Every Tuesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey insider Pete Jensen provides in-depth forward analysis. From updated weekly top-100 rankings to trending players and more, Jensen is your go-to guy for fantasy forward advice all season long.
Year after year, linemates go a long way in determining fantasy value. So often it makes a night-and-day difference for certain players seeing elevated minutes and/or playing time alongside elite teammates.
Look at this season alone: Matt Duchene, coming off a down season, has gone from an early fantasy disappointment to one of the most productive players in the NHL over the past month and a half since being moved to the Colorado Avalanche's top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Once-slumping Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins is back with his old linemate Sidney Crosby and has quickly rejoined the top-100 fantasy forwards with points in five of his past six games since the move. Leon Draisaitl, who was off the fantasy map last season in a depth role for the Edmonton Oilers, has exploded for 26 points in 21 games alongside mostly Taylor Hall.
There are plenty of elite-level players in this League who raise the bar for their linemates and maintain production no matter who their linemates are. But once you venture beyond the household names that many targeted in the early rounds of drafts, it becomes even more impressive when middle-tier players maintain steady production as line changes come and go.
Here are five players who have proved to be self-sustaining fantasy assets this season despite line changes, injured linemates and/or competition for top-line duties on their teams.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW, Washington Capitals
Yahoo performance-based rank: 28
Kuznetsov has climbed the fantasy ranks and continues his breakout season despite being bumped off Alex Ovechkin's line earlier this season. His points have come in bunches (seven multipoint games), but he has been a stable even-strength point producer (21, T-12th in NHL) who has 28 points in 29 games on the season with a plus-15 rating. His shooting percentage (15.3 percent) has been much better than last season (8.7), when he was stuck in mostly a third- or fourth-line role, but it helps he has remained among the top six all season, whether with Ovi and T.J. Oshie on the first line, or more recently alongside Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams on the second unit. He has remained a top-30 fantasy forward despite these line changes and has been just as confident as a puck-mover alongside his new linemates as he was with Ovechkin.
Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW/RW, Buffalo Sabres
Yahoo performance-based rank: 35
Whether he's played alongside Evander Kane or current linemates Jamie McGinn and Sam Reinhart, O'Reilly has been a smashing success in his first season with the Sabres. He has posted between 55 and 64 points in each of his past three full seasons in Colorado despite frequent line changes, and has now taken the next step as a two-way leader for the young, developing Sabres. He's anchoring Buffalo's first power-play unit and is on an 82-game pace of 73 points and 208 SOG. He has at least a point in 19 of his 31 games this season, and is tri-eligible in Yahoo leagues.
Jason Spezza, C, Dallas Stars
Yahoo performance-based rank: 54
Based on Yahoo's Fantasy MVP tracker, which indicates how often players appear among the top-500 public-league teams, Spezza is fifth-most valuable among center-only players behind Tomas Plekanec, Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Sedin and David Krejci. Spezza has skated with almost every forward on the Dallas roster at one time or another, and is averaging more than three SOG per game (96 in 30 games) with a ton of power-play reps (3:22 per game; seven PPP) for one of the top man-advantage units in the NHL. He has finished among the top 80 overall players in Yahoo leagues in each of the past two seasons, and is well on his way to that standing again in 2015-16. Long story short, he doesn't need to be on a line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn to sustain fantasy production.
Scott Hartnell, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Yahoo performance-based rank: 78
Fantasy owners have relied upon Hartnell for 50-plus points, 100-plus penalty minutes and 200-plus SOG in recent years, and he got the job done again last season despite moving up and down the lineup for the up-and-down Blue Jackets. It's been the same story for Hartnell in 2015-16, as he's been productive again in the midst of a coaching change, healthy scratch and new line combinations seemingly every other game under John Tortorella. Whether on the first or third line, Hartnell finds the scoresheet and covers five of the six standard categories -- and also touches on hits for such formats (66 in 31 games). His SOG output is slightly down this season, but his consistency and category coverage has parked him among the top-100 fantasy players.
For the complete list, click HERE.