This week's article includes a hot winger in Phoenix, a possible changing of the guard in net in Vancouver, a young gun sidelined by an injured wing in Edmonton and a power forward anything but in Anaheim.
First Liners (Risers)
Steven Stamkos, C, TB - Cream always rises to the top and Stamkos is no different. After a mild goal-slump, one in six games, Stamkos has rebound with a vengeance with lamp-lighters in four straight. Stamkos now has 16 goals and 10 assists in 24 games and another 45-50 goal season should be a near-lock.
Ryan O'Reilly, C, COL - O'Reilly had a goal and assisted on two others as Colorado dumped New Jersey 6-1 Wednesday. He finished with a plus-3 rating and was named the game's second star. After being held pointless in five straight games, O'Reilly now was five points (1G, 4A) in his last three contests, giving him 17 points in 25 games for the year. O'Reilly tallied 26 points for the second straight last year, but should well exceed that as he also does yeoman's work in the faceoff circle and in takeaways.
Corey Perry, LW, ANA - Perry was the only player in the NHL to score 50 goals - along with 48 assists - in 2010-11 and his late-season rush (19 goals over his last 16 games) helped the talented young winger pick up the Hart trophy as the league's MVP. This year, like the Ducks, Perry had gotten off to a slow start, but he is showing signs of righting the ship. Perry has a goal in four straight games and points in seven straight, giving him 21 points in 24 games.
Radim Vrbata, RW, PHX - Vrbata had a solid 2010-11 campaign and was rewarded by Phoenix with a three-year, $9 million payday in July. The winger tallied 48 points (19 G, 29 A) through 79 games, but is on pace to blow those numbers out of the water. Vrbata has become the go-to guy out in the Desert, tallying 12 goals and nine assists in 23 games. If you have been waiting to grab him, jump now before it's too late.
Jason Chimera, LW, WAS - There are several surprising goal-scorers in the NHL, possibly none more so than Chimera. His marker Thursday gives him 10 on the year, which leads the team. Eventually the pipeline will dry up and players like Semin and Ovechkin will get hot, but until them with Washington searching for any positives, ride Chimera.
T.J. Brodie, D, CGY - Brodie registered 34 points in 68 AHL contests with Abbotsford but was held off the scoresheet in three contests with the Flames. He had been productive offensively at most levels, which now includes the NHL following his recall on November 9. Brodie has been a revelation for the Flames, providing an offensive spark from the back end and some much-needed youth. He has scored a goal and three assists in nine games this season, and if he continues to score over the next few contests, could be a good waiver-wire addition
Duncan Keith, D, CHI - It was probably expected that Keith would have a down year after his breakout 2009-10, where he registered 69 points and the Norris Trophy. Both goals and assists were down (7 goals and 38) but also his plus/minus slipped precipitously to minus-1. This year, Keith looks more 2009-10 than '10-11 with 15 points in 22 games and a plus-one. Chicago as a whole have struggled defensively, so to see Keith as a plus-one is a positive sign.
Cory Schneider, G, VAN - Roberto Luongo has missed the last several weeks with an upper-body injury, but Vancouver has not missed a beat, and actually may be better off, now that Schneider has been between the pipes. Heading into Thursday, Schneider had lowered his GAA to 1.93 as he had allowed just four goals in his last five games - all victories. There is some speculation that Luongo could be moved, and even if Bobby Lu stays in Vancouver, Schneider has more than played well enough to earn a lot more playing time.
Al Montoya, G, NYI - Montoya, who finished last year as the Isles' top netminder, going 9-5-5 with a solid goals-against average and save percentage, began 2011-12 as part of a three-headed monster between the pipes and then missed time with an injury. Since returning from his hamstring injury, Montoya is ending the Islanders' goaltender controversy as he has provided the team excellent support in its last three games, allowing just four goals over that span with two wins. It's hard to imagine recommending an Islanders goalie with confidence, but Montoya is making a believer out of many
Others include Ryan Getzlaf (even with poor plus-minus), Brian Little, Brad Richards, Chris Kelly, Adam Henrique, Mikko Kovu, David Backes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mike Fisher, Evander Kane (on fire), Alexander Burrows, Milan Michalek, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Jordan Eberle, Pascal Dupuis, Jordin Tootoo, Michael Ryder, Erik Cole, Zack Kassian, Tomas Fleischmann, Stefan Elliott, Nikita Nikitin, Adam Larsson, Ryan Whitney, Sergei Gonchar, Kevin Bieksa, James Wisniewski, Dustin Byfulgien, Mike Smith, Andrew Raycroft, Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist and Mathieu Garon.
