Commentary

Front Line: Haute Couture

Updated: December 13, 2010, 11:55 AM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

He's been recommended in this space several times this season, but San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture has finally caught everyone's attention with a blazing December. However, the eight points Couture has in six games this month is not the kind of production even his biggest fans were expecting, and despite the output, there are a couple of concerns with Couture's current hot streak

An NHL rookie by definition, Couture already has more key experience than some sophomore players. See, the Sharks brought up Couture last season and allowed him to play the maximum 25 games before he would lose his rookie eligibility. Then he played 15 more games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While it is true that Couture is technically a rookie, he already had 40 games in the league before the puck dropped on this season.

So, no, it is not shocking to see him atop the rookie leaderboard. What is shocking is that his current hot streak is independent of the Sharks' "Big Three" forwards. Who is on the ice with Couture as he racks up these points? Not Joe Thornton, not Dany Heatley and not Patrick Marleau. It is power forward Ryane Clowe and AHL callup Benn Ferriero sharing the ice with Couture. Surely Thornton and Heatley join Couture on the power play though? Nope, still Clowe and Ferriero.

For his part, Clowe is riding high on Couture's coattails and has 11 points in his past seven games, but don't look at Ferriero as an option, as he is scoreless in four games. So that is just great news for the Sharks, isn't it? A line that, on paper, appears to be their third line is the one scoring all the team's goals. It certainly is a nice option and it may pay off down the road to see Thornton and Heatley get some rest (playing fewer than 20 minutes a night), but it won't last forever. Couture and Clowe will lose this pace at some point, and their minutes will dwindle as not only Thornton and Heatley, but Marleau and Joe Pavelski all need to share the ice and any one can quickly become the go-to scoring line for a given stretch of time. Devin Setoguchi will also be back from injury sooner than later.

So what do we get for Couture and the rest of the Sharks? Couture's expectations for the remainder of the season should be upped, but not nearly as high as his play right now. He'll approach 30 goals, but since he is halfway there now you can expect a slowdown at some point. Clowe is still a top-100 player and was projected as such because he is a proven power-play scorer, and although that facet of his game hasn't been on display this season, he has pushed his total production higher. Expect 60-65 points from Clowe, which means he will slow down like Couture, but not as much. The rest of the Sharks should get back to doing what they were expected to do this season with the exception of Setoguchi. He has no chance of wrestling a top-six forward spot from Couture if coach Todd McClellan goes back to concentrating talent on two lines. In fact, that may be Couture's biggest gain in all of this; when the Sharks move back toward two lines of offense, Couture's play has earned him a good chance to land the coveted role of riding shotgun for Thornton and Heatley.

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. Alex Ovechkin, Was (2)
3. Steven Stamkos, TB (3)
4. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
5. Alexander Semin, Was (5)
6. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (6)
7. Brad Richards, Dal (8)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (7)
9. Dany Heatley, SJ (9)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (10)
11. Mike Richards, Phi (12)
12. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (11)
13. Jeff Carter, Phi (13)
14. Corey Perry, Ana (14)
15. Martin St. Louis, TB (15)
16. Jonathan Toews, Chi (16)
17. Eric Staal, Car (17)
18. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (18)
19. Bobby Ryan, Ana (19)
20. Patrick Sharp, Chi (20)
21. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (21)
22. Danny Briere, Phi (24)
23. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (23)
24. Nathan Horton, Bos (26)
25. Mikko Koivu, Min (27)
26. Anze Kopitar, LA (33)
27. Rick Nash, Cls (28)
28. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (29)
29. Paul Stastny, Col (30)
30. Marian Gaborik, NYR (32)
31. Joe Thornton, SJ (25)
32. Patrick Kane, Chi (22)
33. Scott Hartnell, Phi (34)
34. Claude Giroux, Phi (36)
35. James Neal, Dal (39)
36. Patrick Marleau, SJ (31)
37. Loui Eriksson, Dal (37)
38. Milan Lucic, Bos (47)
39. Derek Roy, Buf (45)
40. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (35)
41. Milan Hejduk, Col (42)
42. Alex Burrows, Van (43)
43. Johan Franzen, Det (44)
44. Phil Kessel, Tor (38)
45. Chris Stewart, Col (46)
46. Andrew Ladd, Atl (52)
47. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (41)
48. Ryan Smyth, LA (48)
49. Marian Hossa, Chi (40)
50. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (49)
51. Thomas Vanek, Buf (55)
52. Ryan Kesler, Van (50)
53. Matt Duchene, Col (51)
54. David Backes, StL (57)
55. David Krejci, Bos (54)
56. John Tavares, NYI (56)
57. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (58)
58. Steve Downie, TB (60)
59. Brenden Morrow, Dal (61)
60. Martin Havlat, Min (66)
61. Teemu Selanne, Ana (62)
62. Ales Hemsky, Edm (64)
63. Andrei Kostitsyn, Mon (65)
64. Matt Cullen, Min (59)
65. Jason Spezza, Ott (53)
66. Stephen Weiss, Fla (68)
67. Dustin Brown, LA (73)
68. Brooks Laich, Was (77)
69. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (69)
70. Jordan Eberle, Edm (70)
71. David Booth, Fla (72)
72. Joe Pavelski, SJ (76)
73. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (75)
74. Ryane Clowe, SJ (82)
75. Justin Williams, LA (80)
76. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (63)
77. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (74)
78. Brian Gionta, Mon (81)
79. Scott Gomez, Mon (67)
80. Patrik Elias, NJ (78)
81. Shane Doan, Pho (79)
82. Ville Leino, Phi (90)
83. Travis Zajac, NJ (71)
84. Jarret Stoll, LA (84)
85. Derick Brassard, Cls (85)
86. Evander Kane, Atl (86)
87. Chris Kunitz, Pit (97)
88. Todd Bertuzzi, Det (88)
89. Logan Couture, SJ (100)
90. Mike Knuble, Was (89)
91. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (91)
92. Sam Gagner, Edm (92)
93. Bryan Little, Atl (93)
94. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (94)
95. Niclas Bergfors, Atl (95)
96. Jeff Skinner, Car (96)
97. Mason Raymond, Van (98)
98. Rich Peverley, Atl (99)
99. Ryan Malone, TB (NR)
100. Alexander Steen, StL (NR)

