Commentary

Front Line: Early '10-11 forward ranks

Updated: April 6, 2010, 2:07 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Obviously there is little left to rank and project for the 2009-10 season, so let's finish things off here on the Front Line with an early picture of 2010-11.

You'll find the full top 100 below. I've also singled out some of the risers and fallers heading into next season, had a cursory look at the free-agent class and looked at some of the rookies from this season and heading into next.

Those still in the fight for this season's championship can skip to the bottom for some help in the final week.

Top of the List

Nicklas Backstrom  and Alex Ovechkin
Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty ImagesNicklas Backstrom's fantasy value is helped tremendously skating next to Alex Ovechkin.

1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals: He missed a handful of games and still finished well ahead of the pack as the best fantasy skater this season. No doubt Ovechkin is the No. 1 pick next season.

2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby is fighting to add a Rocket Richard Trophy to his case as the league leader for goals; just more résumé padding for Sid the Kid. His value seems to come from different categories from year to year. It's a testament to his ability to adapt and still lead.

3. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals: The one thing you can always count on is seeing Backstrom on the ice with Ovechkin. Sure, a lot of this ranking has to do with his ice time beside the game's best player, but that won't change next season once the Caps work out his restricted free-agent status.

4. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning: Stamkos was easily the most surprising and impressive climber in the fantasy realm this season. Despite a solid rookie season, few pegged him to flirt with 90 points this year. Thanks to his power-play numbers, he will consistently be among the most valuable players in ESPN's standard game.

5. Daniel Sedin, LW, Vancouver Canucks: It's hard to believe he missed 19 games this season, yet still almost paced his brother Henrik for overall value. It goes to show that goals are that much better than assists in the ESPN standard game. Barring injuries, Daniel will continue to be better than Henrik.

6. Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver Canucks: Overall, the Twins finally had the big season everyone has been waiting for since they broke into the league. They had started to look like they might top out as point-per-game players in the NHL, but this season has catapulted them into a new realm.

7. Dany Heatley, RW, San Jose Sharks: Will Heatley be as good without Patrick Marleau? Yeah, he will. Joe Thornton is the one setting up. In fact, without someone of Marleau's caliber on the opposite wing, maybe Heatley is even better.

8. Alexander Semin, LW, Washington Capitals: Semin didn't have the luxury of playing on a line with Ovechkin or Backstrom, making his stats even more impressive. Injury concerns have become a thing of the past for Semin, and he still gets to visit Ovie and Backstrom on the power play.

9. Zach Parise, LW, New Jersey Devils: Parise silenced any doubters after his incredible 2008-09 season. He lost a few points, a few plus/minus numbers and a few shots on goal, but not nearly enough to knock him out of the top 10. Fantasy owners would be more than happy to settle for a repeat of the '09-10 numbers next season.

10. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins: The fact that Geno still does what he does while dealing with the leftovers after Crosby gets first choice … how can you not still love him for the top 10? It's scary to imagine what he could do with a first-line role, but settling for what he will offer as a second-liner is still excellent value.

Top 100 Skaters for 2010-11

Sean Allen's list of the top forwards for next season. The 2009-10 preseason rankings are in parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (4)
3. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (23)
4. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (76)
5. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (17)
6. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (43)
7. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (8)
8. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (26)
9. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (5)
10. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (2)
11. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (3)
12. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, NJ (31)
13. Eric Staal, C, Car (11)
14. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (18)
15. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (12)
16. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (6)
17. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (55)
18. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (14)
19. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (28)
20. Marc Savard, C, Bos (9)
21. Mike Richards, C, Phi (20)
22. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (16)
23. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (13)
24. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (19)
25. Brad Richards, C, Dal (91)
26. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (46)
27. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (NR)
28. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (15)
29. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (10)
30. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nsh (NR)
31. Paul Stastny, C, Col (84)
32. Johan Franzen, C, Det (25)
33. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (92)
34. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (69)
35. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (88)
36. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (45)
37. Chris Stewart, RW, Col (NR)
38. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (NR)
39. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (NR)
40. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (NR)
41. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (35)
42. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (52)
43. Ales Hemsky, RW, Edm (NR)
44. John Tavares, C, NYI (34)
45. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (NR)
46. Alex Burrows, LW/RW, Van (21)
47. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (24)
48. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (60)
49. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (65)
50. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (90)
51. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (22)
52. Nik Antropov, RW/C, Atl (NR)
53. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (30)
54. Peter Mueller, RW, Col (NR)
55. Matt Duchene, C, Col (NR)
56. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (73)
57. Brooks Laich, C, Was (75)
58. David Booth, LW, Fla (27)
59. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (NR)
60. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (53)
61. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (64)
62. Olli Jokinen, C, NYR (7)
63. Derek Roy, C, Buf (89)
64. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (39)
65. Jakub Voracek, RW, Cls (85)
66. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (NR)
67. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (NR)
68. Danny Briere, C, Phi (72)
69. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (NR)
70. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (71)
71. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, NJ (100)
72. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (32)
73. David Krejci, C, Bos (63)
74. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (NR)
75. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (47)
76. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (80)
77. Antoine Vermette, C, Cls (NR)
78. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (58)
79. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Pho (NR)
80. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (NR)
81. Guillaume Latendresse, RW/LW, Min (NR)
82. Jordan Staal, C, Pit (NR)
83. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (61)
84. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (42)
85. Kristian Huselius, LW, Cls (NR)
86. Steve Downie, RW, TB (NR)
87. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (78)
88. Wayne Simmonds, RW, LA (NR)
89. Jussi Jokinen, LW, Car (NR)
90. Steve Sullivan, C, Nsh (NR)
91. David Backes, C, StL (59)
92. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (62)
93. Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Pit (NR)
94. Claude Giroux, RW, Phi (82)
95. Derick Brassard, C, Cls (41)
96. Niclas Bergfors, RW, Atl (NR)
97. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (NR)
98. Michael Grabner, RW, Van (NR)
99. Radim Vrbata, RW, Pho (NR)
100. R.J. Umberger, C, Cls (NR)

