Commentary

Front Line: Shots on goal

Updated: February 25, 2013, 9:01 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

In this week's Fantasy Forecaster, we used per-minute statistics to help identify which players have been producing points with limited minutes. While points per minute can help us identify players both scoring and making plays on the ice in limited minutes, shots per minute shows us who is front and center for the action. We will use the same basic approach as in the Fantasy Forecaster to keep the numbers manageable. Our statistic this time is expected shots in 20 minutes of ice time (ES20MIT). As with the original findings of this report, we are using data for games played through Feb. 21.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Now back with the Predators after an injury layoff, Hornqvist is back to playing in the top six and on the first unit power play. We already know he has a propensity for a lot of shots on goal, but his ES20MIT metric is second best in the NHL at 5.88 (first overall is Anthony Peluso, who has fired one shot in 2:49 of one game this season). Hornqvist hangs around in front of the net and battles for every rebound. While, based on his history, he is probably not going to get an increase to 20 minutes of ice time per game, Hornqvist still takes a huge number of shots and will be an asset in leagues -- such as ESPN standard leagues -- that count shots on goal as a category. In addition, Hornqvist contributes to goals and power-play points when the Predators have their offense going. He was dropped in a lot of leagues when he was injured but will probably sneak back into the top 100 forwards again before the end of the season.

[+] EnlargeDavid Clarkson
AP Photo/Henny Ray AbramsWith 10 goals in 19 games, David Clarkson is on a better scoring pace than in his 30 goal, 80-game campaign last season.

David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils: Clarkson's exploits are well documented this season, but we wanted to show him off here to suggest that he won't be slowing down as much as you might expect. Clarkson is firing shots on goal at a clip of 4.8 ES20MIT, which is the fifth-highest rate in the NHL. There will be some slumps for Clarkson, which is why he isn't going to be among the elite at the end of the season, but that isn't to say he is going to drop off and be a non-factor in fantasy. Quite the opposite. Clarkson is now a mainstay on the Devils' top power play and second line. If Clarkson can keep up his penalty minutes as he has in past seasons, he could very well end up as a top 30 player on the ESPN Player Rater by the end of the season.

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets: Returning from an ankle injury, Atkinson immediately stepped on to the Blue Jackets' top line and top power-play unit. He has one lonely assist in his three games back, but has kept his shots on goal total strong enough to post a 4.31 ES20MIT on the season. That number is good for ninth overall in the NHL this season. This team will have its moments this season and Atkinson has a strong chance to be the catalyst for a majority of them. While he was injured, no one stepped up to be the leader of the offense. That means the door is just as open for Atkinson to step through it as it was at the beginning of the season. The Blue Jackets need a new identity post-Rick Nash and Atkinson has the offense to be a key player. Give him another couple of games to get back in the swing of things, then look at scooping him up in deeper leagues before he starts piling on some points.

Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are finally starting to win more games than they have been losing and a big part of the recent turnaround is a return to the line combinations that helped get them through the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Williams is back on the ice with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. The effectiveness of this trio is well known in recent seasons as all three players become fantasy darlings when the line is clicking. Williams is the finisher of the trio and has maintained a ES20MIT rate of 4.22. That makes him the 11th-most frequent shooter in the league on a per-minute basis. A bonus for Williams is that his ice time actually will increase if the Kopitar line can stay active. Williams has been playing closer to 16 minutes per game this season. His average with Kopitar is more than 17 minutes per game.

Drew Shore, Florida Panthers: If you've been paying attention to Shore's play this season it is hard not to be impressed. He is skating hard on every shift and earning his place as an unheralded first-year skater next to one of the most heralded rookies of the season (Jonathan Huberdeau). Shore's ES20MIT has been 3.8 this season in 15 minutes of ice time. His role is slowly increasing as he, Huberdeau and Peter Mueller are finally establishing themselves as the team's top line (as Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss remain hurt and silent). While Shore is taking a lot of shots on goal, he also has seven assists already this season. His ES20MIT is 30th in the league. Of all the players identified here with the ES20MIT metric, Shore is the one who could benefit most from increased ice time.

