Commentary

Front Line: Potent pair of Panthers

Updated: November 14, 2011, 5:09 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann deserve more respect. The rankings this week reflect that sentiment with Versteeg up 34 spots and Fleischmann up 33 spots. But it's about more than just adjusting the players on a list; this is about respect for what they have been doing for the Florida Panthers. Did you know Versteeg sits seventh overall among forwards on the ESPN Player Rater? Did you even have an inkling that only six forwards in the NHL have produced more useful fantasy numbers in the ESPN standard game than Versteeg this season?

For me, it was a simple process of early-season dismissal: "Oh, there's Versteeg again getting some points. It's still early, and that is a small sample size. He'll go away." But as we approach the season's quarter pole, those samples aren't getting any smaller.

It's not a matter of having written these players off completely, either. Fleischmann certainly was identified by many as a preseason sleeper, and Versteeg was in the mix of many names to earn a top offensive role with the Panthers. But everyone had the same caution: The offense will be limited and the plus/minus poor.

The offense has been anything but "limited," and each player's plus/minus rating has been his biggest asset. Versteeg has eight goals and nine assists, a plus-8 and eight power-play points. Fleischmann has six goals and nine assists, a plus-11 and five power-play points.

[+] EnlargeBrian Campbell
Mitchell Layton/NHLI/Getty ImagesBrian Campbell has led a surprisingly potent Panthers power play that has converted 14 goals on 64 opportunities and bolstered the value of several Panthers forwards.

The first thing that jumps off the page for both players is the power-play totals. With the Panthers' power play converting at a 21.9 percent clip, the production has been a huge boon to both players. Even if you cut their power-play production in half, both would still have solid starts to the season. Having a veteran such as Brian Campbell (11 power-play points) working on the point with a developing blue-line star such as Dmitry Kulikov surely has helped solidify the team's man advantage. A 22 percent conversion rate is usually good for top five in the NHL at the end of the season, so it's not a given that the Panthers will maintain the current pace, but the power play has the talent to stay near the top of the league and continue to buoy Versteeg's and Fleischmann's totals.

Plus/minus, however, does not get affected while the team is on the power play (other than if giving up a short-handed goal, of course). That means Versteeg and Fleischmann have been equally as solid away from special teams. Their plus/minus is made more impressive by the fact that the line of Versteeg, Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss is being matched up against opponents' top scoring threat on a very consistent basis. The trio played almost all of Sunday's game against Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. Very rarely do the three face a checking line for the majority of a contest. This might be the very reason the plus/minus rating for the trio is so good; Fleischmann is an exceptionally speedy skater, and Weiss has always had above-average defensive instincts. With a defensive group that is much improved and Jose Theodore closing the door in net, the line's plus/minus totals can continue to climb as the skaters continue to outscore the line opposing them.

Respect is one thing. Suggesting Versteeg will stay on a pace for 93 points is another. These Panthers have some fantasy bite, but there will be sluggish periods this season to bring down the final totals. Fleischmann already went through a relatively slow start with three points in six games before he peeled off 12 points in his past 10 games. The biggest indicator to watch here will be the plus/minus rating, though. As long as it continues to remain positive, this line is doing its job on the ice. From that, the fantasy value flows.

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

Rising and falling

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins (up 38 spots): Why did we ever doubt Seguin would slip into an offensive role in the top six? Well, Rich Peverley and the coaching staff had us doubting at the start of the season, but Seguin has made a believer out of everybody, translating last season's playoff success to a regular season worthy of one of the top prospects in hockey. With 20 points in 15 games and a plus-14 to his name, Seguin is tearing up the league with no signs of slowing down. His linemates, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, showed strong two-way play last season with some blistering months on offense. Expect more of the same the rest of this season with Seguin as the third member of the unit. Obviously, there will be some bumps on the road to come; Seguin is on pace for 60 goals and 109 points right now, but opposing teams will start to focus in on him and he will have to adjust. There is also a question of conditioning for an 82-game season. This will be Seguin's first full season playing more than checking-line minutes. For now, though, Seguin looks like the top-40 fantasy forward the Bruins need as a leader.

Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals (down 12 spots): With just eight points in 15 games, there is a very simple explanation for Semin's slow start: responsibility. Semin is being asked to do less offensively and more defensively, and opposing teams have been keying on Semin and linemate Marcus Johansson as a weak point to get some goals in. Whenever the Capitals are on the road, opposing coaches have been rolling their top offensive line against Semin whenever possible. At home, where coach Bruce Boudreau gets last change, Semin is being protected from the opponents' top line. The results are clear: In eight home games, Semin has six points and a plus-4. In seven road games, Semin has two points and a minus-5. If you have the luxury of daily matchups, consider benching Semin on the road. If you are in a weekly league, wait for a Capitals homestand, then trade Semin while he's on a high note.

Ryan Smyth, Edmonton Oilers (up 14 spots): It looks as though Smyth is settling back into his old digs comfortably. Smyth hasn't been the same fantasy asset since he left the Oilers in 2006-07. After stops with the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, he is back where he belongs. Playing with Shawn Horcoff and most recently Ales Hemsky, Smyth has nine goals and seven assists. However, 11 of those points came in a six-game stretch, so there is some cause for long-term concern about Smyth's value. He might be on pace for a point-per-game finish right now, but, on Oct. 27, Smyth was on pace for 45 points. Split the difference, expect close to 60 points and avoid him during cold spells if you can.

Scoring lines

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators: What are we supposed to do with Mr. Smith? On paper, he isn't a part of the Predators' top six. For application purposes, he has 14 points in 15 games and looks like the team's top offensive weapon on the ice. He has played left wing, right wing and center this season, with different linemates every time. The only constants have been his shooting and scoring. Smith has jumped throughout the lineup by filling in for injured Predators, including Martin Erat, Mike Fisher and most recently David Legwand. Smith is being picked up in leagues left and right, with his ownership up to 55 percent of ESPN leagues (up from virtually unowned). The biggest test of his value will come when everyone is healthy and the Predators are forced to punt one of Erat, Legwand, Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn from the top six to make room for Smith. But even if he doesn't make that cut, with players such as Erat, Fisher and Legwand on the roster, being an injury replacement can keep a guy busy.

Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings: For the sake of argument, we are going to say that one version of Filppula has 13 points in seven games and is a blazing fantasy asset at center. Another version of Filppula has zero points in eight games this season and is of little interest to fantasy owners. Marry the two versions and you have a mercurial fantasy asset currently arcing out the hot version of his hot/cold streaky sides. Filppula splits out as a home/road Jekyll/Hyde for fantasy purposes. He has 11 points in 10 home games with a plus-10 and has two points in five road games with a plus-1. Watch the schedule, and use him when appropriate.

Power plays

Milan Hejduk, Colorado Avalanche: For all the toying and tinkering with the lines for the Avalanche, two things have been constant: Hejduk on the power play and Hejduk with Paul Stastny. Those two things work in favor of this 35-year-old sniper. Hejduk is the featured shot on the NHL's best power play (27 percent) and has five points in three games, including two points on the man advantage. He has shown to be a brittle player in recent years, so get him while the getting is good.

Quick hits

As predicted, Jannik Hansen added to a pair of Swedish twins equals goals. Hansen has three goals in four games since joining the Sedin twins on the top line when Alex Burrows was hurt. Burrows returned Friday, yet Hansen still played half of the game with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin -- and resumed that role on Sunday with Burrows present. If Hansen with the twins turns into a long-term scenario, he becomes a lot more attractive off the waiver wire. … This is not the first time and probably won't be the last time this is mentioned this season; Tim Connolly is injured, and that means Tyler Bozak will be getting some points by osmosis skating with Phil Kessel. … Obviously we need to see more than a four-game streak, but the newly arranged line of Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus looks solid for the New Jersey Devils. Elias is owned in all leagues, but Zubrus and Sykora will be available and should be picked up if they continue to score together. … Marian Gaborik is dragging his linemates along for the ride as his season is rejuvenated away from Brad Richards. Since joining a line of Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov, Gaborik has been on fire. Stepan is starting to reap the rewards with seven points in his past four games and his availability quickly slipping away in ESPN leagues. If you miss out on Stepan, Anisimov has six assists in that same time frame.

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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