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Fantasy top 100 forwards: Lines with staying power

by Pete Jensen

Every Tuesday during the season, 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.

Line combinations are the most important factor when determining the value of a fantasy forward at any point during a particular season. Many teams shuffle lines and power-play units all season long before finding the perfect recipe, while others find trios that click early and often.

There have been plenty of large-scale line developments for teams two or three games into their respective seasons. The St. Louis Blues (Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen with Paul Stastny), San Jose Sharks (Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski with Joonas Donskoi), Vancouver Canucks (Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin with Brandon Sutter) and Dallas Stars (Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin with Cody Eakin or Patrick Eaves) are some of the many teams pairing dynamic fantasy duos with sparsely-owned forwards -- sparking the latter's fantasy upside. Though these third wheels are rounding out explosive lines in the short term, their teams have second or third-line options (i.e. Jori Lehtera, Tomas Hertl, Radim Vrbata, Patrick Sharp) more than capable of playing elevated roles if and when slumps occur.

Fantasy owners should study up on each team's line situation in the season's infant stages, but always need to prioritize attainable first or second-line trios with staying power. Last season, underrated trios for the Tampa Bay Lightning (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov) and Calgary Flames (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler) came out of nowhere to sustain elite-level production. Here are three newly formed trios who are flying under the radar and could follow in their footsteps:

Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)

Not many teams could dismantle half of their top-six forward groups and remain afloat, but the Blackhawks have tapped into their prospect pool to build early chemistry on its top two lines minus Brandon Saad, Sharp and Brad Richards. Kane leads the League in points (six) and shots on goal (17), and he has quickly made a commodity out of Kontinental Hockey League product Panarin (39 percent owned), who has two goals, two assists a plus-2 and eight SOG in his first three NHL games. Anisimov, more readily available at nine percent owned, has a goal with five SOG and a plus-1. This has a chance to be one of the best second-line trios in the League, with each component seeing power-play time in the process.

Dylan LarkinHenrik ZetterbergJustin Abdelkader (Detroit Red Wings)

Dylan Larkin
Center - DET
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 6
This line's staying power hinges on the eventual return of Pavel Datsyuk, who usually plays with Zetterberg and Abdelkader, but the current unit appears to be the perfect blend of youth, physicality and veteran savvy. Abdelkader (61 percent owned) had a hat trick in the season opener and another goal Saturday, and has added a plus-4, five SOG and nine hits. As projected in my preseason hits guide, Abdelkader is a dynamite coverage guy in those formats and should be owned regardless of league size. Zetterberg was obtained on average with the 37th pick in Yahoo drafts, which is serious value if he plays 70-plus games at a point-per-game rate. Larkin, the touted Red Wings prospect who's 19 years old and 31 percent owned, is the most attainable of these three if you're in a shallow league. He has three points and 10 SOG in two games and is tied for the NHL lead with a plus-6. He's not seeing much power-play time yet (0:41 per game through two), but that could come with time and potential injuries around him in Detroit's lineup.

Max Domi - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker (Arizona Coyotes)

We've only seen flashes of potential at this point from the Coyotes' top unit, but it's important that Domi, 20, has not only made the roster but has taken on a top-line role. Domi, the highest-ranked Coyotes skater on's preseason list, has one goal, one assist, a plus-1 and four SOG in two games -- both wins against the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. Boedker, who was limited to 45 games (14 goals, 14 assists, 79 SOG) last season because of injuries, is dual eligible (LW/RW) and five percent owned despite playing alongside Domi at even strength. Many forget Boedker (five percent owned) had 19 goals, 51 points and 166 SOG in 2013-14, and has a much higher goal-scoring ceiling if Arizona is respectable and hangs around for most of the season. Vermette (nine percent) is a reliable faceoff player with Stanley Cup championship pedigree and is seeing first-unit power-play action in his return to the desert. This line could be one of the most underrated League-wide at this point and carries sneaky fantasy potential as the young season rolls on.

Other early combinations that could stick this season: Anders Lee, John Tavares and Ryan Strome (New York Islanders); Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg Jets); Brandon Pirri, Nick Bjugstad and Reilly Smith (Florida Panthers).


Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, Colorado Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon
Center - COL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 5
SOG: 7 | +/-: 2
The bounce-back we anticipated from MacKinnon is already in full effect, with the third-year forward scoring five points (T-2nd in NHL), with two on the power play, to go with seven SOG in two games. He's centering Gabriel Landeskog and opportunistic shooter Alex Tanguay, and has been a top-10 fantasy performer so far in standard Yahoo leagues. Those who reached for him in the third or fourth round are cautiously optimistic after the Avalanche scored 10 goals in two games against Stanley Cup Playoff contenders.


Pittsburgh Penguins forwards

Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 5 | +/-: -1
It's a little too early to be panicking about downward fantasy trends, but the Penguins' top-six group has been a disappointment thus far. Phil Kessel has Pittsburgh's lone goal through two games (road losses to the Stars and Coyotes), with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and David Perron all pointless entering their home opener Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins are 0-for-7 on the power play to start the season, which should change for the better soon, but their thin defense has been exposed thus far and has left the offense out of sync. Fantasy owners must be patient with this bunch, but may want to consider dropping Sergei Plotnikov if he gets bumped out of the top six in favor of Perron.


Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota Wild

Mikael Granlund
Center - MIN
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 3
SOG: 2 | +/-: 3
Granlund's sleeper potential has been well-documented in the past, but it finally may be coming into fruition. Zach Parise is off to an unconscious offensive start with four goals (T-NHL lead) on 10 SOG in two games, with two of those goals being assisted by his linemate Granlund (three assists, one PPP, plus-3, four hits, two SOG). He's 18 percent owned in Yahoo and playing on Minnesota's top power-play unit, which has seen a much-needed spark since he moved there. If Granlund sticks with Parise and Jason Pominville at even strength, the 23-year-old has legitimate 60-point potential. A few more games at this rate and he'll be owned in more than 40 percent of leagues, so scoop him up before it's too late.


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).

1 Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW, WSH 51 Jeff Carter, C/RW, LAK
2 John Tavares, C, NYI 52 Gustav Nyquist, C/LW/RW, DET
3 Sidney Crosby, C, PIT 53 Jason Spezza, C, DAL
4 Tyler Seguin, C/RW, DAL 54 Patric Hornqvist, RW, PIT
5 Patrick Kane, C/RW, CHI 55 Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, DET
6 Steven Stamkos, C, TBL 56 Ondrej Palat, LW, TBL
7 Jamie Benn, LW, DAL 57 Jack Eichel, C, BUF
8 Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL 58 Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL
9 Claude Giroux, C/RW, PHI 59 Chris Kreider, LW, NYR
10 Evgeni Malkin, C/RW, PIT 60 Eric Staal, C, CAR
11 Joe Pavelski, C/LW, SJS 61 Jarome Iginla, RW, COL
12 Max Pacioretty, LW, MTL 62 Mark Stone, RW, OTT
13 Phil Kessel, RW, PIT 63 Tomas Plekanec, C, MTL
14 Zach Parise, LW, MIN 64 Derek Stepan, C, NYR
15 Ryan Johansen, C/RW, CBJ 65 Jaromir Jagr, RW, FLA
16 Corey Perry, RW, ANA 66 Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, DET
17 Tyler Johnson, C, TBL 67 Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW, WSH
18 Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA 68 Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
19 Jonathan Toews, C, CHI 69 Ryan Kesler, C/RW, ANA
20 Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI 70 Matt Duchene, C/LW, COL
21 Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG 71 Scott Hartnell, LW, CBJ
22 Rick Nash, LW/RW, NYR 72 Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, OTT
23 Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW, DET 73 David Krejci, C, BOS
24 Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL 74 Milan Lucic, LW, LAK
25 Anze Kopitar, C, LAK 75 Patrick Marleau, C/LW, SJS
26 Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN 76 Brendan Gallagher, RW, MTL
27 Filip Forsberg, C/RW, NSH 77 Mark Scheifele, C, WPG
28 Alexander Steen, C/LW, STL 78 Jason Pominville, RW, MIN
29 Taylor Hall, C/LW, EDM 79 Ryan Strome, C, NYI
30 Logan Couture, C/LW, SJS 80 Dylan Larkin, C, DET
31 Nikita Kucherov, RW, TBL 81 Craig Smith, C/RW, NSH
32 Andrew Ladd, LW, WPG 82 Jonathan Drouin, LW, TBL
33 Connor McDavid, C, EDM 83 Bryan Little, C/RW, WPG
34 Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL 84 Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW/RW, BUF
35 David Backes, C/RW, STL 85 Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, FLA
36 Marian Hossa, RW, CHI 86 Ryan Callahan, RW, TBL
37 Johnny Gaudreau, LW, CGY 87 Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW, MTL
38 Patrick Sharp, C/LW, DAL 88 Derick Brassard, C, NYR
39 Wayne Simmonds, LW/RW, PHI 89 Marian Gaborik, RW, LAK
40 Brandon Saad, LW/RW, CBJ 90 James Neal, LW/RW, NSH
41 Sean Monahan, C, CGY 91 Tyler Toffoli, LW/RW, LAK
42 Nick Foligno, C/LW, CBJ 92 Mats Zuccarello, LW/RW, NYR
43 Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS 93 Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT
44 T.J. Oshie, C/RW, WSH 94 Artemi Panarin, LW, CHI
45 Evander Kane, LW, BUF 95 James van Riemsdyk, LW, TOR
46 Kyle Turris, C, OTT 96 Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA
47 Joe Thornton, C, SJS 97 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM
48 Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN 98 Thomas Vanek, LW/RW, MIN
49 Jiri Hudler, LW/RW, CGY 99 Mike Hoffman, C/LW, OTT
50 Henrik Sedin, C, VAN 100 Max Domi, C, ARI

Just Missed: Mike Ribeiro (C, NSH), Kevin Hayes (RW, NYR), David Pastrnak (LW/RW, BOS), Paul Stastny, (C, STL), Teuvo Teravainen (LW, CHI), Brayden Schenn (C/LW, PHI), Oscar Lindberg (C, NYR), Loui Eriksson (LW/RW, BOS), Mikael Granlund (C, MIN), David Perron (LW/RW, PIT), Matt Moulson (LW, BUF), Justin Williams (RW, WSH), Brandon Dubinsky (C/LW, CBJ), Mike Cammalleri (C/LW, NJD), Nikolaj Ehlers (LW/RW, WPG)

Key injuries: Nicklas Backstrom (C, WSH), Pavel Datsyuk (C/LW, DET), Jordan Eberle (RW, EDM), Brad Marchand (LW, BOS)


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