Front Line: Youngsters on rise
Rankings aren't going to help much at this point in the season. Some teams have as few as five games left; some have as many as eight. That would be a huge factor in trying to determine the top 100 from here on out. Streakiness can have a huge effect on a handful of games. It's easy for any player in the NHL to catch fire for just half a dozen games.
Rather than go through the dubious task of ranking all the players in a very subjective fashion again, I am spending more time going over each team's depth chart with a fine-tooth comb. Because that's what it all comes down to: skill and opportunity. Skill can be secondary in the equation when we are talking about such a short time frame in which to find value. What really matters right now in finding help on the waiver wire is the opportunity part of the equation. If a player has the right linemates at this moment in time, he can help your fantasy team for the final weeks of the season regardless of skill.
So join me in another close examination of some potential situations that could help uncover the gem who gets you the extra goal or assist that wins your fantasy championship.
• He's not available in ESPN leagues yet, but keep an eye on Nick Bonino. The Boston University center was signed by the Anaheim Ducks on March 21 and immediately promoted to the NHL. He had 11 goals and 27 assists in 33 games for the Terriers this season, and scored his first NHL goal Monday in just his second career game. Bonino has stepped in to fill in for the injured Ryan Getzlaf on a line with Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry, and he helps make up the second power-play unit with Perry and Teemu Selanne.
• With the Calgary Flames edging further from postseason relevance, coach Brent Sutter has loosened the reins on young Mikael Backlund. The star Swedish prospect has played four straight games with more than 10 minutes of ice time for the first time this season, and he netted two assists in Sunday's 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals. On a line with Rene Bourque, Backlund had the second assist to Bourque's first assist on two first-period goals. Backlund is just starting to get back some of the momentum he lost when the Flames brought in a half-dozen reinforcements at the trade deadline, so hopefully Sutter doesn't reduce his ice time again. If he gets 15 minutes a night, Backlund can put up some fantasy-friendly numbers over the season's final games.
• All six members of the Columbus Blue Jackets' top two lines have at least a point per game over the past week. R.J. Umberger is the only one available in more than 25 percent of ESPN leagues, though (85 percent). Umberger is on a line with the red-hot Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard, and has a goal and four assists over the past week.
• Marc Pouliot seems determined to put down his mark for the Edmonton Oilers. Despite playing as little as eight minutes and no more than 15 minutes per game on the team's fourth line, Pouliot has managed five points in the past seven games.
• Mike Cammalleri has been back from an injured knee for three games now, and his presence has rubbed off on his linemates. Tomas Plekanec has a point in three straight games, while Andrei Kostitsyn has four points in three games for the first time since December, when he had 10 goals and 15 points, and which was the last time he and Cammalleri were both healthy.
• With Jason Arnott sidelined, the Nashville Predators have been getting their points from the line of Patric Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan and Marcel Goc. Sullivan and Goc, in particular, have five and four points, respectively, over the past week and are available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues.
• It's a line that remains extraordinarily streaky, but when Marian Gaborik is scoring, Erik Christensen and Brandon Dubinsky usually are, too. Christensen has managed four assists over the past three games.
• Ville Leino had his first multipoint game with the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday since coming from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline. It probably is no coincidence that he now is winging a line with Danny Briere and Simon Gagne. With Jeff Carter done for the season, the trio represents the Flyers' best offensive unit.
• The line of Wojtek Wolski, Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi is showing no signs of slowing down for the Phoenix Coyotes. They have five, four and three points, respectively, over the past three games. Stempniak has 15 points in 12 games since becoming a Desert Dog and is still available in 85 percent of ESPN leagues despite being one of the most popular pickups of late.
• As hoped, the Pittsburgh Penguins are using a light schedule to get their ducks in a row following a painful slump. Sidney Crosby went from having two points in his previous five games to having five points in his past two. Alexei Ponikarovsky is being dragged with him for value and is still available in half of ESPN leagues. If Evgeni Malkin remains out of the lineup with an injured foot, Ruslan Fedotenko could have some fantasy value as the third member of Crosby's line.
• Tim Connolly is out with a lower-body injury that could be an aggravated foot injury, but with the Buffalo Sabres in good position for the playoffs, the team has no reason to rush the brittle centerman. Tyler Ennis stepped into his skates on a line with Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht, and picked up two assists in his first game with the trio. Ennis also is playing the first power-play unit with Pominville, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. That's a very enviable situation for the emergency AHL callup, who is arguably the Sabres' best prospect. Ennis has used his speed and quick release to score 65 points in 69 games for the Portland Pirates this season, and easily could parlay this chance with the big club into a full-time role for next season. Those desperate for some help now can feel free to take a chance on him.
• So, apparently you take Peter Mueller away from the Phoenix Coyotes and you have a bona fide fantasy star. With 16 points in 11 games with the Colorado Avalanche, Mueller remains on a ridiculous pace with his new team. He now is playing more than 20 minutes per game for Colorado, and is a staple of the power play with Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny. Believe it or not, he has eight power-play points with the Avalanche.
• His plus/minus is woeful, but if that is not a concern for you, Andrew Ebbett has some power-play value. As a playmaker on the Minnesota Wild's first unit, Ebbett is on the ice for the man advantage with Martin Havlat, Guillaume Latendresse and Owen Nolan. He has three power-play points in the past week, accounting for all his production.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.
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