Front Line: Ascending Kings
Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey forwards
While there haven't been enough hockey games played yet this season to feel truly comfortable with conclusions drawn from the sample size, it's time to start accepting some of the trends we see. This acceptance is reflected strongly in this week's rankings, as the biggest risers are Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth. I can no longer keep Kopitar and Smyth down based purely on the Los Angeles Kings' defensive shortcomings. The top line of Kopitar, Smyth and Justin Williams is too good to let their plus/minus sink too far. Kopitar and Smyth may be done with their quick ascent, though. While I admit they won't be an abyss for plus/minus, I don't see them challenging for the league lead either. Williams will have to wait a bit longer to crack the top 100, thanks to his recent history with injuries.
Another early trend that we have to come to terms with is that the St. Louis Blues aren't the powerhouse on offense that they looked to be on paper. Two of the top 10 biggest fallers this week are Patrik Berglund and David Perron. Both young players stepped up and helped lead the Blues down the stretch last season, while guys like Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald and Keith Tkachuk struggled with injury and ineffectiveness. Apparently the relationship between the youth and veteran groups is not a harmonious one and appears to be inversely tied: While Kariya, McDonald and Tkachuk are off to blistering starts to the year, Berglund and Perron have done nothing.
Top 100 Skaters 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 goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
RK. Name, Team (Last Week)
1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (2)
3. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (4)
4. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (3)
5. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (6)
6. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (7)
7. Marc Savard, C, Bos (8)
8. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (10)
9. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (5)
10. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (12)
11. Mike Richards, C, Phi (13)
12. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (21)
13. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (9)
14. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (14)
15. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (20)
16. Eric Staal, C, Car (15)
17. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (11)
18. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (16)
19. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (18)
20. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (19)
21. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (28)
22. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (22)
23. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (24)
24. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (25)
25. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (23)
26. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (17)
27. John Tavares, C, NYI (33)
28. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (27)
29. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (29)
30. T.J. Oshie, C, StL (30)
31. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (32)
32. David Booth, LW, Fla (26)
33. Michael Ryder, RW, Bos (34)
34. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (35)
35. Dave Bolland, C, Chi (37)
36. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (39)
37. Tuomo Ruutu, C, Car (38)
38. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (36)
39. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (43)
40. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (40)
41. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (44)
42. Sean Avery, C, NYR (45)
43. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (31)
44. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (47)
45. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (48)
46. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (64)
47. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (49)
48. Derick Brassard, C, Cls (42)
49. Simon Gagne, LW, Phi (46)
50. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (53)
51. Brad Boyes, C, StL (51)
52. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (52)
53. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (41)
54. Brooks Laich, C, Was (57)
55. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (72)
56. David Backes, C, StL (58)
57. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (50)
58. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (59)
59. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (60)
60. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (61)
61. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (70)
62. David Clarkson, C, NJ (69)
63. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (73)
64. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (66)
65. David Krejci, C, Bos (67)
66. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (56)
67. Paul Stastny, C, Col (68)
68. Patrik Berglund, C, StL (54)
69. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (NR)
70. Brian Rolston, LW, NJ (63)
71. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (62)
72. David Perron, LW, StL (65)
73. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (55)
74. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (81)
75. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (79)
76. Danny Briere, C, Phi (71)
77. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (77)
78. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (74)
79. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (76)
80. Brad Richards, C, Dal (85)
81. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (78)
82. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (NR)
83. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (83)
84. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (80)
85. Andy McDonald, C, StL (NR)
86. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (82)
87. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (84)
88. Brandon Dubinsky, C, NYR (91)
89. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (95)
90. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (87)
91. Michael Frolik, C, Fla (88)
92. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (90)
93. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (NR)
94. Keith Tkachuk, LW, StL (NR)
95. Gilbert Brule, C, Edm (NR)
96. Derek Roy, C, Buf (92)
97. Slava Kozlov, LW, Atl (97)
98. Claude Giroux, RW, Phi (86)
99. Paul Kariya, LW, StL (93)
100. Radim Vrbata, RW, Pho (98)
Some other trends reflected in this week's rankings: The Nashville Predators' only offensive weapon, Jason Arnott, is out for two weeks. The Montreal Canadiens have too many new bodies, and their top line is a mess. A couple of trendy sleepers, Claude Giroux and Derick Brassard, are at risk of dozing through the whole season if they don't wake up soon. The Dallas Stars still have a long way to go, but have begun to earn back our trust. Shane Doan is all over the ice for the Phoenix Coyotes and is largely responsible for their hot start.
