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Fantasy top 100 forwards: Utilizing enhanced stats

by Pete Jensen

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

NHL.com's new statistical database, powered by SAP, now includes enhanced stats that can help fantasy owners detect noteworthy trends.

These stats shed light on meaningful aspects of hockey. Similar metrics have been available on secondary sites in the past, but the NHL is now officially documenting them while adding exposure.

Enhanced skater stats likely won't emerge as fantasy categories themselves anytime soon, but usage/production trends are useful when mulling fantasy pickups, trades, and draft picks.

Here are some fantasy takeaways from NHL.com's stats update that apply to forwards:

NOTE: Sorting by position (forwards or defensemen) and looking at a player's games played (and ice time) makes it easier to compare players and identify category trends. These stats should be viewed on a case-by-case basis and shouldn't prompt rash fantasy roster decisions.

- Zone Start Percentage (ZS%) identifies how often a player gets offensive zone starts compared to defensive, excluding neutral zone. Preseason sleeper Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals has a 40 percent ZS% this season through 59 games, tied for the lowest among players with more than 20 games played. This indicates that coach Barry Trotz has been hesitant to give Kuznetsov, 22, more offensive opportunities. Does Kuznetsov still have long-term fantasy upside? Absolutely. He has eight power-play points in 1:30 per game in those situations this season. But for as long as he's seeing limited offensive zone starts and total ice time (12:51 per game), there's a short-term ceiling. Josh Bailey of the New York Islanders (ZS%: 55) and Darren Helm of the Detroit Red Wings (ZS%: 54) are exceeding expectations because of their elite-level linemates (John Tavares, Pavel Datsyuk) and frequent offensive zone starts. Bailey and Helm are each available in over 90 percent of Yahoo leagues. As we approach the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, fantasy owners should see if traded players had inadequate offensive usage with their former teams to anticipate changes based on their new team's depth.

- Fantasy owners love scoring chances. Shot attempts at 5-on-5 (SAT) and unblocked shot attempts (USAT) are now tracked as totals and percentages, as well as totals relative to when a player is not on the ice. Relative totals can indicate how valuable a player has been to his particular team. Jaromir Jagr's SAT relative (301) is significantly higher than his next New Jersey Devils teammate, Travis Zajac (198). This indicates that Jagr, 43, could bring much greater fantasy results if he's traded. The same goes for Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who led his team in SAT relative last season and paces it by an even greater margin this season. Going even deeper into situational SAT and USAT totals can reveal which players are among the best in the League at generating chances based on the score. Team SAT and USAT totals can reflect how well players are adjusting to a coaching change.

Nathan MacKinnon
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 24 GAMES
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 36
SOG: 184 | +/-: -6
- Here are two recent Shooting percentage plus Save Percentage (SPSV%) observations. Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche (1040 SPSV% in 2013-14) and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins (1034) were valuable fantasy forwards last season in that category, but each has taken a step back in 2014-15 (MacKinnon: 981; Marchand: 973). MacKinnon is on pace for 48 points and is a minus-6 after 63 points and a plus-20 last season. Marchand, like MacKinnon, is seeing better fortunes of late but likely won't come close to his 53 points and a plus-36 from 2013-14. He’s shooting much more this season (2.48 SOG per game compared to 1.82), but has been forced to adjust given Boston's rash of injuries, the Johnny Boychuk trade and Tuukka Rask's corresponding struggles. The injuries on the back end for the Avalanche, Paul Stastny's departure, and tough luck are big reasons for MacKinnon's downward spiral. Of course, there are always exceptions, with Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets improving his high SPSV% and seeing a major boost in power-play production and fantasy value despite similar team issues.

- Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning doesn't see a ton of ice time per game (14:55), but has been one of the biggest fantasy surprises of the season with 53 points and a plus-32 in 62 games. He and linemate Tyler Johnson rank first and fourth in points per 20 minutes among those with three-plus games this season. A player's productivity by minute is usually more telling than by game. For instance, when comparing Kucherov to Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames, two wings that see power-play time, don't log shorthanded time, and have similar points-per-game averages, you can see how Hudler (17:43 TOI per game) produces at a much lower 20-minute point rate (0.97) than Kucherov (1.15). But if Kucherov's role were to be elevated as a result of a teammate's injury, the fact that he's 10 years younger than Hudler and used to fewer minutes per game could exploit his protected usage. It's food for thought. When these stats only scratch the surface, you won't always find concrete conclusions.

Derick Brassard
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 24 GAMES
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 47
SOG: 115 | +/-: 10
- Primary and secondary assists are equally valuable in fantasy, but it's interesting to see ratios among individual players and how they compare to their peers. From quality of linemates to isolated situations (rebounds, redirections, time between passes, questionable secondary assist, etc.), there are variables in every goal. But, for instance, seeing that Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers is tied for third among forwards in secondary assists (21) indicates he's among the best at setting up multiple teammates, a crucial power-play element. Patrick Kane's assist splits show he's usually directly involved in the scoring. Kane ranks ninth in the League in goals and is also tied for second in primary assists (25) with fewer secondary assists (12). Others are more balanced on the assist front, with Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Sedin and Jakub Voracek being the only forwards with 20-plus primary and 20-plus secondary helpers this season.


TRENDING UP

John Tavares, C, New York Islanders

John Tavares
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 24 GAMES
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 33 | PTS: 62
SOG: 205 | +/-: 4
Since 2011-12, Tavares is one of six players averaging better than a point per game. The 24-year-old has exploded for 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 24 games since the turn of the calendar year, and it's paying off for the surprising Islanders, who have provided their captain with the most forward depth of his tenure in New York. Even with Kyle Okposo sidelined, Tavares has managed to climb all the way up to fourth on the NHL scoring list. My preseason fifth-ranked fantasy player is also among the top 10 in goals (29), power-play points (24) and shots on goal (205) this season. His linemate, Anders Lee, has spiked to 44 percent owned in Yahoo, but Bailey (eight percent owned) is still under the radar.

TRENDING DOWN

Patrick Sharp, LW/C, Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 24 GAMES
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 31
SOG: 168 | +/-: -13
Kris Versteeg's return to the lineup has bumped Sharp outside the Blackhawks' top-six forward group and the impact on Sharp's fantasy value hasn't been pretty. Sharp, who missed time earlier this season with injury, is in the midst of a 12-game goal drought and has one point over his past 11 games since his four-assist outburst on Jan. 30. After MacKinnon's hat trick Sunday, Sharp has the lowest shooting percentage (6.0) among players averaging three-plus SOG per game. It won't be shocking if the Blackhawks move Sharp, who's under contract until 2017-18, leading up to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. If he remains in Chicago, one team injury and/or better shooting fortunes could turn his season around. Either way, now is a great time to buy low in fantasy.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Zack Kassian, RW, Vancouver Canucks

The sky is blue, water is wet and playing on a line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin does wonders for one's fantasy value. The latest example is Kassian, who has three goals and six SOG in two games alongside the surging twins. The 24-year-old usually doesn't see much power-play time, but logged 3:21 and scored a goal with the man-advantage Sunday to go along with two penalty minutes and four hits. At the very least, Kassian (two percent owned) can be useful in deep fantasy leagues as a PIMs specialist, but owners in standard formats need to monitor whether he sticks with the Sedins to see if there's more than meets the eye.


TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

These rankings are based on expectations for the season ahead. Upward and downward trends are based on games since Feb. 17, 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).

1 Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW, WSH (SAME) 51 Ondrej Palat, LW, TBL (+10)
2 Sidney Crosby, C, PIT (SAME) 52 Derek Stepan, C, NYR (+2)
3 Evgeni Malkin, C/RW, PIT (+1) 53 T.J. Oshie, C/RW, STL (-3)
4 Patrick Kane, C/RW, CHI - IR 54 Ryan Kesler, C/RW, ANA (-6)
5 John Tavares, C, NYI (+3) 55 Marian Gaborik, LW/RW, LAK (SAME)
6 Rick Nash, LW/RW, NYR (-1) 56 Derick Brassard, C, NYR (+2)
7 Claude Giroux, C/RW, PHI (SAME) 57 Ryan Callahan, RW, TBL (-4)
8 Steven Stamkos, C/RW, TBL (-2) 58 Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL (+2)
9 Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL (SAME) 59 Jiri Hudler, LW/RW, CGY (-3)
10 Nicklas Backstrom, C, WSH (+4) 60 Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL (+10)
11 Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI (SAME) 61 Scott Hartnell, LW, CBJ (+4)
12 Max Pacioretty, LW, MTL (SAME) 62 Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT (-16)
13 Joe Pavelski, LW/C/RW, SJS (-3) 63 Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, OTT (+4)
14 Tyler Johnson, C/RW, TBL (+1) 64 Colin Wilson, LW/C, NSH (-1)
15 Jamie Benn, LW/C, DAL (+4) 65 Milan Lucic, LW, BOS (-6)
16 Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA (+1) 66 Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH (+2)
17 Filip Forsberg, LW/C/RW, NSH (-1) 67 Eric Staal, LW/C, CAR (+2)
18 Corey Perry, RW, ANA (-5) 68 Jarome Iginla, RW, COL (-6)
19 Zach Parise, LW, MIN (+1) 69 Patrick Marleau, LW/C, SJS (-5)
20 Pavel Datsyuk, LW/C, DET (+4) 70 James van Riemsdyk, LW, TOR (+1)
21 Ryan Johansen, C/RW, CBJ (-3) 71 Johnny Gaudreau, LW, CGY (-5)
22 Alexander Steen, LW/C, STL (+1) 72 Tyler Toffoli, RW, LAK (+3)
23 Jonathan Toews, C, CHI (-2) 73 Chris Kreider, LW, NYR (SAME)
24 Nick Foligno, LW, CBJ (+2) 74 Tomas Plekanec, C, MTL (+3)
25 Henrik Zetterberg, LW/C, DET - DTD 75 Ryan Strome, C/RW, NYI (+3)
26 Andrew Ladd, LW, WPG (+2) 76 Kris Versteeg, LW/RW, CHI (+8)
27 David Backes, C/RW, STL (-2) 77 Jason Pominville, RW, MIN (-1)
28 Nikita Kucherov, LW/RW, TBL (+1) 78 Brandon Saad, LW/RW, CHI (-6)
29 Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN (+4) 79 Matt Duchene, LW/C, COL (-5)
30 Jason Spezza, C, DAL (+1) 80 Brandon Dubinsky, LW/C, CBJ (+1)
31 Logan Couture, LW/C, SJS (-4) 81 Mikko Koivu, C, MIN (+18)
32 David Perron, LW/RW, PIT (-2) 82 Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C, MTL - DTD
33 Anze Kopitar, C, LAK (+1) 83 Mats Zuccarello, LW/RW, NYR (-1)
34 Patric Hornqvist, RW, PIT (+1) 84 Mike Fisher, C, NSH (+2)
35 Tomas Tatar, LW, DET (+7) 85 Sean Monahan, C, CGY (SAME)
36 Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG - IR 86 Valtteri Filppula, LW/C, TBL (+3)
37 Marian Hossa, RW, CHI (-5) 87 Blake Comeau, LW/RW, PIT (+3)
38 Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS (-1) 88 Brad Marchand, LW, BOS (+3)
39 Wayne Simmonds, RW, PHI (+4) 89 Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA (-1)
40 James Neal, LW/RW, NSH (SAME) 90 Anders Lee, LW/C, NYI (+6)
41 Gustav Nyquist, C/RW, DET (-2) 91 Thomas Vanek, LW/RW, MIN (+4)
42 Jeff Carter, C/RW, LAK (+9) 92 Mike Cammalleri, LW/C, NJD (NEW)
43 Joe Thornton, C, SJS (-5) 93 Steve Downie, LW/RW, PIT (-10)
44 Bryan Little, C/RW, WPG (SAME) 94 Alex Tanguay, LW/RW, COL (SAME)
45 Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN (SAME) 95 Jordan Eberle, RW, EDM (-2)
46 Phil Kessel, RW, TOR (+1) 96 Brendan Gallagher, RW, MTL (NEW)
47 Patrick Sharp, LW/C, CHI (-6) 97 Kyle Turris, C, OTT (NEW)
48 Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL (+1) 98 Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, DET (NEW)
49 Henrik Sedin, C, VAN (+8) 99 Mike Hoffman, LW/C, OTT (+1)
50 Martin St. Louis, C/RW, NYR (+2) 100 Jori Lehtera, C, STL (NEW)

Just Missed: Craig Smith, Paul StastnyMark Stone, Erik Cole, Brock Nelson, Brayden Schenn, Antoine Roussel, Mark Scheifele, Josh Bailey, Nazem Kadri

Dropped out: Stastny, Nelson, Roussel

Key injuries: Tyler Seguin, Kyle Okposo, Taylor Hall, David Krejci, Mathieu Perreault, Matt Beleskey, Johan Franzen, Evander Kane, Mikkel Boedker, Valeri Nichushkin, Tanner Pearson, Pascal Dupuis

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

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