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
Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom has never been selected to an NHL All-Star Game, but his fantasy value should never be questioned.
Backstrom appears on 25.2 percent of this season’s top 500 Yahoo public-league teams, the fourth-highest frequency among forwards behind Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Which one is not like the others? Backstrom was drafted on average with the 68th pick in Yahoo drafts, while the other three were taken well outside the top 100.
So Backstrom, 27, has met expectations, yet is still fueling fantasy teams around the globe in a similar fashion as those who have caught everyone by surprise. Sounds like a pretty valuable guy.
When a player has 540 points in 540 career games, including 46 through 45 games in 2014-15, you come to expect such levels of production. But it's always appropriate to appreciate when a player stands out among the most productive active players in the game.
Per Elias Sports Bureau, Backstrom is one of five active players who has averaged a point per game or greater through 500-plus games played. The others: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jaromir Jagr of the New Jersey Devils, and, Backstrom's frequent linemate, Alex Ovechkin.
So much of this pure center's work is done in the shadows of the many dual-eligible fantasy forwards around the League each season. Backstrom is also Ovechkin's sidekick, meaning the perception is "success by association."
Ovechkin and Backstrom are widely known for their collective power-play prowess, but the finisher naturally gets more credit. Ovechkin is a five-time 50-plus goal-scorer who's responsible for three of the top six single-season shots on goal totals in NHL history. He has hit double-digits in power-play goals in nine of his 10 seasons. Backstrom has more power-play assists (54) than any forward over the past two seasons. Fantasy owners expect Backstrom to consistently set up Ovechkin.
When a connection reaches this level of consistency, let's give some credit to the helping hand.
Last season, the knocks on Ovechkin and Backstrom at even strength were their ratings, minus-35 and minus-20 respectively. But the duo has embraced the team's new defensive structure under coach Barry Trotz, improving their individual marks to plus-12 and plus-5 while not compromising their offensive totals. Nearly 74 percent of Backstrom's career points have been assists, but he has converted more of his SOG than ever this season (15.7 percent: 14 goals on 89 SOG).
Entering Tuesday, Backstrom is one assist from reaching 400 for his career. He hasn't gone more than three games without a point and is tied for fourth in the League with 14 multipoint games this season.
Another year gone by; another year of point production among the League’s best for Backstrom. Some things never change.
STATS PRIOR TO JAN. 20 GAMES
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 34
SOG: 119 | +/-: 5
Tomas Tatar, LW, Detroit Red Wings
No matter what line changes have come his way, Tatar has found the back of the net much more consistently in his second full NHL season with the Red Wings. Tatar, 24, is tied for seventh in the League in goals (21 in 46 games) and, according to sportingcharts.com, ranks fourth in goals per 60 minutes (1.77) among those with more than 600 minutes of ice time. He’s been especially lethal over his current five-game point streak, accumulating five goals, three assists and a plus-5. When a young goal-scorer like this logs 2:28 per game with the man advantage (12 power-play points) and is only 61 percent owned in Yahoo leagues, it goes without saying that he deserves a roster spot regardless of your league format.
Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kessel, one of the League's best point producers since 2011-12, has gone pointless in eight of nine games since the turn of the calendar year, a stretch that has coincided with a coaching change and a ton of media scrutiny. Kessel's usual formation with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has been broken up, and that hasn't been good news for the fantasy value of any of those three. Fantasy owners need to roll with the feeling-out process and remain patient, but the current state of the Maple Leafs pits Kessel outside the top 20 forwards for the first time in awhile.
KEEP AN EYE ON
STATS PRIOR TO JAN. 20 GAMES
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 21
SOG: 55 | +/-: 8
Josh Bailey, LW, New York Islanders
Don't look now, but the Islanders' top line has finally found its rhythm. The duo of John Tavares (two goals, four assists in three games) and Kyle Okposo (five goals, two assists in same span) has had its best week of the season, and Bailey, 25, has added much-needed stability to the left side of that unit. Bailey, taken ninth in the 2008 NHL Draft, has failed to live up to expectations with the Islanders over the years but is turning the corner with two goals, six assists and a plus-4 over his past six games. Let’s not get too carried away here, but Bailey (four percent owned) is at least worth adding to your watch list in deep leagues in the hope that stays next to Tavares and Okposo for the long haul.
TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS
These rankings are based on expectations for the season ahead. Upward and downward trends are based on games since Jan. 13, 2015. 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).
||Sidney Crosby, C, PIT (SAME)
||Derek Stepan, C, NYR (+5)
||Evgeni Malkin, C/RW, PIT (SAME)
||Wayne Simmonds, RW, PHI (-9)
||Tyler Seguin, C/RW, DAL (SAME)
||Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN (-7)
||Claude Giroux, C/RW, PHI (SAME)
||Marian Gaborik, LW/RW, LAK (+1)
||Steven Stamkos, C/RW, TBL (+1)
||Ryan Callahan, RW, TBL (+4)
||Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW, WSH (+1)
||Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG (+2)
||Patrick Kane, C/RW, CHI (-2)
||Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH (-9)
||Rick Nash, LW/RW, NYR (+1)
||Derick Brassard, C, NYR (-5)
||Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI (-1)
||Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL (+1)
||Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL (SAME)
||Jiri Hudler, LW/RW, CGY (-9)
||Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA (SAME)
||David Krejci, C, BOS (+1)
||John Tavares, C, NYI (SAME)
||Milan Lucic, LW, BOS (+2)
||Joe Pavelski, LW/C/RW, SJS (+1)
||T.J. Oshie, C/RW, STL (+2)
||Tyler Johnson, C/RW, TBL (-1)
||Johnny Gaudreau, LW, CGY (-7)
||Corey Perry, RW, ANA (+1)
||Colin Wilson, LW/C, NSH (+11)
||Max Pacioretty, LW, MTL (+4)
||Ondrej Palat, LW, TBL (+7)
||Nicklas Backstrom, C, WSH (+2)
||Eric Staal, LW/C, CAR (-4)
||Ryan Johansen, C/RW, CBJ (+3)
||Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, OTT (+1)
||Filip Forsberg, LW/C/RW, NSH (-1)
||Jeff Carter, C/RW, LAK (-15)
||Jonathan Toews, C, CHI (-3)
||Brandon Saad, LW/RW, CHI (+1)
||Jamie Benn, LW/C, DAL (+1)
||Patrick Marleau, LW/C, SJS (-4)
||Zach Parise, LW, MIN (+1)
||Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL (-4)
||Phil Kessel, RW, TOR (-8)
||Bryan Little, C/RW, WPG (+7)
||Pavel Datsyuk, LW/C, DET (+1)
||Steve Downie, LW/RW, PIT (-13)
||Nikita Kucherov, LW/RW, TBL (-1)
||Jason Pominville, RW, MIN (+4)
||Henrik Zetterberg, LW/C, DET (+2)
||Evander Kane, LW, WPG (+1)
||Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (+5)
||Jarome Iginla, RW, COL (-3)
||Logan Couture, LW/C, SJS (-1)
||Scott Hartnell, LW, CBJ (SAME)
||Alexander Steen, LW/C, STL (+9)
||Ryan Strome, C/RW, NYI (+2)
||Patrick Sharp, LW/C, CHI (-4)
||Matt Duchene, LW/C, COL (-10)
||Nick Foligno, LW, CBJ (-1)
||Jori Lehtera, C, STL (-15)
||David Backes, C/RW, STL (+8)
||Brandon Dubinsky, LW/C, CBJ (-10)
||Anze Kopitar, C, LAK (-4)
||Mathieu Perreault, C, WPG (NEW) DTD
||Martin St. Louis, C/RW, NYR (+1)
||Brock Nelson, C, NYI (-2)
||David Perron, LW/RW, PIT (+17)
||Loui Eriksson, LW/RW, BOS (SAME)
||James Neal, LW/RW, NSH (NR - IR)
||Antoine Roussel, LW, DAL (+1)
||Gustav Nyquist, C/RW, DET (+10)
||Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C, MTL (-4)
||Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN (-4)
||Tomas Plekanec, C, MTL (NEW)
||James van Riemsdyk, LW, TOR (-8)
||Chris Kreider, LW, NYR (+8)
||Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS (-4)
||Brad Richards, LW/C, CHI (-15)
||Joe Thornton, C, SJS (-4)
||Craig Smith, C/RW, NSH (NEW)
||Marian Hossa, RW, CHI (-3)
||Mike Cammalleri, LW/C, NJD (-6)
||Taylor Hall, LW/C, EDM (-10)
||Carl Soderberg, LW/C, BOS (+1)
||Jason Spezza, C, DAL (+5)
||Brad Marchand, LW, BOS (SUSP.)
||Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT (SAME)
||Paul Stastny, C, STL (-6)
||Andrew Ladd, LW, WPG (+4)
||Brendan Gallagher, RW, MTL (+3)
||Tomas Tatar, LW, DET (+37)
||Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, DET (-1)
||Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL (-6)
||Justin Williams, RW, LAK (-5)
||Ryan Kesler, C/RW, ANA (-8)
||Alex Tanguay, LW/RW, COL (NEW)
||Henrik Sedin, C, VAN (-6)
||Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA (SAME)
Just Missed: Sean Monahan, Brayden Schenn, Mike Fisher, Erik Cole, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Beleskey, Tyler Bozak, Antoine Vermette, Jaromir Jagr (DTD), Jordan Eberle
Dropped out: Schenn, Filppula, Beleskey, Bozak, Jagr
Key injuries: Patric Hornqvist, Tyler Toffoli, Kris Versteeg, Johan Franzen, Blake Comeau, Valeri Nichushkin, Pascal Dupuis
*SUSP.: Serving suspension; DTD: Day-to-day; NR - IR: Not ranked last week because of injury