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NHL Barometer: Risers, Fallers

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 two of the top centers drafted in 2010 and 2011 off to strong starts, the Big Pavelski bowling them down, a scary injury for Philly's top D-man and the top netminder in St. Louis struggling - and it's not due to the bullpen phone.

First Liners (Risers)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM -
Nugent-Hopkins is likely to stay with the Oilers for the season. There had been speculation that Edmonton could send RNH back to juniors after his ninth game, saving a year on his entry-level contract, but his eight points in eight games likely changed the team's mind. Before 40 games, he can still be sent back, saving a year of free agency, but if he stays on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, he could crack 60 points.

Alex Burmistrov, C, WPG -
Burmistrov managed just six goals and 14 assists for 20 points last year after being selected eighth overall in the 2010 entry draft. The view heading into the season was that Burmistrov's talent would start to shine through this year with a true breakout occurring the following season. After a slow start, Burmistrov may be making strides toward having that breakout year now, notching six points in his last five games while skating with Nik Antropov and Evander Kane.

Joffrey Lupul, LW, TOR -
What RotoWire wrote in Lupul's preseason outlook has proven prophetic: "injuries in his prime development years pretty much flat-lined Lupul's growth and he's been an underachiever everywhere. He didn't exactly explode after his arrival in Toronto last year but he was still getting back into game shape. And there were signs that Lupul was developing some chemistry with linemate Phil Kessel." Lupul has nine points in eight games while skating on a line with Kessel, and as long as that pairing remains in place, he should continue to produce.

Joe Pavelski, RW, SJ -
Pavelski potted two goals, including one into an empty net, in San Jose's 3-1 win Tuesday over the Predators. The Big Pavelski now has six goals and two assists in seven games, thriving on the top line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Ranked ninth in the NHL with 30 shot attempts, Pavelski appears to be having an easy time positioning himself within striking distance of the net. He went from 51 to 66 points last year; now that he is on the top line, 75 could be within striking distance.

Matt D'Agostini, RW, STL -
D'Agostini scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season Saturday night in the Blues' 4-2 win over the Flyers. D'Agostini has worked hard since being dropped to the fourth line to start Friday night's game against the Hurricanes. He used it as motivation and was bumped up in-game Friday and started Saturday on the second line. He has rifled off nine shots and scored twice in the last two games. D'Agostini had a breakthrough with 21 goals and 25 assists last year, and St. Louis, as well as his owners, would be ecstatic if he can match that production this season.

Jack Johnson, D, LA -
With Drew Doughty in LA, Johnson sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but he has started off well in 2011-12. Johnson has three goals and two assists in eight games, following a year in which he set a career high in points (42), thanks to 25 helpers with the man advantage, but still sported an ugly minus-21 due to his lack of production at even strength. This year, LA has added some firepower, and so far it has paid off and helped Johnson, on the power play and at even strength, as he is a plus-four.

Sami Salo, D, VAN -
It just seems Salo has been around forever; and at 37, he nearly has. Last year, Salo was limited by injuries once again, returning in mid-February, scoring nine points in 27 games. In just nine games this year, Salo has equaled his production of a year ago while also playing in his 700th game. There is always the injury risk when it comes to Salo, but when healthy he should continue to see top-four defensive minutes with solid playing time on the man advantage. On a powerful Vancouver team, that is fantasy gold.

Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA -
Markstrom likely only made the Panthers as the team's No. 2 goalie because Scott Clemmensen opened the year on injured reserve, recovering from knee surgery. The expectation was that he would only see minimal action, giving top goalie, and offseason signee, Jose Theodore a breather. Well, Theodore left Saturday's game with a minor core injury and all Markstrom has done is stopped 58 of 59 shots in two games while looking like an elite goalie Monday against Montreal. I am not saying that Theodore is in trouble, but Markstrom is Florida's goalie of the future and that future could be sooner than we thought.

Nikolai Khabibulin, G, EDM -
To show how quickly someone can go from a riser to faller and vice versa, two weeks Devan Dubnyk was profiled as a riser as it looked like he was the clear No. 1 netminder in Edmonton. Now, that is not the case as Khabibulin has turned back the clock. The Bulin Wall picked up the win Tuesday against Vancouver, his third straight start, and has allowed just five goals in his five starts, which appears to have given him a leg up in the competition for early playing time.

Others include Roman Horak, Jordan Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Jason Spezza, Jason Arnott, Valteri Filppula, Ryan O'Reilly, Derek Brassard, Patrik Elias, Kyle Wellwood, Vincent Lecavalier, Tomas Plekanec, Jaromir Jagr, Pascal Dupuis, Teemu Selanne, Marian Hossa, Jeff Skinner, Scott Hartnell, Ruslan Fedotenko, Nick Palmieri, Ryan Malone, Milan Michalek,, Vaclav Prospal, Kessel, Corey Potter, Ryan McDonagh, John-Michael Liles, Grant Clitsome, James Wisniewski, Yannick Weber, Victor Hedman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dimitry Kulikov, Duncan Keith, Marc-Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi, Johan Hedberg, Brian Elliott, Mathieu Garon, Cory Schneider, Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Quick.

