Front Line: Updated forward ranks

Plenty of changes as season finally begins after lockout

Updated: January 8, 2013, 4:34 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Here we are. More than three months and a lot of grief later, here we are. Part of me wanted to wax on about what the lockout meant and what the resolution means going forward. But I'll spare you that. Let's focus on the positive.

[+] EnlargeEvgeni Malkin
Gregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesDespite a number of changes during the lockout, Evgeni Malkin is still the top option among forwards when the season begins.

As of this writing, the NHL is expected to return with an abbreviated 48-game schedule beginning on Saturday, Jan. 19. That means some whirlwind moments for fantasy owners during the next 10 days. That applies to leagues that have drafted and leagues that will be rushing a draft out the door in that time.

In some respects, not a lot changed for players' values since September. As an example, the Pittsburgh Penguins have no injuries (that we know about), a full returning roster and no prospects that have forced more consideration had the season started in October. Therefore, the numbers we anticipated for Evgeni Malkin when we put together our draft kit in September can simply be prorated to a 48-game schedule. He is still our No. 1 pick for fantasy hockey drafts.

But in some respects, a lot has changed. As an example, Derek Roy was expected to miss at least a month when the season was to begin in October. We projected some minor league prospects to get a decent look with the Dallas Stars during his absence and accounted for diminished production on the team's second line. Now, Roy is healthy and heading into a campaign looking to redeem himself as a strong playmaker that can have an impact on the scoresheet. It doesn't change a lot, but it swings some values up and down because he had the time to recover.

As a stronger example of things changing vastly, have a look at the Edmonton Oilers and, specifically, Jordan Eberle. We had pushed Eberle's draft ranking up heading into this season and had him as No. 31 among all forwards. But with the way he has simply torn up the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons (51 points in 34 games), it seems more than appropriate to elevate his stock ahead of the season (we moved him up to No. 21).

There are many other little shifts and slides in the rankings that I will highlight in the Top 100, but I will also get into some of the burning questions that can have an impact with the players further down the rankings.

Top 100 Forwards

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. September'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 (6)
6. John Tavares, NYI (7)
7. Claude Giroux, Phi (5)
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 (15)
15. Zach Parise, Min (16)
16. Jason Spezza, Ott (17)
17. Phil Kessel, Tor (18)
18. Anze Kopitar, LA (14)
19. Rick Nash, NYR (19)
20. Eric Staal, Car (20)
21. Jordan Eberle, Edm (31)
22. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (21)
23. Scott Hartnell, Phi (22)
24. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (23)
25. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (24)
26. Patrick Marleau, SJ (25)
27. Mikko Koivu, Min (26)
28. Tyler Seguin, Bos (27)
29. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (28)
30. Marian Hossa, Chi (35)
31. Martin St. Louis, TB (29)
32. Jordan Staal, Car (30)
33. Joe Thornton, SJ (32)
34. David Backes, StL (33)
35. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (34)
36. Teemu Selanne, Ana (40)
37. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (36)
38. Taylor Hall, Edm (37)
39. Jamie Benn, Dal (38)
40. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (39)
41. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (41)
42. Patrick Kane, Chi (42)
43. Joe Pavelski, SJ (43)
44. Dany Heatley, Min (44)
45. Alexander Semin, Car (45)
46. Milan Lucic, Bos (46)
47. Logan Couture, SJ (47)
48. Matt Moulson, NYI (48)
49. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (49)
50. T.J. Oshie, StL (50)
51. Ray Whitney, Dal (55)
52. Olli Jokinen, Wpg (51)
53. Johan Franzen, Det (52)
54. Nathan Horton, Bos (53)
55. Jeff Carter, LA (54)
56. Brayden Schenn, Phi (64)
57. Tyler Ennis, Buf (59)
58. Thomas Vanek, Buf (56)
59. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (57)
60. James van Riemsdyk, Tor (58)
61. Jakub Voracek, Phi (61)
62. Drew Stafford, Buf (62)
63. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (63)
64. Radim Vrbata, Pho (65)
65. Marian Gaborik, NYR (66)
66. Alex Burrows, Van (67)
67. Max Pacioretty, Mon (68)
68. David Perron, StL (69)
69. Teddy Purcell, TB (70)
70. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (71)
71. Paul Stastny, Col (72)
72. Andy McDonald, StL (98)
73. Jason Pominville, Buf (74)
74. Evander Kane, Wpg (75)
75. Jeff Skinner, Car (76)
76. Dustin Brown, LA (77)
77. Bobby Ryan, Ana (78)
78. Mike Richards, LA (79)
79. Brandon Dubinsky, Cls (84)
80. Loui Eriksson, Dal (80)
81. Nail Yakupov, Edm (73)
82. Patrik Elias, NJ (81)
83. Ryan Kesler, Van (60)
84. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (83)
85. Kris Versteeg, Fla (85)
86. Jonathan Huberdeau, Fla (86)
87. Peter Mueller, Fla (87)
88. Mike Ribeiro, Was (88)
89. Stephen Weiss, Fla (89)
90. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (90)
91. Adam Henrique, NJ (82)
92. Justin Williams, LA (91)
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 (NR)
99. Shane Doan, Pho (99)
100. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (100)

