Front Line: Beyond the Top 100

Updated: February 4, 2013, 4:58 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Sidney Crosby is really good at hockey. Steven Stamkos is pretty darn good, too. And that Evgeni Malkin guy, boy can he play.

The focus of fantasy discussion has a tendency to trend toward the elite. There is nothing wrong with discussing and analyzing the elite players in the league, but it is less likely you will glean some key information in such discussions. Front Line gives you the ranks of the Top 100 fantasy forwards for the remainder of the season based on ESPN fantasy hockey standard league scoring. While it is necessary to take time to analyze these rankings and discuss the players who are trending up or trending down, sometimes it feels like we are ignoring the players ranked No. 101 or above.

A Top 100 is a nice clean number, but it doesn't fully encompass the player pool that even the most shallow leagues must consider. An ESPN standard league has nine forward roster spots, one utility spot that tends to be a forward and five bench spots which typically include two to three additional forwards. So even in a 10-team league, there are likely 120 forwards owned, not counting injured reserve roster room. In a 12-team league, that number is 156 forwards.

Little known fact: The Front Line rankings typically extend out to 110 or 120 in order to keep track of players on the rise and those who may simply be experiencing a dip in production. We only publish the Top 100, but the rankings go a little further. This week, the players ranked No. 101 to No. 110 are such a diverse group on the rise, that we will be taking some time to have a closer look at them before we dive into the rest of the Top 100.

Daniel Alfredsson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesGiven Jason Spezza's injury, Daniel Alfredsson will need to pick up his offense and could quickly rise up the forward ranks.

No. 101 -- Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: The injury to Jason Spezza means that Alfie is going to have to rediscover his offense. The veteran captain has spent the last couple of seasons playing a supplementary role on the Sens' second line, but he is a first-line player again with Spezza out. Alfredsson has elite options to play with, including Kyle Turris, Milan Michalek, Jakob Silfverberg and Erik Condra. He already has some chemistry established with the up-and-coming Turris but will need a little time to settle in with Michalek, Condra or Silfverberg. Luckily for Alfredsson (not so for Spezza), Spezza will be out indefinitely with some discussion about whether he will even return in time for the playoffs. Alfie is owned universally in ESPN leagues, but most owners will consider him as a No. 8 or No. 9 forward on their teams. With his new role, he could move up and be a top-75 forward for the remainder of the season.

No. 102 -- Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders: A slick playmaker who has an established chemistry with Michael Grabner, Nielsen has looked solid at even strength with Grabner and Brad Boyes as the second line for the Islanders. But on the power play, he has looked simply awesome. Nielsen is playing on the top power-play unit with John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Boyes and Mark Streit. He would easily be a Top-100 player if not for the looming return of Lubomir Visnovsky -- a rock star on the power-play point. It will be tempting for coach Jack Capuano to quickly add Visnovsky to the first power-play unit. That would occur at the expense of Boyes or Nielsen. But Nielsen still makes a good gamble as he has 7 assists through seven games this season, with 5 of them on the man advantage.

No. 103 -- Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: While technically comprising the Leafs' third line with Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov, Kadri is pacing the team in points (7) through eight games. His ice time has been increasing as the season progresses, and his production will continue to rise as Kadri gains responsibility. In addition to his showing at even strength, Kadri has been playing the second power-play unit with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. The power-play time is what separates him from Frattin, though both players are worth owning at this point.

No. 104 -- Antoine Vermette, Phoenix Coyotes: A consistent producer, Vermette tends to find fantasy value when he finds a solid line and stays with it. So far, he looks exceptionally comfortable with Shane Doan on the Coyotes' second line. His 5 points in nine games don't jump off the page, but it was 5 points in six games before Steve Sullivan was injured. Doan and Vermette have been silent without Sullivan in three games, but Sullivan is only considered day-to-day and will return soon.

No. 105 -- Zach Boychuk, Pittsburgh Penguins: Being claimed off of waivers by the Penguins might be the best thing to ever happen to Boychuk. Though Boychuk was struggling to find a role with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Penguins were happy to take the winger and slap him on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. While the trio hasn't been scoring through two games, the team has been. The Pens' 11 goals in two games with Boychuk in the lineup will mean he has a longer leash to get adjusted to Malkin and Neal. If you are in a league that has any depth and need to make a big pickup, don't wait for a breakout game and grab Boychuk preemptively.

