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Monday, January 9, 2012
Front Line: Who steps up for Penguins?

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

The Pittsburgh Penguins are dropping like flies. They were already without top offensive producer Sidney Crosby and top defensive producer Kris Letang thanks to concussions, and had more injury woes pile up this week.

Breakout fantasy star and shooting maniac James Neal broke his foot and will miss "weeks not days." Fill-in second-line center Jordan Staal -- who has been scoring in Crosby's place -- injured his knee and will miss four to six weeks. Yikes.

Steve Sullivan
Steve Sullivan has been a disappointment so far with the Penguins, but he's got time now to show his previous flashes of brilliance.

The Penguins have been through this kind of hardship as recently as the second half of last season, when Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both out. Few fantasy stars emerged then, but the circumstances are a bit different this season. The team still has a superstar manning the fort at center. Last season, the team was relying on third-tier options at center without Crosby or Malkin, but this time around Malkin is good to go and as talented as ever. His presence means a high level of fantasy production should continue even with all the injuries.

The first person who could benefit from the injuries is Steve Sullivan. A former fantasy darling, Sullivan has not impressed as a Penguin this season, with only 20 points in 40 games despite spending much of the season on the second line. But with Neal, Staal and Crosby absent, Sullivan is a likely choice to share duties on the top line with Malkin and Chris Kunitz. His minutes should also spike from around 16 per game to closer to 19 as long as the Pens are short bodies.

Next in line for a promotion would be Tyler Kennedy. Already playing on the second line before Neal and Staal got hurt this weekend, Kennedy has strung together some stretches of value. Most recently, he had a five-game point streak in December with two goals and five assists. Sullivan feels like the natural choice as a top liner given his history, but don't be shocked if Kennedy gets the call instead.

Sullivan is available in 84 percent of ESPN leagues and Kennedy is available in 96 percent. Colin McDonald is a dark horse and available in 100 percent of ESPN leagues. Leading the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 28 points in 33 games, McDonald got the call even before Staal and Neal were injured. The 27-year-old has been scouted as an energy guy, but has been singled out for his work ethic. This is the first season he has made a notable impact on the score sheet in the AHL despite this being his fifth season. Perhaps he has finally figured out how to use his abilities to generate offense. He is noted here only for the deep-league players who don't even have a chance to look at Sullivan or Kennedy.

