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Fantasy top 100 forwards: Blackhawks' shift working

by Pete Jensen / NHL.com

Every Tuesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey insider Pete Jensen will provide you with in-depth forward analysis. From updated weekly top 100 rankings to trending players and more, Jensen will be your go-to guy for fantasy forward advice all season long.

UPDATED TOP 100 FORWARD RANKINGS

Patrick Kane is enjoying a career-best multipoint binge. Kris Versteeg is producing at a higher rate than ever before.

And fantasy owners can thank Brad Richards -- the Chicago Blackhawks' one-year, $2 million man -- for putting all the pieces together.

FANTASY HOCKEY ANALYSIS

The 2014-15 NHL season is in full swing, so NHL.com has you covered with weekly fantasy hockey positional rankings, real-time spin updates and waiver wire advice.

Richards was elevated to Chicago's second line Nov. 16 against the Dallas Stars, and each component of this new line has played a noticeably more cohesive game since the adjustment. Kane had five multipoint games in his first six playing with Richards, the first such stretch of his career, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He has five goals and seven assists, is plus-9 and has 22 shots on goal over his first seven games with Richards and Versteeg. Prior to that, Kane had two multipoint games in his first 17 games.

Over the seven games since getting a shot with Kane and Versteeg, Richards has three multipoint games of his own, including a two-goal performance in the team's "Circus Trip" finale against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. He has five-plus shots on goal in three of the seven games, and suddenly has 16 points and 64 SOG and is plus-7.

Versteeg, meanwhile, has three goals and eight assists over the seven games with his new linemates. The 28-year-old is on pace for 69 points, which would shatter his career-high of 54 set in 2011-12 with the Florida Panthers.

Earlier in the season, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville tried Kane with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, the combination that worked so well late in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then, when Kane remained in a funk, his coach gave him a whirl alongside Jonathan Toews.

Each of those combinations produced results at one time or another, but neither could hold a candle to the current Versteeg-Richards-Kane line in terms of consistency and overall impact, in fantasy and reality. Although Richards was bought out by the New York Rangers over the summer because of his salary-cap charge and ineffective play at times, it shouldn't be surprising to see him excel when used in proper situations.

Richards racked up points (51), power-play points (19) and SOG (259) in 2013-14. But after seeing a heavy but manageable 3:40 per game with the man advantage in the regular season, he was given 4:39 per game on the power play in the postseason. That altered his effectiveness in those high-pressure situations, resulting in a dip in production (five PPP in 25 playoff games) and a growing perception that he was "over the hill."

Brad Richards
STATS PRIOR TO DEC. 2 GAMES
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 16
SOG: 64 | +/-: 7
But considering Richards was joining a ready-made contender in the Blackhawks on low-risk terms, I listed him as an under-the-radar veteran with high fantasy upside entering the season. He has proven to be just that for owners who took him on average with the 160th pick in Yahoo drafts.

Because of recent production and dual eligibility in Yahoo leagues, Kane (C/RW, owned in all leagues) has moved up four spots in NHL.com's forward rankings this week to No. 11. Joining him on the rise are Versteeg (LW/RW, 39 percent owned), who jumped from No. 97 to 81, and Richards (C/LW, 55 percent owned), who went from "Just Missed" a few weeks ago to No. 83 this week.

It's no coincidence that Chicago is 6-1-0 since Kane, Versteeg and Richards joined forces and Toews teamed with Saad and Marian Hossa. No one ever questioned the speed, skill and experience across the Blackhawks lineup. But with Patrick Sharp sidelined by injury, it was all about finding the right blend of personnel. This line helped the team navigate through its marathon road trip and has provided it with much-needed confidence for the twists and turns ahead. Most importantly for fantasy owners who invested a high pick on Kane: This move got your season back on track.


Jiri Hudler
STATS PRIOR TO DEC. 2 GAMES
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 23
SOG: 39 | +/-: 7
TRENDING UP

Jiri Hudler, LW/RW, Calgary Flames

Dating back to his days with the Detroit Red Wings, Hudler has always been a relevant deep-league fantasy point producer. Each week this season, Hudler has either just made or just missed this list, but it's officially time to take him and the Flames seriously. He has three multipoint performances over his current four-game point streak; he has been shooting much more during the streak (3.5 SOG per game vs. 1.5 career average). He's nearly a point-per-game player (23 in 24 games), is plus-7 and has five power-play points (3:00 per game with the man advantage). His ownership (53 percent in Yahoo leagues) is way too low given the position flexibility and consistent scoring he provides, so make room for him in all league formats.

TRENDING DOWN

Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings

Kopitar was a menace with 26 points in 26 games during the Kings' Stanley Cup run last spring, but he has failed to carry over that momentum. He's currently tied for seventh on the Kings in scoring with 10 points in 21 games, far removed from his usual 60- or 70-point self. To make matters worse, his sidekick Marian Gaborik (upper body) is dealing with injury again. Kopitar had a five-game stretch in November with three multipoint performances, but has since gone five games without a point. Many fantasy owners are frustrated with Kopitar's lack of production, so the time is now to buy low on his services. He's maintained strong puck-possession numbers during these tough times, so the points should eventually come. It would be shocking if Kopitar put up less than 50 points this season.

Nino Niederreiter
STATS PRIOR TO DEC. 2 GAMES
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 14
SOG: 52 | +/-: -2
KEEP AN EYE ON

Nino Niederreiter, LW/RW, Minnesota Wild

The Wild have had their share of top-six issues between Zach Parise's time missed because of injury and the offensive inconsistencies of Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek. But just beyond the spotlight is Niederreiter, who is scoring goals (11) in a depth role at even-strength and also maximizing his power-play opportunities (1:55 per game). In addition, he's accumulating shots on goal (52) and hits (42) at a high rate through 23 games. He's eligible at each wing and owned in 24 percent of leagues, so either scoop him up or continue monitoring him depending on your league size.


TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

These rankings are based on expectations for the season ahead. Value is quantified by line combinations, overall upside and past performance in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal).

1 Sidney Crosby, C (SAME) 51 Mike Cammalleri, LW/C (+5)
2 Steven Stamkos, C/RW (SAME) 52 Eric Staal, C (+2)
3 Evgeni Malkin, C/RW (SAME) 53 Gabriel Landeskog, LW (+12)
4 Corey Perry, RW (SAME) 54 David Backes, C/RW (-8)
5 Claude Giroux, C/RW (SAME) 55 Milan Lucic, LW (+8)
6 Tyler Seguin, C/RW (SAME) 56 Gustav Nyquist, C/RW (+10)
7 John Tavares, C (SAME) 57 Derek Stepan, C (+12)
8 Jakub Voracek, RW (SAME) 58 Brandon Saad, LW/RW (-3)
9 Ryan Getzlaf, C (+1) 59 Blake Wheeler, RW (+1)
10 Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW (+1) 60 Valtteri Filppula, LW/C (-9)
11 Patrick Kane, C/RW (+4) 61 Jarome Iginla, RW (+1)
12 Phil Kessel, RW (-3) 62 Tyler Toffoli, RW (-12)
13 Jamie Benn, LW/C (+1) 63 Evander Kane, LW (+4)
14 Joe Pavelski, LW/C/RW (-2) 64 Nikita Kucherov, LW/RW (+12)
15 Patric Hornqvist, RW (-2) 65 Nick Foligno, LW (-6)
16 Rick Nash, LW/RW (+3) 66 Brayden Schenn, LW/C (-9)
17 Vladimir Tarasenko, RW (+3) 67 Brock Nelson, C (-3)
18 Zach Parise, LW (SAME) 68 Jiri Hudler, LW/RW (NEW)
19 Jonathan Toews, C (-3) 69 Tyler Bozak, C (+10)
20 Ryan Johansen, C/RW (-3) 70 Marian Gaborik, LW/RW - DTD
21 Chris Kunitz, LW (SAME) 71 Mike Ribeiro, C (-3)
22 Filip Forsberg, LW/C/RW (SAME) 72 Jason Pominville, RW (+3)
23 Pavel Datsyuk, LW/C (+7) 73 Carl Soderberg, LW/C (+5)
24 Nicklas Backstrom, C (+2) 74 Jordan Eberle, RW (-3)
25 Logan Couture, LW/C (+2) 75 Johan Franzen, LW/RW (+5)
26 Taylor Hall, LW/C (-1) 76 Jaromir Jagr, RW (-4)
27 Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW (-4) 77 Alexander Steen, LW/C (-4)
28 Henrik Zetterberg, LW/C (+8) 78 Ondrej Palat, LW (-1)
29 Daniel Sedin, LW (-1) 79 Johnny Gaudreau, LW (+2)
30 Henrik Sedin, C (-1) 80 Scott Hartnell, LW (-6)
31 Martin St. Louis, C/RW (+3) 81 Kris Versteeg, LW/RW (+16)
32 Matt Duchene, LW/C (+1) 82 Derick Brassard, C (+12)
33 Joe Thornton, C (-2) 83 Brad Richards, LW/C (NEW)
34 Anze Kopitar, C (-10) 84 Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C (-2)
35 Max Pacioretty, LW (+2) 85 Loui Eriksson, LW/RW (+4)
36 James Neal, LW/RW (-4) 86 Tomas Tatar, LW (-3)
37 Kyle Okposo, RW (+3) 87 Brad Marchand, LW (NR - IR)
38 Tyler Johnson, C/RW (+6) 88 Chris Kreider, LW (-1)
39 Wayne Simmonds, RW (-4) 89 Alex Killorn, LW/C (NEW)
40 Jason Spezza, C (-2) 90 Nick Bonino, C (+3)
41 Patrice Bergeron, C (-2) 91 Kyle Turris, C (-3)
42 Ryan Callahan, RW (+16) 92 Andrew Ladd, LW (-2)
43 Ryan Kesler, C/RW (-1) 93 Ryan O'Reilly, LW/C (+2)
44 Marian Hossa, RW (+3) 94 Ryan Strome, C/RW (-2)
45 Radim Vrbata, RW (SAME) 95 Sean Monahan, C (+1)
46 Jeff Carter, C/RW (-3) 96 Antoine Roussel, LW (-5)
47 Jaden Schwartz, LW (-6) 97 Steve Downie, LW/RW (-13)
48 James van Riemsdyk, LW (+1) 98 Shane Doan, LW/RW (-12)
49 Patrick Marleau, LW/C (-1) 99 Jeff Skinner, LW/RW (-14)
50 Jori Lehtera, C (+3) 100 Tommy Wingels, RW (NEW)

Just Missed: Tomas Plekanec, Nick Bjugstad, Nino Niederreiter, Justin Abdelkader, Antoine Vermette, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Nugent-HopkinsChris Higgins, Leo Komarov (DTD), Zemgus Girgensons

Dropped out: Plekanec, Bjugstad, Tanner Pearson

Key injuries: Patrick Sharp, David Krejci, Bobby Ryan, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Dubinsky, Valeri Nichushkin

*DTD: Day-to-day; NR - IR: Not ranked last week because of injury

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