This week’s article includes a pair of young centers showcasing their wares for next season, an Avalanche winger turning back the clock, a Senators d-man making a big impact despite his age, and a Thrashers blueliner slumping down the stretch.
This is the final article of the season. Thanks to all those who read and/or provided comments during the year; I hope you got as much out of the columns as I did in writing them. Feel free to post comments/suggestions at the bottom of the column or send an e-mail to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with your thoughts about this year’s article or improvements for the future.
First Liners (Risers)
Brandon Sutter, C, ATL – Sutter notched a goal in Thursday's shootout loss to Ottawa – his third straight game with a goal. Sutter and the Hurricanes were shut out Saturday by New Jersey, but his play of late shows he is one to keep an eye on in keeper leagues.
Logan Couture, C, SJ – Couture netted his fourth goal of the year – a game-winner – Friday against Minnesota. He has taken advantage of the injury to Joe Thornton, scoring four points in the last five games while seeing increased ice time. Couture, the Sharks’ top prospect, dominated the AHL after his brief stint with San Jose earlier in the year and appears to have a bright future with the team.
Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS – Bergeron’s goal Wednesday gave him a team-leading 50 points for the season. He's not a fantasy stud, especially in leagues where there's a glut of centers, but Bergeron's strong two-way play is one of the main reasons the Bruins are still in the playoff hunt despite the loss of Marc Savard.
Lee Stempniak, RW, PHX – We covered Stempniak last week but his continued hot streak deserves another mention. Stempniak notched another goal Wednesday, giving him 13 goals in 14 games since donning a Coyotes sweater. The NHL recognized his fine play by naming him the First Star of the Month for March. GM Don Maloney should garner consideration for executive of the year given the recent play of Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski (who came over from Colorado), and the Coyotes’ steady rise up the standings.
Milan Hejduk, RW, COL – Hejduk, who missed 17 games with knee and back injuries before returning to action on March 7, has been on fire the past two weeks. Hejduk has 11 points in 13 games since his return and had a five-game point streak snapped Friday. He is not the sniper he was years ago, but if you are looking for a possible contributor this week, you could do worse than Hejduk.
Jussi Jokinen, RW, CAR – Jokinen is crushing his previous career high in the goal-scoring department. This year already he has netted 15 more goals than he had in any of his other four professional seasons; and one more goal will help Jokinen reach the 30-goal plateau. He is currently tied for 20th in the NHL in the category and is delivering for fantasy owners that had the foresight to acquire him. Jokinen could be more consistent on a game-to-game basis, but keep in mind he’s playing on a team that has really struggled this season. Additionally, Jokinen helped carry me to the finals of the RotoWire Staff League; so I figure he deserves some props.
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT – Karlsson, the Senators’ top defensive prospect heading into the season, scored twice Thursday to extend his point streak to four games. Thursday's effort was Karlsson's third consecutive multi-point game, giving him eight points in the last four contests. He's been red-hot and is likely unavailable in keeper leagues, but remember his name for next season; and, if for some reason he's still available in your league, snag him up for the stretch run.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, D, MTL – Bergeron assisted on the Canadiens’ lone goal Friday, giving him three points in the five games since he returned after missing nearly two months with an undisclosed injury. Jaroslav Spacek's absence opened up more minutes than usual and Bergeron took advantage of that additional time, playing 20:55 in the game. Bergeron has noteched 31 points – 22 on the man advantage - in 56 games for the Habs this season.
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL – Lehtonen, starting for the second straight night on Saturday, made 21 saves in a 2-1 loss to St. Louis. The loss is not the keynote – the fact that Lehtonen started on consecutive nights is. Marty Turco did not make the trip on Saturday and could be headed out of Big D. Lehtonen is 5-4 with a 2.87 goals against average and .912 save percentage since coming to Dallas and could be the Stars’ top netminder next season if Turco moves on.
Antti Niemi, G, CHI – Niemi stopped 32-of-33 shots and three shootout attempts in the Blackhawks’ comeback win over New Jersey on Friday. Niemi now sports a 22-7-3 record this season and it's hard to imagine a scenario in which he won't be the team's primary netminder the rest of the way.
Others include: Jason Spezza, Alexander Steen, Tyler Bozak, John Tavares, Peter Regin, Frans Nielsen, R.J. Umberger, David Krejci, Stephen Weiss, Nikolai Antropov, Blake Comeau, Patric Hornqvist, James Neal, Dustin Penner, Ilya Kovalchuk, Michael Grabner, Jason Pominville, Bobby Butler (keeper leagues), Rene Bourque, Loui Eriksson, Marian Gaborik, Daniel Alfredsson, Rick Nash, Steve Sullivan, Keaton Ellerby (keeper leagues), Patrick Wiercioch (keeper leagues), Mark Streit, Tyler Myers, Jonathan Ericsson, Dan Boyle, Dennis Seidenberg, Tom Gilbert, Rob Blake, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaroslav Halak, Jimmy Howard, Tuukka Rask, Chris Mason, Jonas Gustavsson and Pekka Rinne.