Rising and Falling

Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers (up eight spots to No. 56): Like Eberle, Schenn will be coming into this lockout-shortened season already hot. He leads the Flyers AHL affiliate Adirondack Phantoms with 33 points in 33 games. While increased production was expected from Schenn this season, the strong showing in the AHL reinforces what was hearsay before. In addition, there are questions surrounding the health of Claude Giroux (neck) and Danny Briere (wrist) heading into game action. But even if both stars are healthy, Schenn will be looked at to anchor the team's secondary scoring and possibly play a first-unit role on the power play (maybe even with his brother Luke Schenn on the point).

Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues (up 26 spots to No. 72): There is something appealing about a short season when it comes to players who perennially miss time with injury. While the argument can be made that missed games should also simply be prorated to a 48-game campaign for these players, there is a counterargument that a shorter season means fewer chances to get hurt or worn down. McDonald has been a superstar when healthy during the past few seasons. That risk for injury kept him on the fringes of the Top 100 heading into an October start date. But now that he only has to last from January through the playoffs, it just seems easier to believe a guy like McDonald might stay healthy. The same kind of logic can be applied to his teammate Alexander Steen, Martin Havlat of the San Jose Sharks and, to a lesser extent, Ales Hemsky of the Edmonton Oilers. All these players are injury risks, but a 48-game season is a lot closer to what they tend to end up playing over what is usually supposed to be an 82-game campaign.

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks (down 23 spots to No. 83): Unlike the example of Roy above, Kesler did not inspire confidence when given the extra time to recover from May shoulder surgery and June wrist surgery. A return date of December was being tossed around when the season was supposed to start in October. Now, with the season set to begin in January, Kesler is still not expected to be ready to return to the ice with the Canucks. His recovery is reportedly going slowly. Recent comments from his agent, Kurt Overhardt, to TSN.ca do nothing to inspire confidence: "Our goal for Ryan is that he's able to play the next 10 years, not the next two months." That doesn't sound encouraging when, in this case, two months can represent more than 60 percent of the season. That said, Kesler is worth the risk at some point in a fantasy draft because of his on-ice ability to stuff most categories. If you are feeling confident in your draft after 80 forwards are off the board, consider stashing him away for the stretch run. If he returns during fantasy playoff time, he is going to do damage for your team or one of your opponents.

Infirmary

" Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Kopitar suffered an MCL strain over the weekend, which puts his return into early February. We don't know how many games he might miss, but a fair estimate is at least 10. He doesn't fall too far down the rankings, though.

" Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks: The news with Hossa is positive. The extra time off means he is coming into the season with no lingering questions about the concussion he suffered during the playoffs. Bump him up a few spots in your personal rankings.

" Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: With the cast off his injured thumb, Henrique is expected to be returning in early February. Missing a handful of games will hurt his value, but not too much. The bigger risk is that Travis Zajac will get a head start on cementing the role of top-line center man alongside Ilya Kovalchuk. Don't count Henrique out of the race, though.

" Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens: The injury isn't serious, but an upper-body ailment couldn't come at a worse time for Plekanec. For the first time in a few seasons, Plekanec doesn't enter training camp as the Habs' No. 1 center. Missing part of an abbreviated camp won't help him in his quest to win back the top-pivot role from David Desharnais or fend off a challenge from rookie Alex Galchenyuk.

