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NHL Barometer: Top of the Rock

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 free-agent signing in Tampa working out well, the second overall pick from 1997 on a roll, two-thirds of the Rangers' top line on the shelf and a top-scoring center in a major slump in the City of Brotherly Love.

First Liners (Risers)

Frans Nielsen, C, NYI -
Nielsen ripped off a goal and two assists Tuesday in the Islanders' overtime loss to Vancouver. Always an unspectacular offensive contributor despite pretty heavy ice time in his career, Nielsen's seen a small bump in ice and an enormous bump in production, as he's got a stunning 11 points in nine games to start the year. However, he's got five goals on just 20 shots this season, suggesting that he's in for a course correction on that front. Even so, he could surpass the career-high 47 points he put up in 2011-12.

Martin Hanzal, C, PHX -
Hanzal notched his third and fourth goals of the year for Phoenix on Thursday against LA. He's off to the best start of his career, with a team-high 10 points (4G, 6A) in 11 games. At 26, he's at a prime age for a surge in productivity, but the one negative is that while his ice team is pretty constant from year past, his power play time on ice has dropped for the second straight year. But if he stays hot that should rise and he benefits from the attention given Mike Ribeiro and Antoine Vermette.

Milan Lucic, RW, BOS -
Lucic finished with three points and a plus-2 rating in Boston's 5-2 win on Buffalo on Wednesday and then added an assist on the late game-winner Thursday against the Sharks. He now has 10 points in nine games after scoring 27 in 46 a year ago. Lucic is pretty close to being the prototypical power forward, though you would like to see him shoot more, but other than that, he gives you points, hits and penalty minutes with a decent plus-minus.

Marcus Johansson, LW, WAS -
Johansson picked up two assists on Alexander Ovechkin goals Tuesday against Winnipeg and added two more Thursday against Edmonton. He's been quite the assistant early on this year, collecting 10 helpers in 10 games. As long as he's playing the wing opposite Ovechkin, Johansson's a good bet to pile up plenty of assists, and the goals should start coming too now that he's starting to shoot more

Alex Chiasson, RW, DAL -
Chiasson scored two goals, added an assist and two PIM, and went plus-2 in Dallas' win over the Flames on Thursday. Quite the huge game for Chiasson, who's now scoring at a point-per-game pace in the early going for the Stars. After he put up seven points in a seven-game trial last season, that's well worth noting. The 23-year-old forward wasn't a big scorer at the AHL level (35 points in 57 games last year), but he did score a lot in college and he's carved out a top-six role with power-play time for the Stars.

Kevin Bieksa, D, VAN -
Bieksa tallied an assist, fired four shots on goal, dished out four hits and went plus-3 in Vancouver's 5-4 overtime victory over the Islanders on Tuesday. That is an impressive stat line from a guy who now has five points through his first 12 games. Bieksa is a key part of the defense in Vancouver and is heating up of late. He has four helpers over his past four games and is contributing in almost every fantasy category

Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ -
Lost in the Devils' nightmare start has been the return to form by Zidlicky. The now top D-man at the Rock, Zidlicky added an assist Thursday giving him eight points in nine games. He may be consistent in his inconsistency, but right now, he's the Devils' best offensive option on the back end. And he's reaping dividends for his fantasy owners. You may want to pull the trigger on a deal to move him, though -- he's not likely to score more than 40 or 45 points, so that means there are just 32-37 left over the next 73 games.

Braden Holtby, G, WAS -
Holtby allowed one goal on 31 shots, losing a shutout with 2:04 to go, Thursday in a 3-1 win over the Oilers. That's three straight wins for Holtby, who continues to put his early struggles behind him. He's back to playing at a high level and should be rolled out in fantasy every time he starts.

Corey Crawford, G, CHI -
Crawford stopped 20 of 22 shots in regulation and overtime, then both attempts he faced in Chicago's shootout Tuesday over Florida. Crawford's red-hot, having rattled off four wins and an OT loss in his last five games. He's allowed just eight goals in that span despite going to overtime thrice, giving him a stellar 2.04 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

