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.
There have been so many fantasy steals among forwards to this point in the season: From the Chicago Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov riding the coattails of leading-scorer Patrick Kane, to standout rookie Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, to Evgeny Kuznetsov carrying over his breakout postseason (whether or not he's been on Alex Ovechkin's line). Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators is another one, already doubling his power-play point production from his rookie season while producing even-strength points at an even greater pace alongside Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan.
But the trend with those players is they are young and/or sticking with proven linemates. The same cannot be said about New Jersey Devils forward Mike Cammalleri, who has been hands-down the biggest steal among fantasy forwards as we approach the one-third mark of the 2015-16 season.
Drafted on average with the 166th pick in Yahoo leagues, let's face it: Cammalleri was expected to be the Devils' only shot at fantasy relevance outside of their efficient, workhorse goaltender Cory Schneider. Cammalleri started the season with Adam Henrique, an inconsistent young center who has always shot a high percentage (15.1 through 296 games) but has never topped 51 points, and Lee Stempniak, a journeyman wing who has played for eight teams in his NHL career, including five in the past three seasons.
But to think that each of those three players is currently on pace for 60-plus points is as big of a surprise as you'll find. No one in their right minds expected this type of offense and road success (8-4-0) from New Jersey, whose young defense and hodgepodge of serviceable forwards looked like a roster in shambles on paper. Give a ton credit to Cammalleri for getting his career back on track and maximizing each piece to the puzzle for what has been one of the most consistent top lines in the NHL so far.
Cammalleri continues to be the high-volume shooter we have always known him to be (73 shots on goal in 27 games), but he's also sixth in the League in points (30) and channeling his younger days as an 80-point man for the Los Angeles Kings (2006-07) and Calgary Flames (2008-09). It seems like ages ago that Cammalleri, who had two stints with the Flames, 170 games with the Montreal Canadiens spanning two-plus seasons in between and plenty of injuries along the way, was producing at an elite level.
He's officially back.
The 33-year-old wing is scoring goals at a high rate (11 in 27 games), but has been more of a distributor (19 assists, T-6th in NHL) early on. He has nine multipoint games, only trailing Kane (12), Jamie Benn (11) and Tyler Seguin (10), and has a plus-12 rating (T-8th in NHL).
Can the veteran keep this up? He has a strong shooting percentage (15.1) but not one that's abnormally high based on his career average (12.6) or based on other players around the League for that matter (outside top 50 in S% among forwards with 20-plus games played). As long as this unselfish play continues, he'll be keeping Henrique and Stempniak on their game while still being the Devils' goal-scoring anchor in the clutch (five of his 11 goals have come in the third period).
There's no question Cammalleri is a sell-high candidate for the right price because of the nature of breakout seasons for players on the outskirts of their prime. But as long as the Devils' trio stays healthy and together with Schneider allowing two goals or fewer more times than not, New Jersey should continue to hang around in a crowded Eastern Conference picture for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Personally, I would roll the dice and stick with Cammalleri the rest of the way.
Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins
Kunitz was reunited with longtime linemate Sidney Crosby on Dec. 1, and has responded with one goal and five assists (one power-play point) in three games since the change. His SOG volume in that span (one; 82-game pace: 132) needs to improve if he wants to remain fantasy-relevant, but he's a plus-4 in that span and has helped Crosby, who has a point in seven of his past eight games, keep the ball rolling after a slow start. Kunitz, 50 percent owned, is still floating around in plenty of shallow leagues and brings added value if you're in a hits format; he has 102 hits in 26 games, his seventh season of 100 or more. The 36-year-old has a long way to go, but quickly re-enters the top 100 forwards because of his track record with Crosby.
Two Metropolitan Division teams have sent a message to their slumping stars. Brandon Saad of the Columbus Blue Jackets was bumped down to the fourth line Saturday and was taken off the first power-play unit in favor of Alexander Wennberg (less than one percent owned in Yahoo). Saad has gone nine games without a goal and has not registered a point in his past four games, including back-to-back games without a SOG in that span. While I expect him to eventually regain his footing, this is a bump in the road for this young power forward. If you're in a rotisserie league and you're up against the games limit at either left wing or right wing, consider sitting Saad until he returns to a top-six role.
