Front Line: Wild about O'Sullivan

Patrick O'Sullivan's return to his roots has caused some major shakeups for the Minnesota Wild depth chart and, quite likely, made him an option for you as a fantasy owner.

For a little background, you need to remember just how low O'Sullivan had been. After some decent point totals for a developing player with the Los Angeles Kings, O'Sullivan was traded to the Edmonton Oilers near the end of the 2008-09 season. A full season under the Edmonton banner in 2009-10 proved to be disastrous, as he finished with just 34 points, and a minus-35 rating.

He was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in the offseason for a hill of beans and subsequently waived. He got a chance to try out for the Carolina Hurricanes and showed enough in training camp to earn a contract.

However, the Hurricanes didn't have room for another goal-scorer at the top of their lineup, so he was relegated to the fourth line and scored just once in 10 games.

That brings us to last week's trade that sent O'Sullivan back to the team that originally drafted him in the second round in 2003. Things are already looking way up for this talented skater as a member of the Wild, but his presence affects others as well.

The reason O'Sullivan already looks like an option is because coach Todd Richards immediately plopped him on the first line with Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette. O'Sullivan already has a goal and an assist in three games with the club. Better yet, he is playing the role that his talent should. O'Sullivan is a shifty skater and great puck handler, plus he has a killer shot and he is a finisher. Thus, the Wild now have a line featuring one of the league's best playmakers (Koivu), a veteran option on one side (Brunette) and a developing option on the other (O'Sullivan). With 15 minutes of ice time per game alongside a terrific passer, O'Sullivan has plenty of chances to beat the opposing goaltender.

If O'Sullivan sticks as a top-line player, it could mean a huge demotion for Annti Miettinen. While Miettinen has been a producer for fantasy purposes all season when on the Wild's top line, he wouldn't produce the same stats on the third line with John Madden and Cal Clutterbuck. Miettinen has 12 points in 17 games with seven points on the power play, which is a pretty good basement to expect from O'Sullivan (with a much higher ceiling). But playing defense for the Wild, Miettinen could not be expected to pot more than the occasional point. For now, he remains a part of the power-play unit that was so effective for the Wild early in the season, but one could expect O'Sullivan to replace him there too once up to speed.

Does O'Sullivan make Koivu a better fantasy option? Not really. Yes, he is someone who is independently talented instead of someone who can just keep up. But O'Sullivan has to prove to fantasy owners that he is ready to start producing again before we give him the credit of helping others produce more.

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

So what of the exploits of Martin Havlat of late? Well, the fact that Havlat has 12 points in his past seven games happened independently of O'Sullivan, as his line with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen has remained intact. Havlat has set his own fire and tended to the flames. The only crossover is if O'Sullivan does help to make the first line more efficient, it makes things easier for Havlat and the second line.

For now though, Havlat, Cullen and Koivu remain the only members of the Wild in the Top 100. Guys like Brunette, O'Sullivan or even Brodziak will need to prove their case with a couple consistent weeks. That shouldn't stop you from speculating on O'Sullivan if you need some help in the goals department, though.

Rising and Falling

Brian Gionta, Montreal Canadiens (up 13 spots): It was just a simple line shakeup to inject some life into a few players, but the move of Gionta to the Canadiens' top line is sticking, which means a change of perception for some players. First off, Gionta himself is finally connecting with a few of the many shots he takes. Fifth in the league for shots, Gionta has a career shooting percentage of 11 percent, and he's getting back there after starting the season with barely any goals. The strong playmaking of Tomas Plekanec and dangling abilities of Andrei Kostitsyn has proven to be the right mix for Gionta as linemates. After netting three points in October, Gionta has 12 in November. Plekanec, Gionta and Kostitsyn are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in Canadiens scoring going back a week, two weeks, a month and for the whole season. This means an equal and opposite reaction for Cammalleri. Dropping to the second line, Cammalleri was producing just fine until the switch. During the past seven games, Cammalleri has just three goals, and during the past 14 games, he has just four, so he drops in the rankings this week 11 spots. It's not all gloom and doom for Cammalleri yet, as Scott Gomez is still a great playmaker at times. If he can find his top gear at some point, Cammalleri could be just fine on this second line. But until Gomez can solve his issues, expect Cammalleri to keep dropping.

Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals (up nine spots): Laich continues to perform in his role as the Capitals' best forward outside the team's clear-cut top three. While Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom leave most players in their dust, Laich has managed to keep up as well. Helping his cause are the occasional games when the Caps mix up their lines and place Laich with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Last season, Laich was the 25th most valuable forward on the ESPN Player Rater, and he appears to be on pace for the exact same numbers this year.

Scoring Lines

Mattias Tedenby, New Jersey Devils: Few, if any, Devils are performing what was expected of them this season, but Tedenby appears to be the exception to the rule. The rookie call-up has six points in nine games and a plus-3 (significant, considering he is a Devil). With Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias as linemates, the trio certainly looks like and is playing the part of the Devils' top line. This isn't the first time I've highlighted Tedenby and if you watch him skate smoothly at the NHL pace, you will agree that it won't be the last.

James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers: Earlier this season, van Riemsdyk was watching games from the press box. However, things have certainly turned around quickly for the sophomore. He has six points in eight games since missing a stretch of four games in early November. His ice time has crept up to occasionally flirt with 16 minutes and he recently fired five shots in a single game. Consistency breeds consistency, as van Riemsdyk's rise in performance coincides with the Flyers' depth chart settling down significantly. Mike Richards, Andreas Nodl and van Riemsdyk are an established line for the club now and starting to perform like a cohesive unit. The hot and cold streaks from van Riemsdyk have made many fantasy owners gun shy with him, but this does appear to be a more stable situation than he has had in the past.

Power Plays

Tampa Bay Lightning: Of course, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are leading the way for power-play points. Why wouldn't they be? What you may not have noticed is that Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell are currently along for the ride. With Vincent Lecavalier hurt and Steve Downie not potting enough points, the Bolts are currently deploying Malone and Purcell with Stamkos and St. Louis (Brett Clark on point) for the power play. Malone and Purcell both have five power-play points during the past eight games (only St. Louis and Stamkos have more during the past two weeks). Both players are widely available.


Chris Stewart, Colorado Avalanche: Oh, the troubles of being both a goal scorer and a tough guy. Stewart busted his hand punching his opponent's helmet before it came off in a fight. He'll miss about a month. That's not enough to panic or get rid of him at a sale price. In the meantime, look at Kevin Porter. He skated between Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny after Stewart broke his hand in the Avs most recent game. I've mentioned Porter before as a talented guy that just needs to find his place.

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.