High-value third wheels

It's worth giving Lee Stempniak, Brooks Laich and Patrick Maroon a shot

Updated: March 11, 2014, 3:32 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Lee StempniakChuck Myers/MCT via Getty ImagesLee Stempniak has clicked with his new Pittsburgh linemates, Chris Kunitz (14) and Sidney Crosby.

Duos always end up being a major storyline to every fantasy season. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom or Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are all very familiar duos to fantasy owners. Each pair combines on the ice for perfect chemistry, in most cases with one as the primary playmaker and another as the scorer, but the roles are somewhat blended.

Of course, it doesn't do fantasy owners much good to analyze how good these players are, since they are firmly locked onto the roster of their respective owners. But these three elite duos all happen to have a new third member of the line in recent games. That is where fantasy owners can look for assistance.

Lee Stempniak, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: Still available in 78 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Stempniak won't be on that many waiver wires for long, not after everyone begins to notice that he collected two assists on Monday skating with Crosby and Kunitz. After Pascal Dupuis was injured earlier this season, the Crosby-Kunitz connection has been looking for a third member, going through the likes of Beau Bennett, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna. These still-developing players weren't quite ready for the prime time, but Stempniak has the skills to easily handle himself on this top line. Although he's never topped 50 points in a season, Stempniak has flashed a streaky offensive ability in the past in situations a lot less beneficial than playing with Crosby and Kunitz. Specifically, he scored 18 points in 18 games with the Phoenix Coyotes after the trade deadline in 2009-10, and he put up 32 points in 47 games last season to share the lead in points for the Calgary Flames. He'll be worth adding to almost any fantasy roster in the same way Dupuis was drafted universally for his upside as the third member of this line.