Jakub Voracek, meanwhile, still only has one goal on 77 SOG and is shooting far less than he was earlier in the season when he was playing on the Philadelphia Flyers' top line. Voracek is occupying a third-line role with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde, a far cry from his usual place alongside Claude Giroux. After one goal on 55 SOG in his first 18 games (3.1 per game), he has only churned out 12 SOG in his past eight games (1.5). The most concerning part about this trend is that the Flyers have played well during Voracek's stay in a lesser role, winning five of their past seven games. Hold onto him because he was drafted so high and won't bring in proper return right now in fantasy, but he's been the biggest fantasy disappointment not named Crosby. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol experimented with Voracek alongside usual linemates Giroux and Michael Raffl at practice Monday, so stay tuned to see if this is finally Voracek's one-way ticket back where he belongs.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Andre Burakovsky, LW, Washington Capitals
Burakovsky got a trial alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov, one of the League's top even-strength point producers, on the Capitals' second line Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. He also saw time on the first power-play unit with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson. He had one power-play assist and two SOG in the absence of Marcus Johansson (lower-body injury), who's questionable for Tuesday. It's never a bad idea to take a flier on a young player like Burakovsky (two percent owned) on an elite team while his value is low. If he sticks in either of the aforementioned spots, he should be primed for a fantasy value spike.
- Logan Couture, who hasn't played since Oct. 13 because of a fractured right fibula, could return to the San Jose Sharks lineup as early as Tuesday. Couture should be treated as the top-50 fantasy forward he has proven to be for most of his career, with two seasons of 65-plus points and four seasons of 230-plus SOG. Seize any opportunity to buy low on Couture or sell high on Joel Ward, who was seeing first power-play unit time in his absence. Ward's power-play numbers will drop, but he should still play with Couture and Patrick Marleau at even-strength and remain fantasy-relevant.
- With the St. Louis Blues offense reeling, Magnus Paajarvi was moved to their top line alongside Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny. Paajarvi started his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers in 2010-11 and had his best season as a rookie with 34 points and 180 SOG in 80 games. The 24-year-old's career has taken a downward turn ever since with 39 points in his next 162 games spanning five seasons. He has been a non-factor offensively in mostly a depth role for the Blues but should be monitored ahead of this surprising development.
- As my colleague David Satriano noted in his Fantasy All-Access column, Valeri Nichushkin has latched on with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the Dallas Stars' top line. He had a multipoint game (one goal, one assist) Thursday and has points in three of his past four games. His ownership (18 percent in Yahoo) is quickly growing, so add him if you have the roster space. The only downside is he hasn't scored a power-play point yet and won't see substantial time in those spots with Benn, Seguin, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza and breakout defenseman John Klingberg running the show.
- With Mike Fisher sidelined, Mike Ribeiro has picked up his game with points in three of his past six, including a multipoint outing Dec. 1. But with him being a pass-first player with fewer than one SOG per game on the season, the more intriguing beneficiary for the Nashville Predators is Calle Jarnkrok, the 24-year-old center who was been promoted to the first line and top power-play unit alongside James Neal and Filip Forsberg. His numbers (five goals, three assists, 40 SOG in 26 games) don't jump out at you, but his ice time Monday certainly should: he played 19:54 with 4:24 on the power play (Nashville went 2-for-7). He's only one percent owned in Yahoo and is worth adding to your watch list to see if he sticks and produces in the coming days.
TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS
These rankings are based on expectations for this season. Value is quantified by line combinations, power-play usage, past performance and overall upside in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal).
