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NHL Barometer: Staal's Fortuitous Situation

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 rookie center in Buffalo off to a blazing start, Boston's top pivot man sidelined, the pending return of the Oilers' top blueliner and a line shake-up already in Montreal.

First Liners (Risers)

Luke Adam, C, BUF
- Adam parlayed a stellar preseason into a role on Buffalo to start the year and has really hit the ground running. He centered Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville during the preseason and that combination has carried over its solid play into the first week of the season. Adam had two assists Opening Night followed by two goals in the second game in Europe, displaying the talent that won him AHL Rookie of the Year last season. Coach Lindy Ruff may have his top center in Adam, a second-round pick for Buffalo in 2008, which allows Derek Roy and Ville Leino to each move down a line, providing the team some forward depth. Adam still has a ways to go in his development, but his start and future look bright.

Jordan Staal, C, PIT
- Injuries create opportunities and it's up to the player who receives a chance to make the most of it. It's no different in Pittsburgh. Sid the Kid's injury, similar to last year, has afforded Staal a shot at top-six ice time, and just like last year, he is making the most of it. Staal had 30 points in 42 games in 2010-11 following his return from early-season injuries and has four points in as many games this year. He is centering Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy on the Pens' second line, averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time, nearly four of which has come on the man advantage. When Crosby returns, Pittsburgh will have to make a decision on how to deploy Staal, but his current production should mean that he continues to see solid ice time in all situations.

Milan Michalek, LW, OTT
- Following a breakthrough 2006-07 campaign and solid ones the next two seasons, Michalek hit the skids the next two years. An MCL injury did not help his cause, but his production waned regardless, though he showed some signs late last year of regaining his prior form. Michalek has carried that strong finish over to the start of this season, scoring twice in Ottawa's opening game; then adding assists in his next two contests. Michalek is fairly entrenched as a top-six forward in the Canadian Capital, though he may not play consistently with Jason Spezza. Despite that, he is a very good bet to exceed his total from each of the last two seasons.

Jeffrey Skinner, RW, CAR
- Skinner's preseason struggles had several believing that he was primed to suffer a major dropoff from his Calder-winning campaign last year. Through three games, it looks as if his September struggles were much ado about nothing as he has already notched a goal and four assists. The one negative is his minus-four rating, but as long as Skinner stays to the left of Eric Staal, he could exceed the 63 points he tallied last year.
Jiri Hudler, RW, DET - Hudler, who has a goal and an assist in two games, is getting an opportunity for a larger role on the power play. The Wings are 0-for-9 as a team through two games with the man advantage, so coach Mike Babcock is shaking things up a bit. It's too early to determine whether Hudler will permanently hold that role, but keep an eye on his productivity, as it would lead to a significant spike in value if he's able to keep the gig. Even if not, the fact that he is skating on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary still affords him value in most leagues.

Matt Niskanen, D, PIT
- RotoWire's outlook for Niskanen was as follows: "Niskanen was considered a throw-in as part of the Alex Goligoski-James Neal trade, and he played like one as the season went along. Niskanen, a former first-round pick, compiled 35 points for the Stars in 2008-09, so the potential for offense is there. Still, his four-point (1,3) production in 18 games for the Pens might not be enough to warrant his $1.5 million pay in 2011-12." Niskanen is doing his best to stick around, having a solid preseason and decent start to the year. He is seeing solid ice time, includes minutes on the PP, and with only Kris Letang a true threat to score from the blueline, Niskanen could stick on the PP point with a few more good outings.

Mark Giordano, D, CGY
- If you asked most hockey fans to name a defenseman in Calgary, the first name that likely would come to mind is Jay Bouwmeester. Those in the know realize that name recognition and production don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, which is clearly the case for the Flames. Giordano had a breakout year last year and could take another step forward in this one as he is probably the most well-rounded Flame this side of Jarome Iginla.

Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
- Varlamov made his third consecutive start Wednesday in Columbus. No surprise there, as Varlamov was stellar his previous time out, blanking the Stanley Cup champion Bruins, 1-0, on Monday. Granted it's early, but so far the job of No. 1 puckstopper is Varlamov's to lose, which was the role he wanted to fill in Washington but was unable to. However, if he does slip a little, the team will likely not hesitate to throw backup J-S Giguere into the mix, and keep in mind that Colorado is not among the elite defensively, so Varlamov's ancillary numbers may suffer.

Devan Dubnyk, G, EDM
- Dubnyk went 12-13, 2.71 GAA, 91.6 SV% last year, but don't let his so-so numbers fool you. He outplayed Nikolai Khabibulin and may have earned the right to be the starter this season. Dubnyk got the nod in Edmonton's opening game, beating Pittsburgh, 2-1, in a shootout. While the Oilers have a ton of young talent offensively, they figure to be a poor team defensively again, despite the low goal total surrendered Sunday. So, Dubnyk should only be owned in deep leagues.

