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Monday, October 18, 2010
Front Line: Kopecky on the rise

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Sometimes all it takes is having an enviable position on an NHL team's depth chart. Players don't often make careers out of being a star by association, but that is exactly how career seasons are made. In the majority of fantasy hockey leagues, which play on a one-year basis, it doesn't matter that a player is looking to be stellar for only one season; this season is all that matters.

Tomas Kopecky has been a career checking-line asset for the Detroit Red Wings. He hasn't made a name for himself, but by playing sound defensive hockey and playing his position he became an NHL regular. Kopecky joined the Chicago Blackhawks last year and resumed his role as a third- and fourth-line regular notching a modest 21 points.

Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2010-11 NHL season and Kopecky has seven points in six games. Did he all of a sudden become an offensive force on the third line? No, Kopecky is the beneficiary of coach Joel Quenneville's new philosophy of spreading the wealth. While the Hawks marched to a Stanley Cup title last season on the back of a top-heavy offense, the team lost several assets over the offseason. Quenneville has taken a new approach by splitting up the former top trio of Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. What we have left is a top line with Toews, Marian Hossa and Kopecky.

To be perfectly clear, Kopecky would instantly become irrelevant to fantasy hockey if he were demoted back to the third line. But in the meantime, he is averaging 17-plus minutes of ice time per game after having a career average below 10 minutes over parts of six seasons. He has two multipoint games and only one game with a goose egg, and he is logging power-play time on the Hawks' four-forward first unit with Kane, Toews and Sharp.

In the meantime, Kopecky is a fantasy star.

Top 100 Forwards

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
3. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (3)
4. Steven Stamkos, TB (4)
5. Henrik Sedin, Van (5)
6. Daniel Sedin, Van (6)
7. Dany Heatley, SJ (7)
8. Alexander Semin, Was (8)
9. Zach Parise, NJ (9)
10. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (10)
11. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (11)
12. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (12)
13. Eric Staal, Car (13)
14. Jeff Carter, Phi (14)
15. Patrick Kane, Chi (16)
16. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (17)
17. Brad Richards, Dal (21)
18. Joe Thornton, SJ (19)
19. Mike Richards, Phi (20)
20. Rick Nash, Cls (15)
21. Anze Kopitar, LA (22)
22. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (24)
23. Patrick Marleau, SJ (23)
24. Jonathan Toews, Chi (25)
25. Nathan Horton, Bos (27)
26. Corey Perry, Ana (28)
27. Johan Franzen, Det (26)
28. Bobby Ryan, Ana (31)
29. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (29)
30. Martin St. Louis, TB (30)
31. Marian Hossa, Chi (34)
32. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (32)
33. Paul Stastny, Col (33)
34. Phil Kessel, Tor (35)
35. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (36)
36. Chris Stewart, Col (37)
37. Ryan Kesler, Van (38)
38. Travis Zajac, NJ (39)
39. John Tavares, NYI (40)
40. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (41)
41. Ryan Smyth, LA (42)
42. Marian Gaborik, NYR (18)
43. Patrik Elias, NJ (43)
44. Jason Spezza, Ott (44)
45. Patrick Sharp, Chi (48)
46. Danny Briere, Phi (54)
47. Mikko Koivu, Min (45)
48. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (46)
49. Loui Eriksson, Dal (51)
50. Alex Burrows, Van (49)
51. Tim Connolly, Buf (50)
52. Dustin Penner, Edm (52)
53. Ales Hemsky, Edm (53)
54. Jordan Eberle, Edm (55)
55. David Krejci, Bos (56)
56. Milan Lucic, Bos (57)
57. Scott Hartnell, Phi (59)
58. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (60)
59. Matt Duchene, Col (61)
60. Stephen Weiss, Fla (66)
61. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (58)
62. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (63)
63. Derek Roy, Buf (64)
64. Thomas Vanek, Buf (65)
65. David Booth, Fla (69)
66. Brenden Morrow, Dal (67)
67. Derick Brassard, Cls (47)
68. Jason Arnott, NJ (70)
69. Jamie Langenbrunner, NJ (72)
70. Mike Knuble, Was (73)
71. Tomas Holmstrom, Det (62)
72. Jakub Voracek, Cls (68)
73. Scott Gomez, Mon (75)
74. Nik Antropov, Atl (76)
75. Claude Giroux, Phi (77)
76. Nikita Filatov, Cls (78)
77. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (79)
78. David Backes, StL (80)
79. Shane Doan, Pho (81)
80. Brian Gionta, Mon (82)
81. Wojtek Wolski, Pho (74)
82. Alexander Frolov, NYR (84)
83. Chris Kunitz, Pit (85)
84. Josh Bailey, NYI (100)
85. Simon Gagne, TB (87)
86. Taylor Hall, Edm (88)
87. James Neal, Dal (NR)
88. Brooks Laich, Was (89)
89. Teemu Selanne, Ana (91)
90. Devin Setoguchi, SJ (92)
91. Steve Downie, TB (93)
92. Guillaume Latendresse, Min (86)
93. Evander Kane, Atl (NR)
94. Shawn Horcoff, Edm (96)
95. Mike Fisher, Ott (97)
96. Ryane Clowe, SJ (98)
97. David Perron, StL (99)
98. Mason Raymond, Van (NR)
99. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (NR)
100. Sam Gagner, Edm (NR)

Rising and Falling

Anaheim's top trio (up a combined seven spots): After registering zero points in the first three games of the season, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan combined for six goals and 20 points over the next three games. There is no question about why these three demand such a high investment from both the Ducks and fantasy owners. Thanks to his propensity for penalty minutes, Perry is pacing all NHLers on the ESPN Player Rater this season and Getzlaf, thanks to an uncharacteristic spike in PIMs, is right behind him. Only Brad Richards and Henrik Sedin have more assists than Getzlaf. If you own one of these players it wouldn't hurt to try and do some creative trading to try and bring them together on your fantasy roster. Based on the early season this line is going to be one of the most, if not the most, formidable groups this season.

