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Fantasy top 100 forwards: Lightning stacked up front

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

Coming into the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a complete team on paper -- from their forward group to their blue line to their goaltending.

FANTASY HOCKEY ANALYSIS

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

Tampa Bay has been ravaged by injuries early on, so the fact that the Lightning are still tied atop the Eastern Conference standings through 12 games speaks volumes about their depth. The injury bug started with prospect Jonathan Drouin in training camp, escalated with defenseman Victor Hedman the second week of the season, and continued with Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn and Brett Connolly in recent weeks.

But Tampa Bay's organizational blueprint, led by a near-immaculate prospect pool, has the Lightning bound for big things. Their deep crop of forwards has given them a major boost following all the injuries and the resulting line changes.

Everyone knows Tampa Bay is Steven Stamkos' team, but the Lightning would not be where they are without the ability to roll three lines. Seven of my top 100 fantasy forwards this week play for the Lightning, making them the most fantasy-relevant forward group in the NHL, even with Killorn and Connolly out.

With the exception of Stamkos, each of the other six forwards who cracked my rankings this week is owned in fewer than 70 percent of Yahoo leagues. Many have spent part of the season on the waiver wire, and some may still be there depending on your league format. Here are some reasons why these Lightning forwards are worth your fantasy investment via trade or pickup.

Dual eligibility: Valtteri Filppula (LW/C, 67 percent owned), Tyler Johnson (C/RW, 68 percent owned) and Nikita Kucherov (LW/RW, 38 percent) bring multiposition eligibility in Yahoo leagues. With so many loaded game nights over the course of the season, it's essential to have lineup flexibility in order to maximize your production in head-to-head leagues and avoid benching players who could have big games.

Moving and grooving: Last season, Ondrej Palat, Filppula and Johnson remained productive despite a long-term injury to Stamkos and the trade of Martin St. Louis. Lightning coach Jon Cooper has shuffled lines around Stamkos this season, and the various injuries across the lineup have forced more movement. First, it was Palat-Stamkos-Johnson. Then Drouin spent some time on Stamkos' left before being dropped to the third line. Now, it's the line of Johnson, Palat and Kucherov that is tearing it up, with Filppula becoming a fixture with Stamkos. These are talented forwards who have proved to be self-sufficient regardless of where they fall in the lineup. So if the Lightning forward you own in fantasy has one of his linemates go down with injury, don't sell your piece to the puzzle. Be patient.

Nikita Kucherov
STATS PRIOR TO NOV. 4 GAMES
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 11
SOG: 29 | +/-: 5
Finders, keepers: Of the seven Lightning forwards who made my rankings, five are 24 years old or younger. Tampa Bay has four players (Johnson, Stamkos, Kucherov, Filppula) with 10-plus points this season. Only the San Jose Sharks (five) have more such players right now. Johnson has at least a point in nine of 12 games and is tied for the NHL lead with 13 assists. Kucherov is tied for ninth in the League with four multipoint games. Drouin is still getting accustomed to the NHL but has 50-point potential as a rookie. Each of these seven forwards carries upside in the present and future, so jump all over them in keeper leagues. You never know who will stick with Stamkos, but many will get trials and will remain commodities even when they're not with the elite goal-scorer. Even Killorn (5 percent owned) sees top-nine time when healthy and is worth adding in deep leagues once he returns.


TRENDING UP

Pavel Datsyuk, LW/C, Detroit Red Wings

Pavel Datsyuk
STATS PRIOR TO NOV. 4 GAMES
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 10
SOG: 19 | +/-: 1
Datsyuk has been a beast since his return, with at least a point in each of his six games. He has five goals already, is rekindling the fire with Henrik Zetterberg and is transforming Justin Abdelkader into a fantasy commodity. Datsyuk remains an injury risk, but he's rewarding patient owners who drafted him on average in the fourth round (Yahoo average draft position: 44.5). Datsyuk and Zetterberg are among the top 20 fantasy forwards again. If these point-per-game veterans avoid injury, it'll stay that way all season.

TRENDING DOWN

Tomas Hertl, LW, San Jose Sharks

There's not much patience in San Jose these days, so Hertl's struggles bumped him to the fourth line Saturday. The move may have served as a wake-up call for the 20-year-old, who ended his lengthy goal-scoring drought in his first game on the fourth line, but there's still cause for concern that Hertl (three goals, one assist in 13 games) hasn't been able to rack up points alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. There's hope if he returns to the top six, but he's no longer worthy of a standard-league roster spot if he's buried in the lineup over the next few weeks.

Michael Raffl
STATS PRIOR TO NOV. 4 GAMES
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 7
SOG: 28 | +/-: 0
KEEP AN EYE ON

Michael Raffl, LW, Philadelphia Flyers

When Scott Hartnell was traded, the stage was set for Raffl to compete for a full-time role alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Raffl has answered the call so far with six goals and 28 SOG in 11 games. Voracek is tied for the League lead in assists with 13, and Giroux isn't far behind with 11. That duo could lift Raffl into more fantasy households in the coming days and weeks. Taking a chance on Raffl (7 percent owned) could provide your squad with the "splash effect" of Giroux and Voracek for much of the season.


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

Just Missed: Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri, Jeff Skinner, Troy Brouwer, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Hertl, Adam Henrique, Tyler Bozak, Frans Nielsen, Antoine Roussel

Dropped out: Skinner, Hertl, Henrique, Bozak, Nielsen, David Desharnais

Key injuries: Taylor Hall, Paul Stastny, Mike Cammalleri, Brandon Dubinsky, T.J. Oshie, Derek Stepan, Valeri Nichushkin

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