This week’s article includes a new top center for the Buds, the Hobbit on Broadway, Sid the Kid sidelined by an injury and New Jersey starting to dismantle its team. Is Arnott next?
First Liners (Risers)
Mikhail Grabovski, C, TOR – Grabovski scored the Leafs' lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Bruins on Monday, then added another marker in the team’s 6-5 shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday. He remains the Leafs' best player on the ice - and possibly in the fantasy arena, considering he has been more consistent than Phil Kessel and even Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur. Grabovski has been kept off the scoresheet just twice in his last 13 games and looks more like the 2008-09 version rather than the one who struggled last season
David Backes, C, STL – On the other side of the 6-5 shootout battle mentioned above was Backes, who just may be the Blues’ best forward with Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie still out. Backes notched a goal and an assist, giving him lamplighters in two straight and 11 total for the year. With 32 points in 39 games, Backes is well on his way to exceeding the career-high 54 points he posted two years ago. He likely won’t come close to sniffing the 31 goals he scored in that 2008-09 campaign; but if he ends up with more than 20, and adds 40 or so assists, it will still be considered a strong season.
Alexandre Burrows, RW, VAN – Burrows, who has been red hot of late, recorded two assists in Vancouver’s 3-1 win over the Flames on Wednesday. Burrows has two goals and seven assists over his last seven games and is clearly in sync with the Sedin boys. Burrows played well last season, but his current campaign got off to a slow start after he missed the first month of the season due to offseason shoulder surgery. If you grabbed him in your drafts and were patient, you are now being rewarded.
Shane Doan, RW, PHX – Andrew Fiorentino, in his Daily Puck column last Thursday, highlighted Doan in the ‘Hot’ section of the article. I apologize if this is redundant, but I felt that Doan should be highlighted here as well. After a very slow start, largely due to a lower-body injury, Doan has clearly rounded into form. He has recorded multiple points in four of his last five games and has scored at least one in eight straight. Doan is up to 28 points in 30 games and appears set on putting last year’s sub-par year behind him.
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR – The Norwegian Hobbit made a splash with his first goal Wednesday, scoring from what looked to be an impossible angle to notch the game-winner in the Rangers 2-1 OT win over Carolina. As Andrew Fiorentino wrote in The Coming Thing, Zuccarello started the year in the AHL to adjust to the smaller North American rinks and struggled initially, putting up just two points in his first 12 games. After about a month, Zuccarello adjusted and piled up 23 points in his next 21 outings to earn a call-up to the NHL. Zuccarello only picked up one point – plus a shootout winner – in his first five games, but he clearly has the talent to be a successful player at the top level. Zuccarello is skating on a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan; and with the Rangers desperate for secondary scoring, Zuccarello should get every chance to produce.
Anton Babchuk D, CGY – Babchuk posted an assist Monday in Calgary’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, giving him four points in the last six games and eight in the past month. Although that may not seem like much, it is twice as many as he scored in the first two months of the year. Babchuk was on the verge of becoming a top-tier d-man after posting 35 points, including 16 goals, in 2008-09, but he turned down a one-year, $1 million offer from Carolina and played last year in the KHL. It took him a while to readapt to the NHL game, but he looks to be rounding into form and could have a strong second half.
Brian Campbell, D, CHI – When fantasy players or NHL fans hear the name Brian Campbell, the first things they think of are eight years and $57 million - the contract he received as a free agent in July 2008. We all know Chicago overpaid, but Campbell’s return from a broken collarbone was a key factor in the Blackhawks winning the Cup last season. Campbell is not putting up big numbers this season – he has just two goals and 11 assists - but if you combine that with his solid plus-15, you get a pretty good fantasy defenseman.
Roberto Luongo, G, VAN – For all the warranted criticism Bobby Lu has taken for his poor playoff performances, he has proven to be a regular season beast. Luongo is 12-1-1 over his last 14 games; and even more impressive, he has given up just 26 goals over that span. In addition, with a solid backup in Cory Schneider, who filled in well when Luongo missed three games for the birth of his son, Vancouver can make sure Luongo is better rested for the playoffs this time around.
Ondrej Pavelec, G, ATL – For those of you waiting for Pavelec to falter and fall off, it’s looking more and more like that won’t happen. Pavelec has reeled off three wins in a row and is now 15-8-4 with a 2.14 goals against average and .936 save percentage. As scary as the next sentence might be, it’s true. If Pavelec can keep this up, he will be a Vezina Trophy candidate and possibly the Most Improved Player winner.
Others include: Paul Stastny, Jordan Staal (back from injury), Brayden Schenn (dominated WJC), Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Sam Gagner, John Tavares, Mike Ribeiro, Tim Connolly (back from injury), Ryan Kesler, Rich Peverley, MacArthur, Dustin Penner, Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere, Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, Joffrey Lupul, T.J. Oshie (traveling with team, close to returning?), Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa, Michael Frolik, Tuomo Ruutu, Tomas Kaberle, Alex Goligoski, Marc-Andre Bergeron (signed by TB), Shea Weber, Tobias Enstrom, Keith Yandle, James Wisniewski, Pekka Rinne, Jonas Hiller, Brian Boucher, Cory Schneider, Antti Niemi and Kevin Poulin.
Training Room (Injuries)
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT – Crosby is expected to miss about a week due to a mild concussion. Crosby took two blows to the head in the last week, one from Washington's David Steckel during the Winter Classic - which probably should have been penalized - and one from Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. Crosby leads the league with 66 points in 41 games, and regardless of what you think of him and the perception that he is a whiner, his talent is unmistakable. The hope is that Crosby will return after a week, though we have seen concussions linger longer than initially expected. Hopefully that’s not the case here.