||Patrick Kane, C/RW, CHI (SAME)
||Anze Kopitar, C, LAK (+2)
||Tyler Seguin, C/RW, DAL (SAME)
||Mike Hoffman, C/LW, OTT (+17)
||Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW, WSH (SAME)
||Brandon Saad, LW/RW, CBJ (-16)
||Jamie Benn, LW, DAL (SAME)
||Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, OTT (+4)
||Max Pacioretty, LW, MTL (SAME)
||T.J. Oshie, C/RW, WSH (SAME)
||Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL (SAME)
||Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI (-12)
||Evgeni Malkin, C/RW, PIT (+1)
||Mats Zuccarello, LW/RW, NYR (-6)
||Joe Pavelski, C/LW/RW, SJS (-1)
||Gustav Nyquist, C/LW/RW, DET (+5)
||Claude Giroux, C/RW, PHI (+1)
||David Backes, C/RW, STL (SAME)
||Sidney Crosby, C, PIT (+1)
||Wayne Simmonds, LW/RW, PHI (+2)
||John Tavares, C, NYI (-2)
||Tyler Johnson, C, TBL (-7)
||Taylor Hall, C/LW, EDM (SAME)
||Kyle Palmieri, LW/RW, NJD (+2)
||Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN (+4)
||Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, DET (+2)
||Nicklas Backstrom, C, WSH (+1)
||Marian Hossa, RW, CHI (-7)
||Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS (+1)
||Nikita Kucherov, RW, TBL (-5)
||Steven Stamkos, C, TBL (-3)
||Milan Lucic, LW, LAK (SAME)
||Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL (-3)
||Sean Monahan, C, CGY (SAME)
||Zach Parise, LW, MIN (SAME)
||Brad Marchand, LW, BOS (+3)
||Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG (+1)
||Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (-13)
||Jeff Carter, C/RW, LAK (+5)
||Loui Eriksson, LW/RW, BOS (+3)
||Phil Kessel, RW, PIT (-2)
||Evander Kane, LW, BUF (+9)
||David Krejci, C, BOS (+1)
||Derick Brassard, C, NYR (+6)
||Corey Perry, RW, ANA (+5)
||Joe Thornton, C, SJS (-12)
||Ryan Johansen, C/RW, CBJ (-3)
||Eric Staal, C/LW, CAR (-6)
||Alexander Steen, C/LW, STL (-3)
||Bryan Little, C/RW, WPG (-5)
||Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW, DET (-2)
||Jack Eichel, C, BUF (-4)
||Rick Nash, LW/RW, NYR (+2)
||Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN (+2)
||Patrick Sharp, C/LW/RW, DAL (-2)
||Leon Draisaitl, C/RW, EDM (-4)
||Jonathan Toews, C, CHI (-2)
||Adam Henrique, C/LW, NJD (+6)
||Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW, WSH (SAME)
||Mark Stone, RW, OTT (-5)
||Artemi Panarin, LW, CHI (+3)
||Scott Hartnell, LW, CBJ (-5)
||Mike Cammalleri, C/LW, NJD (+15)
||Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA (+1)
||Johnny Gaudreau, LW, CGY (+3)
||Jarome Iginla, RW, COL (-6)
||Filip Forsberg, C/LW/RW, NSH (+4)
||Chris Kreider, LW, NYR (-3)
||Kyle Turris, C, OTT (-4)
||Paul Stastny, C, STL (+4)
||Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA (-4)
||Martin Hanzal, C, ARI (-3)
||Tomas Plekanec, C, MTL (-4)
||Patrick Marleau, C/LW, SJS (SAME)
||Jason Spezza, C, DAL (+1)
||Artem Anisimov, C/LW, CHI (SAME)
||Tyler Toffoli, C/LW/RW, LAK (-4)
||Lee Stempniak, LW/RW, NJD (+8)
||Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL (SAME)
||Mark Scheifele, C, WPG (+2)
||Dylan Larkin, C/LW, DET (+8)
||Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW, MTL (-1)
||Matt Duchene, C/LW, COL (+8)
||Boone Jenner, C/RW, CBJ (-8)
||Max Domi, C/LW, ARI (-1)
||Kevin Hayes, RW, NYR (-7)
||James Neal, LW/RW, NSH (-3)
||Justin Williams, RW, WSH (SAME)
||Andrew Ladd, LW, WPG (SAME)
||Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT (NEW)
||Jaromir Jagr, RW, FLA (-3)
||Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, FLA (+4)
||Pavel Datsyuk, C/LW, DET (-1)
||Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, DET (NEW)
||Henrik Sedin, C, VAN (SAME)
||Mikkel Boedker, LW, ARI (-3)
||Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW/RW, BUF (+3)
||Mikael Granlund, C, MIN (NEW)
||Logan Couture, C/LW, SJS (NR - INJ.)
||Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL (NEW)
Just missed: Frans Nielsen (C, NYI), Nick Foligno (C/LW, CBJ), Thomas Vanek (LW/RW, MIN), Jiri Hudler (C/LW/RW, CGY), Victor Rask (C, CAR), Mikko Koivu (C, MIN), Joel Ward (RW, SJS), Mathieu Perreault (C/LW, WPG), Marian Gaborik (RW, LAK), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C, EDM), Troy Brouwer (RW, STL), Oscar Lindberg (C, NYR), Nazem Kadri (C, TOR), Anthony Duclair (LW/RW, ARI), Leo Komarov (C/LW, TOR)
Dropped out: Vanek, Koivu, Cam Atkinson, Brock Nelson
Key injuries: Connor McDavid (C, EDM), Brendan Gallagher (RW, MTL), Ondrej Palat (LW, TBL), Jaden Schwartz (LW, STL), Derek Stepan (C, NYR), Nick Bjugstad (C, FLA), Tyler Ennis (C/LW/RW, BUF)