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NHL Barometer: Upgrade This Islander

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 ‘Baba’ O’Reilly showing ‘Who’s Next’ in Nashville, a change of scenery doing wonders for a Hub winger, a Devils’ veteran out for a month, and a former elite sniper now operating at slightly above baseline level in Buffalo.

First Liners (Risers)

Cal O’Reilly, C, NAS – While Matthew Lombardi is the de-facto top line center in Nashville, it has been O’Reilly who has played like one. O’Reilly had just 11 points in 31 games after his promotion last year, but he was viewed by many as a possible sleeper this year. Early on, O’Reilly is making the prognosticators look good, notching four assists in the Predators’ first three games. He is skating on a line with Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist.

Tyler Ennis, C, BUF – Ennis was shut out Wednesday, but he still has four assists in the Sabres’ first four games this year. Heading into the season, Ennis was talked about as a possible Calder candidate, and to date, he has not disappointed. He is coming off a huge 2009 campaign, during which he scored 65 points in 69 games to be named AHL Rookie of the Year, then followed that up with 13 points in 16 NHL games (including the playoffs). While undersized, Ennis is a talented player who should remain on one of the top two lines in Buffalo, providing him the opportunity to maximize that talent.

Blake Comeau, LW, CMB – As noted in Thursday’s Daily Puck, sometimes you have to look at the little things. Comeau has improved his point total by 10 each of the last two years. He still only put up 35 points in 61 games last season – not the kind of number that blows the door off fantasy leagues – but he is off to a hot start with four points (including three goals) in his first two games this year. He has shown good chemistry with Doug Weight and Josh Bailey, so ride Comeau while he is on a roll.

Clarke MacArthur, LW, TOR – I am not attempting to mirror the Daily Puck column, but while prepping for this week’s column, MacArthur clearly stood out as a riser. While I don’t expect him to stay tied with Alexander Ovechkin for the league lead in goals, he should easily exceed his prior high of 17 markers set in 2008-09. MacArthur potted 158 points in 163 ANHL games, so he clearly has the ability, but in the past, he had been held back by his poor conditioning. MacArthur looks to be in better shape and should remain as the finisher on the Mikhail Grabovksi-Nikolai Kulemin line.

Nathan Horton, RW, BOS – A change of scenery sometimes brings a change of fortune, and so far, that looks to be the case for Horton. Horton, who was selected third overall in 2003, had several solid seasons for Florida, yet his production and work ethic always seemed to leave the team and his owners expecting more. He was dealt to Boston during the offseason, a move which has paid dividends early on. Horton had tallied three times in the Bruins’ first two games. He has meshed nicely with David Krejci and should continue to see copious amount of ice time, especially on the PP.

Cam Fowler, D, ANA – Fowler slid to 12th in this year’s draft, and Anaheim was the beneficiary of the drop. He was one of the best skaters in the draft and it’s that skill, along with his pure offensive instincts, that helped him earn a spot out of training camp. The downside with Fowler is that he is weak in his own zone, which could result in him getting sent back to the minors after nine games. That said, to date, he has been the Ducks’ best defenseman and has shown that he belongs in the NHL. Monitor closely and jump once he hits game number ten.

Christian Ehrhoff, D, VAN – After seeing his production fluctuate in four full seasons with the Sharks, Ehrhoff was able to not only match a successful 2008-09 campaign, but also surpass it in his first tour with the Canucks. He set a career high with 44 points last season and entered this year as the lead defenseman in Vancouver. Ehrhoff already has two points, both goals, in the first three games of the year. He could end the season as a top-10-15 defenseman given the talent around him.

Nikolai Khabibulin, G, EDM – The Bulin Wall is dealing with a looming off-ice issue, but it does not appear to have impacted him on the ice. Khabibulin was arrested last February for drunk driving in Arizona and then sentenced to a month in prison in August, a conviction that he is appealing. That ruling could come down at any time, but in the interim, Khabibulin has played well in net, aided by a complete return to health after last year’s back surgery. While Edmonton is not likely to be a playoff team this season going the youth route, Khabibulin, health and legally permitting, should see most of the action between the pipes and could steal several games.

Rick DiPietro, G, NYI – When you think of DiPietro, two things come to mind: 1) The huge contract he signed that was universally ridiculed, and 2) his history of injuries. The contract does not matter to fantasy owners, but the injury history does. For now, DP appears to be completely healthy, though his workload will be closely monitored with Dwayne Roloson still on the Island. If DP shows he can remain in one piece, which in the past has been a stretch, look for him to see more and more action and likely be the Isles’ top dog between the pipes.

Others include: Brad Richards, Jarret Stoll, David Krejci, Derek Roy, Travis Zajac, Steven Stamkos, Kyle Turris, Weight, Bailey, Brenden Morrow, Steve Downie, T.J. Oshie, Loui Eriksson, David Jones, Matt D’Agostini, Patrik Elias, Sullivan, Hornqvist, Daniel Briere, Matt Taormina, John Carlson, John-Michael Liles, Jordan Leopold, Brett Clark, Alex Goligoski, Kari Lehtonen, Chris Mason, Tomas Vokoun, Corey Crawford, Cam Ward and Michal Neuvirth.