The Top 200

Note: Sean Allen's top 200 players 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 for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Sidney Crosby, F, Pit (1)
2. Alex Ovechkin, F, Was (2)
3. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (4)
4. Corey Perry, F, Ana (5)
5. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (6)
6. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (7)
7. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (8)
8. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (9)
9. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (10)
10. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (11)
11. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (12)
12. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (3)
13. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (13)
14. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (14)
15. James Neal, F, Pit (15)
16. Ryan Miller, G, StL (19)
17. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (16)
18. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (17)
19. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (31)
20. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (20)
21. Zach Parise, F, Min (21)
22. Carey Price, G, Mon (22)
23. Ben Bishop, G, TB (18)
24. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (25)
25. David Backes, F, StL (23)
26. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (24)
27. Logan Couture, F, SJ (26)
28. Martin St. Louis, F, NYR (27)
29. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (28)
30. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (29)
31. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (30)
32. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (38)
33. Drew Doughty, D, LA (32)
34. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (33)
35. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (36)
36. Alexander Steen, F, StL (37)
37. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (42)
38. Rick Nash, F, NYR (39)
39. Eric Staal, F, Car (40)
40. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (41)
41. Pekka Rinne, G, Nsh (57)
42. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (43)
43. Matt Duchene, F, Col (45)
44. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (52)
45. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (47)
46. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (48)
47. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (49)
48. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (55)
49. David Krejci, F, Bos (50)
50. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (51)
51. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (53)
52. Roberto Luongo, G, Fla (44)
53. Thomas Vanek, F, Mon (54)
54. Johan Franzen, F, Det (93)
55. Matt Niskanen, D, Pit (90)
56. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (64)
57. Jeff Carter, F, LA (70)
58. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (56)
59. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (46)
60. Alexander Semin, F, Car (58)
61. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (59)
62. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (60)
63. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (35)
64. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (61)
65. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (63)
66. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (65)
67. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (66)
68. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (82)
69. Ryan Suter, D, Min (67)
70. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (68)
71. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (69)
72. Gustav Nyquist, F, Det (89)
73. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (79)
74. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (99)
75. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (72)
76. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (102)
77. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (74)
78. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (75)
79. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (76)
80. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (78)
81. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (80)
82. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (81)
83. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (71)
84. Marian Gaborik, F, LA (85)
85. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (62)
86. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (87)
87. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (73)
88. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (86)
89. Lee Stempniak, F, Pit (NR)
90. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (88)
91. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (91)
92. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (92)
93. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (83)
94. Jaden Schwartz, F, StL (84)
95. Victor Hedman, D, TB (95)
96. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (115)
97. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (96)
98. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (97)
99. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (98)
100. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (100)
101. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (117)
102. Justin Williams, F, LA (144)
103. Brent Burns, F, SJ (119)
104. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (118)
105. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (104)
106. O. Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (124)
107. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (107)
108. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (108)
109. David Legwand, F, Det (187)
110. Anton Khudobin, G, Car (109)
111. Steve Mason, G, Phi (110)
112. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (113)
113. Jason Pominville, F, Min (136)
114. Christian Ehrhoff, D, Buf (114)
115. David Perron, F, Edm (105)
116. Jack Johnson, D, Cls (103)
117. Adam Henrique, F, NJ (162)
118. Mark Giordano, D, Cgy (149)
119. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (106)
120. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (116)
121. Matt Moulson, F, Min (142)
122. Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR (167)
123. Tyler Bozak, F, Tor (120)
124. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (94)
125. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (101)
126. Torey Krug, D, Bos (134)
127. Paul Stastny, F, Col (112)
128. Tim Thomas, G, Dal (198)
129. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (123)
130. Vladimir Tarasenko, F, StL (125)
131. Shane Doan, F, Pho (126)
132. Mike Green, D, Was (127)
133. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (77)
134. Brad Richards, F, NYR (147)
135. Darcy Kuemper, G, Min (161)
136. Mikael Granlund, F, Min (128)
137. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (139)
138. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (148)
139. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (129)
140. Ben Scrivens, G, Edm (172)
141. Jaroslav Halak, G, Was (122)
142. Ales Hemsky, F, Ott (NR)
143. Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI (131)
144. Olli Maatta, D, Pit (186)
145. Erik Johnson, D, Col (157)
146. Andrej Sekera, D, Car (145)
147. Troy Brouwer, F, Was (160)
148. Evgeni Nabokov, G, NYI (137)
149. John Carlson, D, Was (166)
150. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (140)
151. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (154)
152. Tyson Barrie, D, Col (143)
153. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (151)
154. Radko Gudas, D, TB (159)
155. Jason Garrison, D, Van (133)
156. Loui Eriksson, F, Bos (192)
157. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (168)
158. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (155)
159. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (130)
160. Wayne Simmonds, F, Phi (141)
161. Alex Killorn, F, TB (158)
162. Nathan Horton, F, Cls (135)
163. R. Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (153)
164. Kimmo Timonen, D, Phi (NR)
165. Nick Bonino, F, Ana (146)
166. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (164)
167. Mike Smith, G, Pho (165)
168. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (138)
169. Mike Richards, F, LA (169)
170. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (174)
171. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (177)
172. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (178)
173. Mike Fisher, F, Nsh (180)
174. Ryan Strome, F, NYI (171)
175. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (34)
176. Cam Ward, G, Car (150)
177. Milan Michalek, F, Ott (NR)
178. Teddy Purcell, F, TB (181)
179. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (182)
180. Nino Niederreiter, F, Min (183)
181. Alex Goligoski, D, Dal (184)
182. F. Beauchemin, D, Ana (196)
183. Brooks Laich, F, Was (NR)
184. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (188)
185. Carl Hagelin, F, NYR (NR)
186. Roman Josi, D, Nsh (190)
187. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (111)
188. Mark Streit, D, Phi (179)
189. Andrew Shaw, F, Chi (NR)
190. Frederik Andersen, G, Ana (191)
191. Mikael Backlund, F, Cgy (193)
192. Michael Grabner, F, NYI (NR)
193. Hampus Lindholm, D, Ana (197)
194. Mats Zuccarello, F, NYR (185)
195. David Desharnais, F, Mon (NR)
196. Cody Hodgson, F, Buf (199)
197. Mike Cammalleri, F, Cgy (NR)
198. Martin Brodeur, G, NJ (NR)
199. Ondrej Palat, F, TB (NR)
200. Tyler Johnson, F, TB (NR)

