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Sunday Daily Puck: In Good Hands

Noel Baldwin

Noel Baldwin

Noel Baldwin covers the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues and writes about fantasy hockey for Rotowire.

Around the Rink

Fans who lived through the (most recent) lockout could be forgiven for still feeling a bit shell-shocked about the state of the league. Some observers feel differently, but the truth is the NHL is in remarkable shape. While there remain concerns on the business side, league revenues continue to rise. Despite critics worried about saturation, the NHL is poised to pull off a remarkable number of successful “event” games with the Stadium Series joining the Winter and Heritage Classics this year. However it’s on the talent front that the league is in the best shape.

There are true the generational stars in the league right now (Crosby, Ovechkin, and Stamkos) who are supported by excellent players in almost every market who are talented and exciting to watch. They are been joined this year by quite a remarkable crop of rookies.

Number one pick in the 2013 draft, Nathan MacKinnon, is the leading candidate for the Calder trophy with 17 goals and 16 assists through 50 games. He looks like he belongs already, night in and night out. Alexander Barkov, who went one pick later, has not quite reached those heights, but his 24 points on a Panthers team that has far less talent than MacKinnon’s Avs is still a very good showing. Those two are joined near the top of the rookie scoring list by less well-known forwards like Tyler Johnson (31 points, plus-14) in Tampa, Chris Krieder (30 points, plus-13) with the Rangers, and Mark Scheifele (WPG), Ondrej Palat (TAM), Tomas Hertl (SAN), Valeri Nichushkin (DAL), Alex Chiasson (DAL), and Sean Monahan (CGY) all of whom have more than 20 points just over halfway through their rookie season.

If the forwards are a solid group, their colleagues on defense might be more impressive. Seth Jones is the best-known rookie d-man having been picked third overall by Nashville. He has picked up 19 points while playing more than 20 minutes a night on a team having a rough year. But Jones is not the only rookie blueliner playing big minutes: Jacob Trouba (WPG), Danny DeKeyser (DET), Calvin de Haan (NYI), Ryan Murray (CBS), and Radko Gudas (TAM) enjoy the confidence of their coaches to play big minutes. Hampus Lindholm does not quite see that much ice time for his Cup contending Anaheim Ducks, but his plus-23 rating is among the best in the NHL, not just the rookies. Eric Gelinas (NJD) and Torey Krug (BOS) have both notched more than 20 points from the blueline, and Olli Maatta is making big contributions in Pittsburgh, all while seeing less ice time than some of their peers.

Finally, goalies like Martin Jones (LOS), Antti Raanta (CHI), Eddie Lack (VAN), and Philipp Grubauer (WAS) have played extremely well to keep their teams in contention when the starts went down or struggled.

The NHL is definitely in good shape for the future on the ice. Speaking of which, here is your preview of Sunday’s games.

Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid

New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist) at New Jersey Devils (Martin Brodeur*), 12:30 PM

Florida Panthers (Tim Thomas) at Detroit Red Wings (Jonas Gustavsson*), 5:00 PM

Winnipeg Jets (Al Montoya) at Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford*), 7:00 PM

Nashville Predators (Carter Hutton) at Edmonton Oilers (Ben Scrivens), 8:00 PM

Phoenix Coyotes (Mike Smith) at Vancouver Canucks (Roberto Luongo), 8:00 PM

* = Confirmed

Injury News For Teams Playing Sunday

New York Rangers
Derek Dorsett, RW - Dorsett will be out for four to six weeks with a broken fibula, according to Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record. (1/3/2014)

New Jersey Devils
Peter Harrold, D - Harrold (foot) will not play Tuesday against the Blues, Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger reports. (1/21/2014)

Florida Panthers
Alex Petrovic, D - Petrovic (upper body) will not make the upcoming road trip with the Panthers, which means he'll miss at least three games. (1/5/2014)
Aleksander Barkov, C - Barkov (leg) will not travel with the team to Detroit, George Richards of the Miami Herald reports. (1/25/2014)
Mike Mottau, D - Mottau is dealing with a leg injury, George Richards of the Miami Herald reports. (1/20/2014)
Tomas Kopecky, RW - Kopecky (shoulder) is doubtful for Friday's game against the Avalanche, George Richards of the Miami Herald reports. (1/23/2014)

Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard, G - Howard (knee) hopes to return to action Tuesday against the Flyers, Ansar Khan of MLive.com reports. (1/24/2014)
Johan Franzen, C - GM Ken Holland confirmed that Franzen (concussion) plans on playing Sunday vs. the Panthers, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports. (1/25/2014)
Cory Emmerton, C - The Red Wings have placed Emmerton (hand) on IR. (1/22/2014)
Joakim Andersson, C - GM Ken Holland said Andersson (lower body) will not pay Saturday vs. the Panthers, Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily reports. (1/25/2014)
Stephen Weiss, C - Weiss (hernia) skated before Friday's practice, Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily reports. (1/24/2014)
Pavel Datsyuk, C - Datsyuk (groin) has been able to skate the last two days but is still uncertain when he may return to the lineup, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports. (1/22/2014)

Winnipeg Jets
Matt Halischuk, RW - Halischuk (forearm) is back skating for the Jets, Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press reports. (1/10/2014)
Paul Postma, D - Postma (leg) shed his no-contact jersey for Monday's practice, reports CBC's Jeff Hamilton. (1/21/2014)

Chicago Blackhawks
Duncan Keith, D - Keith (illness) is expected to play Sunday vs. the Jets, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. (1/25/2014)

Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne, G - Rinne (hip) was cleared Friday to begin weight-bearing exercises. (1/10/2014)

Edmonton Oilers
Philip Larsen, D - Larsen (illness) was back at practice Monday. (1/20/2014)
Andrew Ference, D - Ference suffered a head injury and left Friday's game in the second period, Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun reports. (1/24/2014)
Ales Hemsky, RW - Hemsky (ankle) will not play Friday against the Coyotes. (1/24/2014)

Vancouver Canucks
Henrik Sedin, C - Sedin (ribs/finger) will miss his second consecutive game Thursday against the Predators. (1/23/2014)
Mike Santorelli, C - Santorelli has been placed on injured reserve. (1/21/2014)
Jordan Schroeder, C - Schroeder (ankle) will head to AHL Utica for a conditioning assignment over the weekend. (1/22/2014)

Hot

Wayne Simmonds, RW, Phi – Simmonds does not get enough attention, but he is demanding it lately. The rugged winger has eight points in his last six games and with 38 points in 52 games he is poised to set a new career high. In addition to his usual physical play (79 PIM and 74 hits), Simmonds also has 15 points on the power play, which is just one shy of his career high 16.

Victor Hedman, D, Tam – Hot may not properly describe Hedman’s play of late. He has back-to-back three assist games, including Saturday’s tilt with Colorado bring his season line to 10 goals and 22 assists, which puts him just inside the top ten scoring defensemen. Hedman’s game has evolved nicely over the last couple of years such that he is a plus-player now. He does not log the heavy minutes of some of his peers, but Hedman is making good use of his ice time.

Cory Schneider, G, NJD – The inevitable process of Schneider taking the reins as New Jersey’s top dog in net from Martin Brodeur is in full effect. He has started eight of the Devils’ 11 games since the start of January and his lowest save percentage in any of those games was .909. With an overall season goals against average of 1.84, Schneider is going to compete to lead the league and it will not be surprising if his work load starts to look more like three of every four games down the stretch.

Cold

Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was – Backstrom may have made more appearances in the hot and cold sections of The Daily Puck than anyone else, such is the way his production tends to run hot and cold. A lot of this is tied to his running mate Alex Ovechkin – when Ovi’s multitude of shots are finding the back of the net, Backstrom racks up assists. When they are not...the truth, however, is that with 49 points, including 27 on the power play, Backstrom is a near elite scorer. Your mileage may vary, but most disappoint with him tends to stem from expecting a 100 point season like his 2009-10. See the forest with Backstrom.

Justin Schultz, D, Edm – Like many Oilers, Schultz has disappointed. While his brutal minus-19 was expected, his 20 points in 45 was not. As a rookie he managed 27 points in 48 games and many observers expected a big leap (much like with the team as a whole), but it has not happened. More disconcerting maybe has been his power outage on the power play – only seven assists with the man advantage so far. If your league counts plus/minus Schultz presents a real dilemma because it is reasonable to expect his output to get better either as the season goes on or in future years, but right now he is tough to own.

Steve Mason, G, Phi – One day the Flyers will have a legitimately great goalie. That is much more a statement about probability than their recent signing of Steve Mason to a three-year contract. Early in the season it looked like Mason had found his Calder trophy winning and Vezina runner-up form of 2008-09, but his month-by-month save percentages show the signs of his decline: Oct-.928, Nov-.938, Dec-.899, Jan-.877. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to figure out who a player is, but looking at career stats is a good place to start. In Mason’s case, through 278 games and nearly 16,000 minutes in the NHL he has a career save percentage of .906. That is simply not good enough.

Recommended Pickup

Adam Henrique, C, NJD – Like many guys who play in Jersey, Henrique does not really get the attention he deserves in fantasy. After a big rookie year in which he put up 51 points he disappointed coming back after the lockout. With 26 points in 52 games this year, he is not quite up to the pace of his rookie season, but Henrique has been good of late with eight of his points coming this month. He is also picking up more of his points with the man advantage, which is something you want to see as a player matures. He has five goals and four assists on the power play this year, already a career high. Perhaps some mentoring from Jaromir Jagr is helping, but Henrique is playing some of his best hockey in a while.