Others include Mike Zibanejad, Rich Peverley, Roman Horak, P.A. Parenteau, Craig Smith, David Legwand, Matt Cullen, Jason Arnott, Tomas Plekanec, Nick Palmeiri, Cam Atkinson, Matt Cooke, Travis Moen, Alexandre Burrows, Ikya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Pominville, Vanek, Steve Downie, Teddy Purcell, Vaclav Prospal, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, Brian Campbell, Letang, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Streit, Erik Karlsson, Stephane Robidas, James Reimer, Ilya Bryzgalov, Thomas Greiss, Al Montoya, Jonathan Bernier, Ray Emery (if Corey Crawford's groin strain keeps him out), Tuukka Rask and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Training Room (Injuries)

Michael Cammalleri, C, MTL
- Coach Jacques Martin confirmed Cammalleri "should be back in about 10 to 14 days" after suffering a gash just above his left knee Sunday against Winnipeg. While the cut is deep, there is no damage to muscles, nerves or tendons. Cammalleri dodged a major bullet as his knee may have been sliced by teammate Yannick Weber's skate. Given all the skate blade lacerations that seem to be occurring with greater frequency, we might start to see players wear Kevlar to cover knees in addition to what is already being done for wrists and ankles.

David Krejci, C, BOS
- Krejci did not travel with Boston to Carolina for Wednesday's game due to an apparent leg injury suffered in practice and will not be available for Saturday's game in Chicago, either. So far, there has been no word as to the severity of the injury. For those who own him, like myself, hope the news is good and he returns sooner rather than later and the injury is not serious.

Mike Fisher, C, NAS
- Fisher is making progress in his recovery following offseason shoulder surgery. He is likely to resume his role as the Preds' No. 1 center once he is cleared to play, but there's still no timetable for his return so keep him on your bench for now. If he struggles when he returns, as he did last year when he came to Nashville, look for him to be moved to the second or third line with David Legwand and Cal O'Reilly available to pick up the slack.

Ryan Whitney, D, EDM
- Whitney was having a solid season with Edmonton last year before suffering yet another ankle injury that ended his 2010-11 campaign after only 35 games. He opened this year on IR due to the injury, but may be close to returning. Whitney was practicing with the fourth defensive pair Monday, which is an indication that he may not play in the Oilers' next game, but should be back shortly. When he does return, activate him ASAP given the weapons that the Oilers have this season.

Others include Sidney Crosby (post-concussion, making progress, could be back shortly), Tim Connolly (upper-body, no set date for return), Evgeni Malkin (LBI, soreness, DTD), Wojtek Wolski (groin, DTD), Martin Erat (back, DTD), Marc Staal (concussion?, out till at least Rangers' home opener on October 27), Carlo Colaiacovo (possible concussion, IR), Antti Niemi (knee, DTD) and Crawford (groin, DTD).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Jarret Stoll, C, LA
- While several players will get a boost from the Kings' acquisition of Mike Richards, Stoll seems to be one who will lose in the deal. The past several years, Stoll has seen time as the second-line center and on the point of the PP. With Richards in Cali, Stoll gets bumped to the third line and his PP duty may now come on the second pairing with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson on the top pair and Richards manning a spot in that first grouping. The 40-plus points Stoll has notched each of the past three years may prove to be unlikely unless injuries strike several of LA's forwards.

Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, MTL
- Montreal coach Jacques Martin has switched Kostitsyn and Erik Cole on the lines. Kostitsyn will now skate on the third line with David Desharnais and Mathieu Darche while Cole will skate with Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen with Cammalleri sidelined. In addition, Cole will also be taking Kostitsyn's minutes on the Canadiens' power play. It didn't take long for the coach to tweak his lines, with familiar doghouse member Kostitsyn getting the first cut.

Jamie McBain, D, CAR
- McBain, who has great offensive upside and posted 31 points last season, was the victim of the Canes having too many defenders resulting in him being healthy scratch the first two games of the year. He finally gets his chance Wednesday when Carolina plays Boston. While it's good that he will be in the lineup, the pressure to perform is high as Carolina has nine defensemen for six or seven spots. In addition, Joni Pitkanen and Tomas Kaberle may eat up most of the PP TOI initially, but look for McBain to see more value as the year wears on, but for now, he may be the odd man out.

Craig Anderson, G, OTT
- Anderson, acquired from Colorado in the later stages of the 2010-11 season for Brian Elliott, gave Senators fans a reason for hope. Appearing in 18 games for Ottawa, he went 11-5-0-1 with a 2.05 GAA and a .939 save percentage after going just 13-15-3, 3.28 and 897 with the Avalanche. Anderson is the clear No. 1 goalie for Ottawa, though given the suspect defense around him, he may be subject to a ton of rubber this year, which will depress his overall value.

Others include Scott Gomez (another slow start), Ryan Johansen (expect ice time like Tyler Seguin last season), Nikita Filatov (top-line duty games 1 and 2, healthy scratch game 3), Tomas Holmstrom (limited on back-to-backs to start year), David Rundblad (played in third game after sitting out first two, major upside, temper short-term expectations), Tim Thomas (will Boston use Rask more?) and Jonathan Quick (how much time will Bernier get?).

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