Brooks Laich, F, Washington Capitals: It's been a few seasons since Laich has been relied upon as more than a third-line pivot, but don't think the skills have eroded. Laich can sit in front of the net and collect rebounds or centering passes with the best of them. He scored 25 goals the last time he was steadily on the Capitals' second line and first power-play unit in 2009-10. Now, he appears poised to remain on the first line and first power-play unit. Ovechkin and Backstrom have been working with Marcus Johansson for most of the season, but Johansson just hasn't popped on the score sheet as one might hope. Laich has three points in his past three games, and six points in his past six games. Of course, he also missed a contest with a sore groin. He was injured for a lot of last season and missed time earlier this season, as well. But if Laich can stay healthy, he is in a position to succeed. He's even more available than Stempniak, sitting on the wire in 94 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Patrick Maroon, F, Anaheim Ducks: Getzlaf and Perry have mostly been paired with Dustin Penner this season. Once Penner was shipped out ahead of the trade deadline, the Ducks had to find a new top-line winger. Kyle Palmieri got first crack at the gig, and has a scoring touch, but as soon as the going got tough on Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, coach Bruce Boudreau switched to Maroon. For players who like to use the body as much as Getzlaf and Perry, Maroon is a much better fit. He has four inches and 30 pounds on Palmieri, and can be just as physical as his linemates. This may be a rotational situation that involves even more bodies, but Maroon profiles similar to Penner on the ice and Boudreau clearly likes the combination of size with Getzlaf and Perry. Maroon doesn't have the skill around the net that Palmieri (or even Penner) has, but stay on the ice long enough with Getzlaf and Perry and the points will come. The wild card here is Nick Bonino, who fits somewhere in between the size profile of Palmieri and Maroon and has already shown a connection with Getzlaf and Perry on the power play. But ever since an upper-body injury suffered before the Olympic break, Bonino's scoring has dropped off. Although you should look for Stempniak and Laich first, Maroon may be the only one available to you, given his near-universal availability in ESPN.com leagues.

Forwards rising and falling

Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay Lightning (down nine spots to No. 12): Our bad. We forgot that Stamkos isn't actually Superman. His speedy recovery from a broken leg was borderline super human, but his speed on the ice isn't quite back yet. It's evident after three games that Stamkos isn't the Stamkos fantasy owners need him to be. That said, his speed will come with time. He'll be getting stronger every day, and he remains one of the sharpest snipers in the game. We don't think he will wholly drop off the radar, but we are tempering expectations of Stamkos finishing the season among the uber-elite.

Johan Franzen, F, Detroit Red Wings (up 39 spots to No. 54): Finally back up in the rankings where he started the season, Franzen has looked unstoppable without Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk around; his connection with Gustav Nyquist on the ice is impressive. In fact, David Legwand completes the trio in a way where the Red Wings appear ready to get by without their two superstars. Franzen has 11 points in six games since coming out of the Olympic break healthy, and with the team leaning heavily on him and Nyquist, look for the trend to continue. You won't find Franzen or Nyquist available anywhere, but Legwand is on the wire in one-third of ESPN.com leagues.

Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver Canucks (down 28 spots to No. 63): O brother, where art thou? Sedin earned his first point on Monday since Jan. 10. Ouch. Clearly, Henrik needs Daniel Sedin to finish his passes. We are still clinging to hope that the twins can finish the season strong if Daniel returns in two weeks' time. However, there is likely no reason for the Canucks to rush him back, and hamstring injuries can easily stretch out longer than expected. If we don't get word of an impending return by Daniel, Henrik may spiral further down the rankings.

Jason Spezza, F, Ottawa Senators (up 25 spots to No. 74): For the first time since early this season, Spezza is the top Senators forward in the rankings. Clarke MacArthur's injury has slowed down the second line and Ales Hemsky's arrival has served to jump-start Spezza. Both Spezza and Hemsky have six points in the past two games while playing together on the Sens' top line. Oddly, it hasn't been Hemsky's speed making most of the difference; the goals against the Nashville Predators on Monday were all on plays where offensive zone possession was already established for some time. Clearly, Spezza digs having Hemsky around. Hemsky is available in 75 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but if you miss out on him you can fall back on Milan Michalek. The third member of the line is available in 70 percent of leagues, and isn't being targeted as much as Hemsky.

