This week's article includes the development of a center in the 'Peg, a hot winger on the Island, the return of a sniper in St. Louis and a stud goalie in a bit of a slump in the Hub.
First Liners (Risers)
Mark Scheifele, C, WPG - Scheifele scored a goal, assisted on another and went plus-2 in Winnipeg's 5-2 victory over Calgary on Thursday. The 20-year-old center has found his way to the scoresheet in four of five games, totaling two goals and six points in that span. Scheifele has been incredibly hot since his slow start and is poised to take a great leap forward if he can start producing on the power play, where he's seen extensive minutes since the new year.
Tomas Plekanec, C, MTL - Plekanec opened the scoring Thursday against Ottawa with a shorthanded goal early in the first period, then scored with 8:58 remaining in the third to tie the game and send it to overtime. With three goals and three assists in his last six games, Plekanec's been scoring steadily of late after a rough three-week stretch in which he only scored two points (both on goals). He now has 30 points in 48 games, just three points off what he tallied last season in one more game.
Thomas Vanek, LW, NYI - Vanek scored a power-play goal for the Islanders' only regulation tally in Thursday's 2-1 shootout win over Tampa Bay. That's two straight games with a goal and 13 of 14 games with a point for Vanek, who has a shiny line of seven goals and 12 assists in that 14-game span. Despite some bumps in the road on Long Island, Vanek has 32 points in 33 games, ably replacing Matt Moulson, the man he was traded for. The keys moving forward will be if the Isles stay in contention, enabling the team to hold him for the year, and if it can convince him to re-sign.
Martin St. Louis, RW, TB - St. Louis was profiled in late-November, and while I like mixing it up and focusing on lesser-owned players when I can, it's too hard to overlook and leave him out of this week's column. St. Louis scored a power-play goal Thursday in a shootout loss to the Islanders, extending his point streak to six games and seven points -- four of them goals. The Mighty Mite now has 45 points in 48 games along with a plus-14 rating, off the pace of when he scored 60 last year, but hard to quibble especially with him doing it without Steven Stamkos. St. Louis has a point in every game since being snubbed by Team Canada and his own general manager. Motivation comes from many sources, and this guy has a lot of reasons to prove them all wrong. He's doing just that. Ride him hard.
Ryan O'Reilly, LW, CAR - O'Reilly scored the Avs' lone regulation goal and added the game-sealing shootout tally Thursday against New Jersey. O'Reilly's got goals in three straight games (with four tallies in total) since missing a pair with a shoulder injury. He's already matched his career high of 18 goals, set in 2011-12, and has a very reasonable chance to exceed the career-high 55 points he tallied that season. O'Reilly will be a restricted free agent the year and is setting himself up for a big payday with his play this season.
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT - Karlsson ripped off three points -- a goal and two assists -- in Ottawa's overtime loss to Montreal on Thursday. Though he factored into three even-strength goals, Karlsson was on the ice for a trio of Montreal goals, leaving him with an even plus-minus for the night and highlighting why he's gone minus-11 on the year despite totaling 46 points thus far. Nonetheless, it's tough for fantasy owners to complain, given that Karlsson has three multi-point efforts in his last four games and a total of eight points in his last five contests, leading blueliners in scoring.
Matt Niskanen, D, PIT - Niskanen had two assists Thursday, giving him 12 points, including five goals and seven assists, in the last 13 games. Given all the injuries on the Pittsburgh blueline, Niskanen has been a godsend, notching 25 points and a plus-26 rating in 48 games. Niskanen continues to see second-unit power-play time, though that could change whenever Paul Martin returns from injury.
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR - Lundqvist stopped all 38 shots the Red Wings fired his way Thursday for his third shutout of the year. It was a fast-paced offensive game dominated by the goalies, with the Rangers launching 48 shots on Jimmy Howard -- and beating him just once -- while Lundqvist faced 37 or more shots for the fourth time in the last six games. Henrik's season has gone in spurts, down-up-down-up, but lately, he has continued to right the ship, winning four of his last five starts while allowing just seven goals in that span.
Jonas Hiller, G, ANA - Hiller and the Ducks are on a roll, with the top-dog between the pipes having reeled off 14 straight wins, with his last regulation loss coming back on Nov. 26. The Ducks have an abundance of riches between the pipes in their organization, meaning a decision on what to do with Hiller, who will be a UFA after the season, will have to be made. But for now and the short-term future, Hiller is the main-man in net for a solid Ducks team.
