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Monday, March 5, 2012
Front Line: Purcell makes charge

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

One element to keep in mind for the rankings during the final few weeks of the season is volatility. The rankings are determined by expected future performance, but the fewer games that remain in the season, the more difficult it becomes to weigh those games against the "expected" top players. A hot streak by a player with no right to be in the Top 100 lasting 15 games is not unheard of, and some teams have as few as 15 games remaining in the season.

What do I mean by volatile? Let's take Teddy Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightning as an example. Purcell has a meteoric jump in the rankings this week, up 40 spots from No. 88 to No. 48. Purcell was in the top 100 at the start of this season and hung around in the 90s until November, when it became clear he wasn't going to sustain the great finish he had from 2010-11 (21 points in final 31 games) and last year's playoffs (17 points in 18 games). He dropped out of the rankings (and deservedly so) until the end of January when he re-emerged following a couple multi-point games. Purcell got scorching hot over the past few weeks, and his play -- coupled with the trade of Steve Downie and the injury to Vincent Lecavalier -- has left Purcell in the perfect situation. He is playing next to Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis for a Lightning team that knows how to make a late season charge.

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 (2)
2. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (1)
3. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
4. Claude Giroux, Phi (5)
5. Henrik Sedin, Van (4)
6. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (6)
7. James Neal, Pit (7)
8. Scott Hartnell, Phi (8)
9. Corey Perry, Ana (9)
10. Marian Hossa, Chi (10)
11. Martin St. Louis, TB (14)
12. Anze Kopitar, LA (12)
13. Jason Spezza, Ott (13)
14. Patrick Sharp, Chi (11)
15. Zach Parise, NJ (18)
16. Eric Staal, Car (25)
17. Marian Gaborik, NYR (26)
18. John Tavares, NYI (19)
19. David Backes, StL (20)
20. Phil Kessel, Tor (21)
21. Ryan Kesler, Van (16)
22. Teemu Selanne, Ana (24)
23. Patrick Kane, Chi (30)
24. Patrick Marleau, SJ (22)
25. Tyler Seguin, Bos (35)
26. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (23)
27. Jamie Benn, Dal (31)
28. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (33)
29. Rick Nash, Cls (44)
30. Alex Ovechkin, Was (17)
31. Matt Moulson, NYI (34)
32. Alex Burrows, Van (29)
33. Joe Pavelski, SJ (27)
34. Jeff Carter, LA (41)
35. Taylor Hall, Edm (36)
36. Joe Thornton, SJ (28)
37. Logan Couture, SJ (43)
38. Jordan Eberle, Edm (39)
39. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (42)
40. Brad Marchand, Bos (32)
41. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (37)
42. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (48)
43. Bobby Ryan, Ana (47)
44. Jordan Staal, Pit (62)
45. Ryan Callahan, NYR (40)
46. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (58)
47. Jonathan Toews, Chi (15)
48. Teddy Purcell, TB (88)
49. Radim Vrbata, Pho (49)
50. Brad Richards, NYR (59)
51. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (50)
52. Milan Lucic, Bos (51)
53. Alexander Semin, Was (52)
54. Patrik Elias, NJ (53)
55. David Krejci, Bos (57)
56. Johan Franzen, Det (45)
57. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (61)
58. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (73)
59. Loui Eriksson, Dal (78)
60. Adam Henrique, NJ (56)
61. Jeff Skinner, Car (67)
62. Justin Williams, LA (60)
63. Steve Sullivan, Pit (NR)
64. Andy McDonald, StL (79)
65. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (82)
66. T.J. Oshie, StL (64)
67. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (66)
68. Dany Heatley, Min (38)
69. Thomas Vanek, Buf (46)
70. Max Pacioretty, Mon (71)
71. Jason Pominville, Buf (55)
72. Chris Kunitz, Pit (70)
73. Dustin Brown, LA (72)
74. Martin Erat, Nsh (69)
75. Ryan O'Reilly, Col (74)
76. Evander Kane, Wpg (98)
77. Jaromir Jagr, Phi (68)
78. Stephen Weiss, Fla (63)
79. Erik Cole, Mon (75)
80. Ray Whitney, Pho (76)
81. Michael Ryder, Dal (96)
82. Shane Doan, Pho (77)
83. Milan Michalek, Ott (89)
84. David Booth, Van (95)
85. P.A. Parenteau, NYI (81)
86. David Desharnais, Mon (NR)
87. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (NR)
88. Derek Stepan, NYR (93)
89. Sam Gagner, Edm (84)
90. Kris Versteeg, Fla (54)
91. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (83)
92. Danny Briere, Phi (87)
93. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (100)
94. David Perron, StL (94)
95. Mike Fisher, Nsh (97)
96. David Clarkson, NJ (99)
97. Bryan Little, Wpg (NR)
98. Martin Havlat, SJ (NR)
99. Clarke MacArthur, Tor (NR)
100. Ryan Malone, TB (NR)

While the normal process for evaluating and assessing a player's potential for this fantasy ranking involves a calculated look at their season with a slow, but sure rise in the ranks. The fact that there are only a handful of weeks left means we have to react to what is a smaller and smaller future sample size. Purcell has been hot for more than 20 games now and there are only 17 games left in the season for the Lightning. Is he going to continue to average 1.5 points per game, as he has in February and March? Probably not, but he is going to continue using his skill set to help set up and score goals with his world-class linemates. Purcell is surely going to be a top-50 fantasy asset during these final weeks of the season. So instead of incremental increases in value, we have to jump Purcell 40 spots in the rankings.

