK AT THE TOP

Who gets the honor of holding down the No. 1 ranking throughout the offseason? How about who's second and third? Let's have a look ...

With 37 goals and 69 assists in 78 games, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has proven once again why he is considered the No. 1 fantasy player in the game. (Photo: Getty Images)

To no surprise at all, Sidney Crosby comes in at No. 1. He remained in the top spot from the moment of my initial rankings at the start of the season and will be there going into next season. Crosby leads the NHL in assists and points, and is second in power-play points. But the fun doesn't stop there. Crosby has helped in all categories, with an outstanding plus-16 rating and 253 shots on goal, plus a nice bonus of 46 penalty minutes. He'll also likely be the only player to finish with more than 100 points this season.

Like Crosby, coming into the season Steven Stamkos was my No. 2-ranked forward and that's where he finishes up. Despite sustaining a broken leg back in November and missing 45 games, Stamkos has again proven to be one of the most reliable fantasy players when on the ice. In 33 games he has 24 goals and 37 points. His 1.12 points per game rank fourth in the NHL and his 3.4 shots on goal per game are tied for 16th best.

My No. 3 forward might surprise some of you, but make no mistake, Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry deserves this honor. Some folks might think Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin or even John Tavares deserves this rank, but Perry continues to be the best all-round fantasy player in the game and is actually the No. 2 overall player in Yahoo leagues behind only Crosby. His 42 goals are second in the NHL, his 80 points are tied for fourth, his 275 shots are fourth and his plus-31 ranks fifth among forwards. And just for fun, he's tied for second in the League with nine game-winning goals. Outside of his 50-goal, 98-point season that earned him the MVP award in 2010-11, Perry is having the best season of his nine-year career.

MOVIN' ON UP

This season brought about many great surprises at the forward position, but here's a look at three players that outperformed expectations this season that I believe can sustain -- or better -- their production next season.

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues -- Steen wasn't on the radar of many going into draft season back in September -- he was selected on average in the 15th round of drafts -- but if you grabbed him, it has paid off. Prior to sustaining a concussion on Dec. 21, Steen was one of the top fantasy players in the game. He missed just under a month and struggled initially upon his return, but his March production (five goals, nine assists in 15 games) has proven that when healthy, he remains valuable. His 16.6 shooting percentage might not be sustainable (his career mark is 10.0 percent), but Steen plays on St. Louis' top line, gets plenty of ice time (20:17 per game) and plenty of power play time (3:17 per game this season). Another 30-goal and 60-plus point season are certainly within reach next year.

Ryan Johansen
Ryan Johansen
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 57
SOG: 217 | +/-: 1
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets -- Johansen, the fourth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored 14 goals in his first 107 games. But this season, he really came alive and showed why the Blue Jackets spent such an early pick on him. Johansen has helped in all categories (31 goals, 26 assists, plus-1, 43 penalty minutes, 16 power-play points, 217 shots) and currently ranks as the 59th player in Yahoo leagues. He's 21 years old and will continue to get better and better in the NHL; he's a superstar in the making.

Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers -- After struggling out of the gate (three points in his first 11 games), Zuccarello really displayed great consistency after that, posting 54 points in his next 63 games. He doesn't shoot a ton (161 shots), but he makes up for that with a solid plus-11 rating and 17 power-play points. He's a restricted free agent after this season and the Rangers will likely pick up that option, which means he'll be motivated to play for a long-term deal in 2014-15.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Turris (Ottawa Senators), David Perron (Edmonton Oilers), Ondrej Palat (Tampa Bay Lightning)

BOUNCE-BACK CANDIDATES

Pretty straight forward -- these guys all had rough seasons in 2013-14, but I believe they could put up big numbers in 2014-15:

Rick Nash had an inconsistent and disappointing fantasy season in 2013-14, but a low shooting percentage of 10.2 could have had something to do with it. Matt Cubeta says he makes for a great bounce-back candidate for fantasy owners next season. (Photo: Getty Images)

Rick Nash, New York Rangers -- Coming into the season I ranked Nash as the 10th overall fantasy player. He hasn't come close to those lofty expectations. However, one thing remained intact for the Rangers power forward: He still scored goals. Nash, who has missed 17 games this season, has 25 goals in 62 games, which equates to 33 goals over a full 82-game season. The big problem is he has just 13 assists. Still only 29, expect a much better season in 2014-15, when he'll likely play on a talented and young line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider.

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes -- Staal was drafted on average with the 13th overall pick in Yahoo leagues. Unfortunately, he currently ranks as the 74th ranked player with 19 goals, 58 points and a minus-12 rating in 75 games. Like Nash, Staal is 29 years old and is certainly capable of bouncing back to put up his usual 70-80 points next season. After all, he did have 53 points in 48 games last season.

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings -- Things did not work out with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Marian Gaborik. However, a move to the Kings at the NHL Trade Deadline seemed to get the three-time 40-goal scorer back on track after he got comfortable in Los Angeles. Gaborik has three goals and eight assists in his past 13 games, and still just 32 years old, there's a good chance Gaborik bounces back next season. However, he's an unrestricted free agent after this season, so where he ends up will certainly play into how much upside he'll have moving forward.

