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NHL Barometer: Keith Back on Track

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 rookie raising ‘Cane, Old Man River getting it done in Anaheim, the Devils’ top sniper out for half the year, and last season’s Calder Trophy winner enduring a sophomore slump.

First Liners (Risers)

Jeffrey Skinner, C, CAR – Skinner made the most of a move to the top line with Eric Staal and Chad LaRose by scoring a power play goal and adding an assist in Wednesday's contest against the Islanders. Skinner, the youngest player in the NHL, has 10 points in 12 games and has not looked out of place at all. All the caveats that come with owning a rookie and current year draft pick apply, but ride Skinner while he is hot and hope it does not end.

Ryan Kesler, C, VAN – Kesler scored Monday in his third straight game; and after being shut out Tuesday, he lit the lamp again Thursday. Kesler broke out last season, excelling in both the NHL and in the Olympics, but got off to a slow start this season. The poor showing looks to be a thing of the past, so look for Kesler to produce across the board, including in the hits and blocked shots areas.

Loui Eriksson, LW, DAL – Eriksson scored twice and added an assist in a 5-2 win over the visiting Penguins on Wednesday. Eriksson scored on a second-period penalty shot and then on an unassisted goal early in the final frame to move his total to seven for the season. With his six assists, Eriksson is taking aim at his previous career highs of 36 goals set two years ago and 42 assists he put up last season. He is also a plus-11 for the season, a testament to his two-way play and evidence of his overall value.

Alex Burrows, RW, VAN – Burrows built upon his breakout in the second half of the 2008-09 season and became a legit offensive force for the Canucks last season. The 29-year-old winger led the team with 35 goals while dishing out a career-best 32 assists and racking up 121 penalty minutes. The gritty Burrows underwent shoulder surgery this offseason to repair a torn labrum that plagued him for the stretch run and the playoffs last year. That surgery sidelined him until Tuesday, when Burrows made his return to action. If for some reason Burrows was out there on your waiver wire, jump all over him. He will play on one of the top two lines in Vancouver.

Teemu Selanne, RW, ANA – Selanne scored once and added an assist in Anaheim’s 3-2 overtime win Wednesday. Selanne has now recorded two points in four of his last five games, giving him 14 points in 13 games; and he has been especially effective with the man advantage - five of his six goals have come on the power play. He is no longer the 90-point threat as he was five years ago, but he is still a tremendous offensive asset at 41 years young.

Duncan Keith, D, CHI – The reigning Norris Trophy winner got off to a slow start, which put most of his owners in a state of panic. Keith rebounded from that sluggish start and was named the NHL's third star last week, leading all defensemen with seven points in three games. Keith now has 12 points in 15 games, and while he may have the occasional bump in the road, he should remain a top-scoring fantasy blue liner.

Ed Jovanovski, D, NYI – Jovanovski notched a hat trick Wednesday – his first three goals of the season – to lead Phoenix to a 4-3 win over Nashville. Jovo-cop now has nine points in 10 games after scoring 36 and 34 the past two seasons. While it’s unlikely that Jovanovski will match the 51 points he scored in 2007-08, he should see an uptick in production as the main d-man in the desert.

Cam Ward, G, CAR – Ward denied 31 of the 33 Islanders’ shots in a 7-2 win Wednesday. Ward is still searching for a shutout, but he has allowed more than three goals only once this season. Ward is 6-4-0 n the season, and while Carolina will be up and down and may struggle offensively at times, Ward is the clear-cut top dog for the Hurricanes this season. He makes for a decent No. 1 fantasy goalie (or a stellar No. 2 option) at this time.

Brian Elliott, G, OTT – Despite Pascal Leclaire’s pending return, one has to wonder if Elliott has done enough to once again steal the top spot. Elliott defeated the Islanders 4-1 Thursday and has now won four times in his last five starts. Elliott started 10 games while Leclaire was out and went 6-4-0 in the stretch. Elliott has an average goals-against average and save percentage; but he has played better, and so have the Senators, which could allow him to remain between the pipes even with Leclaire returning.

Others include: Jarret Stoll, Derick Brassard, Brandon Dubinsky, Rich Peverley, Mikko Koivu, David Krejci, Michael Ryder, Ryan Callahan, Andrew Ladd, Niclas Bergfors, Justin Williams, Claude Giroux, Viktor Stalberg, Milan Lucic, Chris Stewart, Alexander Semin, Andrei Kostitsyn, Nikolai Kulemin, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley, Kevin Shattenkirk, Drew Doughty (back in action), Kimmo Timonen, Jordan Leopold, Brian Campbell, Joe Corvo, Chris Pronger, Zach Bogosian, Andrei Markov, Johan Hedberg, Brent Johnson, Jaroslav Halak, Roberto Luongo, Sergei Bobrovsky, Mathieu Garon, Dan Ellis, Antero Niittymaki and Peter Budaj.

