Commentary

Front Line: Passing the torch

Updated: October 31, 2011, 12:54 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Who's in charge here? Which player is the offensive leader for that team? The answer that jumps first to your mind may be last season's news.

One theme in the rankings this week is players who seem to have handed over the reins to a younger offensive catalyst within their team's ranks. Whether through a forced or natural change in role or the younger player simply steamrolling over his mentor, there comes a time when we must acknowledge a changing of the guard.

In this case, it is time we give credit to the new offensive leaders of the San Jose Sharks and Carolina Hurricanes. The automatic response to the question of who leads the offense has been a quick Joe Thornton (Sharks) and Eric Staal (Hurricanes) for the past five-plus years. The way the 2011-12 season has begun begs to differ with that automatic response.

Joe Pavelski has seven goals and four assists for 11 points to start the season, while Joe Thornton has three goals and five assists for eight points to begin the year. Pavelski's numbers are trending up while Thornton's have been trending down. The kicker is that last season Pavelski finished with more points on a point-per-game basis than Thornton. Pavelski had 66 points in 74 games (.892 PPG) last season and Thornton had 70 points in 80 games (.875 PPG). It's time to shed the notion that Thornton is likely to lead the team in points and fantasy value. Does Pavelski still benefit from playing with Thornton? Yes. Does Thornton still have significant fantasy value? Of course. But the key question: Is Pavelski a better fantasy asset than Thornton? And the answer to that, which you wouldn't guess from their average draft positions (Thornton was 45th, Pavelski 102nd) is yes.

In the case of Staal, the numbers are a lot uglier. Staal has three goals and two assists with a minus-13 rating through 11 games. Jeff Skinner, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, has four goals and six assists with a minus-7. Neither player has an appealing plus/minus, but Staal's five points cannot hold a candle to Skinner's 10. But guess what else? Skinner has been on the ice for every single one of Eric Staal's points and the same cannot be said of Staal for Skinner's. In fact, Skinner also had a point on four of Staal's five points. It begs the question of whether Staal is producing any offense of his own this season. Skinner is skating with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu as the Canes top line, while Staal has been playing with Chad LaRose and Jiri Tlusty. While many would have guessed it might be another season or two before Skinner took over the offense for the Hurricanes, it appears he is ready to seize control now.

This doesn't mean Thornton or Staal are not useful fantasy commodities anymore. Quite the opposite, both players will continue to be worth owning and starting in most fantasy formats (Staal's plus/minus takes some of the confidence out of that statement). The rankings reflect the fact Skinner and Pavelski are the new catalysts for the Canes and Sharks, but are not the be-all-end-all of the offense. The Sharks, in particular, boast a top six that all deserve attention in fantasy (in fact, you'll find all six in the top 100). You just need to reprogram the automatic response to the question of who is the catalyst for both teams.

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

Rising and Falling

Tim Connolly, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 15 spots): He isn't setting the league on fire or anything, but two points in three games is a good start for Connolly. There is clearly some chemistry with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, which is the most important thing for him. When the line was allowed to run and gun against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, Connolly finished with a goal and assist. There is still a window to add him to your lineup before it's too late. Players as hot as Kessel will drag all their linemates along and Connolly has his own skills to draw on. It should be a solid season for the Leafs top centerman as long as he is healthy, so get him into your lineup and enjoy it while he is.

Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers (up 31 spots): Reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. But to be fair, it was very concerning that Hartnell began the season on the third line with a pair of rookies, Matt Read and Sean Couturier. A couple of line combinations later, Hartnell is on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr and the trio is terrorizing the opposition since coming together four games ago, combining for 11 goals and 12 assists. And though he is a little behind the pace, don't forget Hartnell brings penalty minutes to the fantasy table as well. He has averaged 150 PIMs during the past four seasons.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues (down 25 spots): It's not quite the same situation with the San Jose Sharks and Carolina Hurricanes as discussed above, but the Blues seem to be experiencing their own changing of the guard. Alexander Steen has six goals and nine points, while Backes has three goals and five points. Backes will be just fine, but he isn't the runaway leader on the Blues for production. Playing on a line with Vladimir Sobotka and T.J. Oshie isn't going to lead to the best numbers of Backes career. A depth chart change could be in order, but so long as Steen is clicking with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, there is no reason to think he won't continue to pace the club.

