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NHL Barometer: Power Up in Pittsburgh

Jan Levine

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

This week's article includes a Penguins winger in a nice situation, a rookie D-man who could excel in N.J., Sid the Kid working his way back and the first-line left winger on Broadway who was not originally projected.

FIRST LINERS (RISERS)

Olli Jokinen, C, CGY -
In light of Mikael Backlund's finger injury, Jokinen could see time with Calgary's first line alongside Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. It is hard to tell if this would benefit or hurt Jokinen's scoring numbers. Playing with proficient scorers is generally a plus, but it could mean that Jokinen is forced to take on a bigger defensive role. Coach Brent Sutter already wanted Jokinen to increase his focus on the defensive side of the game before the Backlund injury, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Keep in mind that Jokinen may remain with the second line alongside David Moss and Curtis Glencross, with Roman Horak or Matt Stajan, currently the fourth-line center, taking the first-line minutes

Patrik Berglund, C, STL -
Berglund will center the Blues second line with Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie. Perhaps more than any other Blue, the St. Louis coaching staff believes Berglund is ready to take the next level in his game entering this season. Berglund scored 24 points in the final 32 games last season, 52 for the year, as he and Stewart were the Blues' leading scorers down the stretch.

Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit -
Kunitz is set to play on the Pens' No. 1 power-play unit and on a line with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy on Thursday. Kunitz, who compiled 155 hits in 66 games last season, gives the line a physical presence. The left winger scored 23 times and finished with 48 points in limited play in 2010-11. He'll skate with Sidney Crosby and James Neal when Crosby returns, which allows him to retain his fantasy value.

Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, STL -
Blues coach Davis Payne confirmed that Langenbrunner will open the season on the first line with David Backes and Andy McDonald. Coupled with his presence on one of the Blues power-play units, Langenbrunner has some potential entering the season. Heading into training camp, Langenbrunner looked penciled in as the third-line right winger alongside Jason Arnott, but his move to the top line gets him favorable treatment in the article and fantasy circles.

Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG -
Wheeler averaged nearly a point per game after being traded to the Jets late last season. Wheeler should make a big jump in fantasy this season simply because of his projected ice time with skilled players, such as linemates Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. In addition, he should see a lot of ice time on the power play, enabling him to score on the man-advantage, something he failed to do last season.

Adam Larsson, D, NJD -
In a move that comes as little surprise, Larsson, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, has made the Devils' Opening Day roster. Matt Taormina was sent to the AHL on Monday, leaving Larsson for regular duty and the opportunity to work with the team's top power-play unit, where he will man the point opposite Ilya Kovalchuk, skating with Zach Parise and Patrik Elias. He's worth consideration in deeper formats (and keeper leagues), but you might want to temper your expectations in Year 1, though the Devils have few other blueline options to consider.

Jonathon Blum, D, NAS -
The coaching staff in Nashville considers Blum a top-four defenseman this season. Consider scouting Blum in the fantasy realm ahead of this season. Just 22, he brings superb vision to the blue line and can only benefit from having star veterans in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as his mentors for a full season. Expect Blum to experience growing pains as a rookie, but his tremendous upside as a first-round pick should justify your patience in the long run, especially if Weber leaves the Predators after the season.

Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA -
Markstrom will serve as the backup to Jose Theodore with Scott Clemmensen out following knee surgery after Tyler Plante was placed on waivers. Markstrom is considered to be the Panthers' goaltender of the future, so this move comes as no surprise. Keep an eye on him if Jose Theodore struggles early.

Rick DiPietro, G, NYI -
It looks like DiPietro will begin the season as the Isles starting goalie. The Islanders have heard this story before, but DP played well this preseason and will once again earn a chance to earn his huge contract. Injury issues aside, DP is unlikely to play more than 50 games this season as the Isles start the season with Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov also on the roster. Don't view DP as anything more than a third goalie, but a starter is a starter - but be prepared to jump quickly.
Others include Matthew Lombardi, Cal O'Reilly, Chris Higgins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zac Dalpe, Artem Anisimov, Evander Kane, Brett Connolly, Sean Couturier, Teddy Purcell, Brandon Dubinsky, Niclas Bergfors, Nick Palmieri, Petr Sykora, Gabriel Landeskog, Chuck Kobasew, Ryan Malone, Joe Pavelski, David Rundblad, Tim Erixon, Michael Del Zotto, Carl Gunnarsson, Grant Clitsome, Brian Campbell, Mark Streit, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Marek Zidlicky, Kyle Quincey, Ian White, Ryan Murphy, Tuukka Rask, Semyon Varlamov, Mike Smith, Thomas Greiss and Mathieu Garon.

TRAINING ROOM (INJURIES)

Sidney Crosby, C, PIT -
Crosby (post-concussion symptoms) skated with the Penguins on Wednesday, but still doesn't know when he will be able to play in a game. He skated the whole practice, was fast on his feet and handled the puck well. Crosby says he's close to full health, but the team is definitely not going to take any chances, and Crosby will miss a handful of regular season games. The best-case scenario likely has him back after missing five or so games, and he takes his first few hard hits in game action without any setbacks. So the potential for a huge season is still there, while at the same time we can't be sure yet he's not one hit away from disaster, either, meaning that owning him depends on your risk tolerance.