Honorable Mention: Evander Kane (Winnipeg Jets), Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers), Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs)

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Whether it's a rookie (Nathan MacKinnon) or just a young player that outperformed our greatest hopes (Jaden Schwartz), fantasy owners always end up with at least one talented kid on their squad that provides some unexpected value. Here's a look at three players you should keep an eye that could fill this role next season:

Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning -- In my opinion, Drouin should be the top player selected in fantasy drafts next season that has never appeared in an NHL game. The No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft followed up his 105-point season in 2012-13 with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a 108-point season in 46 games this year with Halifax. Expect him to make the Lightning roster and be a Calder Trophy finalist next season.

Valeri Nichushkin
Valeri Nichushkin
Right Wing - DAL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 33
SOG: 120 | +/-: 22
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars -- According to Dobberhockey.com, 48.61 percent of Nichushkin's shifts this season have come on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The next most frequent line combination was just 7.37 percent, showing that clearly Benn and Seguin were his primary linemates. In 75 games, Nichushkin has 14 goals, 33 points, a plus-22 and 120 shots on goal. Look for him to improve in his second NHL season, and if he can stick with that line he could end up being a great draft-day selection.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals -- Kuznetsov has as much upside as anyone, and the fact he's played 13 games in the NHL this season and has been relatively productive (three goals and five assists) bodes well for next season. If he ends up on a line with fellow Russian Ovechkin, watch out.


TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

These are the final fantasy forward rankings for the 2013-14 NHL season -- including players that are or were injured. They are based on how they performed during this season and expectations of how they will perform next season.

1 Sidney Crosby, Penguins 51 Scott Hartnell, Flyers
2 Steven Stamkos, Lighting 52 T.J. Oshie, Blues
3 Corey Perry, Ducks 53 Marian Gaborik, Kings
4 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals 54 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes
5 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins 55 Jakub Voracek, Flyers
6 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks 56 Ryan Kesler, Canucks
7 John Tavares, Islanders 57 Derek Stepan, Rangers
8 Claude Giroux, Flyers 58 Johan Franzen, Red Wings
9 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks 59 Kyle Okposo, Islanders
10 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs 60 Kyle Turris, Senators
11 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks 61 Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets
12 Chris Kunitz, Penguins 62 Bryan Little, Jets
13 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks 63 Mikko Koivu, Wild
14 Jamie Benn, Stars 64 Andrew Ladd, Jets
15 Tyler Seguin, Stars 65 David Perron, Oilers
16 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings 66 Matt Moulson, Wild
17 Joe Pavelski, Sharks 67 Jordan Eberle, Oilers
18 James Neal, Penguins 68 Gustav Nyquist, Red Wings
19 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings 69 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes
20 Logan Couture, Sharks 70 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets
21 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals 71 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes
22 Anze Kopitar, Kings 72 Jason Pominville, Wild
23 Matt Duchene, Avalanche 73 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers
24 Zach Parise, Wild 74 Jaden Schwartz, Blues
25 David Backes, Blues 75 Brent Burns, Sharks
26 Martin St. Louis, Rangers 76 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs
27 Patrick Marleau, Sharks 77 Brad Richards, Rangers
28 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens 78 Paul Stastny, Avalanche
29 Taylor Hall, Oilers 79 Clarke MacArthur, Senators
30 Rick Nash, Rangers 80 Chris Kreider, Rangers
31 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins 81 Jaromir Jagr, Devils
32 Daniel Sedin, Canucks 82 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs
33 Eric Staal, Hurricanes 83 Valtteri Filppula, Lightning
34 Jarome Iginla, Bruins 84 Brad Marchand, Bruins
35 Thomas Vanek, Canadiens 85 Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche
36 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers 86 Tomas Hertl, Sharks
37 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks 87 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens
38 Alexander Steen, Blues 88 Ryan Callahan, Lightning
39 David Krejci, Bruins 89 Loui Eriksson, Bruins
40 Jason Spezza, Senators 90 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers
41 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche 91 Patrik Elias, Devils
42 Blake Wheeler, Jets 92 Evgeny Kuznetsov, Capitals
43 Milan Lucic, Bruins 93 Dustin Brown, Kings
44 Joe Thornton, Sharks 94 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks
45 Henrik Sedin, Canucks 95 Ondrej Palat, Lightning
46 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche 96 Justin Williams, Kings
47 Bobby Ryan, Senators 97 Jussi Jokinen, Penguins
48 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs 98 Mike Cammalleri, Flames
49 Jeff Carter, Kings 99 Tyler Bozak, Maple Leafs
50 Evander Kane, Jets 100 Ales Hemsky, Senators

Just Missed: Nick Bonino, Mike Ribeiro, Reilly Smith, Chris Stewart, Mike Richards, Martin Hanzal, Pascal Dupuis, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patric Hornqvist, Brayden Schenn, Daniel Alfredsson, Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Derick Brassard, Shane Doan

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