Crashing the Net: Early Season Standouts
Alexei Kovalev wasn't in the NHL last season. The previous year he recorded 34 points for the Senators and the Penguins. His career, after 1,300 NHL games appeared to be over. Not so fast. Kovalev signed a deal with the Panthers, a spot where he could almost certainly gain a top-6 forward position if he showed some spark, and indeed he has done just that. Kovalev has been added to the top line, at least in practice Thursday, and with his puck skills skating alongside Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss he could end up being a pretty sneaky add if he's still on the waiver-wire. Alexei hasn't recorded a point in his last two games, but he does have three points in three games thanks to his huge first game effort showing he still has some giddy up left. He's worth an add off the right wing if you have a need.
Joffrey Lupul signed a 5-year, $26.25 million deal with the Leafs after his 25 goal, 67 points effort from last season (in just 66 games). I immediately said to myself, and to those who listen to me on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (details below), that I felt fairly certain that the Leafs would regret that deal. I didn't think they might be questioning it so quickly however. Lupul has broken his left forearm and he will be out for a long while (he's been ruled out "indefinitely" with no word leaking out yet how long that will actually be). Lupul has had two issues in his career. First, he's been hurt on and off for years (the last time he appeared in 70 games was 2008). Second, last season was the first time he was a dominant offensive performer. Oh sure he scored 28 goals in 2005 and 25 times in 2008, but totals of 53 and 50 points those campaigns aren't exactly overly impressive offensive seasons. Regardless, he won't be on the ice for a while. Let's hope you didn't overspend at the draft table on a guy that was never a good bet to stay healthy and to stay near a point per game performer.
Ryan O'Reilly still hasn't signed with the Avalanche, though we might be getting closer to that eventuality now that O'Reilly has opted out of his contract with Metallurg of the KHL. Apparently the Av's have offered O'Reilly two options: (A) two years for $7 million and (B) five years for $17 million. That's an awful lot of scratch, but given that the offers have been extended for a while now it's far from certain that Ryan will be signing on the dotted line anytime soon just because he left his KHL club (he tweaked his knee which could be looked at as part of the reason he left KHL). The Avs might have to do something to increase their offer to O'Reilly given that news just came down that Steve Downie is out for the year with an ACL injury. Will the 21-year old O'Reilly, who recorded 18 goals and 55 points in his third NHL season last season, sign soon? No matter when that occurs, it might be wise to see if O'Reilly is on your waiver-wire. If he is, now would be the time to add him before the hysteria that will occur when he finally does sign.
Steve Sullivan scored a hat-trick in his last game, his first since 2009 by the way, for the Coyotes. He accomplished that task while taking only three shots. An aging vet, he'll be 39 in July, Sullivan can still put up points if he's given the ice time. Let's not forget that Sullivan recorded 17 goals and 48 points last season, including 21 points on the power-play, in Pittsburgh. I'm not going to sit here and try to sell you that Steve is someone to lean on this year, he certainly isn't, but he is the type of fella you can turn to when you need a boost on offense when one of your guys is out with an injury or you're just looking to change up your forward depth.
For now, the third member of the Capitals top line – alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin – will be Wojtek Wolski. A first round draft pick in 2004, Wolski has long caused talent evaluators to scratch their heads. He's big (6'3”, 200 lbs.) and has copious amounts of offensive talent (no one denies that), but he can also disappear for games at a time and too often he plays like he's 5'8” and 170 lbs. There's also the fact that the last time he recorded 40 points in a season was 2009. If he sticks on that line in Washington he could, let me repeat could, be an offensive force. Of course, if you have been a fan of hockey for the last 7-8 years you've heard the pro-Wolski people say the same thing over and over. As you can tell, I'm not sold.
Kevin Shattenkirk leads all defenders with five points in three games for the Blues. All five of those points have been helpers, with three coming on the power-play. He may not have a big name, but his game was certainly impressive last season as he recorded 43 points with a +20 rating for the Blues. Is he going to be this years Erik Karlsson, a breakout scoring star who pushes for a point per game season? Probably not, but he's going to have a shot at a top-15 finish from the blue line. By the by, teammate Alex Pietrangelo is also off to a strong start with four points in three games after seasons of 43 and 51 points for the Blues.
Sheldon Souray started out on fire last season with eight points an a +8 rating in October last season. He then went on to recorded 13 points over his final 53 games. The Stars weren't impressed and let him go. Souray then signed on with the Ducks whom he has scored three points for in two games this season. Souray certainly has a shot at some major power-play time, the Ducks seemed pleased with his efforts, so if he's still out there... add him and hope he can stay healthy.
Fedor Tyutin has four points in three games for the Blue Jackets. He also is a (-3) skater who has taken only seven shots on goal. He's not likely to all of a sudden take off offensively after recorded between 26 and 34 points the past four seasons.
Ilya Bryzgalov is 0-3. Is it his fault? Not really. The Flyers haven't exactly been playing great team defense in front of Ilya so we can somewhat write off his 3.04 GAA and .902 save percentage, can't we?
Jonas Hiller is 2-0. He has a .870 save percentage. He'll straighten things out. He's been one of those guys who seems to be streaky.
Braden Holtby was a star in the playoffs last season as he posted a 1.95 GAA and .935 save percentage over 14 outings. As a result, most pundits expected him to see the majority of starts in net for the Capitals. That position might be in doubt after Holtby, a veteran of only 23 regular season NHL game, after he was bombed back to high school after allowing 10 goals in two games leading to a 5.03 GAA and .863 save percentage. With Michal Neuvirth also in play, it certainly looks like the Caps might have a brewing goaltending situation on their hands. Neuvirth will start on Thursday for the Capitals and if he gets off to a good start, Holtby might take a backseat in the short-term. We'll see.
Cory Schneider seems to have a shot to be the main man in Vancouver, but so far not so good. In two outings Cory has allowed seven goals leading to a 4.59 GAA and .860 save percentage. The Canucks may have no one to blame but themselves for this one though. It can't be easy to be Schneider who has to live under the constant pressure of being asked, day after day, what is going on in net with himself and Roberto Luongo. It's clear that the Canucks want to move Luongo and turn over the reigns to Schneider, but just like the D'backs with Justin Upton in baseball, the Canucks have been paralyzed to make the move that they have to make. Upton was finally dealt to Atlanta Thursday. When will Luongo be sent out of town? See if you can pry Cory from a disgruntled owner. He's likely to have a big year.
Mike Smith was one of the breakout stars of the NHL last season with 38 victories, a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage. That effort total superseded the fact that the previous two years we were looking at a keeper with a goals against average of three and a save percentage of just barely 90 percent. Is he a superstar, or merely a solid puck stopping option? So far this year he's been neither. Smith has appeared in three games this season and he's looked just awful. Smith has a 4.62 GAA and has stopped only 51 of 61 shots (.836 save percentage). Now he's also dealing with a lower-body injury. There's no official word yet on the severity of the injury, but this much is clear – everyone who was counting on another superb effort from Smith this season has got to be extremely nervous right now.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.