Cal O’Reilly, C, NAS - O'Reilly will likely require surgery after sustaining a broken right fibula in Sunday’s game against Columbus. Even though the Predators rely mostly on solid defense and goaltending, the team can ill afford to lose a player like O'Reilly for long. His total of 18 points in 38 games is not that impressive from a fantasy standpoint, but at the time he was sidelined he was tied for the third most points on his team. The Predators will likely miss him more than fantasy owners.
Jordan Eberle, C, EDM – Eberle has had an interesting week. He first suffered a sprained left ankle, which was expected to sideline him about 10 days. Given how bad it looked when it first happened, the expected absence was good news. However, it was then announced that Eberle underwent an emergency appendectomy Wednesday night. Still more good news – the procedure is not expected to alter his return timeframe, so he should be back on the ice in a few days. Eberle has had a decent rookie year with 23 points in 37 games; his future is extremely bright.
Joe Pavelski, LW, SJ – Pavelski, out the past four games with a lower body injury, sat out again Thursday. Reports indicate Pavelski is close to returning, but those came prior to the last several games. There is some hope that Pavelski will play Saturday against Nashville. If he does, get him right back in your lineup since he seemed to regain his stride right before being sidelined.
Chris Stewart, RW, COL – Stewart, sidelined since late November with a broken hand, was slated to skate with coaches prior to practices this week. This is a pretty good sign that Stewart is inching closer to returning to game action. Colorado has treaded water without their power forward, so getting him back will have a huge impact on the Avalanche, as well as fantasy owners.
Others include: Ryan Getzlaf (sinus fracture, possibly out until February), Peter Mueller (concussion, minor progress), Nikolay Zherdev (lower-body injury, day-to-day), Roman Hamrlik (undisclosed, day-to-day) and Rick DiPietro (groin strain, day-to-day).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Jason Arnott, C, NJD – It has been a rough year in the Swamps of Jersey, which the following stat illustrates beautifully. Arnott, with zero goals and eight assist, sits second on the team in scoring, just four points behind Ilya Kovalchuk. Add in a minus-12 rating and you see why Arnott’s return trip to NJ has not gone as he has expected. That said, he is still seeing top-six forward duty while Jacques Lemaire tries to turn things around. However, given how far New Jersey is out of a playoff spot, and the fact that the season is half over, there are strong rumors that Arnott is on the block. Monitor where Arnott goes. If he ends up in a third-line role on another team, the trade will have a negative effect on his value.
Nathan Gerbe, C, BUF – Gerbe, who entered 2010-11 as a mild breakout candidate, has been a healthy scratch the past three games. Gerbe has played in just 24 of Buffalo’s 40 games this season and has only one goal and six assists. Buffalo is in the mix for the eighth playoff spot; so don’t expect Gerbe’s ice time to change as long as the Sabres are in contention. If for some reason the team drops down in the standings, Gerbe and other youngsters could see a bump in ice time.
Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW, EDM – Paajarvi-Svensson is scoreless in his last seven games. The Oilers were expecting more from the Swedish sniper than just four goals and 14 points in 37 games, considering there was some speculation he could battle for the Calder trophy with a strong rookie campaign. That talk has vanished as Paajarvi is struggling to score, just like most of his rookie counterparts. The good news is the Oilers are unlikely to send him down to the AHL and have even tried to switch up his linemates to get him going. Sooner or later though, if he doesn't produce, a trip to the AHL could be in order.
Marian Gaborik, LW, NYR – Most good teams in the NHL have a home-run threat. Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin are just some examples. It’s no different in New York, where Gaborik is supposed to fill that role. However, to date, he has failed to do so. Gabby has an alright 11 goals in 27 games, but when you look deeper into the numbers, you realize how much he has struggled. Six of those goals came in two games, meaning he has just five in the other 25 games he has played. The Rangers are still playing well thanks to their secondary scoring, but for them to stay in contention, Gaborik needs to pick up his game.
Michael Del Zotto, D, NYR – I covered Del Zotto earlier in the year, but his struggles persisted and eventually earned him a ticket to Connecticut in the AHL. Del Zotto still has a bright future and is expected to be an important blueliner, but his inability to remain patient and make the easy pass rather first landed him in the press box, and now, in Hartford. There is no timeframe for Del Zotto’s recall, but if you own him, remain patient. He should be back at some point.
Dan Ellis, G, TB – With Mike Smith on the shelf, Ellis appeared to be the main man between the pipes for Tampa Bay. However, he failed to take ownership of that spot and found himself on the bench behind Cedrick Desjardins. The situation has now gotten even worse for Ellis. The acquisition of Dwayne Roloson either relegates Ellis to opening the door on the bench or possibly a trip to the waiver wire. Regardless of which way it goes, it looks like its time to dump him.
Others include: Nikolai Antropov, Tyler Ennis, Jarret Stoll, Tyler Seguin (but monitor to see if brief top line duty from Thursday continues), Brandon Sutter, Cory Stillman, Simon Gagne, Alexander Frolov, Rene Bourque, Milan Michalek, Alexei Kovalev, Kevin Shattenkirk, John-Michael Liles, Kurtis Foster, Mattias Ohlund, Sergei Gonchar, Dion Phaneuf, Cam Fowler, Brian Elliott, Michael Leighton, Martin Brodeur, Nikolai Khabibulin and Jaroslav Halak.