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NHL Barometer: Mighty Mite Power

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 hot Penguin, a defenseman off to a solid start in N.J., a possible changing of the guard between the pipes in Anaheim and a former Calder Trophy winner possibly landing in the press box.

First Liners (Risers)

Jamie Benn, C, DAL -
Benn, who held out the first five games of the season, had a goal and an assist in Dallas' overtime win over Edmonton on Wednesday. With back-to-back multi-point games, Benn appears to be heating up after his season was delayed while he and the Stars worked out the five-year, $26.25 million contract he signed. With three goals and three assists through six games, Benn, who increased his points last year for the second straight season with 63, quickly regained a point-per-game pace with his recent surge.

David Krejci, C, BOS -
Krejci had a goal and an assist Wednesday, giving him three goals and six assists in nine games. Coming off an average playoffs after solid play in Boston's Cup run the year before, questions surrounded Krejci following last season. He answered some off those questions by scoring 27 points in 24 games in the KHL, but as that, of course, is not the NHL, some of the questions persisted. His hot early start hopefully had quieted the critics, and he should be a strong bet as the top-center in the Hub.

Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT -
Kunitz picked up two assists Thursday against Washington, extending his point streak to four games. He's crazy hot, having piled up five goals and five assists in those four games, including four goals last Sunday. Kunitz set a career high in goals last year and has picked up from he left off. Skating alongside Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal clearly has its benefits

Martin St. Louis, RW, TB -
St. Louis picked up two assists in Tampa Bay's loss to New Jersey on Thursday, giving him 16 points in 10 games on the year. Although he has just three goals, St. Louis' playmaking certainly hasn't suffered at all, as he's among the NHL leaders in points. Keep rolling Mighty Mite while he continues to defy old age and build his Hall of Fame credentials - perhaps his only issue are the 120 games he lost due to the lockouts in 2004-05 and this year, which could prevent him from scoring more than 1,000 points.

James van Riemsdyk, RW, TOR -
As Phil Kessel continues to struggle (though he finally scored Thursday), van Riemsdyk has picked up the slack for Toronto. Van Riemsdyk scored twice Tuesday, giving him six goals this season. Acquired in the offseason from Philly for Luke Schenn, the hope was that JVR had matured physically and was ready to the next step. So far, so good. However, one word of caution. van Riemsdyk's output comes in bursts - five of his seven points have come in just two of his 11 games, which makes him a challenging roll in a lot of formats.

Andy Greene, D, NJ -
Greene notched a power-play goal and an assist in New Jersey's 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, giving him six points in the last four games. He has been rather steady since failing to register a point in the Devils' first six games, posting two goals and four helpers over the last four contests. Of his six points, four have come on the power play and he has one shorthanded goal to boot. Greene is three seasons removed from snagging 37 points and appears to be finding some of that scoring touch. Consider him in deeper leagues that use multiple blue liners, as he is showing good chemistry with the team's scoring forwards.

Kimmo Timonen, D, PHI -
Timonen signed a one-year extension this week and is now inked with the Flyers through the 2013-14 season. The 37-year-old defenseman has 211 points in 407 games with the Flyers as well as a plus-38 rating. Timonen has five points through 10 games, playing 22 minutes nightly, including nearly five with the man-advantage. That output matches his career scoring pace and is a consistent player who should be owned in most formats.

Viktor Fasth, G, ANA -
Fasth, brought in to back up Jonas Hiller, may have surpassed Hiller to be the Ducks' top netminder. Fasth continued his roll Wednesday, stopping all 31 shots he faced to record his first NHL shutout and improve to 4-0 on the season. It's not as if Fasth is the unknown entity, as he was the best goalie in the Swedish league the last two seasons and absolutely carried Team Sweden at last spring's World Championship. He isn't huge, but he's fiery and competitive and that makes him seem bigger than a listed 6-foot. With Hiller struggling mightily and Fasth on a roll, for the short term at least, there looks to be a changing of the guard between the Anaheim pipes.

Pekka Rinne, G, NAS -
After starting the season 0-2-3, Rinne has really gotten back to Vezina candidate form lately. He notched 32 saves Thursday, his first shutout of the season and fourth win in as many starts. In those four outings, Rinne has stopped 112 of 115 shots and is the main reason why the offensively challenged Predators reeled off those victories. As he goes, so goes Nashville, and with Rinne now back at the top of his game, Music City should be signing a happy tune.

Others include Mike Ribeiro, Jonathan Toews, Paul Stastny, Kyle Turris, Saku Koivu, Cody Hodgson, Bryan Little, Eric Staal, Patrik Elias, Evgeni Malkin, Tomas Plekanec, Sidney Crosby, Jiri Hudler, Ales Hemsky, Zack Kassian, Brenden Morrow, Johan Franzen, Rene Bourque, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Ladd, Tyler Ennis, Tomas Kopecky, Dustin Brown, Teddy Purcell, Jannik Hansen, Damien Brunner, Marian Hossa, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Blake Wheeler,Alex Tanguay, David Clarkson, Brad Boyes, Lauri Korpikoski, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller (a pair of goals in his second NHL game Thursday), Pascal Dupuis, Marc Staal, Lubomir Visnovsky (passed physical and joined Islanders on Friday), P.K. Subban, Sheldon Souray (turning back the clock), Derek Morris, Alex Pietrangelo, Paul Martin, Francois Beauchemin, Alexander Edler, Fedor Tyutin, Niklas Kronwall, Tobias Enstrom, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tuukka Rask, Petr Mrazek (won first career start Thursday), Kari Lehtonen, Roberto Luongo.