Tomas Holmstrom, Detroit Red Wings (down nine spots): Holmstrom remains pointless through five games this season. It has become apparent to the coaching staff as Holmstrom was replaced by Daniel Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi on the top line for parts of the past two games. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will require an engaged third member of their scoring line, so if Holmstrom doesn't turn things around quickly he'll have a permanent checking assignment before long.

Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres (down to NR): It appears, even with a Jason Pominville injury, the Sabres don't have much patience for Ennis. Drew Stafford has definitely shaken off the bust label from last season and solidified a top-six spot with five points in six games. But even with Pominville on the sidelines with a concussion, coach Lindy Ruff went with Cody McCormick for the final top-six roster spot alongside Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht. It's not that we think the Calder candidate Ennis will fall off the radar completely, but he'll be in for more of a fight than originally thought. Hopefully we'll see him back soon.

Evander Kane and Niclas Bergfors, Atlanta Thrashers (up and down respectively): While these two are linemates, Kane makes his debut on the chart while Bergfors slides off of it. The main reason for the opposite effects, despite skating together, is the power-play unit: Kane is the focal point and Bergfors isn't on it. Kane, Bergfors and Jim Slater are arguably the third or fourth line for the Thrashers right now. Andrew Ladd, Anthony Stewart and Bryan Little are the de facto first line, while the surprising play of Alexander Burmistrov, Ben Eager and Chris Thorburn has the unit behaving as if it were the second line. Both Kane and Bergfors, in the end, need to tackle their own team's depth chart before they can really start climbing the rankings.

Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers (down 24 spots): Missing at least three weeks of action with a separated shoulder is going to be damaging to any player over the rest of the season. Gaborik doesn't fall too far off the charts, but his position remains precarious. At the first sign of any setback in recovery, he will plummet. We've all been burned too many times by Gabby's frailty to shrug off any sort of injury.

Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks (debuts at No. 98): Alex Burrows is skating again and eyeing a return sometime in November, but that still doesn't mean Raymond can't nail down the coveted spot next to the twins before then. To shake up their offense on Sunday, the Canucks plopped Raymond next to Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin while demoting Mikael Samuelsson to the third line. The result was a three-point game for both Raymond and Samuelsson. While Ryan Kesler still owns the rights to the Sedins on the power play and the looming return of Burrows with his air of incumbency are concerns, Raymond is a speedy winger who can finish off plays. No one sets plays up better than the Swedish twins. For at least the next few weeks, and maybe longer, Raymond will look to rise on the charts.

Scoring Lines

Cal O'Reilly, Nashville Predators: He hasn't erupted and caught anyone's attention yet, but O'Reilly looks to be relishing his role as the Predators' No. 1 center. Tucked between Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist both on and off the power play, O'Reilly has four assists in four games.

T.J. Galiardi, Colorado Avalanche: It took a demotion to get Galiardi going. He has two goals and one assist in his past two games after failing to score in his first three games. He played in the top six to start the season, was demoted to the third line, but was back on the first line again on Saturday. He is one of the faster players on a team that really needs speed to create offense. Playing with Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart can only help his case.

Andreas Nodl, Philadelphia Flyers: As the Flyers remain dedicated to their killer playoff line from last season (Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere and Ville Leino), the team is left looking for someone to wing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Daniel Carcillo did nothing with the opportunity, so Andreas Nodl is getting a shot. Nodl hasn't shown too much promise, but winging two of the most dynamic forwards in the game can certainly help boost anyone's scoring.

Kyle Turris, Phoenix Coyotes: Turris is finally hitting the ice for the Coyotes after sitting the first couple of games. He hasn't done anything on the score sheet yet, but is being tested on lines with a combination of Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Wojtek Wolski. From that it is quite clear that coach Dave Tippett is hoping he clicks with some of the team's top scorers.

Anthony Stewart, Atlanta Thrashers: Chris Stewart broke through with a huge scoring season for the Colorado Avalanche last season. His brother, Anthony Stewart, is three years his senior and hasn't really broken through in the NHL after toiling for the Florida Panthers and then the Atlanta Thrashers. Both Chris and Anthony played their junior career with the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs and Chris finished with an impressive 1.06 points per game over three seasons. Over four seasons, Anthony didn't finish too far behind with 0.96 points per game. The pair also have comparable AHL statistics (0.56 PPG for Chris and 0.47 PPG for Anthony). Could it be that Anthony is finally catching up to his younger brother? Not only does Anthony have a hat trick under his belt to total four goals in five games this season, but he looks terrific on the ice with the Thrashers' best line, including Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. Like his brother Chris, Anthony is a big, physical winger, so it's just a matter of seeing if he can also add the scoring touch now that he is in a good situation. He has the early lead in goals as Chris has only three.

Power Plays

Matt Cullen, Minnesota Wild: Last week I put Matt Cullen here on spec. This week I'm repeating the recommendation because he leads the NHL with five power-play points. He is a fantastic power-play quarterback as the fourth forward on the ice and now with Marek Zidlicky's awesome shot beside him it's easy to see why the Wild are pacing the league with a 38 percent conversion rate on the man advantage. It looks like coach Todd Richards' expertise on the power play is starting to pay off. You might want to also have a look at Antti Miettinen if you need help on the power play.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here

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