Others include Brad Richards (five of the Rangers' 12 goals), Steven Stamkos (ho-hum, seven goals and 14 points already) Ryan Kesler (solid start to the season), Bryan Little (quietly productive in the 'Peg), Craig Smith (upside potential), Anze Kopitar (up to 11 points already), Michael Bournival (five points last four games, stepping in nicely due to injuries in Montreal), Kyle Turris (on pace for career year), David Krejci (two goals and eight assists in nine games), Tomas Plekanec (top line center for the bleu, blanc et rouge), Nicklas Backstrom (loving life with Ovie), Sean Monahan (sticking in Calgary), Valtteri Filppula (stays hot in Tampa), Henrik Sedin (two assists Thursday, leads NHL with 12 helpers), Carl Soderberg (more playing time with Loui Eriksson out), Bobby Ryan (thriving after trade to Ottawa), Jiri Hudler (roll continues), Patric Hornqvist (four goals in 11 games), Jaromir Jagr (four assists the last three games), Mikkel Boedker (putting in together in the Desert), Jarome Iginla (first goal in Boston uniform Thursday, heating up), Kyle Okposo (three straight, two-point contests), Brendan Gallagher (seven points in 10 games), David Clarkson (10-game suspension ends Friday, now as to the line he will play on ...), Phil Kessel (hat trick Tuesday), Matthew Carle (six points in nine games), Eric Gelinas (first NHL goal Thursday), Dougie Hamilton (better lately), Ryan Murphy (top-four d-man in Carolina), Morgan Rielly (sticking in Toronto), Brenden Dillon (stepping up in Dallas, three goals, two assists), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (heating up), Carter Hutton (started and picked up win Thursday in place of the injured Pekka Rinne), Magnus Hellberg (if Hutton can't do the job, Hellberg is next in line), Antti Niemi (still solid in San Jose), Tuukka Rask (maybe top goalie in the NHL right now) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (solid as No. 2 in Colorado)).

Training Room (Injuries)

Taylor Hall, LW, EDM -
Hall sustained a knee injury in Saturday's game against the Senators and was sent back to Edmonton for evaluation. The exact nature of the injury has not been announced, but it is significant enough that he will need to miss about four weeks with the injury. The Oilers called up Ben Eager for extra forward depth in the short term.

Jeff Skinner, LW, CAR -
Skinner left Carolina's game against the Wild on Thursday with an upper body injury. He didn't get on the score sheet before leaving the game but still has nine points (three goals) through 10 games. Skinner suffered concussions the past two seasons and was finally flashing the form he showed in his rookie season. If the injury turns out to be serious, it will be a huge loss for the Hurricanes and fantasy owners alike

Loui Eriksson, RW, BOS -
Eriksson spent the night in Buffalo after taking a big hit from the Sabres' John Scott (bush league by a beer league player) in the third period of Wednesday's game that left him with a concussion. The winger, who was the big piece acquired by the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin deal, returned to Boston on Thursday with a member of the team's medical staff, and will be sidelined until he can be cleared to play. With the rigorous new concussion tests the league has in place, there's no telling how long that could take. Jordan Caron is expected to take his place in the lineup for the time being.

Jonas Brodin, D, MIN -
Coach Mike Yeo said that no surgery has been planned as of yet for Brodin's broken cheekbone, which happened Tuesday. Furthermore, if Brodin follows through with the plan to bypass surgery, he could be cleared to skate on his own over the next couple of days. While a return to the lineup still seems somewhat far off, the fact that he's tentatively planning to avoid surgery qualifies as good news. Brodin, who has six points in 10 games, would still have to wear a fully-caged face mask once he returns to action, however, in order to protect the cheekbone from further damage.

Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR -
Although he was unable to play in the Rangers' 2-1 loss Thursday against the Flyers, Lundqvist (undisclosed) was able to take part in the morning skate. Lundqvist was reluctant to provide details regarding his injury, but indicated he was feeling better after skating for the first time in five days. The goalie said he first felt the injury in the second game of the season before it became to difficult to play through. He's questionable to return to the net Saturday against the Red Wings but at least seems to be trending in the right direction.

Pekka Rinne, G, NAS -
Rinne will miss a minimum of four weeks following a hip scope on Thursday. There was some speculation about Rinne's health after the team recalled Magnus Hellberg on Wednesday, and as it turns out, the 30-year-old goalkeeper will require another cleanup procedure on his hip. Rinne underwent arthroscopic surgery on the hip in the offseason, and it seems there may have been some sort of complication in recent days. Carter Hutton started in goal Thursday against the Jets, winning 3-2, so he could get a shot at holding down the job while Rinne is out.

