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NHL Barometer: A Peek at a Point-Producing Penguin

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 last year’s third overall pick on a roll in Colorado, a veteran getting it done as Desert Dog, a top center in the Hub on the verge of returning, and two young d-men struggling.

First Liners (Risers)

Nazem Kadri, C, TOR – Kadri was elevated to the center spot on the Maple Leafs’ top line with Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur prior to Toronto’s contest against Tampa Bay Tuesday; but the move might be short-lived since Kadri was seeing more and more time on the bench by the third period. He seemed to be a step behind on some of his defensive assignments, something we had worried about when we learned of the promotion. An example? Kadri won just three of 16 face-offs through 40 minutes before he was replaced on the top line. He may be better served on the wing, where he had played seven straight games after his promotion. Negative aside, Kadri does have tremendous talent; and even if he is shuffled between the top and third line, he should provide enough production to warrant a roster spot in deeper leagues.

Matt Duchene, C, COL – Duchene, the third overall pick in 2009 NHL Entry Draft, is proving that his fine rookie campaign was no fluke. Last year, Duchene enjoyed a very successful rookie season with the Avalanche, finishing third in scoring with 55 points, and second in goals with 24. Among NHL rookies, he finished first in points, and tied for first in goals. Despite this, Duchene finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, behind winner Tyler Myers and second-place finisher Jimmy Howard. Duchene has lit the lamp in four straight games while notching 11 of his 22 points in the past 10 games. Look for Colorado to rely even more on Duchene with Chris Stewart out for at least the next month.

David Backes, C, STL – Heading into the year, it looked like Backes' 31 goals and 54 points in 2008-09 were a fluke. Backes fell back to 17 tallies and his shooting percentage dropped 4.5% last season. Lately, he is doing his best to prove the doubters wrong - he had a goal and three assists in Tuesday's loss to Chicago, giving him 17 points for the year, including 12 in his last 10 contests. Overall, Backes has been very inconsistent, but he does have points in seven of his last nine games, so roll with him while he is hot.

Ray Whitney, LW, PHX – The Coyotes brought in Whitney to be a veteran presence in the locker room while also providing power play production. Through October, Phoenix and Whitney owners, including yours truly, were extremely frustrated as Whitney had just three points in eight games. November saw a major turnaround with Whitney notching 13 points, including 10 in his last 12 contests. This resurgence is due to Whitney slowly getting healthy; and working alongside Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal has been an added benefit.

Ryan Malone, LW, TB – Malone set up two goals, including one on the power play, in Tampa's shootout loss to Florida Saturday, and he also added a goal in Tuesday’s contest. Malone has finally stopped hitting the snooze button and has five points and nine PIM in his last five games. It seems like he's on the cusp of something special. Make sure he's active.

Kris Letang, D, PIT – Letang had a disappointing 2009-10 campaign, but the Penguins still entered this season counting on him to replace the production lost when Sergei Gonchar went to Ottawa. So far, Letang has met the challenge. Letang notched a game-winning goal Monday in a win over the Rangers and has four points in the last two contests. Letang is second in the league in points among defensemen and remains a must-play. He is a plus-12 and has scored 23 points, and all signs point to him making the All-Star team.

Marek Zidlicky, D, MIN – Zidlicky, who has battled a leg injury lately, has been productive when he has been on the ice. Zidlicky has 12 points in 17 games, and given his production in four of the last five years, he should be good for 40+ points again this season. Start him with confidence.

Corey Crawford, G, CHI – Despite allowing five goals on 26 shots in Chicago’s 7-5 win over the Blues Tuesday, Crawford has clearly been outplaying Marty Turco of late. However, Tuesday's poor effort has Crawford and the bench and Turco in the starting lineup for Chicago's game Friday against Vancouver. The situation is fluid, but Crawford started three straight games and has won his last five starts. He still has a bit of a leg up on Turco, but that could change if Turco gets hot.

Rick DiPietro, G, NYI – The coaching change on Long Island appears to have benefitted DiPietro. Former coach Scott Gordon appeared frustrated with DiPietro and was unafraid to play Dwayne Roloson between the pipes, but interim coach Jack Capuano is leaning on DP. DiPietro has been playing a little better over his last four starts, going 1-1-2 with a 3.20 GAA and .903 save percentage. That said, keep in mind there's still a lot of risk in rolling him in most matchups given his inconsistency and the lack of offensive support he generally receives from the squad in front of him.

Others include: Andy McDonald, Mike Ribeiro, Gary Mauldin, Martin Hanzal, Rich Peverley, Teddy Purcell, Nikolai Kulemin, Dany Heatley, Andrew Ladd, Joffrey Lupul (inching closer to return), Ryane Clowe, Jarome Iginla, Jamie Benn, Tuomo Ruutu, Daniel Cleary, Justin Braun, Alec Martinez, Cam Fowler, Dustin Byfuglien, Brett Clark, Kevin Shattenkirk, Michal Rozsival, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ondrej Pavelec, Jean-Sebastien Giguere (returning to action), Johan Hedberg, Semyon Varlamov and Tim Thomas.

