Commentary

Front Line: Depth chart surprises

Some younger players getting extra opportunities to start season but will it last?

Updated: October 10, 2011, 11:27 AM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

While it is advisable to jump on players who have started the season higher up the depth chart than they were expected, be aware of the bigger picture. Several players surprisingly started the season in their respective team's top six. A few of them have even come out of the gate scoring points, making it hard to resist dumping your fantasy sleepers from your bench to try to catch lightning in a bottle.

But when making an early strike in the season, you need to be extra cautious that you don't make a move that will hurt you in the long-term. There is a reason you drafted certain players, and just because they don't have any points in two games doesn't mean they won't produce for you. Similarly, a strong start by a player in just two games doesn't mean they will produce all season. In fact, in many cases they could just be a placeholder for an injured starter.

So let's have a closer look at some of the depth-chart surprises in the early going and see if there is some real potential.

[+] EnlargeAdams
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireLuke Adam has already made the most of playing on a line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.

Luke Adam, Buffalo Sabres: A physically strong forward who put up his fair share of points in the QMJHL and AHL, Adam started his first full NHL season off with a bang with two goals and two assists in the Sabres' games in Europe. The reason for his success: Skating on a line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville both on and off the power play. Seeing Adam in the role as opposed to Derek Roy was certainly a mild surprise, but given the Sabres' offensive depth, we knew anything could happen with these scoring lines. Adam has the offensive pedigree to keep up with Vanek and Pominville and is one of the hot-starters most worthy of your attention. His biggest threat would be a healthy Jochen Hecht (currently sidelined with a concussion), but if Adam is still scoring when Hecht returns, the Sabres could find another role for their veteran center.

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators: A fourth-round pick in 2009, Smith upped his offensive production in college to the point where he decided to forego his junior year and try to make the NHL. He not only made the NHL but started the season on the Preds' top line with David Legwand and Colin Wilson, tallying four points in two games in the role. While one could argue that Smith might be a placeholder for Martin Erat (back), you could also argue that anyone producing points for the Predators will be given every opportunity to continue to do so. That said, two points per game is nowhere near the pace one might anticipate from any Predator. So while Smith is certainly a worthy addition to your roster, you need to scale back your expectations considerably. No Predator scored more than 50 points last season, which makes most of the offense a low-end fantasy option.

Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs: Perhaps the best example of a placeholder, Bozak has started the season with an assist and a plus-3 rating in two games. He is playing with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, and there is no question that he is simply keeping Tim Connolly's seat warm. Of course, knowing Connolly's health history does make Bozak an option for stashing away in deeper leagues. Just don't expect any offense from Bozak when Connolly is healthy.

Tommy Wingels, San Jose Sharks: Skating with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe is certainly an impressive start to Wingels' season. Couture and Clowe will be creating offense all season long and any member of the line is due for some points because of it. However, Wingels is simply filling in for Martin Havlat (shoulder). As soon as Havlat is healthy, Wingels won't see much of the Sharks' top six. While the situation sounds similar to Bozak's, the Sharks have other options beside Wingels, which reduces the urge to stash him in deeper leagues.

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

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks: This OHL sniper started the season on a line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. The 2011 second-round pick had a solid training camp and has parlayed it into a chance at the NHL level. Saad will need to turn the opportunity into some points quickly, though. If he is not producing in his top-six role, he likely will only get a nine-game trial before being sent back to juniors. Viktor Stalberg (leg) will look to push him out once he returns to the ice as well.

David Moss, Calgary Flames: With Mikael Backlund (finger) out six weeks, Moss is getting the first opportunity to center the Flames' top line with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. His first game in the role did not go very well, but given the longevity of Backlund's injury, Moss will get more chances. Moss had 30 points in 58 games last season and shows hints of scoring ability. He may be one to watch a little closer, as opposed to picking up right away.

Artem Anisimov, New York Rangers: While it hasn't been on display in previous NHL seasons, Anisimov possesses an offensive game. Starting the season with Ryan Callahan and Ruslan Fedotenko on what looks like the Rangers' second line, Anisimov may get the chance to display his talent. Working against Anisimov is the fact that the Rangers depth chart could be arranged a few different ways and coach John Tortorella has a reputation for quick changes. For now, Anisimov is at least worth keeping an eye on. It is notable that with Anisimov as his playmaker, Callahan leads the NHL with 13 shots on goal.