No. 106 -- Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames: Making his debut three games into the season, Hudler has looked swift, smooth and intelligent on the Flames' third line. Calling it the "third line" may be disingenuous since Hudler, Roman Cervenka and Matt Stajan have played as much as any line during the past three games. Hudler has 2 goals and 3 assists in three games, and the sky is the limit for his continued production. Hudler has shown massive offensive potential in both the AHL and the KHL. This quick start could signal a breakout campaign.

No. 107 -- Peter Mueller, Florida Panthers: The numbers don't show what Mueller has looked like on the ice for the Panthers. The first forward in on the forecheck and a consistent presence around the net, Mueller has looked very solid in his continued return from a prolonged concussion. Playing with rookie Jonathan Huberdeau on the second line, Mueller has the upside to be a fantasy regular in even shallow leagues. The Panthers have to be given a pass on offense, since the team's first line played its first game of the season together on Sunday. Now that Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann are back together, they should begin to draw some of the attention from opponents and allow the second line to get some extra breathing room. In addition, rookie Drew Shore's style has been a perfect fit with Huberdeau and Mueller, evidenced by Mueller's goal on Sunday. Shore made a phenomenal play to dump the puck in, skate past Tyler Myers, pick up his own rebound off the end boards and set up Mueller in front of the Sabres' goal.

No. 108 -- Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers: Hemsky is the elder statesman of the Oilers' top six forwards, but he has the speed and quick hands to keep up with them. His point totals have not kept up with that of linemates Sam Gagner or Nail Yakupov, but he is involved in a lot of the scoring plays and opportunities that are being generated. Gagner has managed to score at least 1 point in all eight games this season, and Yakupov already has 5 goals. That kind of production from both of Hemsky's linemates suggests that his pace will inevitably improve.

No. 109 -- Kyle Palmieri, Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks' offense has been inconsistent but dangerous. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry looked good early but have slowed down. Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan looked lost early, but have picked up the pace lately. Nick Bonino and Emerson Etem are showing signs of promise. It's Matt Beleskey still playing on the top line with Perry and Getzlaf. The trio of Daniel Winnik, Andrew Cogliano and Saku Koivu were world beaters in the first two games of the season but have slowed considerably. Through all of the ups and downs, surprises and hot streaks, it's Palmieri who leads the Ducks in shots on goal. That is despite playing fewer than 10 minutes of ice time during some contests. Palmieri seems to have settled in on a line with Ryan and Selanne, and he has 3 goals in the past two games. Palmieri had 2 points in the first two games of the season when he was playing with Getzlaf and Perry. Clearly, this is a winger who can excel with top talent. If coach Bruce Boudreau gives him the ice time and a consistent role, look for Palmieri to quickly establish himself.

No. 110 -- Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings: Look, Brown isn't the only member of the Kings to have a terrible offensive start to the season. He is paying the penalty in these rankings, having dropped out of the Top 100 thanks mostly to his minus-6. That said, his 3 goals in the past two games are a sign of good things to come. Brown is still sharing the ice with Anze Kopitar at every turn and a spike in his shots on goal during the past week may be a sign the top line is getting into gear. In addition, the top power-play unit looks great on the ice with Kopitar, Brown, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter working the puck. History says Brown is going to bounce back at some point.