" Roman Cervenka, Calgary Flames: Perhaps the most devastating injury news for fantasy owners who play in leagues with "casual" NHL fans is a blood clot that has Cervenka out indefinitely. Tabbed as the best player outside the NHL last season, the Czech forward was set to debut on a revamped Flames second line with fellow newcomer Jiri Hudler. The sky was the limit for the 27-year-old who led the KHL in goals two seasons ago. Now, we aren't even sure when he can fly overseas to be examined by his team's doctors. This injury also hurts the players projected to round out the second line for the Flames: Hudler and prospect Sven Baertschi.

" Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes: We were all expecting him to get hurt at some point, but Ruutu has made it easy on us and will be out until at least April with a hip injury. This opens the door a little wider for Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe, who were both competing for a roster spot and have had solid stats in the AHL this season.

Scoring Lines

Since we have no recent depth charts to analyze, here are a few players about whom I've changed my opinion since September.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs: Word out of Toronto is that the project to move van Riemsdyk to center (thus solving the Leafs' depth-chart issues) is off, given the short training camp and looming start of the season. That means the Maple Leafs' best three players all play on the wing. Unless Joffrey Lupul or Phil Kessel can secretly play center, the Leafs will not have the best possible lineup on the ice. Given how Kessel and Lupul connected last season, here's betting van Riemsdyk is the odd one out.

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets: With no Rick Nash, Blue Jackets fans are going to need someone to cheer for. There is an increasing chance Atkinson can be that someone. Though Ryan Johansen and even (the quickly aging) Derick Brassard are still in the mix as possible scoring stars, Atkinson has some tangible numbers to be excited about. He currently sits third in the AHL with 38 points in 33 games for the Springfield Falcons. Take this with a grain of salt, though, as being 5-foot-7 in the AHL is a lot different than being 5-7 in the NHL. There are a lot of examples of undersized players who have had success in the minors but been unable to translate it. That said, Atkinson did show some scoring punch in the NHL late last season. Because all bets are off for the Blue Jackets' offense, he's worth a gamble.

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings: Why be more excited about Nyquist now as opposed to back in October? Because one of the players he needs to beat for a top-six roster spot with the Detroit Red Wings is trailing him in scoring through 33 games of the AHL season. Nyquist can have a fantasy impact if he beats out other candidates for a scoring-line role with the Wings. He has a leg up on one of the other leading contenders, Tomas Tatar, by leading him in scoring for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. A potential injury to Valtteri Filppula for the start of the season only further opens the door.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: It just seems more tangible that Tarasenko will have an impact with news that he is already headed to North America following the end of the lockout. Having missed some time with a concussion this season, Tarasenko still managed 31 points in 31 games in a much more competitive KHL this season (for some perspective: Pavel Datsyuk has 36 points in 31 games in the KHL). Do the Blues have room for Tarasenko? Absolutely not. Will they make room for a future superstar if he can show he is ready? They will find a way.

Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders: There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to the Isles' depth chart for this season. There are also two cold hard facts that we know: John Tavares is a stud and Matt Moulson will play alongside Tavares. The question becomes who completes the Islanders' top trio. Kyle Okposo is an easy answer, Michael Grabner is a possibility, Ryan Strome is an upstart and Brad Boyes is a dark horse. Niederreiter is also an intriguing possibility. The Swiss player has never made good on his size or offensive capabilities in the NHL, but is flexing his muscles in the AHL this season. In his first extended look in the minors, Niederreiter has 33 points in 33 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Is it the kind of confidence boost he needs to begin adjusting to the NHL and using his size to earn a first-line role? Maybe. It is easy to forget that he is still only 20 years old.

Jakob Silfverberg, Ottawa Senators: One of a half-dozen candidates for a scoring line role with the Senators back in October, Silfverberg has established himself as one of the favorites now in January. The 22-year-old earned MVP honors in the Swedish Elite League last season before debuting with the Sens in the postseason. While it was difficult to sift him out as a clear front-runner for a top-six role when the season was originally supposed to begin, it is easy now. Silfverberg is the runaway leader for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL with 28 points in 32 games. While that may make him a favorite over Mika Zibanejad and Mark Stone (whom he leads in the AHL), it doesn't put him ahead of Guillaume Latendresse, Kyle Turris or Colin Greening. So the battle isn't over just yet.

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.