Training Room (Injuries)

Chris Drury, C, NYR – Drury, who broke a finger during training camp while blocking a shot, re-broke that finger in his first game back on October 15. All signs pointed to him possibly returning this weekend, but a CT scan Tuesday revealed that the finger is not yet fully healed. Drury will skate with a stick later this week before being allowed to return to practice and contact drills; and the hope is that he may able to play in a game in about a week.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, C, MIN – Bouchard, who had been out since October 3, 2009 due to a concussion, returned to Minnesota’s lineup Wednesday against the Coyotes. Bouchard has missed so much time the last two seasons that you need to wait and see how much ice time he gets and who he plays with before either picking him up or activating him. With Matt Cullen’s ability to play wing, I expect Bouchard to ultimately slide in as the Wild’s second-line center due to his play-making touch. If he is available, it’s probably worthwhile to grab and stash Bouchard. When healthy, Bouchard is probably good for about two points every three games, if not a little more.

Marc Savard, C, BOS – Savard, out since March with a Grade 2 concussion, appears to be nearing a return to action; and he could be back as early as Saturday. A clear sign that Savard is on the verge of game action was the Bruins’ decision to trade Matt Hunwick and open up the $1.1 million in salary in order to be cap compliant and enable Savard’s return. Once Savard does play, it may take him a while to get his sea legs and re-adjust to contact, but his play-making ability will be a boon for the B’s and his owners.

Chris Stewart, LW, COL – Stewart broke his left hand by hitting it on Kyle Brodziak’s helmet during a fight last Saturday, so he will undergo surgery this week and is expected to be out 4-to-6 weeks. This is a major setback, both for the Avs and fantasy owners alike, as everyone was enjoying watching Stewart successfully follow up last year’s breakout season. There is not much else to do except stash him on your bench and hope he comes back ahead of schedule. In the meantime, look for Colorado to rely more on Matt Duchene, Milak Hejduk, and Greg Mauldin.

Simon Gagne, LW, TB – Gagne, who missed 18 gamed with a head/neck injury, made a successful return to action Tuesday, scoring the game-winning goal against Toronto. Prior to the injury, Gagne had no points in six games and was being viewed as a major disappointment in the Sunshine State. It’s not clear who Gagne will skate with, especially when Vincent Lecavalier returns from his injury, but look for him to be on a scoring line and be productive with whomever he skates.

Marian Hossa, LW, CHI – Hossa is expected to miss 2-to-3 weeks with a lower body injury that he suffered after colliding with Nick Boynton Monday. Hossa has been up-and-down this year while dealing with minor ailments, and this injury comes just as he was getting on a mini hot streak.

Others include: Matthew Lombardi, Tim Connolly, Mike Modano (out until at least February), David Perron, Doug Weight, Jamie Langenbrunner, Kristian Huselius (possibly just a few weeks away), Trent Hunter, Jason Demers, Kevin Bieksa, Bryan Allen and Nikolai Khabibulin (back in action shortly).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Tyler Bozak, C, TOR – Hockey can be a zero-sum game. When one player goes up, the other must go down. In Toronto, Nazem Kadri is on the upswing and Bozak has been demoted to third-line center. Bozak has struggled this year with just seven points in 23 games, and even if he moves back to the top grouping, it’s only a matter of time before another change happens due to Kadri’s presence.

Alex Frolov, LW, NYR – Frolov’s goal production dropped from 32 to 19 goals last year, so the Kings decided to let him give free agency a try. The Rangers signed him to a one-year deal with the hopes that he could revive his game alongside Marian Gaborik. So far that has not been the case, as Frolov has just five goals and 11 points in 26 games, including just one in his last nine contests. Frolov also saw no power play time Monday and may have ended up firmly in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse.

Jiri Hudler, LW, DET – Hudler played last season in the KHL, and though his return was greeted with fanfare in Detroit, he has been a major disappointment. Hudler was expected to build off the growth he showed in his first three full seasons with the Red Wings (including a 57-point season in 2008-09) and provide secondary scoring. Hudler has notched just six points in 19 games and was a healthy scratch last week. Hudler is still getting some PP time, so hope is not completely lost, but it is tough using him right now since his status is apparently being determined on a game-by-game basis.

Victor Hedman, D, TB – Hedman scored his first goal of the season on November 24, but other than that, he was basically invisible in November. Hedman had three points in 14 games, and he has just 10 total in 25 games this season. That is a mild improvement over last season, but not the growth expected from him in his second year. Hedman is going through growing pains similar to Michael Del Zotto and Tyler Myers, so expect struggles from him this year. Still, the future looks bright for last year’s second overall pick.

P.K. Subban, D, MTL – We profiled Subban earlier in the year, but his healthy scratch Thursday warrants another mention. Subban’s nine points in 25 games is disappointing since much more was expected from him given his fine AHL season and last year’s playoff performance. He may be taking on too much pressure following the loss of Andrei Markov, but like Hedman, the future remains bright. Unfortunately, this might not be the year he breaks out.

Marty Turco, G, CHI – As mentioned with Kadri and Bozak, hockey is at times a zero-sum game, and that is never more true with goalies. Since only one player can play net, that means someone else is watching from the bench. In Chicago’s case (and unfortunately for me as an owner of him) it looks like Turco is becoming the odd man out with Corey Crawford taking over the top spot. Crawford started three straight games and four of the last five, and save for a so-so outing his last start, he was brilliant between the pipes. Turco has a 2.90 goals against average and .904 save percentage, while Crawford is at 2.38 and .914, respectively. Turco gets another shot Friday, and his chance to hold on to the job may depend on how well he plays in the near future.

Others include: Artem Anisimov, Josh Bailey, Nikita Filatov, Sergei Kostitsyn, Devin Setoguchi, Sergei Samsonov, P.A. Parenteau, Jordan Leopold, Ian White, Fedor Tyutin, Matt Gilroy, Michal Neuvirth, Dwayne Roloson and Tuukka Rask.