Training Room (Injuries)

Peter Mueller, C, COL – Mueller (concussion) will play for the Avs again this year and could return to the ice by the end of December, but according to the Avs, he remains out indefinitely. This is the first word of any kind that we have heard on Mueller's condition since his injury in the preseason, but let's be clear - Mueller has not resumed skating and his return to the lineup is still a long way off. That said, Mueller exploded with 15 points in 20 games after joining the Avalanche and should be grabbed in deeper league for his upside.

Jordan Staal, C, NAS – In what seems to be a weekly appearance, Jordan Staal is once again on the Training Room portion of this column. Just when he was about to make his season debut for Pittsburgh after being sidelined with a foot infection, Staal was injured again. This time, it’s a broken hand, suffered when a puck hit him in practice Monday. The latest injury will sideline Staal about six weeks. The snake-bit year continues for Staal.

Zach Parise, RW, NJD – The Devils’ difficult and injury-prone year got worse this week with the news that Parise will be out three months. Parise was first bothered by the knee in August and struggled during the early part of the year, and he recently decided to undergo exploratory arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. The good news is the cartilage and ligaments were intact and only the meniscus needed to be repaired, which will aid the recovery process and prevent any long-term issues.

Kristian Huselius, RW, CMB – The injury that sidelined Huselius since October 23 has now been diagnosed as a high left ankle sprain, and he could be out of action as long as six weeks. Huselius, who was hurt blocking a shot, had five points in seven games before getting hurt. Since he has been out, Columbus has found chemistry in the Nash-Brassard-Voracek line, meaning that Huselius will see second-line duty at best when he is ready to return to action.

Dion Phaneuf, D, TOR – Phaneuf suffered a deep leg laceration Tuesday against Ottawa and underwent surgery that will sideline him 4-to-6 weeks. In terms of severity, Phaneuf got relatively lucky considering we have seen similar injuries keep players on the sidelines a lot longer. That said, Toronto will be without their workhorse d-man until sometime in December, so the team will have to rely on Tomas Kaberle even more.

Others include: Nathan Gerbe, Dave Bolland, Guillaume Latendresse, Antti Miettinen, Simon Gagne, Martin Erat, Joni Pitkanen, Kris Letang, Tom Poti, Carlo Colaiacovo and Martin Brodeur.

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Derek Stepan, C, NYR – Stepan had a hat trick in his Rangers’ debut, but he has struggled to do much since. Stepan has just two assists in his last 11 games and has been dropped from the first to fourth line in New York. With Vaclav Prospal, Chris Drury, and Marian Gaborik all still sidelined with injuries, Stepan should remain with the Blueshirts. However, when Gabby and Drury return, coach John Tortorella and GM Glen Sather will need to decide if it’s worth having Stepan play nine minutes a night on the fourth line. Even if Stepan gets sent to the minors to see top-line minutes, his tremendous upside means he should be held onto in keeper leagues.

Jiri Hudler, LW, DET – Hudler was a healthy scratch in the Wings’ last two games, but he is expected to return to the lineup Friday. Assuming Hudler plays, it seems likely that one of the fourth-liners will end up getting scratched with Justin Abdelkader sliding down to take that spot and ultimately vacating Hudler's old place on the third line with Mike Modano and Dan Cleary. Skating with Modano and Cleary is okay, but since it is not the same as skating with players like Bertuzzi, Datsyuk, or Franzen, downgrade his short-term value until the lines change again.

Shane Doan, RW, PHX – Doan has yet to record a goal in eight games. Doan has traditionally started off very slowly, but he usually picks up the pace towards the middle and end of the season. On a Coyotes' squad where there is no one clear goal scorer, Doan not being able to light the lamp is a concern. If you own him, hope that Doan’s traditional scoring pattern kicks in sooner rather than later.

Tyler Myers, D, BUF – Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is not considering making Myers a healthy scratch just yet despite a nightmare start to the season for the defending Calder Trophy winner. That such a move is even a consideration speaks volumes to just how bad Myers has been for Buffalo early this season. Myers owners who headed into the season thinking they had a superstar defenseman now also have to contemplate putting him on their bench, if he is not there already.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, TOR – Giguere hasn’t played that poorly, but he has just one win in four games over the past two weeks. The Toronto netminding job is a time-share between Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, with Giguere seeing the lion’s share of the time. That said, the expectation is that at some time the Monster will take over Giguer’s role as the Maple Leafs; top goaltender. With Toronto scuffling and unable to score lately, bench Giguere; and if already plotting for the future, trade him because he will eventually be benched or moved.

Others include: Andrei Loktionov, Mark Letestu, Tyler Ennis, Steve Sullivan, Antoine Vermette, Kris Versteeg, Phil Kessel, Wojtek Wolski, Nikolay Zherdev, Patrik Elias, Alexander Frolov, Jussi Jokinen, Kyle Quincey, Fedor Tyutin, Jason Demers, Dimitri Kulikov, Anton Stralman, Ryan Miller, Antti Niemi and Steve Mason.