Commentary

Front Line: 2012-13 forward ranks

Updated: April 2, 2012, 4:51 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

With less than a week to go in the regular season, we will forego the formalities of ranking teams based on as few as two games remaining. But it's never too early to look at next season.

These are your very preliminary forward ranks for the 2012-13 NHL season. Obviously there are some big caveats in here with player movement, postseason success and injuries. But we have a look at some of the key free agents here, plus a quick capsule on potential 2013 Calder Trophy candidates. That comes with some players who took steps forward, some who took steps back and a breakdown of the top 10.

If you are still looking for help this season, skip to the last section. We'll check these rankings during the offseason. See you then and good luck in the home stretch.

Top of the list

[+] EnlargeCrosby-Malkin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEvgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby can both pile up the fantasy stats and should be among the first players taken in drafts next season.

1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: With no question marks left about his health and enough of a sample size to prove he will still score with Sidney Crosby in the lineup, Malkin is the No. 1 fantasy pick for next season. He set career highs in goals and shots on goal, despite sharing the ice with shooting machine James Neal. It wasn't even close on the ESPN Player Rater this year with Malkin finishing nearly 20 percent better than the No. 2 ranked forward.

2. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Only Malkin was a better fantasy hockey asset than Stamkos this season. The Lightning star took a run at 60 goals and is likely to win his second Rocket Richard Trophy in three seasons. His near 20 percent shooting percentage is high, but even at a reduced figure, he would still be the No. 2 pick.

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: There is no one better when he is on the ice. Even though the concussion/neck injury was a bit of a scare for his long-term future, Crosby erased any doubts about his ability remaining. With 29 points in 18 games so far this season, he has shone when healthy. The only reason he doesn't go ahead of Malkin or Stamkos is the mild durability concern. But there is too much to gain to hedge your bet any further than the No. 3 pick.

4. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: The Sedin twins will probably want to forget this season. After running into triple-digits last season, Daniel's scoring pace dropped (with brother Henrik's) and a concussion robbed him of the final weeks of the season. He will be healthy headed into next year, so that is not a concern, but the prolonged slump in March is worrying. Daniel had only three points in nine games in March before he got hurt. Still, a return to the 100-point threshold is still more likely than another season at below a point-per-game pace.

5. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Giroux took another huge step this season to become the rock-star setup man the Flyers needed. Though we have probably seen the ceiling on his production in a near 90-point season, that ceiling is plenty to work with on a team that will continue to compete with young snipers developing on Giroux's wings.

6. James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Neal turned out to be the perfect wingman for Malkin and there is no reason to think he won't continue next year. The shots on goal are a huge bonus for a player who brings in value in most categories.

7. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks: In what was a down year for Perry, he still produced more than 35 goals, 100 penalty minutes and top-10 ESPN Player Rater value. Things can only get better for the Ducks after an offseason overhaul.

8. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils: Kovalchuk proved that last season was just a hiccup in a great career. He bounced back from lows in most statistical categories in 2010-11 to once again become a shining point-per-game fantasy star.

9. John Tavares, New York Islanders: This is a call that Tavares has yet another rung to climb on the development ladder. He still hasn't played for a competitive Islanders squad and has been gaining almost 10 points in production per season in the NHL. Another step forward would put him in the 90-point range he originally projected for when he came into the NHL. Maybe the team will even get better around him.

10. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Here is betting that the Kings can pin down a proper first and second line for next season and give Kopitar stability, the only thing standing between him and the top tier of fantasy forwards. The team has the pieces now for a dynamic top six, but the lines were jostled all season long, so Kopitar often didn't get to play with the same linemates for extended periods of time. The month of March was actually the most settled month for lines on the Kings, and Kopitar had 18 points in 15 games. He can be that good.

Top 100 Forwards for 2012-13

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. The ranking at the start of the 2011-12 season is indicated in parentheses.

