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Monday, January 14, 2013
Front Line: Training camp notes

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

With an official list of rosters and invited players available for about two-thirds of NHL teams, we are starting to get a clearer picture of some training camp battles to watch during the week. With the season beginning Saturday, training camps obviously won't offer the same level of insight to fantasy hockey players that they usually do. Still, even having a list of names invited can go a long way to helping us identify sleepers.

First off, we have our professional invitees. It's not often that a player in his twilight years gets a camp invitation, then both makes the team and has a fantasy impact. But we can look back at last season to find Petr Sykora in that exact situation with the New Jersey Devils. He wasn't a standout in fantasy, but he was a contributor in deeper leagues. That said, these players probably won't play into your plans in a big way.

Alexei Kovalev and Marek Svatos have both received invitations to Florida Panthers camp. Svatos is 30 and coming off a hiatus from hockey after he fizzled out during the 2010-11 campaign with the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators (as well as a stint in the KHL). He has displayed 30-goal ability in the league, but he's also had more than his fair share of injuries. His speed is not to be overlooked if a year of rest has healed his ailments and he wins a role on one of the Panthers' top lines. Kovalev, on the other hand, will turn 40 this year and has been dogged by knee problems for several seasons. But he is still Kovalev and if he starts turning heads at the Panthers camp, then he will be worth some attention.

Mike Knuble
Mike Knuble, who had just six goals last season for the Capitals, is in training camp with the Red Wings.

Mike Knuble is apparently headed to camp with the Detroit Red Wings. His numbers dropped off significantly with the Washington Capitals least season after he strung together nearly a decade of 20-goal seasons. But, to be fair to Knuble, the Capitals were not the place to be to score goals last season, and it's likely his one-dimensional offensive game was not being used effectively by former coach Dale Hunter. Knuble certainly would have 25 goals left in his tank if he is used on a scoring line by the Red Wings. However, things are getting a little crowded in their offense.

Damien Brunner is a big reason the Wings might not have any room for Knuble or some of their homegrown rookies on a scoring line this season. After leading Switzerland's top hockey league in scoring last season, Brunner was out in front of the scoring race again this season. What made it impressive this season is that the league was filled with names like Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron. There was one more major NHLer playing in the league with Brunner, too. In fact, Henrik Zetterberg was Brunner's linemate and helped him to his league-leading 57 points in 33 games. Now the two are on a line together at the Red Wings' training camp with Pavel Datsyuk. If Brunner has enough chemistry with Zetterberg to stay with him on a scoring line, he becomes an enormous sleeper for this season.

Linus Omark was the third member of the line with Brunner and Zetterberg for EV Zug of the Swiss league and he managed an impressive 46 points in 34 games playing against those same NHLers on a consistent basis. Omark and the Edmonton Oilers, last we checked in April, were still far apart on a contract, with Omark looking for a trade. Keep an eye on his status this week, as he certainly showed his ability to put up offense during the lockout. Of particular interest would be a move by the Red Wings to bring Omark in, because they're already boasting two-thirds of one of the best lines in the world during the lockout.

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

Mika Zibanejad and Zac Dalpe are two names conspicuously absent from training camps this week. Both looked assured in October of not only getting a good look with their respective NHL clubs, but had the inside track for a top-six role. But Zibanejad was clearly passed by Jakob Silfverberg as the two played for the AHL's Binghamton Senators during the lockout. The Ottawa Senators chose to tab Silfverberg for the likely top-line role with Spezza and Milan Michalek. The same story is true for Dalpe, who was passed by Zach Boychuk's performance with the Charlotte Checkers, making Boychuk the one who got an invite to the Carolina Hurricanes' training camp and the chance to make the second line.

Nino Niederreiter being passed over at training camp might seem a much bigger snub, but it's likely not a snub as much as it's a strategic decision. The 20-year-old is having a breakout campaign in the AHL in Bridgeport after being handed limited NHL minutes during parts of the past two seasons. Niederreiter is sixth in the AHL scoring race with 36 points in 37 games this season and was looking like one of the most deserving prospects of getting a look at the vacancy with the New York Islanders, left open by P.A. Parenteau.

Niederreiter's ceiling is so high and his season has been so good, the team has to be planning on having him on the roster to begin the NHL season. The decision to leave him out of training camp might be an internal strategic one, as the team looks to give junior hockey prospect Ryan Strome a six-game look before sending him back to the OHL. It's also an indicator that Niederreiter might not be a front-runner for the top-line vacancy, because training camp would have been a good time to start building chemistry with Tavares and Matt Moulson. Josh Bailey will miss up to four weeks with a knee injury, though, and that should help open up some room for Niederreiter.