Rising and Falling

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. Sidney Crosby, Pit (3)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (1)
4. Martin St. Louis, TB (12)
5. Patrick Kane, Chi (18)
6. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
7. Claude Giroux, Phi (6)
8. Zach Parise, Min (11)
9. Patrick Marleau, SJ (15)
10. John Tavares, NYI (10)
11. Marian Hossa, Chi (9)
12. Henrik Sedin, Van (8)
13. Rick Nash, NYR (14)
14. Patrick Sharp, Chi (13)
15. Eric Staal, Car (24)
16. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (33)
17. Corey Perry, Ana (5)
18. Alex Ovechkin, Was (16)
19. Thomas Vanek, Buf (37)
20. James Neal, Pit (7)
21. Jonathan Toews, Chi (17)
22. Marian Gaborik, NYR (19)
23. Joe Thornton, SJ (26)
24. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (22)
25. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (25)
26. Joe Pavelski, SJ (28)
27. Anze Kopitar, LA (21)
28. Logan Couture, SJ (34)
29. Tyler Seguin, Bos (20)
30. Taylor Hall, Edm (44)
31. Cory Conacher, TB (69)
32. Dany Heatley, Min (27)
33. Jason Pominville, Buf (47)
34. Jordan Eberle, Edm (30)
35. Radim Vrbata, Pho (56)
36. Mikko Koivu, Min (35)
37. T.J. Oshie, StL (36)
38. Vladimir Tarasenko, StL (48)
39. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (62)
40. Alexander Semin, Car (50)
41. Jamie Benn, Dal (31)
42. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (32)
43. Matt Moulson, NYI (40)
44. Teddy Purcell, TB (58)
45. David Backes, StL (42)
46. Brad Richards, NYR (43)
47. Mike Ribeiro, Was (78)
48. Phil Kessel, Tor (38)
49. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (92)
50. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (41)
51. Milan Lucic, Bos (46)
52. Matt Duchene, Col (63)
53. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (49)
54. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (29)
55. Teemu Selanne, Ana (51)
56. Andy McDonald, StL (52)
57. Johan Franzen, Det (70)
58. David Perron, StL (61)
59. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (39)
60. P.A. Parenteau, Col (NR)
61. Chris Kunitz, Pit (65)
62. David Clarkson, NJ (NR)
63. Evander Kane, Wpg (57)
64. Loui Eriksson, Dal (54)
65. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (53)
66. Jeff Skinner, Car (73)
67. Nathan Horton, Bos (59)
68. Patrik Elias, NJ (84)
69. Jordan Staal, Car (60)
70. Zack Kassian, Van (86)
71. Kyle Turris, Ott (71)
72. Nail Yakupov, Edm (66)
73. Mikkel Boedker, Pho (NR)
74. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (64)
75. Alex Burrows, Van (68)
76. Sam Gagner, Edm (NR)
77. Max Pacioretty, Mon (101)
78. Adam Henrique, NJ (77)
79. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (98)
80. Alexander Steen, StL (72)
81. Bobby Ryan, Ana (97)
82. Cody Hodgson, Buf (89)
83. Martin Havlat, SJ (74)
84. Rene Bourque, Mon (NR)
85. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (83)
86. Milan Michalek, Ott (76)
87. Shane Doan, Pho (79)
88. Jeff Carter, LA (67)
89. Alex Galchenyuk, Mon (NR)
90. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (NR)
91. Brad Marchand, Bos (85)
92. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (55)
93. Olli Jokinen, Wpg (81)
95. Kris Versteeg, Fla (95)
96. Damien Brunner, Det (NR)
97. Jamie McGinn, Col (NR)
98. Patrik Berglund, StL (NR)
99. Michael Grabner, NYI (NR)
100. David Krejci, Bos (NR)
101. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (106)

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (up two spots to No. 1): Watching the past two Penguins games has provided viewers with a simple truth: Crosby has found his groove. He is the unquestioned No. 1 player in fantasy hockey when he is on his game, and this past weekend's 6-point performance in games against the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals are indicators that he is dialed in. Crosby trailed Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin in these rankings during this season because Malkin was closer to being game-ready and Stamkos' consistency is tough to beat. But Crosby jumps past both of them this week with all signs pointing to Sid being ready to dominate again.

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins (down nine spots to No. 29): Something isn't right with Seguin. Just 1 goal in eight games is an 82-game pace of 10 goals. This from a player who scored 29 goals during the last NHL season, breaking out as a sophomore star. Coach Claude Julien has floated the suggestion that Seguin can't readjust to the NHL-sized ice after playing in Europe during the lockout. It doesn't look like Seguin is out of position all that often, so the suggestion doesn't likely hold water. Given that Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are by no means "slumping" to start the season, Seguin's struggles should be overlooked. Marchand and Bergeron are both banged up a little right now, so don't sweat if Seguin isn't back on track right away. He is good enough to wait for.

Cory Conacher, Tampa Bay Lightning (up 38 spots to No. 31): Held off of the score sheet just twice this season, Conacher has 12 points in eight games. This may be a hot streak, but it's a hot streak with some meaning behind it. Conacher is everywhere on the ice when he has a shift and his quick trigger is the cause of most of his 5 goals. Even if the bounces aren't going his way at some point this season, he generates so many chances that the points will continue to come. And if you've got a problem with him, Honey Badger don't care.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (down 10 spots to No. 41): He probably just needs some time after missing the abbreviated training camp. Benn has looked a bit slow on the puck in four games since he and the Stars agreed on a contract. He missed camp and five games of the season as the two sides danced around a final agreement. It's not unheard of for restricted free agent holdouts to have some struggles when they return. Benn is surrounded by talent on the top line and will inevitably break this funk -- it's just a matter of when. His connection with Loui Eriksson has long been established and having Jaromir Jagr on the other side can't hurt. Perhaps the lack of a second scoring line, with Derek Roy and Ray Whitney injured, is hampering the top line's production. Whatever the issue, Benn has to start showing something soon. It's a very short season.

