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NHL Barometer: Crosby Comeback Close

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 the top-line center in the Hub propelling the HuLK line, Ol' Man River rolling along in Phoenix, Sid the Kid on the verge of returning and a pair of former Calder Trophy winners slumping.

First Liners (Risers)

Craig Smith, C, NAS -
Smith had two goals and an assist Wednesday as Nashville downed Anaheim 4-2. He got off to a hot start with four points his first two games, before hitting a bit of a skid with no points the next four contests. Smith has turned it around and now has 14 points (7G, 7A) through 15 games while also benefiting from David Legwand's injury. Smith is not shy about firing the puck, as he also has 45 shots on net already, which should help him remain productive.

David Krejci, C, BOS -
Krejci had two assists and an empty-net goal Monday in Boston's win over the Islanders. After a very slow start, Krejci has two goals and four assists in his last two games. The HuLK line with Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Krejci should be productive all season, giving Krejci, who exploded in last year's Stanley Cup run, a chance to exceed the 62 points he scored last season.

Johan Franzen, RW, DET -
Franzen delivered a hat trick - including a pair of power-play goals - against Colorado on Tuesday. He tipped in a pair of shots from Valtteri Filppula and Nicklas Lidstrom before capping off the hat trick with an empty-netter in the third period. After going six games without a point while the Detroit offense failed to generate goals, Franzen has picked up six points in his last two games. Franzen got off to a hot start last year before scoring just twice in his last 27 games, so the challenge for him this season is to try and avoid the big ebbs-and-flows in output.

Ray Whitney, LW, PHX -
Ol' man river just keeps rolling along. Every time you think he is washed up and dead, Whitney rises like Freddy, Jason etc. to make all the naysayers look stupid. He capped the scoring Saturday with an empty-netter as Phoenix beat a surprising Edmonton team, 4-2. Whitney also threw in an assist and finished the night plus-two, giving him 14 points along with a plus-four in 13 games. It's likely that Whitney won't continue to score at a point a game pace, but he has scored at least 55 points the last five years; boding well for the year.

Brett Connolly, LW, TB -
One could tag the early season as the Rise of the Rookie and Connolly is doing his best to continue that. He netted a game-winning goal in overtime Wednesday for his third of the year and has not looked out of place at all in Tampa Bay. Connolly has tremendous hockey sense, the willingness to get dirty along with skill and speed; all of which should make him an elite scorer in the future. His value this year is good but those in keeper leagues need to jump on the bandwagon now before there is no more room.

Dmitry Kulikov, D, FLA -
Kulikov has been an assists machine racking up eight assists over his last eight games played, giving him 10 in 14 contests on the year. Kulikov, the former 2009 first-round pick, has really picked up his game making him an attractive fantasy option. While there may be some dips in production throughout the season, the long-term options are looking good, especially on an improved Florida offense.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL -
Shattenkirk assisted on two goals Tuesday in the Blues' 3-0 win over the Blackhawks. While much of the focus heading into the year was on Alex Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk now leads St. Louis in assists with eight after a run in which he's registered six helpers in the last six games. Shattenkirk exploded on the scene last year in Colorado before he was dealt to the Arch City, where he scored 17 points in 26 games. The Blues as a whole were scuffling, prompting the firing of David Payne and hiring of Ken Hitchcock. Shattenkrik will need to be up the challenge defensively, but if he is, he should see lots of ice time under Hitch.

Miikka Kiprusoff, G, CGY -
Despite the loss Tuesday, Kiprusoff is hot to a solid start, posting a 2.18 goals-against average (GAA) and .925 save percentage (SV%) in 11 starts. Kipper has played at least 71 games the past six seasons, though coach Brent Sutter has stated that he plays on using Henrik Karlsson more and won't play Kiprusoff 70 games this year. Time will tell if Sutter makes good on that pledge, but even if he does, Kipper will see enough action to have 35 or more wins, as he has done the past six seasons.

Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL -
Lehtonen has long been touted as having the potential to be an elite NHL starting goaltender, but he's had trouble living up to those expectations until now, largely due to injuries. However, with an 11-1-0 record, Lehtonen is the surprise leader in goalie wins so far this season. He's also top-10 among everyday starters in GAA (2.13) and SV% (.936), making him a must-start in all fantasy formats.

Others include Derek Roy, Patrick Marleau, Steven Stamkos, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov (two-thirds of smoking GAS line), Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Adam Henrique (top-line in New Jersey), Tomas Plekanec, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, T.J. Oshie, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Patrik Hornqvist, Horton, Lucic, Nikolai Antropov, Curtis Glencross, Ryan Smyth, Marian Gaborik, Milan Michalek, Taylor Hall, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Michael Ryder, Joe Corvo, Alexander Edler, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Ryan Wilson, Kyle Quincey, Kimmo Timonen, Shedlon Souray, Dan Girardi, Jaroslav Halak (better last several games), Mike Smith, Martin Brodeur (some signs of the old Marty), Nikolai Khabibulin and Corey Crawford.