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

Two steps forward

26. Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers: Absent at times from Eberle's coming-out party this season were linemates Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If the trio had been healthy all season, who knows what Eberle could have accomplished? Certainly better than the point-per-game he has managed with both players missing stretches.

37. Matt Moulson, New York Islanders: No more debate, no more questions. Moulson has three 30-goal campaigns in a row as Tavares' wingman and will remain there next season. Is there any doubt he scores 30 goals again? In fact, his totals are 30, 31 and 34 (so far this season). Could he score even more?

48. Radim Vrbata, Phoenix Coyotes: With two more assists, Vrbata would have career highs in goals, assists and points. He has more than settled into his sniper role. Though the plus/minus may not be there again next season (plus-23), the bigger concern is getting linemate Ray Whitney to re-up for another campaign.

Three steps back

60. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: This was a very weak season by St. Louis' standards, though they are admittedly high. This would mark only the second time since 2006-07 that he finished below a point per game. St. Louis' goals are in line with his numbers, but he is missing about 20 assists compared to the past two seasons. The best guess is that other players are taking part in scoring chances in his stead, which is a trend that will only continue with the development of Teddy Purcell and Brett Connolly next season.

74. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks: Ryan is a victim of the numbers game with not enough lineup spots to accommodate four star forwards on a team. If Teemu Selanne decides to hang up his skates, it bodes very well for Ryan bouncing back to form next season.

95. Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild: It didn't help that Mikko Koivu was hurt for much of the season, but Heatley showed little to no ability to generate offense when left by his lonesome as a "star" forward on the team. Playing a whole season and scoring fewer than 25 goals is just too much of a drop to expect a big comeback next season. The 40-goal Heatley may be gone forever.

Bouncing back?

20. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: Already healthy and back for the Capitals' playoff push, Backstrom should be back riding high on Alex Ovechkin's line again next season. That bodes well for both players as they surely wish to call a "mulligan" on 2011-12. Unless something changes, he should he valued next season as he was before this season: as a top playmaker in the league.

22. Alexander Radulov, Nashville Predators: Though he may not be wearing a Predators jersey, the KHL's leading scorer should be back in the NHL next season on a contract that should pay him enough to stay here. His skills have only blossomed in his time away from the league and Radulov is a wild card for pulling value in the top-10 next season.

68. Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Clearly, Carter was not happy with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now with plenty of time to settle into his Kings jersey before next season, Carter should get back to his high-shooting, high-scoring ways. Here is hoping he gets a chance to play with Anze Kopitar next season.

Looking for work

27. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils: It wasn't a point-per-game season, but more than 30 goals and nearly 70 points is a pretty good comeback from major knee surgery. Parise may hit the open market this summer and will be the top offensive option available as an unrestricted free agent. With the right team, he has the potential to become a top-15 fantasy forward again.

41. Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes: Whether Whitney can contribute in fantasy leagues hinges greatly on where he decides to play. It's hard to envision him not wanting to go back to the Coyotes after flirting with career highs in his 19th season. If he signs with a team that would use him as a veteran on the second line, you should back away quickly. But as a top offensive weapon, he can contribute another solid fantasy season.

54. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals: One would think Semin would have to be more respected on a team where he wasn't the second best left winger. Stepping out of the shadow of Alex Ovechkin could make for some mercurial rankings for Semin next season. We will have to see where he lands to make a better decision. Don't forget, the KHL is a viable option for Semin, who is oft criticized for his play in the NHL.

Future sophomores

[+] EnlargeRyan Nugent-Hopkins
Gerry Thomas/Getty ImagesRyan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft, has already made a lot of noise in the NHL and is poised for bigger things in his soon-to-be sophomore season.

23. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche: Landeskog more than fulfilled the high expectations we placed on him this season. He was the runaway rookie of the year in fantasy leagues, contributing in almost every fantasy category. His ice time will only go up from the 18:35 he averaged this season, that means his counting stats should go up accordingly.

30. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: RNH appeared to be the early Calder Trophy favorite before suffering a shoulder injury. Injuries to linemate Taylor Hall and a burst of offense from Sam Gagner that pushed Nugent-Hopkins down the depth chart didn't help. He showed us his top-end skills, though, and will be a fantasy darling as this Oilers team continues to develop.

93. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: Henrique was the rookie of the year for the middle part of the season. After getting promoted to the Devils' top line in November, he went on a tear for two months before running out of gas and getting injured. Conditioning and maturity will only improve his game. He has an Adam Oates feel to his offense as a playmaker who runs the top line and drafts off the talent surrounding him.

2013 Calder hopefuls

Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild: Dominating the Finnish SM-Liiga as a 20-year-old, Granlund should be in the NHL next season, pressing the oft-injured Mikko Koivu as the Wild's top centerman. There is even the off chance he switches to the wing to play on the top line with Koivu. Either way, it's hard to envision him not being in the NHL next season and putting up 40 assists as a basement.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers: He just tallied 30 goals and 72 points in 37 games this season in juniors. Even though the QMJHL has inflated stats compared to other junior hockey leagues, it is an impressive feat for Huberdeau, who almost made the Panthers roster this season. He missed time with a broken foot, limiting his playing time, but has clearly shown he needs little more development before trying the NHL. He'll make a run at a second consecutive Memorial Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs this season and be ready to break out in the NHL next season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: Tarasenko helped the Russians to the 2011 World Junior Championship and continues to play better than his age suggests in the KHL. He finished ninth in the scoring race this season with 47 points in 54 games and is currently second in playoff scoring as his SKA Saint Petersburg team is in the conference finals. He is going to be a fantasy darling if he gets the ice time after coming to North America. Why hedge your bets? Coach Ken Hitchcock can do amazing things with a hockey team, but has never been rookie- or prospect-friendly. Remember Nikita Filatov's ice time with the Columbus Blue Jackets with Hitchcock at the helm? We wish we didn't remember, either.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals: Like Tarasenko, Kuznetsov has the stuff to be a superstar. The argument to make him a top choice would be if he plays the opposite wing of Alex Ovechkin and could well end up on the Capitals' top line if he comes to the NHL next season. He led Traktor Chelyabinsk with 40 points in the regular season and is also in the conference finals of the KHL playoffs. If either or both of Tarasenko or Kuznetsov come to the NHL next season, they need to be high on your radar on draft day. They aren't crossing the pond to play in the AHL.

Nail Yakupov: Injured for the latter half of the OHL season, Yakupov had 31 goals and 69 points in 42 games before he took a hard check in early March. He is the favorite to go first overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft and figures to be going to a team that would have the room to play him right away. His sniping skills are NHL-ready, but the rest of his game and his endurance may mean we have to wait a year or two for him to become a superstar.

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks: He was close to making the team this season and has proceeded to continue destroying the competition in the OHL. There are seemingly always two spots in the Blackhawks' top six that are up for grabs for time alongside Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Saad could claim one of those spots.

Final week of this season

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: Backstrom is back from a concussion and skated almost 20 minutes with Alex Ovechkin on Saturday. The Capitals are still vying for a playoff spot and Backstrom should have shaken any rust off in his first game back. He is available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues.

R.J. Umberger, Columbus Blue Jackets: Just when you thought you wouldn't have to look Umberger's way at all this season, he is making a late charge and might be worth starting this final week. He has goals in three straight games (five total goals) and eight goals in his past six games thanks to a hat trick last week. He is available in 70 percent of ESPN leagues.

Alexander Radulov, Nashville Predators: We have to throw this out there, because Radulov is still available in 34 percent of ESPN leagues. In case you missed it, this is the KHL's top scorer coming back to the NHL in his prime. In six games, he has been held scoreless once and has a total of six points. He won't miss on most nights.

Other options: Vincent Lecavalier is back from a broken hand, Kyle Okposo has picked things up for the New York Islanders (as have Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey) and Kyle Wellwood is hot for the Winnipeg Jets.

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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