Front Line: Early '11-12 forward rankings


Here we are; another season under our belt. There isn't much we can do to help you at this point. There are maybe four games left for some players. Trust your research and trust your instinct and you should pull out a victory.

This column will repeat the same style we did last year that combines a look ahead to next year with some recapping of the past season. The initial Top 100 rankings for the offseason are here. There will definitely be some juggling to this list after watching playoff performances and free agency shuffles players around.

We also have a look at how the rookie class from this season might fare as sophomores and have a very early look at 2011-12 Calder Trophy hopefuls.

Best of luck in the final few days of the hockey season. Don't forget to signup for the Playoff Hockey Challenge to test your skills again.

Top 100 Forwards for 2011-12

1. Sidney Crosby, Pit
2. Daniel Sedin, Van
3. Alex Ovechkin, Was
4. Steven Stamkos, TB
5. Henrik Sedin, Van
6. Corey Perry, Ana
7. Brad Richards, Dal
8. Pavel Datsyuk, Det
9. Jonathan Toews, Chi
10. Anze Kopitar, LA
11. Jeff Carter, Phi
12. Zach Parise, NJ
13. Martin St. Louis, TB
14. Evgeni Malkin, Pit
15. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ
16. Dany Heatley, SJ
17. Jarome Iginla, Cgy
18. Ryan Kesler, Van
19. Nicklas Backstrom, Was
20. David Backes, StL
21. Eric Staal, Car
22. Henrik Zetterberg, Det
23. Bobby Ryan, Ana
24. Alexander Semin, Was
25. Mike Richards, Phi
26. Milan Lucic, Bos
27. Patrick Marleau, SJ
28. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana
29. Claude Giroux, Phi
30. Johan Franzen, Det
31. Rick Nash, Cls
32. Nathan Horton, Bos
33. Danny Briere, Phi
34. Joe Thornton, SJ
35. Patrick Kane, Chi
36. Andy McDonald, StL
37. Marian Hossa, Chi
38. Tomas Plekanec, Mon
39. Chris Stewart, StL
40. Patrick Sharp, Chi
41. John Tavares, NYI
42. Thomas Vanek, Buf
43. Logan Couture, SJ
44. Phil Kessel, Tor
45. David Krejci, Bos
46. Vincent Lecavalier, TB
47. Derek Roy, Buf
48. Alex Burrows, Van
49. Mikko Koivu, Min
50. Andrew Ladd, Atl
51. Jeff Skinner, Car
52. Scott Hartnell, Phi
53. Drew Stafford, Buf
54. Marian Gaborik, NYR
55. Jason Spezza, Ott
56. Martin Havlat, Min
57. Dustin Brown, LA
58. Shane Doan, Pho
59. Loui Eriksson, Dal
60. James Neal, Pit
61. Mike Cammalleri, Mon
62. Brad Boyes, Buf
63. Dustin Penner, LA
64. Justin Williams, LA
65. Patrik Elias, NJ
66. Michael Grabner, NYI
67. Ryan Smyth, LA
68. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh
69. Devin Setoguchi, SJ
70. Alex Tanguay, Cgy
71. Patrice Bergeron, Bos
72. Matt Duchene, Col
73. Travis Zajac, NJ
74. Ryane Clowe, SJ
75. Nikolai Kulemin, Tor
76. Mikael Samuelsson, Van
77. Jordan Eberle, Edm
78. Derick Brassard, Cls
79. Mike Ribeiro, Dal
80. R.J. Umberger, Cls
81. Chris Kunitz, Pit
82. Teemu Selanne, Ana
83. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR
84. Joe Pavelski, SJ
85. Taylor Hall, Edm
86. Stephen Weiss, Fla
87. Ales Hemsky, Edm
88. Brenden Morrow, Dal
89. Dave Bolland, Chi
90. Ray Whitney, Pho
91. Steve Downie, TB
92. Blake Wheeler, Atl
93. Brian Gionta, Mon
94. Antoine Vermette, Cls
95. Patrik Berglund, StL
96. Ville Leino, Phi
97. Martin Erat, Nsh
98. Paul Stastny, Col
99. Teddy Purcell, TB
100. Brayden Schenn, LA

Top of the List

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: The statistics he put up in exactly half a season still stand up as the 21st-best fantasy performance from a forward this season. With talk he'll be ready to go for the playoffs, how do you not make him the No. 1 player for next season?

2. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: Daniel Sedin would have given Crosby a run for his money as the best fantasy forward this season, so with Crosby hurt, Daniel ran away with that title. He and brother Henrik are primed to dominate through the prime of their careers. At the age of 30, they still have a few elite years left.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: This was easily the worst season of Ovechkin's career, and he still finished as the fourth-best fantasy forward. He's yet to enter the potential prime of his career, so chalk this one down as an off season and expect the best of Ovechkin to return next fall and beyond.

4. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: So Stamkos finished with at least 44 goals despite scoring only six in February and March combined? It's just his third NHL season, so it is almost scary to think what Stamkos could do in his fourth campaign if he can stay consistent all season.

5. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: Apparently Henrik decided to let his brother have a crack at the Art Ross and Hart trophies this season. Creeping near an assist per game and adding his standard 20 goals to the mix will always make Henrik a top-10 fantasy asset. He didn't need to score as much as he did last season because Daniel was healthy all year, This is the new standard season for Henrik, so expect more just like it for the foreseeable future.

6. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks: Perry's finish to the season has been simply phenomenal. With 15 goals in March, Perry has stated his business as the Ducks' top offensive threat at the age of only 25. Even if his offensive totals suffer next season, his penalty minutes and power-play work keep him relevant in top-10 discussions.

7. Brad Richards, Dallas Stars (maybe): Richards reinstated himself as one of the top playmakers in the league and showed that, with the correct wingers, he can put up points with the best of them. He is a free agent after this season and will demand top dollar on the open market. But there are very few locations Brad Richards could land where he isn't a top fantasy player.

8. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: This was not a banner season for Datsyuk, but injuries to himself and his Red Wings teammates can take most of the blame. Datsyuk still managed to offer up more than a point per game. In fact, his pace would have been a 90-point season and a return to his elite level after a 70-point season in 2009-10.

9. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Toews has slowly been building toward this elite level for several seasons. As long as he has Patrick Kane as a partner in crime, Toews should have no trouble being a leader in all fantasy categories (save for penalty minutes). His numbers could have been even better if the Hawks had found a consistent second-line attack.

10. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: His ankle will be all healed up and ready to go next season, and he'll have Dustin Penner as a linemate and perhaps Brayden Schenn bolstering the offense. There has been talk about the Kings needing to make a run this season, but the core will be staying together and there is no rush. Next year is just fine too and Kopitar, with all plus/minus issues behind him, is now a top-10 fantasy option.

Two Steps Forward

20. David Backes, St. Louis Blues: Already with the ability to score 30 goals and the penchant for 100 penalty minutes, Backes added the near plus-30 ability to his ever-growing fantasy repertoire. Backes has become the dominant top-line scorer the Blues will need going forward.

29. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: With 25 goals and at least 70 points, Giroux had the breakout season everyone was expecting and then some. With a wide variety of choice on the Flyers for centermen, Giroux will never be short on talent with which to work.

42. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: Welcome back to fantasy relevancy, Vanek. He may no longer be a 40-goal threat, but Vanek's return to near 70 points signals his ability to adapt and become a stronger player. And he did this without Derek Roy by his side all season.

50. Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers: It took a while, but Ladd finally had his breakout season as a top-six forward. He'll come close to 60 points despite not really having strong consistent linemates. In fact, the No. 2 and No. 3 scorers on the Thrashers are defensemen.

53. Drew Stafford, Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres' goal leader and the new king of the hat trick, Stafford came into his own this season at 25. Some may point to a spike in shooting percentage, but you would expect to find power forwards like Stafford to be in the high teens. I'm buying his 30-goal ways.

69. Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks: Setoguchi came back from the dead after the All-Star break this season. It's really a return to stardom from his sophomore campaign in 2008-09, when he scored 65 points. In 28 games since the start of February, Setoguchi has 25 points. The best part is that no one was hurt to give Setoguchi the chance to step up; he did it with a loaded depth chart all playing well. That bodes well for next season.