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. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
2. Daniel Sedin, Van (2)
3. Henrik Sedin, Van (3)
4. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (4)
5. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (5)
6. Claude Giroux, Phi (6)
7. Phil Kessel, Tor (7)
8. Corey Perry, Ana (8)
9. Jonathan Toews, Chi (9)
10. Alex Ovechkin, Was (10)
11. Ryan Kesler, Van (11)
12. Patrick Sharp, Chi (12)
13. Thomas Vanek, Buf (13)
14. James Neal, Pit (14)
15. Marian Hossa, Chi (15)
16. Anze Kopitar, LA (16)
17. Patrick Kane, Chi (17)
18. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (21)
19. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (18)
20. Zach Parise, NJ (22)
21. Johan Franzen, Det (19)
22. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (20)
23. Jamie Benn, Dal (24)
24. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (23)
25. Dany Heatley, Min (25)
26. Brad Richards, NYR (27)
27. Martin St. Louis, TB (28)
28. Kris Versteeg, Fla (29)
29. Teemu Selanne, Ana (30)
30. Scott Hartnell, Phi (31)
31. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (26)
32. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (37)
33. Patrick Marleau, SJ (40)
34. Mikko Koivu, Min (34)
35. Rick Nash, Cls (35)
36. Tyler Seguin, Bos (36)
37. Joe Pavelski, SJ (38)
38. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (39)
39. John Tavares, NYI (45)
40. Jason Spezza, Ott (41)
41. Marian Gaborik, NYR (42)
42. Eric Staal, Car (47)
43. Stephen Weiss, Fla (33)
44. Brad Marchand, Bos (44)
45. Alex Burrows, Van (50)
46. Jaromir Jagr, Phi (46)
47. Milan Lucic, Bos (48)
48. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (49)
49. David Backes, StL (57)
50. Mike Richards, LA (51)
51. Jeff Carter, Cls (52)
52. Danny Briere, Phi (53)
53. Joe Thornton, SJ (54)
54. David Krejci, Bos (63)
55. Jason Pominville, Buf (55)
56. Nathan Horton, Bos (64)
57. Evander Kane, Wpg (56)
58. Sidney Crosby, Pit (43)
59. Jordan Eberle, Edm (58)
60. Bobby Ryan, Ana (59)
61. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (60)
62. Logan Couture, SJ (61)
63. Alexander Semin, Was (62)
64. Taylor Hall, Edm (75)
65. Ryan Callahan, NYR (70)
66. Adam Henrique, NJ (88)
67. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (65)
68. Erik Cole, Mon (66)
69. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (73)
70. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (68)
71. Radim Vrbata, Pho (69)
72. Shane Doan, Pho (71)
73. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (32)
74. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (80)
75. Jeff Skinner, Car (67)
76. Chris Kunitz, Pit (74)
77. T.J. Oshie, StL (79)
78. Loui Eriksson, Dal (81)
79. Ray Whitney, Pho (76)
80. Patrik Elias, NJ (77)
81. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (91)
82. Ryane Clowe, SJ (82)
83. Ryan Smyth, Edm (83)
84. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (84)
85. Alexander Steen, StL (72)
86. Matt Moulson, NYI (85)
87. Derek Stepan, NYR (86)
88. Paul Stastny, Col (87)
89. Brenden Morrow, Dal (89)
90. David Perron, StL (93)
91. Valtteri Filppula, Det (90)
92. Christopher Higgins, Van (92)
93. Curtis Glencross, Cgy (100)
94. Dustin Brown, LA (95)
95. Martin Erat, Nsh (96)
96. Max Pacioretty, Mon (97)
97. Bryan Little, Wpg (NR)
98. Steve Downie, TB (NR)
99. Tim Connolly, Tor (NR)
100. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (NR)

Rising and Falling (all-rookie edition)

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils (up 22 spots): Two things have solidified Henrique's status as the Devils' No. 1 center. First, he remained between Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise even after Travis Zajac had enough time to get his game legs back. Secondly, Zajac never got those game legs back and is currently out of the lineup because of continued soreness in his Achilles tendon. Henrique has been a revelation with 32 points in 38 games this season. Remember, those numbers get even more impressive when you consider he has played 32 games as the top-line center and has 31 of his points in those games. There is no longer any reason to hold back on him, he really is a true fantasy asset as a playmaker. The final few months could be even more impressive as Kovalchuk and Parise seem to be trending toward a second-half improvement.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (down 41 spots): This is a drop due both to a shoulder injury that should keep him out of action until February and his performance before he was hurt. The league appeared to be catching up with Nugent-Hopkins, as he had only three assists in the nine games before getting hurt. The window could even be open long enough for Henrique to charge ahead in the Calder Trophy race. While RNH drops in these rankings, the time off should help fuel his finish to the season. As we get into February, Nugent-Hopkins will start climbing the ranks again ahead of his return. RNH, Jordan Eberle (also injured with no timetable released yet) and Taylor Hall continue to improve and they will be huge assets for the final months of the season. Just find another way to collect your points until then.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (up 4 spots): Landeskog's offensive production has been nowhere near as impressive as Henrique or Nugent-Hopkins, as he's scored 21 points in 43 games. That number hardly appears worth a second look in fantasy leagues, but Landeskog is No. 80 on the ESPN Player Rater among forwards. Why? It's all about the periphery categories. Landeskog has found a perfect line with Milan Hejduk and Ryan O'Reilly. The added defensive awareness of Landeskog and O'Reilly has created a unit that has been generating plus/minus value. In the past month, Landeskog has finished a game with at least a plus-1 rating in nine of 13 contests. He is plus-6 in that span. Going back to late November, Landeskog is plus-12 in the past 21 games. Landeskog also has a tendency to fire the puck. He is currently 25th in the NHL in shots on goal, putting him in the same firing squad as Henrik Zetterberg, and better than Dany Heatley and last season's second most frequent shooter Dustin Byfuglien. What makes Landeskog even more appealing as a fantasy asset is that there is an offensive game still waiting to bust out. His line just inherited more responsibility with Matt Duchene likely out a month with a knee injury. While he has a long way to go to be in the mix with Henrique and Nugent-Hopkins for the Calder, Landeskog certainly isn't out of the picture at this point.