Training Room (Injuries)

Sidney Crosby, C, PIT -
It's time for your daily/weekly Crosby update. Crosby (post concussion), who has been participating in contact practices with the Penguins, will not play Friday or Saturday, according to coach Dan Bylsma. The next time possible time for Crosby to dress after that comes Tuesday, when Pittsburgh plays host to Colorado. With Mark Letestu dealt to Columbus to free up room for Crosby on the roster, look for Sid the Kid to be back fairly soon.

David Legwand, C, NAS -
Legwand (upper body), who was injured Tuesday, missed Wednesday's game against the Ducks. Coach Barry Trotz said Legwand would also likely miss Saturday's game against Montreal. This is a big blow to the Preds as Legwand was not only their leading scorer at the time of his injury (14 points in 14 games) but also sees upwards of 20 minutes a night playing in all situations - power play, penalty kill and even strength, Hopefully he will be back soon, but monitor RotoWire for updates.

Mason Raymond, LW, VAN -
Raymond, who has been out with a vertebrae compression fracture in his back suffered in the Stanley Cup final , participated in his first practice Wednesday. Despite making a return to practice, Raymond still doesn't know when he'll return to game action. "One thing is a practice and a game is another thing," said Raymond. "I can't put a timeline on when I feel I can come back and frankly I feel like I've got a long ways to go. To get into game shape, to get in to mental shape and being cleared for contact, I've got a lot of hurdles to clear. But as far as Day 1 goes, I was pleased." Raymond was limited to light contact Wednesday, but his rehab should ramp up as he gets closer to game shape. A late-November return remains a possibility and he could slide onto the second line when he returns.

Jussi Jokinen, LW, CAR -
Jokinen, who injured his leg on November 1 and was expected to miss 3-4 weeks, could be back Friday. Jokinen skated with his teammates Tuesday and was slated to participate in practice Thursday, which could pave the pave for his return Friday. Even he does not play Friday, he could play Saturday or Monday, well ahead of his original projected return date.

Chris Pronger, D, PHI -
Pronger, who had been out since suffering a scary eye injury on October 24, returned to the Flyers' lineup Wednesday. He was on the ice for 25 minutes Wednesday and looks to be near 100-percent healthy, so get him in your lineup ASAP. Hopefully he won't be part of any more 1-3-1 trap zone defense.

Others include Jeff Carter (foot, close to returning and Columbus could really use him), Tim Connolly (UBI, big shock Mr. Brittle is out, this time for two weeks), Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia surgery, out at least a month), Daniel Alfredsson (concussion, may play Friday), Andrei Markov (knee, traveling with team) and James Reimer (UBI, out indefinitely).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Ryan Kesler, C, VAN -
Kesler admitted after Tuesday's practice that his surgically-repaired hip is still giving him some problems. Kesler missed the first five games of the season after undergoing offseason hip surgery, returning slightly earlier than expected. With six points in 10 games, Kesler has been solid, but he hasn't been as effective as he was the past two seasons. The Canucks don't seem too worried about his hip and expect the production to come as Kesler's timing and instincts continue to get back on track. He gets a short-term downgrade, but now might be a good opportunity to try and land Kesler at a discount.

Magnus Paajarvi, LW, EDM -
For all the good feeling around Edmonton these days, there still are some who are struggling. Paajarvi is at the top of that list. After scoring 15 goals and 34 points last year, Paajarvi has just one assist in 13 games and was a healthy scratch Tuesday. With the return of Ales Hemsky back to the lineup, Paajarvi was the odd man out, a situation that could continue to repeat itself for the time being.

Tyler Myers, D, BUF -
Myers suffered through a rough sophomore campaign, showing once more that a defenseman's growth is not always linear. After scoring 48 points and winning the Calder Trophy in 2009-10, Myers dropped to 37 points, and that doesn't even accurately represent how much he slumped. There was great hope for a revival this year as Buffalo added Christian Ehrhoff and Robin Regehr, which should have taken some pressure off the big d-man. So far that has not happened, as Myers has just four assists in 13 games and is now dealing with some minor "nicks."

Steve Mason, G, CMB -
Mason is off to a horrendous start this season with a 2-10-1 record, 3.70 GAA and .869 save percentage. He shows occasional flashes of brilliance but nothing that can be sustained over longer stretches. If Mark Dekanich hadn't gotten injured, he likely would have already replaced Mason between the pipes in Columbus. For fantasy purposes, Mason is completely unreliable for anything other than the occasional spot start and that Calder Trophy campaign seems even longer than 2008-09.

Others include Patrik Berglund (just one goal and point in last nine games, can Hitch light a fire under him?), Antoine Vermette (no goals, six assists in 14 games), Todd Bertuzzi (battling illness and has just three points in 11 games), Drew Stafford (seven points in 14 games but overshadowed by other options in Buffalo), Andrew Ladd (repeat offender as Jets captain continues to struggle), Brandon Dubinsky (six assists, no goals, in 14 games), Jamie McBain (in-and-out of Carolina lineup) and Evgeni Nabokov (playing periodically, and not well even when he is in net).