Three Steps Back

19. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: Three steps might be exaggerating, but Backstrom took a definite step back this season. It might be fair to blame it all on the low numbers of Alexander Ovechkin, but if that is the case, then a return to form by Ovechkin would mean a return to form by Backstrom. He'll be fine next season, just not likely a top-10 option out of the gate.

54. Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers: Gaborik reminded us why it is nice to enjoy the good times, but always remember the bad. Injuries limited his games played, but ineffectiveness limited his fantasy value. This is the first season Gaborik hasn't finished at better than a point-per-game pace since prior to the NHL lockout. While he can be among the best of the best, he isn't always in that echelon.

98. Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche: Poor Stastny had to watch as his wingers went down to injury or were traded away. He's had the highs of having T.J. Galiardi and Chris Stewart firing on all cylinders next to him, and the lows of sitting out the final few days of the season with a leg injury. Matt Duchene will be the key for Stastny next season. One of the pair needs to convert to wing so they can play together, or this offense will be spread too thin.

Bouncing Back?

12. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils: Parise actually may have benefited from missing a lot of the Devils' sad first half of the season with knee surgery. He is already back on the ice as of this week and will be 100 percent by next season. Let's not forget he averaged 88 points over the previous two seasons.

47. Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres: Roy had 35 points in 35 games before missing the rest of the regular season with a quadriceps injury. Things are looking up for next season with Thomas Vanek's return to form, the improvement of Tyler Ennis and the addition of Brad Boyes to the offense, give Roy a playmaker with which to work.

60. James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Neal had a roller coaster season; from the high of being Brad Richards' go-to winger to the lows of heading to a Penguins team with limited offense. He should easily bounce back with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as his centerman.

NR. Guillaume Latendresse, Minnesota Wild: A groin injury limited Latendresse to just 11 games this season. After a breakout in 2009-10 with 25 goals in 55 games, the Wild and fantasy owners missed him this season. He'll have a whole summer to heal up and be ready to go next year.

NR. David Perron, St. Louis Blues: If Perron can get over his concussion issues, he will be returning to a very crowded Blues offense next season. But he brings some of the best hands of the group to the table and will surely win a role worthy of fantasy attention. Keep an eye on his status for next year.

NR. Marc Savard, Boston Bruins: Since reports of the memory loss began to surface, there are concerns as to whether Savard will be back at all. Still, the talented playmaker he is, Savard still needs to be on your radar for next season. Even Savard at a slower level is still worth watching.

Looking for Work

82. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks: Will he or won't he retire? One thing is clear: Selanne still has enough gas in the tank to play another season and be among the elite. We will have to wait for his official decision later in the summer. For now, his ranking reflects the risk that he'll hang up his skates.

96. Ville Leino, Philadelphia Flyers: Leino is talented, but a lot of his top-100 value this season came from the fact that his line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell worked perfectly together for most of the season. Then again, a change of scenery could mean a bigger role on offense for Leino.

NR. Tim Connolly, Buffalo Sabres: It doesn't matter where Connolly signs to play; it just matters if he can stay healthy enough. Not playing at 100 percent and missing some time has limited Connolly to 38 points this season. His ceiling is much, much higher than that and keeping an eye on where he signs is a must.

Some other players who didn't make the cut for the top 100, but could be included before next season if they sign with the right team include: Erik Cole, Carolina Hurricanes; Milan Hejduk, Colorado Avalanche; Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes; Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals; Jason Arnott, Washington Capitals; Tomas Fleischmann, Colorado Avalanche.

Didn't Quite Make the Cut

NR. Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders: What is the deal with Okposo? Is he a 60-point (or more) player who has been out of his element from missing time with an injury? Or is Okposo a 40-point guy who needs to garner his fantasy value from lining up with star players? That is a question that will need to be answered next season by Okposo and his owners.

NR. Rene Bourque, Calgary Flames: Overall, Bourque turned in a season worthy of the Top 100. At times, he was a waste of roster space. With such streakiness, it becomes difficult to buy into the player as a package for next season's draft. If the Flames don't change much offensively, there is a very good chance he could simply repeat the hot and cold season he just had.