Training Room (Injuries)
Gilbert Brule, C, EDM – Brule suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Stars on Friday and will be sidelined for the final week. Brule is the eighth Oiler to suffer a season-ending injury in 2009-10.
Thomas Vanek, LW, BUF – Vanek has missed the last four games with a lower body injury. The extent of Vanek’s injury is still uncertain, but his production has fallen and there is no reason to hold onto him if either a more-productive or healthier player is available on the free agent list.
Mikael Samuelsson, RW, VAN – Samuelsson has missed the last three weeks with a shoulder injury, but he will return to the Vancouver lineup on Sunday. Samuelsson skated before the Canucks’ shootout win over the Ducks Friday, but Vancouver decided to hold him out for one more game. He'll rejoin one of the Canucks' top lines upon his return; so don't be shy about activating him as soon as he hits the ice.
Kim Johnsson, D, MIN – Johnsson has been sidelined since taking a hard check on March 13. His injury was originally reported as a concussion, but now there is some question as to whether it's a concussion or a shoulder injury (Chicago is obviously being tight-lipped about the situation). Johnsson remains day-to-day.
Jonas Hiller, G, ANA – Hiller missed the last week with back spasms and was replaced in net by Curtis McElhinney. Hiller, who also had his hip lock up on him recently due to dehydration, says he feels better and is hopeful of returning to action for the final week. With Anaheim all but eliminated from playoff contention, look for the team to be cautious with Hiller’s potential return.
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Mike Fisher, C, OTT – Fisher has just one point – an assist – in his last five games. While Jason Spezza was dinged up and struggling earlier n the season, Fisher helped carry the load for Ottawa. However, since Spezza picked up his play again in February, Fisher’s production has declined in conjunction with Spezza’s rise. Fisher should only be used this week in very deep leagues.
Patrik Berglund, C, STL – Berglund recorded two assists in St. Louis’ loss to Nashville Thursday, breaking a six-game scoreless streak. Berglund is a big, talented forward, but he has regressed in his sophomore season: he only has 26 points following a 47-point rookie campaign. Berglund still has major fantasy value in keeper leagues, but he shouldn’t be relied on down the stretch.
Drew Stafford, LW, BUF – Stafford, who has 13 goals and 18 assists this year, has been held goalless in his last 16 games; and he only has three assists over that span as well. Stafford has been given more than his fair share of opportunities on offense but has struggled to produce. According to Coach Lindy Ruff, "Right now the production hasn’t been there... There’s some frustration with the missed opportunities, but his part is he’s got to keep creating the opportunities. I really feel if you get one or two, usually it will make the player turn the corner." Ruff also said he wouldn't hesitate to take Stafford out of the lineup should his struggles on the offensive end continue. Make sure to monitor Stafford’s status if he is part of your fantasy squad.
Tomas Fleischmann, LW, WAS – Fleischmann scored Saturday, but it was just his fifth goal in his last 25 games. Maybe his talk with head coach Bruce Boudreau was the spark he needed, but Fleischmann’s inconsistency makes him a risky play for the final week of the season.
Kyle Quincey, D, COL – Quincey, who was a healthy scratch on Wednesday against the Ducks, returned to the Avalanche lineup Friday against Calgary. With just two assists in his last 13 games, Quincey's offensive output has really slipped from the pace he was on at the beginning of the season. Fantasy owners should drop Quincey down a few notches on next season’s cheat sheet.
Tobias Enstrom, D, SJ – Enstrom has had a brilliant year with 49 points in 78 games, but lately he has hit the skids. Enstrom has just one point in his last eight games, which is surprising considering how productive he was earlier this year and at the end of the 2008-09 season. Enstrom is too good to bench, but temper your expectations for the final week of the season.
Mike Smith, G, TB – Smith has been unable to take advantage of Antero Niittymaki’s struggles and really impress the coaching staff. Smith pitched a shutout in Wednesday’s victory over Pittsburgh and earned the start Friday against New York, yet he allowed four goals on seven shots against the Rangers and was summarily sent to the bench. Look elsewhere if you need goalie help this week.
Craig Anderson, G, COL – Anderson has recorded 36 wins, a 2.62 goals against average, and a .918 save percentage this season, but he is limping to the finish line. Anderon is 5-9-1 with a GAA just under 3.50 over his last 15 starts; which can likely be contributed to fatigue after breaking the franchise record for minutes played, starts and shots faced this season. Anderson has the talent to right the ship this week, but you would be better served erring on the side of caution and using a different option.
Others include: Joe Thornton (inj., check status), Sam Gagner (inj., check status), Jason Arnott (inj., check status), Tim Connolly (inj., check status), Ryan Getzlaf (inj., check status), Eric Belanger, Ryan Callahan (inj.), Sean Avery (inj.), David Booth (inj., out for year), James van Riemsdyk, Shane Doan, Alexei Kovalev, Milan Michalek (inj.), Pavel Kubina (inj.), Kris Russell (inj.), Ruslan Salei, Victor Hedman, Tom Poti, Brian Boucher, Tim Thomas, Rick DiPietro (out for season), Miikka Kiprusoff and Cristobal Huet.