Travis Zajac, C, NJD -
The Devils placed Zajac (Achilles') on injured reserve Tuesday. He has removed his walking boot and continues with physical therapy. The move to IR is a mere formality for the Devils, as they can get his salary off the books until he returns, which is likely sometime in December, late November at the earliest. His rehabilitation is progressing well, and it appears he won't miss more than two months, though it would not be surprising if he did not return until Christmas.

Martin Havlat, RW, SJ -
ESPN's Pierre Lebrun reported that Havlat (shoulder) will miss the Sharks' opener Saturday. Havlat flew to Ohio on Tuesday to be examined by the surgeon who performed surgery on his shoulder last May. Assuming things play out this way, you'll likely want to sit Havlat for your league's first lineup period, as the Sharks only play three times through Oct. 16. When he does return, Havlat should put together a nice season skating with Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture.

Marc Staal, D, NYR -
Staal (concussion) was placed on IR. Tim Erixon has been recalled to replace him, while reports suggest that Staal could miss up to a month as he tries to recover from post-concussion symptoms. Part of the issue is that no one really knows what is causing the issue. Staal had a cortisone shot in his neck while also working with the physicians at the University of Buffalo Sports Medicine Institute, who successfully treated the post-concussion headaches that afflicted Tim Connolly and Patrick Kaleta.

Andrei Markov, D, MTL -
The Canadiens placed Markov (knee) on injured reserve to open the season. This move was not unexpected as Markov, who signed a three-year, $17.25 million contract in June, had suffered a setback in his recovery from a second knee surgery. Montreal has not released too much detail as to when we might expect Markov to return, but coach Jacques Martin said he's still "quite a ways" from returning to the lineup.

Antti Niemi, G, SJ -
Niemi, who had a cyst removed from his knee, is "on track" to play in San Jose's regular-season opener against the Coyotes. For the Sharks, the first puck of the new season doesn't drop until Saturday, so the team still has a few days to make an official determination on Niemi's readiness for the opener. Look for Thomas Greiss to work between the pipes in case Niemi needs more time to heal.

Others include Brendan Morrison (knee, indefinite), Nazem Kadri (sprained MCL, out 1-to-3 weeks), Mikael Backlund (broken finger, out six weeks), Tim Connolly (upper-body, IR to start the year), Ryan Kesler (hip, skating, back in two weeks?), Nino Neiderreiter (groin, IR to start the year), Patrick Sharp (appendectomy, will play in season-opener), Ryan Whitney (ankle, could start year on IR, but should be back shortly) and Mark Dekanich (sprained ankle, out several weeks).

FOURTH LINERS/PRESS BOXERS (FALLERS)

Derick Brassard, C, CMB -
Brassard seems set to begin the season on the Blue Jackets third line with rookie center Ryan Johansen and either Maksim Mayorov or Alexandre Giroux. He lost his spot in the top six to another rookie, Cam Atkinson. With so much inexperience on the roster there could be more line juggling than usual in Columbus at the beginning of the season, but Brassard should still be bumped down some spots on cheatsheets, as this kind of placement will limit his upside. To date, his career has to be viewed as a disappointment, though he is still young enough to reach his potential.

Wojtek Wolski, LW, NYR -
Brandon Dubinsky, and not Wolski, will start the year as the Rangers' first-line left winger alongside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Ultimately, the situation could be fluid, but Wolski won't begin Friday's regular season opener in that role. Instead, he will skate on the third line with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen. At $3.8 million, that's a lot to pay a third-line winger, which brings into question why the team did not buy him out this offseason as had been rumored.

Stefan Elliott, D, COL -
The Avs reduced their roster to the league-maximum 23 players Tuesday, sending Elliott to AHL Lake Erie in the process. "I thought that Stefan did everything in his power to stay here," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "He certainly impressed the coaching staff, the management staff, with his play. We have to get down to numbers, but are real proud of what he showed during training camp." The Avs likely will count on Elliott as an eighth defenseman if injuries strike during the regular season, so keep him on your radar just in case he gets recalled. If he is, he could have a Kevin Shattenkirk-like impact on your lineup.

Al Montoya, G, NYI -
Montoya, who ended last season as the team's starting goalie, could be the odd man out for the Islanders. Montoya played much better than expected when acquired from Phoenix last season, but now he is in a battle with Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov for playing time. The Isles aren't giving up on DP, who will open the year as the starter, and want to showcase Nabokov so they can trade him, which leaves Montoya on the bench looking for scraps of playing time until a trade is consummated or an injury occurs.

Others include Andrei Loktionov (starting year in AHL), Jonathan Huberdeau (back to juniors), Sean Avery (waived, down to AHL), Brad Boyes (third line), James Wisniewski (eight-game suspension to start the year) and Jaroslav Halak (poor preseason).