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The Front Line: Linemates key to Staal's resurgence

by Pete Jensen fantasy hockey insider Pete Jensen provides owners with in-depth fantasy forward analysis in this week's edition of "The Front Line." From updated top-100 rankings to players worth keeping an eye on, Jensen will guide your fantasy squad in the right direction.

Only 13 players League-wide posted a worse rating than Eric Staal last season. Luckily for his fantasy owners, Staal's new linemates have helped him put a positive spin on the situation.

The Carolina Hurricanes' top unit of Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty has emerged as one of the most lethal fantasy line combos in the land. Each member of the trio sports a plus-15 through 21 games this season -- the best combined rating of any NHL line.

A major fantasy disappointment last season, Eric Staal is an elite asset once again -- thanks largely to his equally hot linemates in Carolina, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty. (Photo: Getty Images)

All three players came into the season with something to prove and have coexisted superbly. Semin, who fell out of favor with the Washington Capitals, has responded nicely to a change in scenery with 20 points in his first 21 games. Tlusty, who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006 but previously struggled to find his niche at the game's highest level, has been a fantasy waiver wire steal with four multi-goal games (T-1st in NHL).

Staal, meanwhile, has re-established himself as a top-five fantasy forward by registering at least a point in 16 of 21 games. Staal's rating has gone from a minus-20 in 2011-12 to a plus-15 in 2012-13, but that category improvement is only part of the story. He also ranks among the top 12 in the League in goals, points and shots on goal. And here's the icing on the cake: Staal has accumulated the most PIMs (28) of any 25-plus point scorer in the NHL.

He already owns the longest point streak in the NHL this season -- 11 games from Jan. 24 to Feb. 14. Fantasy owners haven't seen such a degree of production from Staal since he had 100 points in 82 games during the 2005-06 regular season. He then reeled off 28 points in 25 postseason games to will the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup title.

Staal was selected on average in the late second rounds of Yahoo! fantasy hockey drafts, but warrants mention among the elite-level fantasy centers to this point in the season. As far as the owners who took a chance on this proven point producer despite a career-worst category output? They're reaping the benefits of one of the more well-rounded fantasy assets in the game today.

Jeff Carter
Center - LAK
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 16
SOG: 61 | +/-: 1

Jeff Carter, Kings -- Carter hasn’t been balanced from a fantasy standpoint in 2012-13, but he's as sizzling a goal-scorer as anyone in the League right now. Carter's hat trick Monday against the Nashville Predators pulled him into a tie with James Neal for second in the NHL in goals (14). He's taken four-plus shots in six of his last eight games -- a sign he's finally finding his rhythm in the Kings' offense.

Max Pacioretty, Canadiens -- Operating alongside David Desharnais and rookie Brenden Gallagher, Pacioretty was tabbed the NHL's first star of the week Monday and has points in eight of his last nine games. He ranks among the top 10 in the League in multi-point games (8), reaching that total in 18 games -- while it's taken the nine players tied or ahead of him 20 games or more to do so.

Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs -- Kadri stole the show last Thursday with a dazzling hat trick against the New York Islanders. The 22-year-old thrived with linemate Clarke MacArthur on Monday, scoring another goal and adding an assist. He has four goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating during his current five-game point streak and is seeing nearly two and a half minutes per game with the man advantage (6 PPP). With his trusted linemate Matt Frattin close to returning from injury, Kadri has become a must-own in all fantasy leagues.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Center - EDM
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 7
SOG: 46 | +/-: -2

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers -- Mired in the so-called "sophomore slump," Nugent-Hopkins has gone pointless in his last seven games. To his defense, he hasn't had a chance to establish much continuity with linemate Taylor Hall -- who has been in and out of the lineup due to injury and a suspension. Nugent-Hopkins took a dive in this week's rankings and only remains in the top-100 fantasy conversation because of the point production promise he displayed as a rookie last season (52 points in 62 games).

Jamie Benn, Stars -- Benn's only fantasy activity this week came in a negative light, as he was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for cross-checking on Feb. 28 -- leading to PIM accumulation. Offensively speaking, he had eight shots on goal in that game but has no points and a minus-6 rating over his last three games.

T.J. Oshie, Blues -- After setting career-highs in goals (19), assists (35), PIMs (50) and shots (188) last season, Oshie's rate of production has dipped in recent weeks for the injury-depleted Blues. Oshie had a tremendous start to the season in terms of power-play production, but has not scored a goal since Feb. 17 and barely touched on the PIMs category (7 in 21 games).