Training Room (Injuries)

Ryan Kesler, C, VAN -
Kesler, sidelined following surgeries on his shoulder and wrist, admitted after Wednesday's practice that he still doesn't have a timetable for a return. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has raved about how well Kesler looks in practice, but the 28-year-old forward doesn't sound like he plans to rush back to game action. That said, before the year started, it looked like Kesler might not return until the latter part of the season, now, there are signs that he could be back shortly and is, therefore, worth a stash in case he is available in your league.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM -
RNH, who sat out Wednesday game with a shoulder injury, hoped to return to action Saturday. That could still happen, but there are whispers that his injury is more severe than first thought, and he may be out for a bit. Nugent-Hopkins was supposed to work on strengthening the shoulder, but the Oilers are concerned that a hit to the area could notch RNH out longer, leading to speculation that surgery may be required.

Scott Hartnell, RW, PHI -
Hartnell had the cast removed from his foot Thursday, and he could begin skating next week. Hartnell was originally estimated to be out four-to-six weeks and is about halfway to that four-week mark. Now that the cast is off, he could have a chance to return toward the beginning of the original timetable, which would provide the Flyers and his fantasy owners a huge boost.

Patric Hornqvist, RW, NAS -
Hornqvist, sidelined with a sprained knee, is working out with weights and on the exercise bike. It was thought Hornqvist's recovery would take three-to-four weeks after he suffered the sprained knee Jan. 26. Coach Barry Trotz seems optimistic about Hornqvist's progress, so perhaps he'll be ready closer to the front end of that timetable. With Nashville in general struggling to score, getting Hornqvist back earlier than expected is definitely needed, despite his numbers slightly declining the last two seasons.

Others include Shawn Horcoff (broken knuckle, out a month), Derek Roy (groin, returned to action this week), Max Pacioretty (appendectomy, returned to lineup last Sunday after missing just four games), Ryan Callahan (subluxation of left shoulder, returned to lineup Thursday), Ray Whitney (broken foot, out 4-to-6 weeks), Wayne Simmonds (concussion, could return to action Saturday), Gabriel Landeskog (head/neck, no real progress), Cam Fowler (UBI, DTD), Brendan Smith (sprained shoulder, out 3-4 weeks), Dan Girardi (LBI, day-to-day), Jared Spurgeon (foot, IR), Jaroslav Halak (groin, inching closer to return) and Miikka Kiprusoff (LBI, DTD).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Marcus Johansson, C, WAS -
There were high expectations for Johansson coming into the year following his solid sophomore campaign. The addition of Mike Ribeiro had the Caps exploring moving Johansson to wing, possibly on the second line to take advantage of his playmaking skills. Unfortunately, Johansson has not converted that talent to production, spending one game on the bench while notching just one point with a minus-seven rating in nine games.

Kyle Clifford, RW, LA -
Clifford started the season like a house on fire, scoring points in the Kings' first four games while taking Dustin Penner's spot on the second line. That brief burst of light proved to be just that - brief - as the meteor quickly fell to earth with a five-game scoreless streak. Los Angeles seems to have two set lines, so Clifford will now spend his time on the third line, where his minutes and production will be limited.

Tyler Myers, D, BUF -
Myers has just one point through the Sabres' first 10 games and a minus-7 rating. Myers - with Christian Ehrhoff - is the franchise defenseman so he'll probably get a little leash. But note the team will have eight healthy defensemen when Robyn Regehr gets back from injury, with several playing a lot better than Myers and Jordan Leopold. Coach Lindy Ruff has been known to sit even key players when they're not performing up to his expectations, so Myers, who will likely neither match the 11-goal, 48-point performance of his rookie year nor live up to the seven-year, $38.5 million deal he signed in September 2011, better get it going soon.

Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN -
Backstrom continued his up-and-down play, stopping just 12 of 16 shots in Minnesota's 4-1 loss to Vancouver on Thursday. The loss was Backstrom's third consecutive, lowering his season's mark to 3-4-1 with a middling 2.76 goals against average and .902 save percentage. Following three tremendous campaigns to begin his North American career, Backstrom regressed the next two seasons while dealing with injuries but rebounded to have a solid campaign last year. Much was expected in Minnesota following the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but after starting 2-0, the team has lost six of its last eight. Team management has already traded for Mike Rupp, benched Mikael Granlund and demoted Devin Setoguchi to the fourth line, so if Backstrom does not turn it around, Josh Harding could see more starts.

Others include Ryan Johansen (demoted to AHL), Mikael Granlund (demoted to fourth line and benched Thursday), Mike Richards (numbers don't match name recognition but some signs of life the last four contests), Alexei Kovalev (healthy scratch Thursday), Brian Boyle (also a healthy scratch Thursday), Dany Heatley (moved to second line), Kyle Okposo (moved down to second line), Drew Stafford (four points, all assists, and minus-six rating in 10 games), Ryan Whitney (healthy scratch), Erik Johnson (think Colorado wishes it had Kevin Shattenkirk back?) and Brian Elliott (struggled last few games, blowing chance to earn more of the playing time in St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak sidelined).

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