Scoring Lines (the first-round pick redemption edition)

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers: The injuries to Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle means some talented offensive producers will get a chance to shine for the first time in a while in Edmonton. It's been difficult to make noise offensively for the Oilers with Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Taylor Hall stealing the show. Only Ryan Smyth and occasionally Shawn Horcoff have managed to join the party. The opportunity created by the injuries seems to be enough for Gagner to remind us that he was a top-10 draft pick once upon a time. He has a five-game point streak that dates back to one game prior to Nugent-Hopkins' injury. He has eight points in his past 10 games and is currently skating with Hall and Ales Hemsky. He can be the playmaker on the top line while RNH is out and should have value as long as injuries are an issue. Even if Eberle's ailment is short-term, Gagner is still the likely choice to serve on the top line over Hemsky. Hemsky only becomes interesting if Eberle is out for a while.

Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators: Another story about a change of scenery making all the difference in the world. Turris has looked fantastic as a Senator. Averaging in the high teens for ice time, Turris has seven points and a plus-8 in 10 games since joining the Sens. Playing with Daniel Alfredsson on the second line, Turris is showing glimpses of the confident offensive producer that the Coyotes picked third overall in 2007. Take a chance on him in your league before it's too late. We've seen this story unfold before with guys like Wojtek Wolski and Peter Mueller, and while the long-term results haven't been great in those cases, a change of scenery meant a very productive half-season.

Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks: Hodgson has been playing as little as 10 minutes a game because the Canucks just don't have room for him in the top six. But this top-10 draft pick from 2008 is finding a way to use those minutes to the best of his ability. Despite his limited minutes, Hodgson has nine points in his past 10 games. What's more, the time he spends on the second power-play unit with Alex Burrows and Christopher Higgins has resulted in three power-play points in the past three games. It's difficult to imagine him remaining so productive with such little time to play, but be warned that the Canucks may start rolling the third line a little more often in the weeks to come because of the Hodgson's numbers. This is also a signal that if there were ever an injury to Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler, Hodgson would be a fantasy beast.

Power Plays

Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto Maple Leafs: Is it still called the second power-play unit when it scores more than the first one? Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nazem Kadri have clicked as a unit on the man advantage, and Grabovski has four power-play points in his past seven games to show for it. Throw in the fact he has eight points in those seven games and it is clear Grabovski is on one of his patented hot streaks. If Grabovski isn't available, MacArthur has matched his production and makes a pretty good consolation prize.

Quick Hits

Jason Arnott has only four points in the past seven games, but all four of them have come on the power play. The St. Louis Blues need his production while Alexander Steen is out with a concussion.

Nicklas Backstrom appears doubtful for the start of this week with a head injury. Fingers crossed he returns quickly so that he, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin don't lose any of the momentum they've generated lately.

Bryan Little is back on the Winnipeg Jets' top line after missing eight games. His linemate, Blake Wheeler, has been red hot. Get Little back on your radar now.

Carl Hagelin had a decent run, but it appears Brandon Dubinsky is back out of the doghouse and in the New York Rangers' top six. He has been reunited with Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards and looks to start producing fantasy-friendly numbers again.

• Keep an eye on the trio of Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist and Sergei Kostitsyn. The Nashville Predators have been looking for a consistent offensive line and this trio seems to click. All three have four points in the past three games.

Lars Eller has been getting all the praise for the Montreal Canadiens lately. While he didn't score to follow up his four-goal, five-point coming-out party, he was credited as a member of the line that shut down Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos all night in the Habs' win. Eller may still have more to show us this season.

Devin Setoguchi is back from a knee injury and on the Minnesota Wild's top line with Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu. If they ever catch fire, he will be worth looking at.

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 send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.