Scoring Lines

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: The Bruins reunited Krejci with his usual top linemates, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, on Saturday, but the Bruins got thoroughly crushed by the Montreal Canadiens in the process. Tyler Seguin found himself on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Though each line generated a goal, expect some more tinkering from the Bruins until things start clicking. Seguin seems the most likely to come out on top with 10 points in 10 games to start the season. Krejci remains the player to be most concerned about considering he has already been hurt and has one assist and is minus-5 through seven games.

Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche: O'Reilly is among the leaders of the Avalanche for points through 10 games, tied with Kyle Quincey and David Jones with eight points, O'Reilly has benefited from the quality play of rookie linemate Gabriel Landeskog. The rookie has had the other assist or the goal for five of O'Reilly's seven assists this season. With Daniel Winnik as the third member, the line is technically the third unit for the Avs but their point totals are right there with the top two scoring units. If you are considering making a move on O'Reilly, there is reason for caution. If the line continues to play so well it might be only a matter of time before Landeskog's depth chart position is improved and he leaves Winnik and O'Reilly behind. But for now, consider adding O'Reilly as a depth forward to draft of Landeskog's obvious ability.

Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils: Travis Zajac can't return soon enough. Though Ilya Kovalchuk (six points, minus-5) and Parise (five points, minus-3) have been scoring, it's not at a pace expected of them. The Devils lineup and lack of a true top centerman is partly to blame. On Saturday, the Devils even had Parise taking face offs so he could line up with Kovalchuk on the same unit. Zajac, recovering from surgery on his Achilles tendon in the offseason, is still on track for a late-November return to the ice. It is starting to look like it will take that to jump-start Parise and Kovalchuk. Consider pitching the fantasy owners of these underperforming Devils during the next couple weeks. You know Parise and Kovalchuk will still get a fair number of points during the remainder of the season and there is a chance they return to elite status with Zajac in the fold.

Power Plays

Brad Boyes, Buffalo Sabres: Though he hasn't been a member of the Sabres top-six forwards at even strength, Boyes may have found a way to have some fantasy value this season by lining up on the first power-play unit with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. He has three power-play points in the past three games to show for it. While it may be difficult to justify a roster spot for someone with limited potential, there will be times when Boyes could be an astute add to your lineup.

Quick Hits

The revolving door continues for the Ducks top line since Jason Blake was injured and Bobby Ryan was demoted to the second line to take his place. After trying Brandon McMillan and Patrick Maroon, Matt Beleskey was in the role while the Ducks lost two games on the weekend. Who knew Blake was the rug that really tied the room together. If the Ducks don't get the top line going at even strength (Perry and Getzlaf have been fine on the power play), look for them to consider dipping into the AHL for help. That is where Nick Bonino has 11 points in nine games and Kyle Palmieri has 10 points in six games. & The Montreal Canadiens appear to have found the right combinations on offense to score some goals. It's hard to decide which line is the first and the second, but the combos include Erik Cole, Mike Cammalleri and David Desharnais as one unit, with Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec as the other. Cole and Desharnais are the players widely available in ESPN fantasy leagues and may be worth a look. & Guillaume Latendresse is getting a look next to Dany Healtey and Mikko Koivu instead of Devin Setoguchi. The Minnesota Wild is still not clicking though, so Latendresse's time there could also be short lived. Next in line for a trial on the top line would be Pierre-Marc Bouchard. & Martin Erat returned Saturday from an upper-body injury and scored a goal. Erat has always been one of the more consistent fantasy producers for the Predators and would make a good addition for any fantasy team struggling on offense. & After lukewarm starts to the season, coach John Tortorella broke apart the duo of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik on Saturday. Of course, each of them promptly scored three points. It's not quite as simple as that, though. The pair hooked up on a power-play goal and again during one of two third-period shifts they took together, so technically Richards and Gaborik each only had one point without the other helping out. What does this mean though? Stay tuned. Richards played with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, while Gaborik played with Derek Stepan and Wojtek Wolski. Wolski was the only other Ranger with a multi-point night. & Ryan Johansen is at nine games played, which means if he suits up again his entry-level contract kicked in. Once again, he was playing top-six minutes on Sunday for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since joining the second line, he has four points in five games. But Johansen was also held scoreless in six of the nine games he's played. It will be a tough decision for the Blue Jackets this week.

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 send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.

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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