Two Steps Forward

17. Marian Gaborik, RW, New York Rangers: Proving once again that he is among the best in the league when healthy, Gaborik amassed career-best numbers in his first season away from the Minnesota Wild. Without the lingering injury concerns, he would be in the top five, but don't discount him too much on draft day.

30. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nashville Predators: Showing a real knack for putting the puck in around the net, Hornqvist didn't really catch on until December. If he plays an entire season at the pace he did starting in December, he becomes a very interesting commodity during the early stages of next year's fantasy drafts.

33. Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks: Kesler barely sniffed so much as a minute of ice time with the Sedin Twins, yet still managed to be a point-per-game threat on the Canucks' second line. The selection of wingers and forwards will be even more impressive next season, so expect more of the same.

37. Chris Stewart, RW, Colorado Avalanche: Once Stewart found his niche for the Avalanche he became unstoppable. If you throw out the first 20 games of the season when he wasn't playing top-six minutes and managed just one goal, Stewart is on a 41-goal pace over an 82-game campaign.

59. Rene Bourque, LW/RW, Calgary Flames: For the second season in a row, Bourque proved he likes to be around the net and take shots. He has a high shooting percentage, but the kind of close-range shots he takes support it.

65. Jakub Voracek, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets: Since the veteran-favoring Ken Hitchcock was fired in early February as coach of the Blue Jackets, Voracek has 21 points in 19 games. The young stars of this team will really get a chance to take off next season.

81. Guillaume Latendresse, RW/LW, Minnesota Wild: Using only his numbers as a member of the Wild, Latendresse would be on pace for 40 goals in a full season. The trade has re-energized his career.

86. Steve Downie, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning: Thanks just to his penalty minutes, Downie should be ranked much higher. But since his value is tied to being a winger on the Bolts' top line, there is some risk involved.

88. Wayne Simmonds, RW, Los Angeles Kings: Simmonds will finish with at least 40 points, currently has a plus-23, has triple-digit PIMs and did it all while often playing as low as the third line for the Kings. Since he derives much of his value from his defensive and gritty play, Simmonds won't be affected by the continuing buildup of talent on the Kings roster.

Three Steps Back

29. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Detroit Red Wings: Hank will finish with numbers that almost duplicate his 2008-09 season. There is nothing wrong with his numbers, but it's more proof that his amazing '07-08 season is the outlier for his career and not something to expect going forward.

46. Alex Burrows, LW/RW, Vancouver Canucks: Burrows actually finishes this season as a top-20 player, but with since he is a full-fledged star by association, we can't rank him too high. With Mikael Samuelsson in the picture and Michael Grabner, Jordan Schroeder and Cody Hodgson also pushing for top-six minutes, there could be some flux in the Canucks' depth chart. You'll notice Samuelsson and Mason Raymond are affected by the uncertainty as well.

72. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dallas Stars: The penalty minutes aren't there anymore, and Morrow clearly doesn't have the offensive pop he used to. He is still a valuable fantasy commodity, but he isn't the multicategory star he used to be.

83. Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay Lightning: There is absolutely nothing wrong with 30 goals and 70 points from a fantasy player, but Lecavalier appears to need to work toward even that level. With the offensive focus shifting to Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Vinny isn't going to be a point-per-game star anymore.