Eric Tangradi and Beau Bennett might be two of the most interesting players to track this week as the pair battle for a vacant top-six role with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby will pair with Chris Kunitz and, probably, Pascal Dupuis on the wings, while Evgeni Malkin and James Neal will keep their connection together. That leaves at least one wing spot open in the top six to play with Malkin and Neal -- a coveted role, to be sure. Tangradi will have the inside track as the older, more experienced player. His advantage is his size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and he is said to have been working on his quickness in anticipation of having one last shot to prove he can be a power forward on a scoring line. Bennett is younger and coming off just 30 games of pro experience in the AHL during the lockout after leaving the University of Denver. That said, Bennett is leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with 24 points in 30 games and has the offensive advantage over Tangradi. The Penguins could go another route with the final scoring-line role with retreads like Tyler Kennedy or Matt Cooke, but Tangradi and Bennett would offer more to fantasy owners as unknowns with the opportunity.

That said, I'll be making an effort this week to push information on Twitter as I get it (follow the link at the bottom of this article) and there will be a Fantasy Forecaster published Thursday that will have any training camp news that comes out between now and then. Let's hit the rankings.

Rising and Falling

Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers (up 38 spots to No. 27): I won't beat around the bush on this and I'll admit that Gaborik's ranking last week was a complete oversight on my part. With the rush to update projections, profiles and this ranking after we heard the lockout was over, Gaborik's recovery from a shoulder injury during the lockout was overlooked. His ranking was based on him missing several months of action in a full season. Now he is healthy (by Gaborik standards) and coming into a condensed campaign. Whether he plays with Brad Richards and Rick Nash or neither does not matter; Gaborik will get his points no matter his linemates. A shorter schedule means fewer chances for Gaborik to get injured, which is really the only concern he ever comes with. So, with apologies to Gaborik, he is now ranked where he should be: among the elite.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (down nine spots to No. 48): This shift is really meant to reflect the concerns about Benn missing the start of the season because he and the Stars are said to be far apart on a contract. The restricted free agent is coming off a couple of big seasons as the team's offensive catalyst and is surely looking for a pay day. While it is rare a team will allow this kind of dispute to edge into the season, especially a short season, you just never know with contract stuff. The possibility for missed time pushes Benn down the rankings, but not way down.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs (down seven spots to No. 67): It was official on the first day of training camp that van Riemsdyk will not be used at center and the team will not have Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and van Riemsdyk form a trio. Van Riemsdyk practiced with Tim Connolly and Lupul on a line, while Kessel skated with Matthew Lombardi and Tyler Bozak. Yes, it was only the first day of training camp, but it is not a good indicator for the season to come. Kessel and Lupul have an undeniable connection on the ice, so it's likely van Riemsdyk will be stuck further down the depth chart when the season starts. While we can still expect more from van Riemsdyk offensively now that he is in new surroundings, his ceiling will not be hit this season unless the Leafs commit to making one of their best three players become a pivot.

Juniors in Camp

Junior hockey players will get an opportunity for a six-game tryout with their NHL teams before their entry-level contracts kick in during this lockout-shortened season (it usually is nine games). The shorter window could have an impact on a few key players looking to stick in the NHL, as teams could be more likely to lean toward returning their prospects to the junior leagues. After all, it can make more sense in some cases to not burn a year off a prospect's entry-level contract for just 48 games when you could have him for all 82 games next season.

Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers and Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers: These two players are almost guaranteed to stick around in the NHL this season. Both players have shown they have absolutely nothing left to prove as a junior and both teams could use their respective skills in a scoring-line role. You will find both players in the Top 100 rankings for forwards as they will surely have some kind of fantasy impact. The ceiling is likely higher on Huberdeau for this season because there is more room for him to become the clear leader with the Panthers, where Yakupov will be in a kitchen with a lot of other cooks.

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens: Galchenyuk is almost equally as ready for a taste of the NHL as Yakupov and Huberdeau, but the Canadiens don't have quite as much room for him on the roster. Galchenyuk's presence would almost certainly mean David Desharnais or Tomas Plekanec would be pushed out of the top six forwards. While Galchenyuk is certainly a future star and already could be a stronger asset than both players, it also might not make sense for the Canadiens to burn a year of his contract during a season without much hope for the playoffs. We will almost certainly see a six-game tryout for Galchenyuk and the results of those games could be the deciding factor in his continued presence in the NHL.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: Scheifele led the Jets in scoring during the preseason before the 2011-12 campaign and earned a seven-game stint with the club before being sent back to juniors. He will certainly get another look in the NHL this season. Whether he sticks around past the six-game tryout will depend on much offense he produces. Following his stellar preseason, he only managed one goal in seven games before being sent down. The Jets have more than enough players to populate their scoring lines, so it will be up to Scheifele to force the issue.

Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres: It's an odd situation with Grigorenko after word circulated a few weeks ago that the Quebec Remparts wanted a guarantee the young star would be able to finish the season with them in the QMJHL. It now appears the team's stance has softened, and Grigorenko will attend Sabres training camp. Is it a formality to get him some experience ahead of next season? Or is he being given a legitimate shot to make the team? With the abundance of capable forwards on the Sabres' roster, chances are Grigorenko will have to wait until next season to have a taste of the NHL.

Also keep an eye on possible six-game tryouts by Ryan Strome, New York Islanders; Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars; Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets; Brett Ritchie, Dallas Stars and Stefan Matteau, New Jersey Devils.