It's the same problem going to other way. The injury to Pavel Datsyuk has knocked him out of his top-10 spot two weeks ago, and even though we have a timetable of another week, he still only creeps up to No. 57. When you are looking at the remaining season as a whole, that one week is a significant chunk of the season.

Keep the limited time remaining in mind when you make any lineup decisions. And if your trade deadline hasn't passed, factor in how hot or cold the players are into your decision. Streakiness matters at this stage of the game.

Rising and Falling

Michael Ryder, Dallas Stars (up 15 spots): Even with Jamie Benn back in the fold again, the Stars' best line remains Mike Ribeiro, Ryder and Loui Eriksson. Ryder is going to complete a huge comeback season. With goals in four straight games, he is in easy reach of the 30-goal plateau, and his shots on goal are elevated in a consistent pattern with his ice time. Playing out the year on the Stars' best line, Ryder needs to be leaned on much more than you might have wanted to at the outset of the season. The plus-17 is a nice bonus, too. Benn has still been effective enough skating with Steve Ott and Adam Burish that a change in the depth chart is unlikely. Even after the return of Brenden Morrow from injury, Morrow likely will just take Burish's top-six spot.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres (down 23 spots): The Sabres are enjoying a modest resurgence in the standings, but it's no thanks to Vanek. With only two goals and two assists in his past 10 games, Vanek watched his ice time dip below 13 minutes in a win against the Vancouver Canucks this past weekend. The second line of Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Cody Hodgson is overshadowing Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. Even though Hodgson hasn't broken out with scoring yet, he is making sure Ennis and Stafford remain effective. Stafford, Hodgson and Ennis may end up being the better choices than Vanek, Pominville and Roy going forward.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (up 17 spots): Landeskog is now just two points behind the New Jersey Devils' Adam Henrique for the rookie scoring lead and is much hotter than Henrique in the past few weeks. Landeskog has 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) in the past 14 games. A plus-7 rating and three power-play points in that same span just puts him over the top for value. We think Landeskog can continue to play strongly on his own merits, but there is a major risk here with the shoulder injury to Steve Downie. Downie greatly enhanced Landeskog's effectiveness on the ice but now he may be off the ice for a couple weeks. Keep an eye on who the replacement is for the line with Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly. Mark Olver was the first choice, but David Jones or Peter Mueller might be a better option for the home stretch.

Scoring Lines

Matt Frattin, Toronto Maple Leafs: New coach Randy Carlyle's biggest impact will probably come with his smart decisions with the goaltending situation, but he implemented one change up front that could help deeper leagues. Matt Frattin replaced Nikolai Kulemin on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur. In his debut game in the new top-six, Frattin had a goal and an assist in the victory. He really figured out how to score in his final season of college hockey and could keep up a modest pace under the new Carlyle regime.

Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets: The exodus from the Blue Jackets locker room and other events at the trade deadline has meant a couple things: 1) Rick Nash is playing some inspired hockey due to all the focus and 2) He is dragging others along for the ride. Brassard has eight points in eight games while winging Nash on the top line and definitely has the kind of skill to keep up the output. Still only 24 years old, we haven't seen Brassard come into his own yet. The final few weeks of this season could be a preview of what is finally to come. At the very least, he is a player available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues who is scoring at a point-per-game pace during the past two weeks.

Dwight King, Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter finally shook off the rust on the weekend and scored his first two goals for the Kings in a win against the Anaheim Ducks. Carter and Mike Richards were on the ice for three goals by the Kings and it is probably no coincidence that catalyst Anze Kopitar was on the ice for two of them, even though he isn't playing on a line with them. That role has fallen to King. The WHL grad actually spent some time in the ECHL before improving his play at the AHL level the past two seasons. His size (6-foot-3) makes him an ideal linemate for scorers like Carter and Richards. King was on the ice and drew an assist for both goals scored by Carter during the game and looks like he will continue to play on a line with the former Flyers. Though it probably is not the best choice for Carter's production, King makes a decent snag in deeper leagues thanks to his top-six role. He is available in 100 percent of ESPN leagues.

Zack Kassian, Vancouver Canucks: He only had 10 minutes of ice time in the Canucks' loss on the weekend, but in those 10 minutes, Kassian helped deliver two of the team's three goals. The rookie assisted on David Booth's second goal and then scored one himself while playing with Ryan Kesler and Booth late in the game. In fact, the Kesler-Booth-Kassian line dominated play during the third period of a game that was already lost. This is a clear indicator that Kassian is going to get a trial in the coming week on the second line. This may be your last chance to scoop him up before he starts clicking with Kesler and Booth. It takes a special player to get a goal, assist and throw seven hits in barely 10 minutes of ice time.

Power Plays

Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts' power play has been so spectacular, it is starting to bleed fantasy value to players who don't normally garner much. Malone has four power-play points in the past seven games as he occasionally joins the first unit as a fourth forward. That doesn't appear particularly fantasy friendly, until you take a look at his penalty minutes. With 25 PIMs in those same seven games, you can see the appeal of Malone. The only thing that could detract from his value at this stage would be the return of Vincent Lecavalier from a hand injury.

Quick Hits

Andrei Kostitsyn still played minimal minutes for the Nashville Predators, but made good use of them when he scored a goal and assist in his second game with his new club.

• However long Ryan Callahan is out for the New York Rangers (which might not even be another missed game) is how long Brandon Dubinsky will have shallow-league relevance again. With Callahan sidelined, Dubinsky is up from the third line to skate with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin.

• We looked at Daniel Winnik having some potential with the San Jose Sharks before Martin Havlat returns, but that will not be the case. Winnik was bumped to the third line in favor of using Tommy Wingels in Havlat's spot in the top six. Wingels has already proven he is of no fantasy interest.

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.