NR. T.J. Oshie, C, St. Louis Blues: His overall numbers are up, but on a per-game basis, Oshie did not improve on his rookie season. He also lost big plus/minus value this year. He has the skills to make up for it and could be a post-hype sleeper, but don't bet on it with an early pick next season.

NR. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anaheim Ducks: The chances of him retiring are too great to consider him as a viable pick for next season. If he does sign somewhere, he will certainly vault in the rankings, but right now you have to shy away.

NR. Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose Sharks: With Marleau likely gone from San Jose next season, the team's second line probably takes a big hit. Logan Couture isn't quite on the same level as Devin Setoguchi just yet.

NR. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ottawa Senators: There were some stretches this season when it looked like he could get it done, but overall, Kovalev is a failure as a Senator.

Bouncing Back?

20. Marc Savard, C, Boston Bruins: An injury-riddled season for Savard is far from typical, so banking on a return to form is pretty safe. The Bruins have more than enough weapons on offense to give him someone to pass to.

32. Johan Franzen, C, Detroit Red Wings: The Mule has 10 goals and 10 assists in 20 games during a season cut short by a knee injury. He'll be back to carrying the load next season.

43. Ales Hemsky, RW, Edmonton Oilers: Whether all the talent on the Oilers squad can come together next season or whether they will continue to be bottom-feeders will be somewhat incidental to Hemsky. A veteran at 26, Hemsky had 22 points in 22 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

58. David Booth, LW, Florida Panthers: Concussions can be scary for a player's future, but it's not like Booth is a regular visitor to the infirmary. He still takes a ton of shots and still has 30-goal talent.

73. David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins: Consistency will be the key for him to join the fantasy elite. Whether that consistency arrives next season is another question, but continued growth should keep him a fantasy regular.

84. Devin Setoguchi, RW, San Jose Sharks: Setoguchi is the easy choice to replace Marleau on the top line with Thornton and Heatley. If he gets back on the top line, perhaps he can take the next step from his 31-goal sophomore season that he didn't take this season.

Looking for Work

Kovalchuk
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireIlya Kovalchuk will be a top-15 player pretty much no matter where he lands after this season.

12. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, New Jersey Devils: Kovalchuk is one free agent who will retain all his value no matter where he lands. He played in just about the worst possible scenario at times with the Atlanta Thrashers, all alone on the offense. He is still a superstar sniper in any uniform.

26. Patrick Marleau, C, San Jose Sharks: Marleau has nowhere to go but down after posting his best career goal total on a line with Thornton and Heatley that was good enough to stay intact during the Olympics for Team Canada. Unless Marleau re-signs with the Sharks or happens to find another terrific situation, he won't he a top-10 player next year.

62. Olli Jokinen, C, New York Rangers: It's quite clear the magic from his Panthers days is gone, and Jokinen appears to be nothing more than a solid physical forward, far from ranking as a superstar. It's hard to envision a scenario, short of signing with the Panthers, that will allow him to relive the glory days.

69. Tomas Plekanec, C, Montreal Canadiens: Plekanec will need to find a home that offers him plenty of goal scorers to pass to and plenty of power-play time.

75. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Detroit Red Wings: It's difficult to picture Holmstrom fighting in front of the crease for any team other than the Red Wings. He would need a coach willing to use him in that same capacity on the power play if he is to continue to have some fantasy relevance.

93. Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins: By no means has Poni caught on like wildfire with the Pens since the trade deadline. It's questionable as to whether he gets another chance by way of a contract offer, but even if he doesn't, his history of working with top centermen should help him land somewhere beneficial.

97. Bill Guerin, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins: Guerin absolutely needs to come back to the Penguins if he wants to retain some value. He has carved out a niche as Crosby's winger, but anywhere else he would start to look a little past his prime.

Some other players that didn't make the cut for the top 100, but could be included before next season if they sign with the right team include: Alexander Frolov, LW, Los Angeles Kings; Paul Kariya, LW, St. Louis Blues; Saku Koivu, C, Anaheim Ducks; Teemu Selanne, RW, Anaheim Ducks; Ray Whitney, LW, Carolina Hurricanes; Vaclav Prospal, C/RW, New York Rangers; Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atlanta Thrashers; Alexandre Giroux, C, Washington Capitals.

Didn't Quite Make the Cut

Kyle Turris, C, Phoenix Coyotes: Finally with the season of AHL work he could have used two years ago, Turris should be back with a vengeance in the NHL next season for a much better-looking Coyotes squad.