Rising and Falling

Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning (debuts at No. 99): The shots-on-goal pace is still strong, he has taken to Simon Gagne as a linemate and looks solid on the first power-play unit. Then there is the seven-game point streak. Malone is on fire right now and needs to be in every starting lineup for another two weeks. Why the limitation? Because Vincent Lecavalier is on the mend and his return will complicate the second line for the Bolts. Malone's current production is out of line with what has done the rest of his career, and it all started after Lecavalier got hurt. Something tells me the two events are closely related. Use him now and reconsider the situation after Lecavalier returns.

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins (up nine spots): Lucic was not supposed to be a top-50 fantasy player because of his scoring prowess. Much of his value was supposed to come from his penalty minutes in conjunction with some decent scoring and solid plus/minus. He has been disappointing in the PIMs department, but Lucic is cleaning house everywhere else. With 26 points in 28 games, the winger is perfectly settled on the top line with Nathan Horton and David Krejci. Whether that remains to be Krejci or whether Marc Savard eventually takes his spot back probably won't impact Lucic's strong game much.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators (down 12 spots): Based on how Spezza went from being useless for most of last season, to exceptional for the final few months, I reserve the right to bring him back later this season. But for now, he is dead weight. It has become painfully obvious that there is nothing redeeming about this Senators offense right now and Spezza's numbers are the worst. Going back 15 games, Spezza has three goals, one assist and is minus-10. He has 16 points this season total. So do Matt Moulson, Radim Vrbata and Matt Stajan (just to give it some context). Because it was Dec. 12 last year that Spezza went on an eight-game point streak to return to respectability, he gets a reprieve from dropping off the top-100. But it won't last long.

Scoring Lines

Edmonton Oilers: There are several changes to address on the Edmonton Oilers depth chart thanks to the injuries to Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. The additional ice time is making Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi more attractive to fantasy owners. The Hall, Eberle and Gagner trio have five points each in the past seven games and, while they have yet to really click as a unit, look like a good fit together. Meanwhile, Paajarvi, Dustin Penner and Andrew Cogliano are getting along well as the second line. Paajarvi has shown the most marked improvement; after not notching a single point in November, he has six points in six December games. Finally, Linus Omark and Ryan O'Marra were called up to fill the empty roster spots further down the depth chart. Each has an assist after two games. Omark is a solid prospect with great hands comparable to David Perron's, while O'Marra is an all-around forward once considered a Shane Doan-type player, but his stock has dropped significantly. Keep an eye on Omark's ice time and depth chart position though, as we've seen with other recent puck-wizardry prospects, they need more time than other prospects to adjust to the NHL.

Rob Schremp, New York Islanders: Someone has their game legs back. Schremp, after missing the first month of the season recovering from knee surgery, needed the second month to find his groove again. Now, he's back. With six points in five games for December, Schremp is once again showing the talent that put him on most fantasy rosters last winter. The Isles have a long way to go back to respectability, but that doesn't mean there can't be some gems on the roster in the meantime.

Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets: He is apparently out of coach Scott Arniel's doghouse. After registering five shots on goal last Thursday, Brassard was back on the top line with Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek on Saturday. While he was held pointless, his linemates lit the scoresheet up. That means he'll keep his role and start getting points again soon. Consider getting him back in your lineup.

Power Plays

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild: No longer the top power-play in the league as it was near the start of the season, the Wild man advantage is still a top-10 unit. Now playing on that top unit since returning from a long absence is Bouchard. He has four points in six games since returning to the lineup and two of those points have been on the power play.

Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils: Given the complete lack of options on the blue line for the power play, it seems to Devils have thrown their hands up. Rather that put any defensemen on the ice, the Devils have decided forwards Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jamie Langenbrunner, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus will be the first power-play unit. Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott, David Clarkson, Brian Rolston and Mattias Tedenby are the second unit. Good enough? Maybe, as Elias and Kovalchuk each have four power-play points in their past four 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.

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