NR. Evander Kane, Atlanta Thrashers: Kane was otherworldly at times, but he also disappeared for stretches. He gets a break considering he is 19 years old. That should also tell you that the best is yet to come. Even though he doesn't crack the initial offseason top 100 rankings, he should become a staple once he works consistency into his game.

Future Sophomore

43. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Despite a fierce battle for ice time among the top six in the Sharks organization, Couture found a way to get his this season. He'll finish with more than 31 goals and 54 points for a blistering rookie season. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski offer two great centerman to work with and Couture will earn a spot next to one of them.

51. Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes: Skinner was this year's darkhorse in the Calder Trophy race, but he has separated himself from the pack for rookie scoring. Perhaps more impressive is that Skinner has not been leaning on Eric Staal for his scoring, but has generated his own offense on the second line. If the 'Canes bring up new fresh talent Skinner may even improve drastically next season thanks to improved linemates.

66. Michael Grabner, New York Islanders: Grabner exploded since the calendar flipped to 2011. In 41 games, he has 23 goals and a plus-18 rating from Jan. 1 onward. The math is easy to double those 41 games for a full season pace: 46 goals.

77. Jordan Eberle and 85. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers:These two Oiler rookies had to deal with injuries and a lack of veteran presence as they transitioned to the NHL. Still, both managed to eclipse 40 points in fewer than 70 games. The club is sure to bring in some name players next season as part of rebuilding and with more luck Hall and Eberle can stay healthy all season. Building on what they have already brought to the table, we could expect very good things in their sophomore campaigns.

NR. Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: His numbers are not going to stand out when you are looking at the rookie class next season, but he showed marked improvement after being demoted to the AHL and was even better when the Leafs brought him back up at the end of the season. He may be ready to shine as a top-six forward.

2011-12 Calder Hopefuls

100. Brayden Schenn, Los Angeles Kings: Sent back down to the WHL after a prolonged trial with the Kings at the start of the season, Schenn has relished another season of Junior hockey after being traded to a contender. With the Saskatoon Blades for only 27 regular-season games, Schenn had 53 points including 21 goals. He is already among the league leaders in the WHL postseason. There is no doubt he sticks with the Kings next season; the difference will be whether he plays with Anze Kopitar or Dustin Penner on the top line.

NR. Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders: Another WHL returnee after a trial with the Islanders, Niederreiter also proved he is more than ready for the NHL test next season. He scored 41 goals in only 55 games with 70 points for the Portland Winterhawks. Niederreiter will find a home in the Isles top six for next season and be the team's third straight legitimate challenger for the Calder Trophy.

NR. Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks: Hodgson may still be running off his old reputation because in a season where he needed to put his stamp down as a dominant player, he looks to finish fifth on his own AHL team in scoring. With only 30 points in 52 games and a team-worst minus-12, Hodgson has not been the star the Canucks were hoping he would show with the Manitoba Moose. Still, his old pedigree says he has the skill to be one of the best in the game. There may be room for him to make a move on the NHL roster next season, so keep an eye.

NR. Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets: He still has room for some mass on his frame, but even at his current level, he has the ability to dominate play in the WHL. The Blue Jackets prospect notched 92 points and a plus-44 for the Portland Winterhawks this season, improving on a 69-point campaign from his rookie junior year. The Jackets need to add more home grown talent to a roster that is starting to look short on superstars after neither Derick Brassard nor Jakub Voracek took up the mantle for the next generation.

NR. Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay Lightning: Connolly's skill was not in question, but his ability to stay healthy was. He had such a solid season with 73 points in 59 games for the Prince George Cougars, before separating his shoulder in the club's first playoff game. He is going to have to shake his injury bug before he becomes a true NHL hopeful.

NR. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draft Eligible: The playmaker that could immediately make the leap to the NHL if need be, Nugent-Hopkins managed to build on his WHL Rookie of the Year honors by providing 106 points in 69 games for the Red Deer Rebels as a sophomore. He is one of several players being considered as the first pick in this year's draft and would be the one most likely to compete in the NHL next season thanks to his on ice awareness.

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.