Others include Joe Thornton (six goals, 45 assists), Adam Henrique (10 points last 11 games), Mathieu Perreault (heating up again), David Desharnais (eight points last seven games), Cody Hodgson (hot since coming back from broken finger), Tyler Johnson (quietly productive in Tampa), Kyle Turris (37 points, plus-17 rating in Ottawa), Joe Pavelski (22 goals and 23 assists), Ryan Getzlaf (he and Corey Perry still on fire), David Legwand (on a mini-roll), Bryan Little (heating up), Brad Richards (eight points last seven games), Jeff Skinner (21 goals and 35 points in 35 games), T.J. Oshie (seven of his 11 goals in last nine games), Mats Zuccarello (the Hobbit on fire, his line of Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot has been the Rangers' best trio), Jiri Tlusty (moved back to top line, will it be elixir for him to regain his prior year form?), Rick Nash (driving hard to net again and getting results), Jussi Jokinen (solid supporting piece in Pittsburgh), Ryane Clowe (productive since coming off the injured list), James van Riemsdyk (en fuego), Jaromir Jagr (passing icons of the sport seemingly daily), Marian Hossa (still getting it done), Wayne Simmonds (points and grit in Philly), Clarke MacArthur (goals in six of seven games), Roman Josi (10 of 16 points on PP, but has minus-17 rating), Calvin de Haan (most productive Islanders' blueliner lately), Hampus Lindholm (solid for Anaheim), Dustin Byfuglien (may have forward and defenseman eligibility in leagues), Kevin Shattenkirk (key will be to see if he can carry first half performance into the second half), Shea Weber (11 points last nine games), Semyon Varlamov (seventh win in eight starts), Jonathan Quick (3-2-1 last five), Jimmy Howard (brilliant lately despite few wins), Marc-Andre Fleury (racking up wins), Devyn Dubnyk (fill-in until Pekka Rinne returns, moves from poor to solid defensive team) and Ben Scrivens (has a shot at top job, albeit with lousy defensive squad).
Training Room (Injuries)
Steve Stamkos, C, TB - Stamkos, out since Nov. 11 with a broken leg, skated Friday for the second straight day. Stamkos' return is likely at least a couple weeks away, but the fact that he was able to skate Friday indicates he did not feel any abnormal soreness after taking the ice the day before. Stamkos' recovery remains on track, as it remains probable that will be able to return in time to play in the Olympics and possibly by the end of January.
Alexander Steen, C, STL - Steen, out since suffering a concussion Dec. 21, will be back in action Friday after returning to full practice early in the week. Even with the lengthy absence, Steen still leads the team by a mile with 24 goals.
Zach Parise, LW, MIN - Although Parise, sidelined with a fractured foot, continues to progress, his return date has yet to be determined. Parise amped up his activities on the ice Thursday, but the winger acknowledged that he still needs to get into game shape, noting with regard to his present workload,"a couple more days of doing what I'm doing, and then we'll add bumping and game-like situations."
Others include Paul Stastny (leg, missed two games, will play Saturday), Pavel Datsyuk (groin, placed on IR, no set timeframe for return), Logan Couture (hand surgery, skated Friday, still expected to miss 3-4 weeks), Nail Yakupov (left Thursday's game with a head injury), Evander Kane (hand, placed on IR, eligible to play as soon as he is ready), P.A. Parenteau (knee, expected to be out until February, could play Tuesday), David Clarkson (elbow, placed on IR), Paul Martin (leg, returning to practice), Ben Bishop (wrist, returned to action in fine fashion this past week) and Roberto Luongo (ankle, close to return).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Antoine Vermette, C, PHX - Vermette scored his first goal since Dec. 21 in Phoenix's 1-0 win over Vancouver on Thursday. He'd managed just a single assist between his Dec. 21 hat trick and Thursday's game, going minus-9 in that 11-game span. With the offensive inconsistency Vermette's displayed this year -- and, indeed, throughout his career, declining in production his last two full campaigns -- he's best used only in deeper fantasy formats despite the hearty amount of ice time he sees regularly.
Lee Stempniak, RW, CGY - Stempniak netted a goal for the first time in 18 games in a 4-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday and added an assist Thursday. Stempniak started off the year hot, but only has seven points since the beginning of November. He hasn't been the same player since returning from a broken foot, so perhaps it has lingered far beyond his Nov. 12 return to the lineup. He is also minus-20 and can't seem to shake slumps lately, but maybe the past two games will lead to a hot streak for him, though I am skeptical of that.
Jake Muzzin, D, LA - Muzzin collected his first point in 15 games with a goal Thursday in a win over St. Louis. His season got off to a nice start, but Muzzin's production had dried up until he got the monkey off his back Thursday, similar to Slava Voynov, who had two assists Thursday. Muzzin now has three goals and a dozen assists for the year
Tuukka Rask, G, BOS - Rask allowed four goals on 26 shots in Boston's loss to Toronto on Tuesday. It just looked like Rask was coming out of his recent slide on Saturday, when he shut out San Jose, but he fell back again in this one against a Toronto team that hasn't been playing all that well. Rask's won just twice in his last seven starts and has allowed a combined 20 goals on 107 shots in the losing efforts -- an .813 save percentage. He will right the ship, it's only a matter of when, so don't panic about this recent slump.
Others include David Krejci (numbers are fairly similar to last year through 47 game, yet seems to always leave you wanting more), Peter Holland (surprisingly sent to AHL), J.T. Miller (on that Hartford to NY shuttle), Derek Stepan (slumping even though on top line in NY), Mike Richards (goal drought reaches 23 games), Tyler Toffoli (slump lands him in AHL), Tomas Fleischmann (one point since calendar turned, would benefit from a trade, as has been rumored), Simon Despres (sent down to AHL), Adam Larsson (down to AHL, keep saying defenseman growth is not linear), Ilya Bryzgalov (could lose time to Scrivens in Edmonton) and Braden Holtby (still behind Grabauer in Washington).