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NHL Barometer: Jumping Flames

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 pair of hot Flames, two ex-Blackhawks rising in Atlanta, a Chicago sniper out for a while, and a goalie who has gone from hoisting the Cup to serving as bench-door opener.

First Liners (Risers)

Kyle Turris, C, PHX – Turris, a first-round pick in 2007, spent the entire 2008-09 campaign with the Coyotes and scored 20 points. However, Phoenix made what looks to be a wise move by sending Turris down to the AHL for the entire 2009-10 season, which allowed him to mature and gain more seasoning. Turris earned a spot with the Coyotes this season thanks to a strong training camp; and after going scoreless in his first three games, he has turned it around the past three. Part of that success might be the extra ice time opened up by the absence of Shane Doan (suspension), but I like to believe that a good portion of Turris’ success is due to the lessons he learned in the AHL.

Brendan Morrison, C, CGY – From Faller to Riser in three weeks, Morrison has adapted seamlessly to the Flames’ system. Morrison is off to a great start with nine points in his first nine games, including at least one in five of his last six games. One note of caution is that Morrison has just 64 combined points over the last two years, so if jumping in, go feet first so can you easily brace yourself if he crashes back to earth.

Rene Bourque, RW, CGY – Bourque was named the NHL's first star for the past week, in which he scored six goals, including three game-winners. After missing time with a concussion, Bourque returned with a bang, posting the six tallies in just three games. Bourque’ history of concussions could hold him back; but when healthy, he is a sniper. If Bourque can stay on the ice, he should come close to exceeding the 58 points he notched a year ago.

Dustin Byfuglien, D, ATL – We profiled Tobias Enstrom last week; but this week, its Byfulgien’s turn. After getting dealt from Chicago to Atlanta, many felt the Thrashers were nuts to try him on the blue line due to his lack of speed. Plus, the prevailing thought was his playoff hot streak was somewhat of a fluke. Byfuglien has proven that view wrong thus far with seven points in nine games. He has shown he can maintain fantasy value on the blue line and is making those who took him in later rounds look a little bit smarter.

Andrew Ladd, LW, ATL – Ladd is another player in what seems to be a long line of ex-Blackhawks who have excelled after being dealt from the team. Ladd, who came to Atlanta on July 1, has handled the additional ice time and responsibility with aplomb. Ladd averaged 13:42 of ice time last season with just over 30 seconds of power play time, but has seen his nightly ice time grow by four minutes, nearly three of which have come on the man advantage.

Pierre Parenteau, RW, NYI – The Islanders’ signing of Parenteau didn’t get much attention when it occurred, but savvy fantasy players must have thought his value had the potential to rise on the Island. With the Islanders desperate for scoring, many felt that P.A. could fill that gap, and at worse, would get a shot at seeing consistent ice time. Both notions have proven to be true – Parenteau has landed on a line with John Tavares and has eight points, including seven on the man advantage. Parenteau should remain on a line with the face of the Islanders, at least in the short-term.

James Wisniewski, D, NYI – Like Parenteau, not much was made when the Islanders traded a third-round pick to Anaheim for Wisniewski, unless you played in a league that counted hits and blocked shots. However, New York is getting a tremendous return on their investment as Wisniewski has made up for the absence of Mark Streit by scoring 11 points in seven games. The likelihood of that rate continuing is remote, but Wisniewski should remain the main man on the team’s blue line until Streit returns. He is well on his way to exceeding his career high of 30 points, set last year.

Michal Neuvirth, G, WAS – Neuvirth got off to a great start filling in for Semyon Varlamov and has shown no signs of slowing down. Neuvirth was brilliant in goal Wednesday, stopping all 29 shots he faced in a 3-0 shutout victory. Neuvirth is 6-2 in his eight starts this year, and he has surrendered more than two goals only twice. Neuvirth has been the Caps' most valuable player, and with Varlamov now possibly nursing another injury, the Capitals’ netminding duties may be Neuvirth’s to lose.

Tim Thomas, G, BOS – Thomas was expected to back up Tuukka Rask, who had a phenomenal 2009-10 campaign to take over as the Bruins’ starting goaltender. However, it has been Thomas who has stood on his head while Rask has struggled. Heading into Thursday’s contest, Thomas was sporting a stellar 0.75 GAA due to a league-best .978 save percentage, and he improved those numbers by pitching a 2-0 shutout. Those numbers won't be sustained, but they will help get him extra starts in the short term over Rask, who eventually should turn it around and start more regularly.

Others include: Tomas Plekanec, Evander Kane, Jarret Stoll, Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, John Tavares, Johan Franzen, Teemu Selanne, David Booth, Alexander Semin, Andrei Kostitsyn, R.J. Umberger, Viktor Stalberg, Nikolai Kulemin, Dany Heatley, Nathan Horton, Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Callahan, James Neal, Sergei Gonchar, Michal Rozsival, Brent Burns, Marc Methot, Victor Hedman, Kris Letang, Jack Johnson, Joni Pitkanen, Brent Johnson, Pekka Rinne, Miikka Kiprusoff, Peter Budaj, Carey Price, Anders Lindback and Cory Schneider.

Training Room (Injuries)

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, C, MIN – Bouchard (concussion) participated in his first full-contact practice last Saturday. He is still a ways from returning, but he is making slow and steady progress. Assuming he has no setbacks, Bouchard could be back some time in November to fill the second-line center role in Minnesota. When healthy, Bouchard scored between 57-63 points from 2005-06 through 2008-09, and while he likely won’t match that production, he will be worth a roster spot in almost all formats when healthy.