Kyle Chipchura, Coyotes -- By no means is Chipchura (1 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues) a focal point of Dave Tippett's offense in Phoenix, but that doesn't mean he can't find his way onto the score sheet with regularity. After going pointless in his first 10 games of the season, the 27-year-old has four goals, six assists, 14 PIMs and a plus-8 rating over his last 12 games. He's never posted more than 16 points in a single season, but if he keeps up anything in the vicinity of his current rate of category coverage, he can be utilized in deep fantasy leagues.


These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

1 Sidney Crosby, Penguins (same) 51 Brad Richards, Rangers (-8)
2 Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same) 52 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (+2)
3 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (NR)* 53 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (NR)*
4 Claude Giroux, Flyers (same) 54 Mikko Koivu, Wild (+2)
5 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (+3) 55 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (+4)
6 John Tavares, Islanders (-3) 56 Milan Lucic, Bruins (+1)
7 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (same) 57 Bobby Ryan, Ducks (-4)
8 Rick Nash, Rangers (NR)* 58 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (+3)
9 Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils (-4) 59 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+8)
10 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (same) 60 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (NR)*
11 James Neal, Penguins (same) 61 Brad Marchand, Bruins (+7)
12 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (-3) 62 Damien Brunner, Red Wings (-7)
13 Corey Perry, Ducks (+1) 63 Sam Gagner, Oilers (+1)
14 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (-2) 64 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (+1)
15 Martin St. Louis, Lightning (same) 65 Jeff Carter, Kings (+18)
16 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (-3) 66 Jordan Staal, Hurricanes (-4)
17 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (-1) 67 David Perron, Blues (-7)
18 Zach Parise, Wild (-1) 68 Dany Heatley, Wild (+1)
19 Anze Kopitar, Kings (+4) 69 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (-6)
20 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (+1) 70 Loui Eriksson, Stars (+5)
21 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+1) 71 Andrew Ladd, Jets (+5)
22 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (-2) 72 Brayden Schenn, Flyers (-2)
23 Joe Thornton, Sharks (+1) 73 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (+21)
24 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (+2) 74 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+4)
25 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (-7) 75 Danny Briere, Flyers (+2)
26 Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-1) 76 T.J. Oshie, Blues (-10)
27 Tyler Seguin, Bruins (+5) 77 Teddy Purcell, Lightning (-5)
28 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (+1) 78 Jaromir Jagr, Stars (+3)
29 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+6) 79 Jiri Tlusty, Hurricanes (+16)
30 Jamie Benn, Stars (-11) 80 Cory Conacher, Lightning (-6)
31 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (-1) 81 David Krejci, Bruins (+1)
32 Patrik Elias, Devils (-5) 82 Derek Roy, Stars (+10)
33 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (-2) 83 Ryan Callahan, Rangers (+4)
34 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (+11) 84 Mike Richards, Kings (-4)
35 David Backes, Blues (+1) 85 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (-27)
36 Marian Gaborik, Rangers (-2) 86 Saku Koivu, Ducks (NR)
37 Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning (-4) 87 Troy Brouwer, Capitals (NR)
38 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (+2) 88 Tyler Ennis, Sabres (same)
39 Mike Ribeiro, Capitals (+2) 89 Chris Stewart, Blues (-4)
40 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (+6) 90 Dustin Brown, Kings (-6)
41 David Clarkson, Devils (-3) 91 Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (+9)
42 Jason Pominville, Sabres (+2) 92 Clarke MacArthur, Maple Leafs (NR)
43 Logan Couture, Sharks (+6) 93 Blake Wheeler, Jets (-4)
44 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (+3) 94 Mike Cammalleri, Flames (NR)
45 Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (-3) 95 Derek Stepan, Rangers (+3)
46 Jarome Iginla, Flames (+6) 96 Andrew Cogliano, Ducks (NR)
47 Matt Moulson, Islanders (-8) 97 Brendan Gallagher, Canadiens (NR)
48 Evander Kane, Jets (+2) 98 Carl Hagelin, Rangers (-2)
49 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (+2) 99 Jiri Hudler, Flames (NR)
50 Teemu Selanne, Ducks (-2) 100 Nail Yakupov, Oilers (-1)
* Listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Pascal Dupuis, Kyle Turris, Nathan Horton, Ryane Clowe, Jamie McGinn

Injured: Thomas Vanek, Taylor Hall, Ryan Kesler, Alex Steen, Radim Vrbata, Andy McDonald, Jason Spezza, Joffrey Lupul, Ray Whitney, Vladimir Tarasenko, Milan Michalek, Brandon Dubinsky, Steve Downie, Matt Read, Kris Versteeg

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