Fantasy Hockey: Forwards to watch

The top five fantasy hockey forwards to watch are outlined by's Jordan Shifman.

Nicklas Backstrom (WSH - C)

Everyone knows who the top two players in the NHL are. In Yahoo! fantasy drafts, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were consistently selected 1-2. The question is: Who do you take third?

Rounding out the players that typically went in the top-10 (in no particular order) were Steven Stamkos, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Miller, Evgeni Malkin, Zach Parise, Roberto Luongo and Nicklas Backstrom.

For me, Backstrom is the player to watch. Playing alongside the best player in the world obviously hasn't hurt Backstrom, but the Swede has shown he's not just a sidekick.

Just look at the stats. He's been mostly playing with Ovechkin for the past three years. Ovechkin totaled 112, 110 and 109 points during that time, while Backstrom's output increased from 69 points to 88 points and then to 101 points with a plus-37 rating last season, which was good for fourth in the league in both categories.

So should you take Backstrom over Parise, Luongo, Sedin? Yes. If the Capitals' stars stay healthy, don't be shocked if Ovechkin and Backstrom finish 1-2 in league scoring this year.

Joe Thornton (SJ - C)

There are only two things you need to know about Joe Thornton for this upcoming season. First, he's tallied 86 points or more in six of the past seven seasons. Second, he's in a contract year.

Playing for a new contract always seems to be extra motivation for athletes and it will surely be no different for Jumbo Joe. Let's put it this way: The last time Thornton played in a contract year he totaled 92 assists (with 44 coming on the power play) and 114 points.

Considering he's been selected 21st overall on average in Yahoo! drafts, you could grab him in the second or third round and sleep very well.

Simon Gagne (TB - LW)

Like expiring contracts, a change of scenery can also be a strong motivator. After playing his entire 10-year career with the Flyers, Simon Gagne is starting fresh in the Sunshine State. Perhaps warm winters on the beach will help Gagne actually stay healthy on a consistent basis.

Over the past number of years, the left winger has alternated between full seasons and shortened seasons due to injury. At his current pace, this should be one of the full seasons. And when he does stay healthy, he's a scoring machine.

In last year's run to the Stanley Cup finals, Gagne potted nine goals in 12 playoff games with five of them on the power play. And with the potential to play alongside snipers Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and/or Martin St. Louis, Lightning could be just what the doctor ordered.

Alexander Frolov (LA - LW)

It's been seven years since Alex Frolov entered the NHL with the LA Kings. During the first four seasons, Frolov's point totals steadily increased. But over the past three, his stats have gone squarely in the wrong direction.

Sometimes seen as an underachiever and an aimless wanderer, Frolov, too, is heading into the 2010-11 season with a new logo on his chest.

As a member of the NY Rangers, Frolov may have the chance to be paired with Marian Gaborik, which could do wonders for his career.

But if he doesn't perform, don't expect the New York fans to be as forgiving as those in LA. Frolov needs to simply produce and scoring only 19 goals like he did last year just won't cut it.

Ales Hemsky (EDM - RW)

One of the most interesting players to watch in the upcoming season is Oilers' right winger Ales Hemsky. Though he's been just under a point-per-game player for the past several years, many fantasy hockey managers seem to be forgetting about him.

Yes, he's on the Oilers and, yes, he was injured for much of last season, but he did score 22 points in the 22 games he played in.

To put it into perspective, Detroit's Johan Franzen, also a right winger, is being drafted on average in Yahoo! leagues at pick 58, but he's never scored more than 59 points in a single season.

On the other hand, Hemsky is being drafted 103rd overall, but over his past four years prior to last year, Hemsky has averaged 67 points and 26 power-play assists with Edmonton.

He's been stellar on a mediocre team and now with some highly-touted young blood on his side, he's likely to have a great campaign. And that really shouldn't surprise anyone.