Rising and Falling
Zach Parise, LW, Devils (down five spots): Fear not, owners of the Devils' offensive catalyst! Parise slips out of our top five for the first time this season, but the blame lies squarely on the most fickle of offensive categories. We have to discount Parise with the simple realization that there is no way he will be plus-30 on this incarnation on the New Jersey Devils. Coach Brent Sutter gave them more swagger last season, and the Devils piled on the offense against any opponent; now coach Jacques Lemaire has much of the team reined in offensively and a little more concerned about letting a goal in than scoring one. However, take note that Parise has not been told to heel, and is even on pace for a new career high in shots on goal after shattering his old high last season.
John Tavares, C, Islanders (up six spots): Why would I bump up a rookie who is still learning the speed of the NHL game and getting his feet wet? Because while getting used to the NHL game, Tavares has seven points in six games. Throw in some improvement as he adjusts to the professional ranks and some inevitable slumps, and my initial projection of 90 points seems a lot more reasonable now that we have seen Tavares in action.
Joe Thornton, C, Sharks (up nine spots): It's time to give Thornton some credit here. While the ESPN.com standard fantasy hockey game is biased against playmakers like Thornton, he is overcoming the deficit through sheer quantity. Currently on pace for 109 assists, clearly Thornton is in a good place with Dany Heatley.
Blake Wheeler, RW, Bruins (down 10 spots): Wheeler isn't the only Bruin starting slow, but the team's slow start seems to be hurting him the most. With Milan Lucic out for up to four weeks, Wheeler is left with David Krejci (who is still recovering from offseason surgery) and Byron Bitz as linemates. Wheeler is barely even sniffing power play time, and clearly missing the chemistry that he, Krejci and Michael Ryder shared last season.
• Coach Todd McClellan clearly enjoys tinkering, so it may not last long, but right now rookie Ryan Vesce is playing with Thornton and Heatley on the team's first line. He has taken four shots on goal and scored once in each of his two games since joining the team on their Eastern road swing.
• The way the Stars' first two lines are performing, both Jamie Benn (first line with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow) and James Neal (second line with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson) make good pickups.
• Joffrey Lupul is out and Erik Christensen is in as the Anaheim Ducks look to spark their second scoring line. Lupul failed to find chemistry with the Finnish veterans Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne and may not get another chance. You can drop him if you need room for a player.
• Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen continue to stumble into the 2009-10 season, with no chemistry on a line. Coach Brent Sutter is even breaking up the pair of stars as he tries to find any line combination that will work.
• Look for Colin Wilson's name in the Predators' box score while Jason Arnott is out. It's hoped that the rookie will be able to start carrying some of the offense by later this season, and with Arnott out of the lineup, this should be a good test run for him.
• The news surrounding Alexander Frolov's benching Monday night is concerning for anyone who had hoped for 30 goals out of the enigmatic star. If you play in a deep league, don't drop him yet. Frolov may have a new address sooner than later.
• The Atlanta Thrashers' second power-play unit is performing better than their first at the moment. Ride Rich Peverley, Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov while they are hot.
• The Columbus Blue Jackets' second power-play unit is responsible for four of the five power-play goals the team has scored this season, with three of the tallies coming off the stick of Raffi Torres.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.