Training Room (Injuries)

Chris Drury, C, NYR – Drury, who broke a finger during training camp, is recovering faster than expected and is slated to return to action in the Rangers’ home opener Friday. Not only does Drury finally get to play, but he may also end up in the catbird seat between Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik on the top line if Erik Christensen sits out with a leg injury. Drury may not stay on that line for long, but take advantage of the opportunity presented while it lasts.

Brian Rolston, C, NJ – Rolston was diagnosed with a sports hernia and underwent surgery Thursday morning in Philadelphia. Rolston is expected to miss 4-6 weeks for the injury-depleted Devils, who have placed him on the long-term injury list to get some cap relief. Rolston is not an elite player, but he was seeing time at the point on the first power play, so his absence will have a mild impact on fantasy owners.

Jason Pominville, LW, BUF – Following a scary hit in Monday's game from Niklas Hjalmarsson that left him with a concussion, there is no timetable for Pominville's return (and don’t get me started how Hjalmarsson only got two games, the same as James Wisniewski). Pominville is an ironman -- he had an active streak of 335 straight games played -- but that ended Wednesday. It sounds like he is coming along fine, but expect him to miss at least a few games with the concussion and hope that’s the worst of it.

Brian Rafalski, D, DET – Rafalski will be out 3-to-4 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery this past week. Rafa was not expected to be out that long, but the extent of the injury, which was first classified as a “sore knee,” was discovered after a scope Tuesday. This setback comes on top of the back surgery Rafalski had in the offseason, so the one silver lining, if there is one, is that when he does return to action, he should be fully 100 percent. For now, downgrade Rafalski and upgrade Niklas Kronwall.

Ondrej Pavelec, G, ATL – Pavelec, who fainted and collapsed on the ice last Friday, was released from the hospital Sunday. The Thrashers made a wise move placing on injured reserve, especially since to date, doctors are still trying to determine what caused him to collapse and lose consciousness. In the interim, Chris Mason should play every day for Atlanta.

Others include: Matthew Lombardi, John Tavares, Christensen, Jamie Benn, Ray Whitney, Rene Bourque, Johan Franzen, Zbynek Michalek, Pascal Leclaire and Pekka Rinne.

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Steve Reinprecht, C, FLA – Reinprecht finished last season with 38 points and was expected to provide similar production this year. However, it’s hard to score from the press box – Reinprecht has been scratched for the first three games of the season. There was some hope that Reinprecht might play Thursday after Florida scored just three goals in their first two games, but he sat again and likely will do so once more with the Panthers coming off a 3-0 win.

Alexei Kovalev, RW, OTT – Kovalev played with Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon in Ottawa's 3-2 overtime loss to Washington on Monday night and stayed with the same linemates Thursday. The trio was productive in Monday’s game, but they were less successful Thursday and are considered the Senators’ fourth line. Kovalev is still searching for his first point of the season and is a minus-2, with only six shots on net, through his first four games.

Thomas Vanek, LW, BUF – Vanek stayed off the scoresheet again Wednesday night as Buffalo was shutout 1-0 by New Jersey. Vanek has switched over to the right wing in the absence of Jason Pominville, but the change obviously did not wake him up and he still awaits his first point of the 2010-11 season. Vanek is too good of a scorer to stay quiet forever, but the 119 goals he posted from 2006-07 through 2008-09 seem ages ago after he slumped to 28 last year and is scuffling again this season.

Erik Karlsson, D, OTT – Staying in the Canadian Capital, Karlsson has been a major disappointment. Expected to build on his late-season success of a year ago, Karlsson has spit the bit. His play has been so poor that he was demoted to the third defensive pairing Monday, and there are rumors that a stint in the AHL may be forthcoming if he does not turn things around quickly. The one positive is that he is still seeing a healthy amount of PP time, but that too may dry up if he does not show signs of life.

Jamie McBain, D, CAR – Like Karlsson, big things are expected of McBain, and so far, he has failed to deliver. McBain was solid during a late-season stretch with the Hurricanes and many felt he would take another step forward this year. To date, McBain has just one assist – on the power play – through three games, and he may be hurt by the other options available on the Carolina blue line. With Joni Pitkanen entrenched and both Joe Corvo and Anton Babchuk back in Carolina, McBain may struggle to get the requisite minutes, which will negatively impact his production (can you tell I am a frustrated and worried owner of him)?

Jonas Hiller, G, ANA – Hiller continues to face tons of rubber, but he stopped 36 shots on Wednesday to record the 4-3 win over visiting Vancouver. Hiller is going to be under fire most of the year with the makeshift blue line being used in Anaheim, so if your league counts saves made, then Hiller is your man. However, if you are expecting a ton of wins and/or a solid goals-against average, Hiller may struggle to produce similar numbers to either 2008-09 (2.39 GAA) or 2009-10 (30 wins).

Others include: Todd White, Jarome Iginla, Fabian Brunnstrom, Cory Stillman, Matt Gilroy, Tom Poti, Marty Turco and Miikka Kiprusoff.