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 (1)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. John Tavares, NYI (6)
4. Patrick Kane, Chi (5)
5. Martin St. Louis, TB (4)
6. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (9)
7. Eric Staal, Car (12)
8. Claude Giroux, Phi (11)
9. Daniel Sedin, Van (7)
10. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (13)
11. Thomas Vanek, Buf (10)
12. Alex Ovechkin, Was (14)
13. James Neal, Pit (15)
14. Zach Parise, Min (16)
15. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (3)
16. Marian Hossa, Chi (8)
17. Patrick Marleau, SJ (17)
18. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (21)
19. Henrik Sedin, Van (18)
20. Jonathan Toews, Chi (20)
21. Jamie Benn, Dal (22)
22. Joe Thornton, SJ (25)
23. Patrick Sharp, Chi (24)
24. Taylor Hall, Edm (26)
25. Joe Pavelski, SJ (27)
26. Marian Gaborik, NYR (23)
27. Alexander Semin, Car (31)
28. Matt Moulson, NYI (35)
29. Tyler Seguin, Bos (29)
30. Rick Nash, NYR (19)
31. Chris Kunitz, Pit (40)
32. T.J. Oshie, StL (37)
33. Corey Perry, Ana (30)
34. Anze Kopitar, LA (34)
35. Phil Kessel, Tor (39)
36. Jordan Eberle, Edm (33)
37. Jason Pominville, Buf (32)
38. Patrik Elias, NJ (41)
39. Mike Ribeiro, Was (44)
40. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (46)
41. Mikko Koivu, Min (38)
42. Radim Vrbata, Pho (36)
43. David Backes, StL (42)
44. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (43)
45. Logan Couture, SJ (28)
46. Scott Hartnell, Phi (INJ)
47. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (45)
48. David Clarkson, NJ (48)
49. Cory Conacher, TB (51)
50. Teddy Purcell, TB (52)
51. Sam Gagner, Edm (64)
52. Alexander Steen, StL (53)
53. Matt Duchene, Col (50)
54. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (76)
55. James van Riemsdyk, Tor (75)
56. Jakub Voracek, Phi (NR)
57. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (54)
58. Teemu Selanne, Ana (49)
59. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (55)
60. Bobby Ryan, Ana (56)
61. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (57)
62. Brad Richards, NYR (58)
63. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (59)
64. Alex Burrows, Van (73)
65. David Perron, StL (60)
66. Vladimir Tarasenko, StL (47)
67. Milan Lucic, Bos (61)
68. Jeff Skinner, Car (62)
69. Evander Kane, Wpg (72)
70. Jordan Staal, Car (63)
71. Rene Bourque, Mon (65)
72. Ryan Kesler, Van (71)
73. Tyler Ennis, Buf (66)
74. P.A. Parenteau, Col (69)
75. Damien Brunner, Det (70)
76. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (81)
77. Brayden Schenn, Phi (NR)
78. Johan Franzen, Det (67)
79. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (68)
80. Loui Eriksson, Dal (77)
81. Andy McDonald, StL (78)
82. Cody Hodgson, Buf (80)
83. Max Pacioretty, Mon (91)
84. Saku Koivu, Ana (83)
85. Kyle Turris, Ott (74)
86. Jamie McGinn, Col (84)
87. Adam Henrique, NJ (82)
88. Brad Boyes, NYI (86)
89. Mikkel Boedker, Pho (87)
90. David Krejci, Bos (88)
91. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (85)
92. Jeff Carter, LA (NR)
93. Brad Marchand, Bos (89)
94. Ryane Clowe, SJ (94)
95. Pascal Dupuis, Pit (96)
96. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (100)
97. Ales Hemsky, Edm (90)
98. Mike Richards, LA (NR)
99. Jiri Tlusty, Car (NR)
100. Patrik Berglund, StL (97)

Rising and falling

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (up two spots to No. 12): There are two ways to approach Ovechkin following Saturday's hat trick. One option would be to thank the lords of fluke for such a nice outing, giving you the opportunity to trade Ovechkin before he goes right back into a slump again. The other option, which we prefer, is to see if the Ovechkin owner in your league is from the first camp and trade for the Capitals' star winger. Ovi has looked himself again for a few games now. If you give him a 10-game grace period for settling himself in a new coach's system, Ovechkin has nine points in his past seven games. And that includes a three-game slump with no points. His hat trick on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils was classic Ovechkin. Two goals from his wheelhouse in the faceoff circle off passes from Mike Ribeiro and one solitary effort where he used Anton Volchenkov to screen a perfectly placed wrist shot. Ovechkin had a chance to try and make it four goals on the night late in the game, but opted to find Troy Brouwer in front for an assist instead. Ovechkin may not finish with the enormous bounce-back numbers we hoped for, but his long-term relationship with Adam Oates behind the bench looks to be a good one.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (down 17 spots to No. 45): Things are all peachy when you are the fourth-best forward on your team so long as the team is scoring a ton of goals. But things aren't all that great when you are on the second line and the offense dries up. Such is the life of Couture. A better player than a lot of NHLers, he is stuck off the Sharks' scoring line because Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are in front of him. The season started great because the top line was scoring like crazy and Couture was in on the action with them on the power play. But with the power play somewhat stagnant and Couture left with Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe on his line, he is mired in a deep slump. Couture has a lone assist in the past eight games. Couture is too good to stay silent for too long, but there are still some obvious ingredients missing from the Sharks' second line to make it an effective one.

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers (up 14 spots to No. 51): Well, well, look who has decided to quietly have a breakout NHL campaign in his sixth season! If asked before the season who would be leading the Oilers in scoring after 17 games, Gagner probably would have been your fifth or sixth guess. But 17 points in 17 games has Gagner not only leading the Oilers, but in pretty elite company as a point-per-game player. The recipe to his success has been strong power-play presence, good use of his linemates (Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov with occasional appearances from Teemu Hartikainen) and nearly tripling his shots on goal. Gagner has the pedigree to keep up this scoring pace and what we could be witnessing could truly be a breakout season from the 23-year-old. That's right, the 23-year-old. Forgot he was that young, didn't you? Maybe you also forgot he was almost as equally sought as his linemate Patrick Kane during the 2007 draft after posting 118 points in 53 games with the London Knights (Kane had 145 points in 58 games). The Oilers are a pretty crowded place for a centerman to decide to wait six years before carving out his role, but Gagner has started doing so just in time. There is still room for him to be a top offensive contributor on this team.

Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild (dropped out of top 100): Heatley is currently on pace to finish just shy of 14 goals and with 25 points in this 48-game season. So are Mark Letestu and Mason Raymond. Despite how good things looked early in the season, with Zach Parise basically bouncing pucks off Heatley for goals, things have slowed down significantly for Heatley. Hopes for a bounce-back campaign after his troubled past few seasons are quickly fading; he has been held off the score sheet in 10 of his past 12 games. His shots on goal have plummeted to an average of barely two per game. Heatley has already played three games this season with no shots on goal, which is something that never used to happen. There will still be hot streaks from here on out, but all in all, Heatley is no longer a top 100 fantasy forward.

Scoring lines

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche: The reason Landeskog doesn't immediately jump back into the top 100 forward rankings is because the Avalanche may not have the depth to ice two strong scoring lines. In his two games since returning from a concussion, Landeskog has skated on the second line with Paul Stastny and David Jones. To gain back his fantasy mojo, he'll need to unseat one of Jamie McGinn or P.A. Parenteau to get on the line with Matt Duchene. Landeskog will get there as his timing returns once the cobwebs are all cleared, but take a slow approach to wanting him on your team for fantasy purposes. There will be a window where his stats suffer as he gets back up to speed. That may be the perfect time to strike and get him on your fantasy team. He is a no-brainer top-50 player when he is healthy.

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks: Kesler's timing and conditioning isn't going to be ideal for a while. It's good to see him back and good to see him have four points in six games since returning, but he is going to disappear at times. Kesler has been goose-egged with no shots on goal during the past two games. He still isn't playing with the linemates he should be, either. Currently skating with Christopher Higgins and Jannik Hansen, it would be better to see Kesler with a combination of Higgins, David Booth or Mason Raymond. The way the second and third lines are divided up right now for the Canucks, they have a 2A and a 2B. Some clear delineation that Kesler is part of the second line is in order.

Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers: Hartnell's swift return from a foot injury is cause for celebration for owners who were expecting him to be out a lot longer. He picked up right where he left off, skating with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Hartnell fired five shots on goal and managed to pick up a pair of penalties. One aspect that may be missing from his game, though, is the power play. Hartnell will have to earn his way back on to a unit that has been absolutely rocking in his absence. Both Brayden Schenn and Voracek have dominated on the man-advantage lately. It could be a few weeks before Hartnell earns his power-play stripes.

Power plays

Beau Bennett, Pittsburgh Penguins: Bennett was supposed to be an interesting addition due to an opportunity to play with Evgeni Malkin, but given Malkin's injury, Bennett will be an interesting addition for those looking for a short-term Malkin replacement. A speedy young winger, Bennett is basically the last internal option the Penguins have for a winger who has the right fit to ride shotgun with Malkin and James Neal on the second line The team has tried Eric Tangradi, Tyler Kennedy, Zach Boychuk and Matt Cooke in that role with minimal success. We'll likely have to wait for Malkin to return before that storyline can unfold, but in the meantime, Bennett played the fourth forward on the power play with Sidney Crosby, Neal and Chris Kunitz and scored his first NHL goal on Sunday, so maybe he can also help you partially fill the void left by Malkin on your roster.

Infirmary

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: We are only bumping Malkin from the No. 3 slot to the mid-teens as he is diagnosed with a concussion and ruled out of the Penguins' next three games. The team is suggesting it is a lesser concussion than most and looking at memory loss as his only major symptom. If his other motor functions are up to snuff, Malkin can get back his baseline quite quickly and could return soon. That said, concussions are a complicated injury and you never know what will come next. Don't worry about Neal in Malkin's absence. He is playing with some guy named Crosby. He'll be all right.

Rick Nash, New York Rangers: We don't know what is wrong with Nash. The team is not disclosing what has kept him out for three games. Is it a concussion? General soreness? Tuberculosis? We just don't know. The team has placed Nash on the injured reserve, a move which would have little purpose unless they were planning on him being out a bit longer. Plan to not have him for a week and we can reassess once the team decides to tell everyone what is wrong with Nash. The offense looks pretty anemic without him.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: A concussion for Tarasenko is a huge opportunity for Chris Stewart. Already with some fantasy value thanks to his work on the power play, Stewart has the chance to score at even strength while filling in for Tarasenko on a line with Alex Steen and Andy McDonald. Tarasenko went to the injured reserve with his concussion after being diagnosed with a flare-up of headaches on Friday. He took the hit on Wednesday. The fact the headaches would flare up two days later means it could take a bit more time for the swelling to go down. This is bad news for Tarasenko owners, but look to see if Stewart is available to fill his void.

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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