Training Room (Injuries)

Tim Connolly, C, TOR -
Connolly (upper body) will make his season debut Thursday against the Rangers. He'll start with the white-hot Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, with whom he practiced Wednesday. But according to coach Ron Wilson, Connolly will be replaced on that line at the first sign of "huffing and puffing." Injury and Connolly seem to always be in the same sentence, but if he can stay healthy - a big "if" - he should be very productive with those linemates. However, it may take him a bit to round into shape, so temper your expectations - he's going to be rusty

Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT -
Malkin, out recovering from spring knee surgery, made his season debut Tuesday. The Malkin-James Neal-Steve Sullivan line did everything but score during a four-minute third-period power play. The line dominated action, and it would be amazing if the three skaters get shutout again in the rematch Thursday night. For his part, Malkin finished with 19:19 TOI on 20 shifts. He is experiencing some general soreness, and did not practice Wednesday, but is expected to play Thursday and should be in the lineup going forward.

Peter Mueller, LW, COL -
Mueller, sidelined with a head injury, did not play Wednesday against Calgary. Mueller, who missed all of last season with a concussion, has played in just three games so far this season and has yet to record a point. There is still no timetable for his return, so make sure he is not on your active fantasy roster. Given his injury history, he may be sidelined long-term.

Drew Doughty, D, LA -
Doughty, out since Oct. 15 with an upper body injury, was a full participant at Wednesday's practice and could return to the lineup Thursday. The Kings play three games in four nights starting Thursday, and if Doughty doesn't play Thursday, he should return at some point during this stretch. Jack Johnson and Vyacheslav Voynov have helped fill the void left by Doughty's absence, but LA will be more than happy to get its top D-man back in the lineup.

Chris Pronger, D, PHI -
Pronger lost his vision briefly when he was hit in the face by Mikhail Grabovski's stick and will be sidelined 2-3 weeks. Pronger has to consider himself fortunate that the injury was not worse, as we saw what can happen when a stick hits the eye when Bryan Berard was injured and what could have happen to Francois Beauchemin, whose vision likely was saved by wearing a visor when he was hit by a shot. Pronger will need to wear a visor to be cleared to return and this injury has started anew the arguments for mandatory face shields/visors, which is something the NHL and NHLPA need to get done ASAP before we have a tragic accident.

Ryan Whitney, D, EDM -
Profiled Whitney two weeks when he was on the verge of returning from the ankle injury that ended his 2010-11 campaign after only 35 games. In his fourth game after returning, Whitney suffered another injury; this time, a sprained knee after colliding with Corey Potter. This injury is expected to sideline him 1-2 weeks, during which Potter and Tom Gilbert could be the primary beneficiaries of his absence.

Others include Mike Fisher (knee surgery, returned to action Tuesday), Mikael Backlund (broken finger, back Nov. 3?), Jacob Josefson (broken clavicle, out 3-to-4 months), Tyler Ennis (ankle, week-to-week), Ales Hemsky (shoulder, may end up on IR), Mikael Samuelsson (adductor/sports hernia, DTD), Andrei Markov (knee, week-to-week) and Martin Brodeur (shoulder, may be back before end of Devils' current road trip).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Cody Hodgson, C, VAN -
Long term, Hodgson's value and prospects are bright; short term, not so much. Hodgson began the year on the second line, partially due to Ryan Kesler's absence. When Kesler returned, Hogdson remained on that line, but shifted to left wing. Last week, Vancouver acquired David Booth, bumping Hodgson down to the third line. He should continue to see about 14 minutes a game, but likely will lose some PP TOI, reducing his value.

Patric Hornqvist, LW, NAS -
Hornqvist has been somewhat limited by a lower-body injury, but that doesn't fully explain his lack of production. More likely, his drop is caused because he's still not seeing the kind of minutes he did the last two seasons when he averaged more than 15 minutes per contest. In addition, he played on a checking line with Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk, which further limits his fantasy appeal. Hornqvist has also seen time on the top line and on the power play, but for now, there are better fantasy options out there.

Kevin Bieksa, D, VAN -
Bieksa has just one point and a minus-9 rating in 10 starts. This is a disappointing start for the Bieksa to say the least. Last year's plus/minus machine (plus-32) is playing like a mere shadow of himself. He still sees a good amount of time on ice, but has yet to post a single plus/minus in the green. If you don't think I am an unhappy Bieksa owner, you don't know me too well.

Jaroslav Halak, G, STL -
Halak, who has not played since getting pulled from an Oct. 18 game against LA, is tentatively slated to play Friday, though that could change given Brian Elliot's shutout Wednesday. Halak allowed four goals on 18 shots before being pulled in that game, and after five starts, Halak has allowed 3.47 goals per game with an .835 save percentage. Contrast that with Elliott, who has won three straight starts and has a 1.59 goals against average and .950 save percentage in five starts. Elliott has been inconsistent in the past, but given how hot he is coupled with Halak's pre-season and in-season struggles, Halak could continue to ride the pine and/or see minimal action.

Others include Marc Scheifele (back to juniors), David Legward (scoreless in four after hot start, normal regression), Artem Anisimov (down to fourth line), Blake Wheeler (two assists in eight games), Nikolai Kulemin (up-and-down start), Brandon Dubinsky (back to center due to team's offensive and his struggles), Kyle Okposo (his whole line is struggling), Ville Leino (will move back to wing jumpstart his game?), Marek Zidlicky (just two points in eight games), Dustin Byfuglien (is weight an issue and will he be moved back to forward?), P.K. Subban (not horrible but slower start than hoped for), Dwayne Roloson (struggling and losing time to Garon) and Carey Price (slow start but solid in win Wednesday).