Rising and Falling

Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks (up 35 spots): Selanne's during the offseason had to be tentative. Sure, it sounded like he was returning for another season with the Ducks, but no one could be absolutely sure of it. With Selanne back on the ice and taking his usual power-play shifts, it is time to elevate the Finnish Flash in the rankings. Selanne had a lackluster first two games of the season with just four shots on goal and no points, but his lot will improve as the rest of the Ducks pick up their game. The team did go 0-for-11 on the power play during the season-opening trip to Europe, a trend that won't last.

Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers (down 16 spots): Hartnell might feel more like a babysitter than a hockey player with two rookies on his line. While he may not be next to Sean Couturier and Matt Read all season, it is not a good sign that he is separated from Danny Briere. Hartnell earned most of his fantasy value from playing tough on a scoring line with Briere the past couple seasons. Hartnell won't be able to earn the same value while skating on the third line with a pair of rookies. Because things could still change, Hartnell isn't off the list completely, but he needs to force his way back up the depth chart to remain fantasy relevant.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (down three spots): We didn't do a formal Front Line ranking update following the flow of news regarding Crosby's concussion this summer, but informally he fell to around No. 9 among the forward ranks. So while he shows as 'down three spots' this week, really he is up five spots. Though there is no timetable for Sid's return to contact in practice, the constant news updates on his efforts on the ice with his teammates can't help but generate a feeling that he'll return in the next few weeks. By ranking Crosby at No. 4, we are basically saying that only Daniel Sedin, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos are worth owning more than Crosby, assuming he misses about another month. Don't forget that Crosby was pacing well ahead of all other players last season before he was hurt, so he can make up a lot of ground in value once he is back.

Scoring Lines

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes: The 'Canes have opted for a condensed offense during the first two games of the season, skating a unit of Eric Staal, Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu. There is reason to anticipate that to change at some point in the season, but as long as it lasts, you can expect more production from Skinner and Ruutu. Rookie Zac Dalpe, expected to start on a line with Skinner and Ruutu, barely skated 10 minutes in each of the first two contests. Keep an eye on the situation as a condensed Hurricanes offense hurts several players with fantasy potential, including Dalpe, Jussi Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins: Seguin is certainly doing his best to prove his worth as a member of the Bruins' third line. The sophomore has three assists in two games to start the season. The problem is that the player he hopes to supplant on the depth chart is doing just fine as well. Rich Peverley has two goals in two games as the third member of the Bruins' second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. This will be an interesting battle to see during the coming weeks, made only more interesting by the fact that Seguin and Peverley play together on the second power-play unit with Bergeron and Marchand.

Power Plays

David Legwand, Nashville Predators: Playing on the Preds' top line with the aforementioned Craig Smith and Colin Wilson, Legwand is also earning top power-play minutes with the same combination. Through two games, Legwand has a goal and two assists on the man advantage and five points overall. With Ryan Suter and Shea Weber running the point on this power play, there is no reason to think it can't be successful all season.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: While he may be separated from Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek at even strength, Alfredsson gets to enjoy a reunion with his linemates every time the Sens go on the power play. So far, each of the three players has a goal and assist on the man advantage. With power-play experts Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar on the point, it is really no surprise the team has scored four times in 11 chances on the man advantage through two games.

Quick Hits

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skated on a line with Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky. His nine-game trial with the club got off to a good start when he scored the Edmonton Oilers' only goal that forced overtime in the eventual shootout win. … Chuck Kobasew earned the nod over rookie Gabriel Landeskog to play in the Colorado Avalanche top six. Landeskog still played 16 minutes and still has time to work his way into the scoring line picture. … Columbus Blue Jackets rookies Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen are looking to make some noise in the early going, but have managed little more than a dull roar. Atkinson has been given time alongside the combinations of R.J. Umberger-Antoine Vermette and Rick Nash-Jeff Carter but only has a minus-3 to show for it. Johansen, one of the NHL's top prospects, was a healthy scratch in the second game of the season and was only given third-line minutes in the first. Both players will need to do a lot more to be worth mentioning again this season. … In all respects of the game, it appears as though Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder and Brenden Morrow are the Dallas Stars' top line. They led the team in ice time and power-play time through two 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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