Defensemen rising and falling

Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins (up 26 spots to No. 76): New defense partner, new life for Chara. They've played only one game together at this point, but Chara and Andrej Meszaros appear to be a stellar match. They looked smooth on Sunday, with each player earning a point in the game. Better yet, Chara didn't have to spend 25 to 27 minutes on the ice, and a well-rested Chara seems to score more points. In his past 16 games, Chara has played eight games under 25 minutes of ice time and has seven points in those contests. In the remaining eight games, where he has played more than 25 minutes, he has two points. A steady defender like Meszaros should help keep Chara rested and able to concentrate on scoring more, instead of looking after Dougie Hamilton defensively.

Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 42 spots to No. 144): We are trying to remain reserved about this ranking for Maatta, but we may only be able to hold back on him for so long. Both of his goals this past Thursday against the San Jose Sharks were not from point shots, but rather from in close after joining the rush. That is the kind of confident pinching that we don't often see from 19-year-olds against such a formidable opponent. Maatta looks rock solid on the power-play blue line with Evgeni Malkin, sometimes seeing time with the first unit ahead of Matt Niskanen. If Maatta can continue the momentum he has built in recent weeks, there is still plenty of room to grow in the rankings for him. He is almost universally owned, but 8 percent of ESPN leagues can still pounce on him.

Goaltenders rising and falling

Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers (down eight spots to No. 52): You might have anticipated a farther drop, but as we explained in this week's Forecaster, the Panthers are a better home for Luongo than the Canucks were this season. Just ask Eddie Lack how his Monday went. Luongo had a shutout in his return to the Panthers on Friday, and followed it up with a stellar 37-save performance against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. There will still be plenty of fantasy value for Bobby Lou for the remainder of this season, just don't bank on him for wins.

Tim Thomas, G, Dallas Stars (up 70 spots to No. 128): Before the scary incident with Rich Peverley on Monday, Thomas was starting his first game of what will probably be many for the remainder of the Stars season. Kari Lehtonen has what is likely a nasty concussion from getting his head rung off the crossbar on Saturday. Thomas, who was brought in as insurance at the trade deadline, will begin paying off immediately. He closed out Saturday's game for a win, and stopped eight of the nine shots early in Monday's game before it was postponed due to Peverley's collapse. Thomas thrives when he has strong defense in front of him, and there is no question the Stars are better than the Panthers. That said, they aren't a whole lot better. While Thomas is definitely worth grabbing given the situation with Lehtonen, it is not a guarantee that the numbers will be worthwhile for fantasy owners.

Quick hits

• The situation with Peverley was quite concerning on Monday, and our thoughts are with him as he recovers. As hard-core as he is for wanting back in the game when he regained consciousness, Peverley will likely miss some time. Prior to the incident, he had been clicking on the top line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and his replacement could have some value as well. Erik Cole is probably a good bet to earn a chance with Seguin and Benn, given how hot he has been, but the Stars could also look to Valeri Nichushkin.

• Speaking of duos earlier in this article, Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias are quite the duo themselves. The two have accounted for five goals in the past two games, with Henrique on a six-game goal-scoring streak, with nine tallies and 11 points during that span.

• The Colorado Avalanche have seemingly lost P.A. Parenteau for a while. The final word on the severity of his knee injury has yet to come, but there have been suggestions that it is serious. Jamie McGinn is the place to look for value in his stead, playing with Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly.

Cory Conacher has a shot at some value on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford for the Buffalo Sabres, but that is a gamble that should only be taken in deep leagues.

• It's pretty clear that the Edmonton Oilers can ice only one scoring line at this point. Right now, that is whichever line Taylor Hall is on, and that means Sam Gagner and David Perron are solid fantasy players for the time being. Of course, that also means that Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are suspect. However, this situation is fluid.

• The Panthers have lots of room for young players to make a statement offensively. Brandon Pirri is definitely one to watch as the season winds down, but it's Sean Bergenheim that is, once again, making a late-season statement. Bergenheim's streakiness and previous postseason exploits are reasons he can never be completely written off in fantasy.

Tuomo Ruutu earned Jaromir Jagr linemate duty in his second game with the New Jersey Devils and came away with two points. Anyone playing with Jagr is worth monitoring.

• Be prepared for the Canucks to give Jacob Markstrom a look soon, as Lack has already had two meltdowns since Luongo was traded away. Markstrom has a rock-solid .918 save percentage this season in the AHL for the San Antonio Rampage, who are hanging around near the bottom of the AHL standings.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


ALSO SEE