Cam Ward, G, CAR -
Ward will miss three-to-four weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday against Minnesota. An MCL sprain limited Ward to just 17 games last season, and now he has another lower-body concern on his hands. It's a major blow for the Canes, who weren't exactly dominating with Ward as their No. 1 netminder to begin with. Ward will turn the keys over to Justin Peters for now, but Mike Murphy was recalled from the AHL and should receive an opportunity to compete for the gig as well. Top backup Anton Khudobin is also expected to return from IR next week and could receive the opportunity to claim top duties.

Tim Thomas, G, FLA -
Coach Kevin Dineen doesn't believe Thomas's latest leg injury, which occurred Wednesday, will keep him out for very long. Even so, the injury, which is not related to the groin injury that sidelined him earlier this month, will is at least concerning enough to keep Thomas out for both of the Panthers' weekend contests, as the goalie was placed on IR on Wednesday. Scott Clemmensen was recalled from AHL San Antonio and will back up Jacob Markstrom for at least the next two games. Thomas seemed to be rounding into form, but who knows if he can stay healthy enough during the year to put up decent numbers.

Others include Sam Gagner (broken jaw, not yet cleared to play, likely happens next week), Vincent Lecavalier (LBI, activated Thursday), Jannik Hansen (arm, placed on IR), Beau Bennett (LBI, place don IR on Thursday retro to Oct 12), Scott Hartnell (LBI, close to returning, possibly Saturday against the Islanders), Alexandre Burrows (foot, could be back next week), Dustin Penner (concussion-symptons, indefinite), Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion, placed on IR), Kris Letang (knee, returning to action Friday), Niklas Kronwall (concussion, returned to action Wednesday), Marc Giordano (LBI, scratched Thursday, may play Saturday), Roman Josi (concussion, full participant in Thursday's morning skate for first time since injury on Oct. 4) and Kari Lehtonen (LBI, returned to action Thursday after missing five games).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Derek Stepan, C, NYR -
Stepan was shut out Thursday against the Flyers and now is a minus-eight with five assists in eight games on the year. The numbers are passable, but those that have watched Stepan in each game are left wanting a lot more. Maybe he is still shaking off the rust after signing a two-year, $6.15 million deal in training camp or perhaps it's the absence of Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan adversely impacting his performance. Whatever the reason, Stepan needs to step up and quickly score for the Rangers to have a shot at winning.

Chris Stewart, LW, STL -
Stewart has only two assists in the first seven games after leading the Blues in goals (18) last season. No doubt Stewart is scuffling to start the season. Not only has he yet to light the lamp, but he has the worst plus/minus rating (minus-3) on the squad. In addition, Stewart has been moved to the third line, but given his history of running hot and cold, he could easily turn it around at a moment's notice.

Alex Goligoski, D, DAL -
Goligoski was a healthy scratch Thursday against the Flames. Dallas gave Goligoski some run at forward in practice lately, but it doesn't seem they're ready to try him there in a game. Kevin Connauton placed in his stead. Whatever the reason, Dallas won 5-1 over Calgary, so it's possible Goligoski sits again. With no points and a minus-10 rating in 10 games, this is not what the Stars expected when they acquired him late in the 2010-11 campaign from Pittsburgh for James Neal.

Mike Smith, G, PHX -
Smith enters Thursday's game against LA with a 2.74 GAA and a save percentage of .916 to go along with a 5-2-2 record. All of these plummeted after Smith allowed four goals in 15 shots and was chased from the Coyotes' 7-4 loss to the Kings. Smith was counted on to be a stalwart between the pipes for Phoenix, but at best, he has been uneven, allowing three goals or more in five of his 10 starts.

Others include Claude Giroux (slump continues), Mike Santorelli (back to earth after hot start), Derick Brassard (solid performance after trade to Rangers a mere memory), Travis Zajac (still seeing lots of TOI, including on the PP, but a third-line center now), Sven Baertschi (healthy scratch Thursday against the Stars), Mats Zuccarello (healthy scratch Thursday against the Flyers), Steve Ott (very slow start), Brad Boyes (two goals on October 12, one point since), Mike Green (invisible lately), Christian Ehrhoff (two points in 11 games), Francois Beauchemin (two points on October 6, none since), John Carlson (two points in 10 games), Evgeni Nabokov (likely to cede time to Kevin Poulin), Ray Emery (falling behind Steve Mason in battle to be No. 1 in Philly) Steve Mason (not playing badly but no support from Flyers' offense) and Ondrej Pavelec (seven losses in 10 games).