Jamie McGinn, Colorado Avalanche (enters ranks at No. 97): It must be one of those stats that is kept internally, because finding it on the Internet does not appear to be possible. During Saturday's broadcast, the Avalanche color commentator pointed out that not only does McGinn lead the NHL in hit goal posts and crossbars, but he has more than double the number of any other player. At the time, he had rung the iron eight times in seven games and went on to score his first goal of the season against the Edmonton Oilers in his eighth game. While such a statistic may not be so telling in all cases, with a player like McGinn -- who's bread and butter is staying close to the net -- a high number of hit posts and crossbars is an indicator of bad luck. He could have 5 or 6 goals this season if luck hadn't decided to be a few inches against him. McGinn has been filling in on the top line with Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau while Gabriel Landeskog is out, but there is a Plan B as McGinn has shown a connection with Paul Stastny. McGinn had 8 goals and 4 assists in 17 games on a line with Stastny and David Jones last season.

Scoring Lines

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: A quick recovery from an appendectomy and an immediate impact upon his return. Pacioretty was on the ice for both goals on Sunday and recorded a helper. He skated with his regular linemates, David Desharnais and Erik Cole. The Habs now have a sneaky good offense. The resurgence of Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec have created a dangerous line with Rene Bourque thanks to Bourque's willingness to crash the net. Plus, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk continue to look exceptionally sharp and shifty on a line with Brandon Prust. Take your pick from this group of sleeper candidates as Plekanec is the only one owned in more than 57 percent of ESPN leagues.

Patrick Berglund, St. Louis Blues: The depth of the Blues' offense is beginning to shine. Berglund has now tied rookie Vladimir Tarasenko for the team lead with 5 goals. Playing with the defensively responsible Matt D'Agostini and creative forechecker Chris Stewart, Berglund has earned 3 points at even strength. It's on the power play with T.J. Oshie, David Perron and David Backes where Berglund has earned 4 of his 7 points.

Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes: Injuries have limited first-line center Martin Hanzal to just five games. The trio of Hanzal, Boedker and Radim Vrbata have managed to get on the score sheet in every single game they have played together. In the five games Hanzal has played, the combined output from these three players is 8 goals and 7 assists. The Coyotes might have themselves a legitimate first line.

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks: No, he doesn't have any points yet this season. But Saad has, on several occasions, displayed his game-breaking speed and deft puck skills while playing on a line with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. Though it does look like Patrick Kane will be the catalyst for the Hawks this season, Hossa and Toews are pretty darn good, too. Saad is going to have a breakout game at some point -- consider this is a warning.

Infirmary

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks: Parts of a report in the Vancouver Province make it sound like Kesler will be back next week and parts of the report make it sound like he might never come back. That is hyperbole, of course, but the point is that any news is good news, and Kesler may be closer to a return than we think. A sneaky pickup wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to do, especially if you have a bench spot to spare.

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers: An MRI revealed that Callahan will be out for up to two weeks with a shoulder subluxation. But you don't need a magnetic resonance imaging machine to notice that the Rangers' first line is the team's only fantasy-relevant line. Use this as an excuse to excuse Callahan from your team.

Derek Roy and Ray Whitney, Dallas Stars: The Stars still have not had their top six forwards on the ice together in a game this season. Roy will finally make his post-Benn signing return on Monday night after missing five games with a groin injury. Whitney has a broken foot and will miss four to six weeks of action. Given the very tight window for this season, you would be forgiven for cutting ties with Whitney. However, try to make room for him if you can. He was off to a pretty good start and was going to get better when the lineup was all together.

Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning: It's a bone bruise and Vinny doesn't expect to miss any games. So for those of you who were worried after seeing him go down when he took a Sami Salo slapper off the foot, don't sweat it.

Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers: A John Erskine elbow to the head has Simmonds out with a concussion. Of course, depending on the severity, this could be serious. Don't fret until we get more information on just how bad it is. However, picking up Tye McGinn might be a good move in deeper leagues. He would benefit the most if Simmonds were out for an extended period of time.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: Owners in weekly leagues might want to sit Marchand, who's out with a shoulder injury after he went hard into the boards. However, coach Claude Julien suggested Marchand still could have played in Saturday's game.

Guillaume Latendresse, Ottawa Senators: It's the flu that has kept Latendresse out for the past couple of games. With Jason Spezza out for an extended period of time, the Sens need offense from other sources. Latendresse could provide that boost with more playing time. Keep him on your radar.

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.

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