Matthew Lombardi, C, NAS – Lombardi signed with Nashville to be the Predators’ first-line center but played just two games before getting hurt. What was first classified as an “upper-body injury” (I love how hockey describes injuries) was finally diagnosed as a concussion. Lombardi is being listed as week-to-week, and given that uncertain timetable, it is pretty clear that he is not progressing towards a quick return. Given what we have seen with concussion recoveries, feel free to dump Lombardi in shallower leagues.

Marian Hossa, RW, CHI – Hossa got off to a brilliant start with 11 points in his first seven games, but he had gone scoreless in four straight before being injured Wednesday night against Los Angeles. Like Lombardi, what was termed as “upper body” now appears to be a concussion that will sideline Hossa for a few weeks. If there is any good news, it’s that the injury will not require surgery, but Hossa’s return date is in question since it is unclear when his symptoms will clear up.

Simon Gagne, LW, TB – Gagne, who has missed long stretches of time in two of last three years, is now sidelined with another injury. The good news is that a concussion has been ruled out. The bad news is that Gagne is no closer to returning to action than he was originally. Prior to getting injured, was scoreless in his first six games as a member of the Lightning. However, when he does come back, you have little choice but to activate him because he has shown he can be a top talent.

Craig Anderson, G, COL – Anderson injured his knee during warm-ups prior to Tuesday's game against Vancouver and is out indefinitely. The good news is that Anderson will not need surgery and the hope is that he will be back in a month. Anderson, who put the Avalanche on his back and carried them to the playoffs last year, was struggling prior to the injury. He will be replaced between the pipes by Peter Budaj.

Others include: Jason Spezza, Jordan Staal (close to returning), Alexandre Burrows (back soon), Kris Versteeg, Kristian Huselius, Michael Grabner, Colby Armstrong, Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Johnny Boychuk, Brian Campbell (close to returning), Pascal Leclaire and Varlamov.

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Erik Christensen, C, NYR – Christensen closed last season, and opened this season, as the Rangers’ top-line center. However, he was demoted after recording just two points in seven games. A groin/leg injury hampered Christensen a bit in the early going, and it is admittedly hard to get the offense going without Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury in the lineup. Christensen is skating on the third line with Alex Frolov and Brandon Prust for now.

Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB – After notching 108 points in 2006-07 and 92 in 2007-08 to seemingly put his name into the pantheon of NHL centers, Lecavalier took a major step backward the last two seasons. Injuries and incompetent linemates contributed to his woes last year, but there was hope that the hiring of a new coach would spur Vinny on. So far that has not been the case – Lecavalier has five points in eight games – and he is no longer the top centerman on his team, having been surpassed by Steven Stamkos. Maybe the eventual return of Simon Gagne will help Vinny, but don’t count on it.

Chris Higgins, LW, FLA – Rangers fans expected Higgins to rebound when he arrived on Broadway last year. However, his stay was short and he was sent to Calgary last February. Higgins did little there and signed a one-year deal in the offseason with the Panthers, who hoped that he could replace the departed Nathan Horton. Higgins is scoreless through seven games and has been moved down to the third line.

Nikita Filatov, LW, CMB – As noted in my first column of the year, I was one who was drinking the Filatov Kool-Aid. Filatov, selected sixth overall in 2007, returned to Columbus after a year in the KHL following his struggles playing under former coach Ken Hitchcock. Filatov is still only 20 and in terms of pure untapped talent, he is as good as any player in the world. Filatov possesses game-breaking speed and a dizzying arsenal of moves and shots that could make him a perennial 40-goal player someday. Filatov began the season on the Blue Jackets' second line, skating with fellow young guns Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, but coach Scott Arniel moved him down to the fourth line after a slow start. Filatov has not lost his confidence and seems willing to improve and work his way back up, but wait to see some signs of life before activating him.

Kevin Bieksa, D, VAN – Bieksa missed a significant amount of time last year after suffering a laceration to his leg, which explains his drop in point production. Bieksa opened the season on the Canucks’ top defensive pairing and entered the season healthy, which makes his recent struggles so surprising. Bieksa is scoreless through nine games, which is very puzzling given the fact the Canucks’ two main defensive additions, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, have been sidelined with injuries.

Antti Niemi, G, SAN – Niemi’s wild ride over the last two years, in which he wrested the starting job away from Cristobal Huet, led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory, and was awarded $2.75 million in arbitration before being released by Chicago and signing with San Jose, may now be getting wilder. Niemi was pulled from Sunday's game against Calgary after surrendering three goals in the first period, and he appears to be on the wrong end of the Sharks’ goaltending tandem. Niemi only came up with two saves in a little over eight and a half minutes of ice time before head coach Todd McLellan replaced him with Antero Niittymaki. The Sharks struggled mightily as a team, though the Flames certainly deserve credit for playing a quick transition game and scoring on the power play. Niemi is a hero in Chicago, but he has been terrible in teal. He ranks dead last in goals-against average (4.49) and save percentage (.854) among netminders that have made at least three starts this season. Niittymaki is now 3-0-1 between the pipes and could be in line to see most of the action in net for San Jose.

Others include: Andrei Loktionov, Derek Stepan, Nikolai Antropov, Petr Prucha, Jiri Hudler, Rick Nash, Michael Frolik, Devin Setoguchi, Mike Knuble, Sami Lepisto, Kimmo Timonen, John Carlson, Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur.