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NHL Barometer: Penguin's Pending Return

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 veteran center enjoying his relocation to the Wild, a young winger excelling in Philly, the top dog in Atlanta still struggling with his hip even after offseason surgery, and a former sniper singing the Blues.

First Liners (Risers)

Matt Cullen, C, MIN - Cullen expressed some desire to return to Ottawa after being traded there last year, but he made what looks like to be an excellent move by signing with the Wild. Minnesota has placed Cullen at the point of the first power play line, and both he and the team have reaped the benefits. Through six games, Cullen has all three of his goals and eight of his nine points on the man advantage. While this streak won't continue all year, ride the wave while he is hot.

Derek Roy, C, BUF - This is what we wrote in our preseason outlook for Roy: “Roy was incredibly consistent in 2009-10, posting almost the same numbers as he put up in 2008-09. Roy is productive and durable, having played in at least 75 games in each of the last four seasons. Twenty-five to 30 goals and 65 to 70 points can be penciled in for Roy before the season even starts, and at 27 years old, he could be expected to even perform beyond the 26 goals and 43 assists that he had last year.” So far; so good - Roy is averaging a point a game and lighting the lamp at an increased frequency. The disparity Roy had the past few years in goals and assists may even out this season, with Roy possibly potting 35 or more goals.

Patrick Sharp, RW, CHI - The offseason movement in Chicago has benefitted several individuals - one being Sharp, who scored his third straight game-winning goal on Monday and has been on a roll with six goals and two assists in his first eight games. If Sharp stays healthy he should surpass the career-high 66 points he put up last season (on 25 goals and 41 assists), and he may gain dual eligibility since is centering the Blackhawks' second line.

Mason Raymond, LW, VAN - Raymond, who was moved up to the top line in Vancouver last weekend, made the most of change by lighting the lamp twice and dishing out a helper in his debut with the Sedins. If he continues to succeed on the first line, there's a chance Raymond could stick there even after Alex Burrows (shoulder) returns next month. The 25-year-old winger is coming off a career-best 25 goals last season and could easily challenge that while skating with talented playmakers like the Sedins.

Claude Giroux, RW, PHI - Giroux tickled the twine for the third time this season Thursday, giving him four points in six games this year. Giroux was up and down as a rookie last season, but he made his mark with 21 points in 23 playoff games last spring. While it may be too much to expect 30+ goals this season, a rise of 10 from last season's 16 seems reasonable coupled with an increase from 47 to close to 60 points.

Tobias Enstrom, D, ATL - When discussing point-producing defensemen, Enstrom's name is not the first that comes to mind. However, if looking solely at production compared to where he has typically been taken in fantasy drafts, Enstrom has been a steal the last couple years. Enstrom is coming off a 50-point campaign and already has five points in six game, which puts him easily on pace to finish right around that mark again.

John-Michael Liles, D, COL - As a Liles owner in my home league, I am ecstatic and shocked by his early season output. Liles recorded another assist Thursday, giving him at least one in all seven games this season -- a Colorado franchise record to start a season. He has nine assists already, which is quite a turnaround following his very disappointing '09-'10 campaign in which he recorded just 25 helpers. Liles will slow down at some point, but if he ends up with close to the 49 points he scored in 2005-06, his owners and the Avalanche might dance a little jig.

Marty Turco, G, CHI - After struggling early on and splitting time with Corey Crawford, Turco has righted the ship and started four straight contests. Turco has notched a win in all four and looks primed to start 60+ games. Turco had a decent year last year but was surpassed by Kari Lehtonen, prompting his move to Chicago. Given the offense around him and recent improvement in play, Turco is a must-play in just about every format.

Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL - Since I highlighted Turco, I might as well cover his replacement in Big D. Lehtonen was drafted by Atlanta with the expectation that he would become their franchise goalie. However, a pattern of injuries and poor play made him expendable and he was traded to the Stars last year. Lehtonen played well after the deal and re-signed with the team this offseason; and he is already 5-1 with a .927 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average this season. Lehtonen is a big reason for Dallas' strong start.

Others include: Mikko Koivu, Tomas Plekanec, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Getzlaf, Brendan Morrison, Andrei Loktionov, Eric Staal, Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry, Brenden Morrow, Steve Downie, Tomas Kopecky, T.J. Oshie, Loui Eriksson, Magnus Paarjavi-Svensson, Martin Havlat, Matt Moulson, Marian Hossa, Ryan Smyth, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jordan Leopold, Kris Letang, Johnny Boychuck, Brent Burns, Matt Taormina, Alex Goligoski, Brent Johnson, Craig Anderson, Tim Thomas, Brian Elliott, Robin Lehner and Semyon Varlamov.

Training Room (Injuries)

Nikolai Antropov, C, ATL - Antropov showed last year he could be a top center, and he is now being counted on to fill that role in Atlanta with Ilya Kovalchuk gone. However, he could be rested in the near future since he is still not 100 percent following offseason hip surgery. Antropov is averaging just 13:31 minutes per game, which has resulted in just one assist and a minus-3 rating in five games. Be prepared for a potential shutdown at some point if the Thrashers decide they want to give Antropov a chance to get back to 100 percent.

Jordan Staal, C, PIT - We profiled Staal two weeks ago when he was placed on long-term injured reserve, but recent activity warrants an update. Staal began skating with his teammates in practice this past week and is in the midst of a personal form of training camp. Staal is eligible to come off of the injured list as soon as Oct. 24, though the Pens don't play after Oct. 23 until Oct. 27. How soon Staal comes back depends upon his conditioning and how well he continues to recover from his infection, but the signs of a return in the near future are promising.

Jamie Benn, LW, DAL - After missing three games with a concussion, Benn made a big impact in his return Thursday, notching three assists. Benn had an impressive rookie campiagn and should take another step forward this season. If you were waiting to make sure he was healthy before activating him, Thursday's performance should be all the evidence you need.

Jonathan Ericsson, D, DET - Ericsson, who has been out for nearly two weeks with back spasms, could return to action for the Red Wings next week. He is reportedly feeling better every day but has still yet to resume skating, so it would not be all that surprising to see him miss a bit longer than his original one week prognosis. The injury came at an unfortunate time for Ericsson because he could have played an expanded power-play role while Brian Rafalski was sidelined by minor knee surgery, but he still may do so for a few games since it looks like Ericsson will return before Rafalski.

Pascal Leclaire, G, OTT - Leclaire has been out the past week with a groin injury, but he could return to the ice in the coming days. There is currently no set timetable for his return, but Leclaire should be considered day-to-day until further notice. Brian Elliott will continue to hold down the fort in goal for Ottawa, while Robin Lehner will see occasional time as well while the fragile Leclaire remains unavailable. If Elliot is able to get on a roll like he did last year when Leclaire had an extended absence, he could take ownership of the lion's share of the playing time between the pipes in Ottawa.

Others include: Vaclav Prospal, Chris Drury, Martin Hanzal, Marian Gaborik, Jason Pominville, Simon Gagne, Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty, Kris Russell, Pascal Leclaire and Michael Leighton.

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Tyler Bozak, C, TOR - Bozak was benched for most of the third period of Thursday's game against the Rangers - he saw just three shifts in the 20-minute session. Sure, he's recovering from a broken eardrum after taking a shot to the head at Sunday's practice, but the guy just didn't play well Thursday. He spent too much time on the perimeter and seemed a step behind the play. Hopefully Bozak gets the message and picks up his play - he has just three assists, two in one game - in six contests this year. Watch him carefully and activate him only if you see signs of life.

Ryan Kesler, RW, VAN - Kesler had a career-year last season and expectations were that he would take another step forward this year. However, to date, that has not happened. Kesler has just two points in seven games and is no longer on the top line with the Sedins. The expected return of Alexander Burrows could be a boon to Kesler since it may free up others to play the defensive role he has been playing, but for now, it is probably time to bench Kesler until his production picks up.

Brad Boyes, RW, STL - Boyes, who opened the year on the top line, was dropped earlier in the week to the third shift. Head coach David Payne has elevated Boyes back to the second line, but with one goal on 19 shots, Boyes' decline from his productive 2007-08 and 2008-09 campaigns has continued for a second straight year. The fact he is averaging almost four shots a game is a positive, so be ready to pounce if you see some signs of a turnaround.

Jay Bouwmeester, D, FLA - Bouwmeester struggled last season upon his arrival in Calgary, and this year is starting off even worse. After dropping from 42 to 29 points a year ago, J-Bo is pointless through six games this season. Maybe a reversal of fortune or Hot Tub Time Machine will come to transport him back to Florida, but don't bet the ranch on either occurring.

P.K. Subban, D, MTL - Subban, a Riser a few weeks ago, lands on the Fallers side of the ledger this week. However, this will likely be only a temporary home for him. Similar to Erik Karlsson and Jamie McBain, two young defensemen that excelled late last year, Subban made his mark in the latter part of the season as well as in the playoffs. Like the aforementioned duo, Subban entered the year with massive expectations on him, and he has struggled to deliver. Part of that may be due to the absence of Andrei Markov, which has forced Subban to take on more of the back line burden, so we would not be surprised if he rebounds once Markov returns.

Cam Ward, G, CAR - Like we wrote about Jonas Hiller last week, Ward looks like he will often be under fire in Carolina due to the defense around him. Ward has already faced 181 shots in five games, so while his save percentage should be good and he should get most of the playing time in, his goals against average may suffer. Ward is still a decent second netminder in most leagues, but be cognizant that his GAA will be closer to the numbers he put up in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons rather than the stealer mark he posted in 2008-09.

Others include: Olli Jokinen, Alexei Kovalev, Taylor Hall, Nikita Filatov, Jamie Langenbrunner, Niclas Bergfors, Ray Whitney, Michael Frolik, Tyler Myers, Alexander Urbom, Marc-Andre Fleury and Corey Crawford.