Commentary

Front Line: Line shakeups

Duchene, Grabner, Gaborik, Richards improving after line changes

Updated: November 7, 2011, 11:54 AM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Right now, there are three examples of teams shuffling the top two lines in order to attempt to spark the play of a slow-starting forward. While some such cases have been successful in reviving the performance of a fantasy asset, others will take time. As you consider trading or dropping some of your players, there may be some hope to offer yet.

[+] EnlargeDuchene
Jerome Miron/US PresswireMatt Duchene had a scoring explosion over the weekend thanks to a change in linemates.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche: Duchene is the example of how a slow start can be turned around by mixing him in with some new linemates. Duchene had put in 12 games with only two goals and four assists on the season before he was placed on a line with Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk for Friday's game against the Dallas Stars. Two games later, he has five goals and six assists for the season, nearly doubling his production over the weekend. This move, though it may be temporary, is bad news for David Jones. The odd man out because of the move, Jones still gets some power-play time with Hejduk and Stastny but now is mostly skating with irrelevant fantasy commodities.

Michael Grabner, New York Islanders: Compared to Duchesne, the Isles' attempt to motivate their sophomore 34-goal scorer isn't as dramatic. Now with 11 games under his belt and only three goals to show for it, Grabner was promoted to the top line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson for the Isles' last contest. With his line not generating offense consistently this season, there is nothing wrong with Grabner being promoted to the wing of a rising star like Tavares. Though you may have been tempted to even consider cutting him loose in some leagues, this move will make it worthwhile to hold out at least a little longer. His stay with Tavares has been extended thanks to P.A. Parenteau (the player Grabner replaced on the top line) clicking handily with Frans Nielsen and Brian Rolston on Saturday (seven points between them in win over Washington Capitals). Look first for Grabner to start shooting the puck again. He is currently on pace to fall nearly 100 shots short of the number he took last season.

Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, New York Rangers: Another top-six shakeup has occurred in the Rangers dressing room, as Gaborik and Richards don't appear to be a match made in fantasy hockey heaven after all. Though on paper the two players appear perfectly matched, the results say otherwise. Gaborik and Richards each had five points in eight games together before they were split Oct. 29 against the Ottawa Senators, a game where each player managed three points. In that loss to the Sens and the four games since, Gaborik has eight points, Richards has five and the team has won four. Clearly this is a circumstance where the sum of the pair is less than the parts. Gaborik is already pushing new linemates Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov into being useful in deeper fantasy leagues. Richards may be a step behind in the points category, but playing with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan is bound to generate some fantasy goodness sooner than later. While you may have been plotting your exit strategy with these two after a slow start, it is time to hold on tight and be glad Gaborik and Richards are spending less time together.

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

Rising and Falling

Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues (down 15 spots): Stewart is probably spending more time than he should writing "Get Well Soon" cards to Andy McDonald. After managing 23 points, including 15 goals, in 26 games with McDonald and the Blues last season, Stewart has started this season with three points in 13 games as McDonald nurses a concussion. Having a great set-up man like McDonald on his line was likely a big part of Stewart's success last season. Given McDonald's track record with concussions, he could be out a long time. In the meantime, the Blues fired coach Davis Payne and brought in NHL regular Ken Hitchcock to take over behind the bench. This does bode well for the club's special teams, where Stewart has the ability to shine.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (up 16 spots): Even when linemate Steve Ott is out with a hip injury, Benn takes Michael Ryder onto his line and keeps producing. Ryder has five points in two games since Ott was hurt. Benn is now up to 15 points in 13 games and is proving all doubters (including this one) wrong about how much he could produce while filling Brad Richards' skates. In fact, Benn is showing an elite playmaker's acumen with his numbers being split so heavily in favor of assists (four goals, 11 assists), but the scary part is that he had more goals than assists just two seasons ago during his rookie campaign. He showed a balanced attack with 22 goals and 34 assists last season. That kind of versatility and flexibility means Benn has the talent to avoid prolonged cold spells, too.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs (up eight spots): Lupul appears to be a star by association. Without Phil Kessel picking apart the league beside him, Lupul would be a fantasy afterthought. However, Kessel is picking the league apart and Lupul is beside him. With 16 points in 14 games for Lupul and a healthy and productive Kessel, it's time to start buying into this trend lasting for most of the season. Will there be cold streaks here and there? Of course, but the formula should remain the same all season. Kessel scores points, plus Lupul skates beside Kessel, equals Lupul having fantasy value.

Scoring Lines

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets: The third member of what has become the Jets' top line is beginning to wake up. Kane has had his stick silenced for the past two games with linemate Nik Antropov out with an injured hand, but before that, Antropov and Alex Burmistrov helped propel Kane to five goals and eight points in six games. Kane showed streaks like this at the start of last season as well, but a little bit older and wiser and with linemates showing similar growth, expectations could be raised this season. Kane is also a quiet asset in the shots on goal category, usually hanging around the top 20 in the NHL.

Andrew Cogliano, Anaheim Ducks: The past two contests were not shining examples for the Ducks, but last Tuesday the Ducks pushed the Capitals to overtime in a 5-4 loss and displayed exactly the kind of goal scoring they would like to see more of. Teemu Selanne had a four-point night on the same night the Ducks tried their fourth different top-six combination since Jason Blake's injury. Rather than demote Bobby Ryan to the second line with Selanne and Saku Koivu, Ryan stayed with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Andrew Cogliano lined up with Koivu and Selanne, and the speedy forward was on the ice for three of Selanne's four points. Cogliano has the base skill set to put up a serviceable number of points and playing with Selanne is a good start. Keep an eye on his production during the coming weeks to see if there is potential.

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: This was touched on in last week's Fantasy Forecaster, but Henrique has made the case more compelling since then. With three games as the Devils' top-line centerman next to Zach Parise, Henrique has three goals and two assists. The developing chemistry with Parise may be too little, too late for Henrique to stay on the top line when Travis Zajac returns from injury in the next month, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth investing in him for the short-term. Henrique and Parise even had Ilya Kovalchuk as the third member of the line before a lower-body injury sidelined him.

Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks: Hansen's value really depends on how long Alex Burrows is out with back spasms. If he misses more than just Sunday's game, Hansen is the lucky winger tabbed for duty next to Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. Though Hansen has played the part before with little to show for it, he has speed and anyone playing with the Sedin twins is worth a look. Keep an eye on Burrows' recovery to see if there is any window for Hansen to produce.

Power Plays

Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks: This has been an ongoing concern during the past several seasons, but it needs to be highlighted again. When the Ducks have two above-average defensemen available for the power play, the team has to choose one if their top four forwards to sit out from the top unit. Consistently that choice has been Ryan. With Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky both power-play talents, the Ducks have been rolling with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne on the top unit, leaving Ryan to the second, and much less heralded, power play. It's a note of concern because Ryan is on pace for a 35-point season right now, after potting more than 70 points last year.

Quick Hits

The Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Penner has been demoted down to the third line. Penner hasn't shown any signs of his offensive game this season and has been replaced by Scott Parse in the top six. It's safe to drop him in most leagues. … Ken Hitchcock taking over as the St. Louis Blues coach is a good thing. The fantasy-relevant players have enough defensive responsibility to keep out of his doghouse, and Hitchcock will bring consistency and discipline to push their games to the next level. T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund, along with Chris Stewart and Matt D'Agostini, could benefit from his presence. … The line of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin has come alive again. Though the trio faces the threat of lessened offensive reliance with Phil Kessel scoring the way he is, the Toronto Maple Leafs' second line is finding a way to produce. Grabovski and MacArthur are probably worth starting in most fantasy leagues now.

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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