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Left, Right & Center: Ghost Kreider

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When heís not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evanís work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Weíre only a couple weeks in, yet there are so many questions to ask: Are the Oilers really this good? Does a measly two-goal average mean the Penguins sorely miss Sid? How many late leads can the Leafs waste? And is there anything better than Canadian outdoor hockey in October?

When it comes to forwards, analysis mainly comes down to the lines. Even if someone is supremely talented, where and with whom they play will dictate their opportunities. Someone could be a top center but if they're flanked by two guys who can barely hold a stick, then his stats will suffer. Power-play time also helps in boosting the numbers, but likewise, they are affected by the quality of the others in the unit.

Follow the latest news to see whoís in favor and who has lost the coachís confidence. Because the last thing you want to do is grab the latest riser without realizing heís recently been demoted two lines, canít get along with his teammates, or has excelled because heís a werewolf and therefore has superhuman abilities. (Wait, maybe that last part justifies keeping him.)

Good things come in threes. With that in mind, here are the recent forward breakdowns. Letís see whoís motoring on, who requires service, and who canít get out of the garage.

As is standard, no superstars will be mentioned unless theyíve done something special, either positive or negative. And check your league to see who may qualify at multiple positions.


Left Wing

Two Steps Forward: Chris Kreider, NY Rangers


Minor injury aside, Kreider looks as though heís broken into the second Ė if not first Ė tier of left wingers. Just look at his achievements so far: three consecutive two-point efforts to start (seven in total), 23 shots on goal (tied for fifth in the league), 17 hits (tied for 11th). Even though this is a small sample size, it still shows Kreiderís potential to crack the 50-point barrier and beyond.

Broken Wing: Max Domi, Arizona

Son of Tie is looking to build on the 52 points from his first season. While his effort is evident (14 shots, five hits, four blocks), one would expect Domi to be involved in more than two of the teamís 14 goals (both assists). Max, try for less zeroes on the scoresheet and more passes like this jaw-dropping highlight.

Between the Lines: Robby Fabbri, St. Louis

Three points in six games isnít too shabby for a 20-year old in his second pro year. A place beside Paul Stastny at five-on-five and a fixture on the Bluesí second power-play allow for greater opportunity. Yet, Fabbri hasnít been able to dazzle this season (three assists) like other St. Louis wingers. But if the Mississauga native can find the scoring touch he displayed last spring (18 points in his final 24 regular-season contests), then thereís reason to believe heíll shine.


Right Wing

Two Steps Forward: Thomas Vanek, Detroit


Vanek is well traveled in the NHL, with Detroit marking his fifth stop. Itís amazing the Austrian has excelled early, seeing how his minutes rank well below average (at 13:17). The Wings can throw out many talented options up front, so the chances could decrease in the long run. Vanek may be a bit grey in the hair department, but he appears much younger when displaying moves likes this.

Broken Wing: Joonas Donskoi, San Jose

What a difference two weeks make. On Oct. 11, some idiot showcased Donskoi as one to own. Fast forward to the present and the Finnish forward is stuck on one point. Even with paltry ice time (13:57 average), Donskoi remains a fixture on the second line and dabbles in a bit of man-advantage duty (2:14 per game worth). As long as these roles are maintained, both he and Mikkel Boedker (also at one point, bumped up to the first line) should have a chance to improve.

Between the Lines: Reilly Smith, Florida

After a fairly successful debut in the Sunshine State (25 goals, 25 assists), more of the same is expected from Smith. Unfortunately, the early stat line (one assist) reveals little promise. The upside is that heís seeing sufficient service (19:50, 3:06 on the power play) and isn't afraid of making his way to the net (11 shots). And itís not as if linemate Vincent Trocheck (three goals) has been slumping, so look for Smith to step it up.


Center

Two Steps Forward: Brock Nelson, NY Islanders


Okay, so Nelson missed out on Sunday when the Isles scored six (but, hey, John Tavares really needed the boost). But letís not forget the University of North Dakota standout registered a point in each of his first five outings. Nelson may not be picking up a ton of minutes (under 16:00 per game) but he remains an integral part of the clubís attack. While he wonít hit lofty numbers, it looks like heíll be able to top his career high of 42 points.

Broken Wing: Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay

Like Max Domi, itís weird to see Johnson with so little (two points) when the Bolts havenít had any issues scoring with 17 goals so far. And the team-worst minus-4 is disheartening for someone who racked up a plus-56 over 2013-14 and 2014-15. As a result, the Triplets have been temporarily separated (with optional visitation rights). That shouldnít matter for Johnson, who has always been motivated since signing with Tampa as an undrafted free agent.

Between the Lines: Mitch Marner, Toronto

Everyone is well aware the Leafs possess a young and exciting attack. And while Auston Matthews and William Nylander have headlined the cause, there are other whippersnappers waiting for their moment. One of them is Marner, another of Torontoís top selections (fourth in 2015). He wonít turn 20 until May but the junior star has already shown potential (goal, two assists). The bottom line is: the kidís got skills and knows how to use them.