Eric Fehr, RW, Washington Capitals: His points in relation to ice time are among the best in the NHL. If Fehr can make a move up the depth chart, he'll be a fantasy regular.

Alexander Steen, LW, St. Louis Blues: Steen has proved himself to be a valuable power-play playmaker for the Blues, and has managed plenty of points at even strength as well.

Future Sophomores

44. John Tavares, C, New York Islanders: Just keep in mind that Tavares is working with a lot less talent than Stamkos did in his rookie year, and Tavares will finish with better numbers, too.

Matt Duchene
Michael Martin/NHL/Getty ImagesMatt Duchene is part of the new wave of scorers taking over the Avalanche.

55. Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche: The best Calder Trophy nominee among forwards, Duchene exceeded the two men (Tavares and Victor Hedman) who went ahead of him in the entry draft. The Avalanche look to be fully restocked on offense going forward, and Duchene will be a key piece of the puzzle.

96. Niclas Bergfors, RW, Atlanta Thrashers: Finally getting the playing time he was due after the trade deadline, Bergfors looks like a true offensive threat going forward. His prorated numbers as a Thrasher would put him ahead of Duchene in the rookie points race.

NR. James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers: Way too streaky this season, van Riemsdyk could go a long way to add a little consistency to his game. Being a regular member of the top six forwards for the Flyers would go a long way, too.

NR. Rob Schremp, C, New York Islanders: When the floodgates opened in late December, Schremp quickly started looking like the star he was in juniors. He had 20 points in his final 27 games before injuring his knee.

NR. Tyler Bozak, C, Toronto Maple Leafs: When you talk about big endings to the season, Bozak is one of the first players to come to mind. Since being brought up to the NHL and placed on the first line with Phil Kessel, Bozak has 25 points in 33 games. There is no reason he can't be the No. 1 center for the Leafs again next year.

NR. Colin Wilson, C, Nashville Predators: With a late-season charge, Wilson at least made a name for himself in the fantasy realm. His 15 points in 33 games don't make you jump out of your seat, but the talent is there to improve.

NR. Logan Couture, C, San Jose Sharks: It looks like Couture will lose his rookie eligibility for next season by playing his 25th game on the last day of the season. He may not be eligible for the Calder next year, but that doesn't mean he won't get big minutes in the Sharks' top six.

NR. Nikita Filatov, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets: Expected to come back from Russia, Filatov will be pleased with the absence of coach Ken Hitchcock. Finally with the reins off, Filatov should have a shot at 30 goals and 75 points next year.

2010-11 Calder Hopefuls

98. Michael Grabner, RW, Vancouver Canucks: Grabner will definitely be up for a spot in the Canucks' top two lines, but the competition will be quite stiff. His 11 points in 18 games this season will give him an inside track, though.

NR. Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary Flames: The Swedish World Juniors star can start making good on his pedigree with increased ice time next season. Maybe he is the centerman Jarome Iginla has been looking for all this time.

NR. Tyler Ennis, LW, Buffalo Sabres: A cup of coffee in the NHL certainly warmed fantasy players to Ennis' potential. He could fit perfectly on the wing with Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville.

NR. Jordan Eberle, C, Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers might still be a mess next season, but if they are not, Eberle, the clutch player for Canada at the World Juniors, will be a big part of the reason.

NR. Eric Tangradi, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins: He is far from being as talented as some of the others listed here, but Tangradi has the advantage of competing for a wing spot beside Crosby or Malkin for next season.

NR. Nazem Kadri, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs: The rebuilding Leafs might give Kadri a chance to earn tons of important playing time next season.

NR. Lars Eller, C, St. Louis Blues: Eller made an easy conversion from European to North American hockey while playing in the AHL this season. The NHL is his next challenge.

We'll just wait for Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin to find a team before we bother projecting them into the race as well.

Final week of this season

Kyle Wellwood, C, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have three solid lines for the final week thanks to the return of Samuelsson from injury combined with Grabner being back with the club. Wellwood is skating with Samuelsson and Raymond and has three goals in his past three games. He may get another couple of markers in the final three games of the season thanks to much improved linemates.

Blake Comeau, LW, New York Islanders: Finally, Tavares broke out of his huge slump to end the season on a high note. Being dragged right alongside Tavares is Comeau. With three multipoint games in a row, there is no doubt Comeau is red-hot. Tavares is more than able to keep up the pace for a few more games, so expect some more solid nights out of Comeau. Sean Bergenheim is the third member of the line and is equally as solid an option.

Peter Regin, C, Senators: Another rookie forward ending the season on a high note is Regin. Currently skating with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, Regin has seven points and a plus-7 in his past seven games.

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.

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.