Training Room (Injuries)
Kristian Huselius, C, CMB - There's a chance Huselius, who has been sidelined since tearing a pectoral muscle while rehabbing from hip surgery, could return to the lineup Thursday against his former club the Flames. If he doesn't suit up Thursday, Friday in Edmonton or Tuesday in Montreal are also possibilities. Expect coach Scott Arniel to juggle his lines once Huselius is ready to go, but it's hard to see Huselius bumping Vinnie Prospal off the top unit, but he could slide on to the second line.
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM - Hall is expected to miss two-to-four weeks with a left shoulder injury suffered on a hit by Ryan Wilson on November 26 against Colorado. With a 7/11/18 line to start his second season, Hall will be missed by both the Oilers, who have slumped lately, and fantasy owners. The good news is that Hall was able to skate in full uniform Thursday and may be a bit ahead of schedule in his recovery. However, be aware that the team is not concerned about him skating, but rather the level of contact his injured shoulder can absorb. It will still take some time for the shoulder to heal, but if Hall can remain in game shape in the meantime, he should be able to return shortly after being cleared for contact
David Perron, RW, STL - Perron, out for a year with a concussion, did not travel with the Blues for Friday's game in Colorado, fueling speculation that me may return to action Saturday at home against Chicago. Perron's return could provide the Blues with some much needed firepower, taking pressure off of the red-hot Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Playing Saturday, in a home game, allows the coaching staff to get the last line change, enabling the Blues to keep Perron away from checking lines while he gets his legs back. Once he settles in, look for him to see time on one of the top-two lines.
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. Markov began practicing last week, seeing time on the point of the first power-play unit, and flew out to Anaheim with his teammates as they began a three-game road trip. When Markov made the trip to Anaheim it was taken as a sign that he would return to the lineup before the end of the road trip, but that no longer appears to be the case. At this point, Tuesday's home game against Columbus would probably be considered an optimistic target date for Markov's return. If you own him, stay patient as he should be back very soon.
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL - Lehtonen, a huge factor in Dallas' surprisingly hot start, left Saturday's game with a groin injury that landed him on the IR. The injury is expected to sideline Lehtonen for three weeks leaving a heavy workload for Andrew Raycroft and Richard Bachmann in his absence. Lehtonen had been injury prone in the past, but played in a career-high 69 games last year and is responding well to initial treatment, fueling hope he will be back when expected.
Others include Peter Mueller (post-concussion, groin, skated Wednesday but no timeframe for return), Cal Clutterbuck (undisclosed, DTD), Jaromir Jagr (groin, slated to return Friday), Brenden Morrow (UBI, still out), Alex Goligoski (fractured thumb, cast to be removed Friday, could be back Dec. 10), Kris Letang (possible concussion), Chris Pronger (knee surgery, out a month) and Luongo (UBI, still sidelined).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Alex Burmistrov, C, WPG - Burmistrov was a riser after his hot start, but he has really cooled. Burmistov scored his fifth goal of the season Tuesday against the Sens, but that was his first goal since November 3, a stretch of 12 games during which he tallied just two assists. Maybe the goal will spur Burmistrov, but given how invisible he had been for nearly a month, that may just be wishful thinking.
Bobby Ryan, RW, ANA - Ryan's poor early start coupled with the team's struggles landed him on the third line and trading block. The Ducks fired coach Randy Carlyle early Thursday AM, replacing him with Bruce Boudreau, who was let go by the Capitals on Monday. That move has bought Ryan, who upped his production each of the past two full seasons some time out West, but if a rebound does not occur, it's clear that a parting of the ways is needed and likely to occur.
Tomas Kaberle, D, CAR - Looking at Kaberle this year, it seems amazing that he scored at least 47 points in five of his last six seasons. Kaberle did little when he arrived in Boston last year and that poor play has carried over to this season, as he has just five points in 25 games. It may be time for Muller to cut his PP time and give it to Jamie McBain.
Jonas Hiller, G, ANA - Hiller picked up the win with a solid effort Wednesday in what was Carlyle's last game, but overall he has struggled like the team. Even with the win, Hiller is 6-10-1 with a nightmarish 3.10 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. The slump cannot be blamed on the vertigo that cut short his season last year, so the hope has to be that the move to Boudreau, who instilled a defense-first system in Washington last year, helps Hiller.
Others include Scott Gomez (nightmarish season continues), Craig Smith (slowed off hot early pace), Ilya Kovalchuk (seems like he has struggled ever since he got to New Jersey), Zach Parise (benefitting from all the focus on Kovalchuk, but he too is struggling), Drew Stafford (12 points in 23 games but just two assists in last nine and no goals since Nov. 4), Ville Leino (early leader in free agent bust contest), Martin Havlat (one assist in last nine games with just nine points in 17 contests), Roman Hamrlik (one point and -10 in 23 games), Grant Clitsome (one point in last seven games) and Dwayne Roloson (could lose job to Garon).