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NHL Barometer: Bust, A Cap

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 winger back home in the Desert, a 2015 first-round pick rolling in Colorado, doing the Dougie in Calgary and the prodigal son back for Buffalo.

First Liners (Risers)

Valtteri Filppula, C, TBSteven Stamkos will miss four more months following surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his knee. His absence leaves a huge hole down the middle for Tampa. For a while, Vladislav Namestnikov filled the role as top pivot and then it shifted to Tyler Johnson. But Filppula leads all Lightning centers with 16 points in 23 games and should be the one to target.

Jamie Benn, C, DAL – Your possible window of opportunity to acquire Benn after his semi-slow start has ended. Through 13 games, he had two goals and nine points, likely sending owners into a mild panic. But it’s a long season, and you knew a turnaround was inevitable. Benn notched a power-play goal and two assists Monday to give him five goals, 11 points and 29 shots on net over his last 10 games, putting him close to the point-per-game pace we expect from an elite scorer.

Radim Vrbata, RW, ARI – Vrbata fell off a cliff last season, going from 31 goals and 63 points in his first season with Vancouver to just 13 goals and 27 points in an injury-riddled campaign. As a result, there was very little interest in him this summer, so Vrbata signed a one-year, $1 million deal to rejoin the Coyotes in August. The Czech winger has been one of the few bright spots in Arizona, tallying seven goals and eight assists in 22 games. If he continues to produce, Vrbata could land the Coyotes a decent pick or player at the trading deadline.

Mikko Rantanen, RW, COL – Rantanen, the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, saw nine games of action last year before he was sent to the AHL. He made the most of his time there, scoring 60 points in 52 games. Rantanen sprained his ankle in training camp, which resulted in him landing back at San Antonio for a short conditioning stint. He got off to a slow start following his promotion back to the parent club, but is making up for lost time. The giant 20-year-old rookie (at 6’4”, 210) had a goal and an assist Tuesday, giving him eight points his last seven games, making him worth a roster spot in almost all formats.

Brandon Saad, LW, CLM – Saad came over to Columbus from Chicago last offseason and brought high expectations, eventually ending up with a solid campaign of 31 goals and 22 assists. This year, the Blue Jackets look to have retained their mojo and the top line of Saad, Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg has helped drive their rise in the standings. With six goals and 11 assists in 21 games, a 60-plus point season would not be surprising.

Dougie Hamilton, D, CGY – Hamilton’s slow start following his move to Calgary appears to have adversely impacted the perception of him in the hockey world. As we wrote in our preseason outlook: “the trade that sent Hamilton from Boston to Calgary for a first-round pick and two second-rounders was looking pretty ugly – through the season’s first 24 games, he managed just five points and a minus-6 rating. Then the calendar turned to December and the switch flipped on for Hamilton, who proceeded to rip off 10 goals and 38 points through 58 games the rest of the way.” This season, he once again stumbled out of the gate but has six points and 13 shots on goal over his last five games, giving him 12 points in 25 games. The rumors that he and/or T.J. Brodie are on the block continue to persist and where there’s smoke, there usually is fire.

Alec Martinez, D. LA – A goal Saturday has Martinez on a five-game point streak. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin draw much of the fantasy attention but Martinez may be LA’s best D-man this season. The Michigander is third on the Kings in scoring with 14 points in 22 games and almost looks to be a lock to exceed the career-high 31 he posted last year. Add in 45 hits and 40 blocked shots and you have a great all-around blueliner.

Peter Budaj, G, LA – Every time I expect the wheels to fall off or the clock to strike midnight on Budaj, he comes up with another fine performance. He earned his fifth straight win Saturday, stopping 18 of 19 shots in LA’s overtime victory over Chicago. That start was Budaj’s 20th straight, as he has a stranglehold on the Kings’ top goalie job with Jonathan Quick (groin) not close to returning. Shockingly, Budaj is 12-6-1 with a 2.04 GAA and .917 save percentage, earning more credibility with each solid outing.

Thomas Greiss, G, NYI – Greiss has started three straight games for the Islanders and it looks as if coach Jack Capuano has finally made the switch from Jaroslav Halak. Jean-Francois Berube still looms, but if Greiss plays well, the job could be his to lose. The German netminder should be the #1 as he has allowed six goals in 95 shots during those three starts and is 4-4-0 with a .920 save percentage on the season, while Halak only has three wins with a .904 save percentage and 3.08 GAA in 13 starts.

Others include Alexander Wennberg, Kyle Turris, Jeff Carter, Aleksander Barkov, Leon Draisaitl, Travis Zajac, Nazem Kadri, Mikko Koivu, Mark Scheifele, David Perron, Charlie Coyle, Vladimir Tarasenko, Sam Gagner, Jaromir Jagr, Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Cammalleri, Wayne Simmonds, Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo, Rick Nash, Blake Wheeler, Loui Eriksson, Julius Honka, T.J. Brodie, Jonas Brodin, Colton Parayko, Oscar Klefbom, Nick Holden, Anthony Stolarz, Sergei Bobrovsky, Chad Johnson, Connor Hellebuyck, Craig Anderson. Cam Ward and Pekka Rinne.

Training Room (Injuries)

Jack Eichel, C, BUF – Eichel, out since the preseason with a high-ankle sprain, made his season debut Tuesday. Buffalo went 7-9-5 to begin the season without the face of their franchise, so his return should be a huge boost to the team’s struggling offense. Eichel paid immediate dividends on Tuesday, with a goal and an assist in the Sabres’ 5-4 victory. The 2015 Hobey Baker winner centered the top power-play unit with Evander Kane on the left and Sam Reinhart on the right and should once again see major minutes. If you were patient with the sophomore star, you finally will be rewarded.

Others include Jonathan Toews (back, has missed two straight), Jordan Staal (concussion, placed on injured reserve), Bryan Little (lower-body injury, played Tuesday), Taylor Hall (knee, travelling with Devils on road trip), T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury, remains sidelined), Marian Gaborik (foot, activated over the weekend), Gabriel Landeskog (upper-body, has missed six straight), Tomas Jurco (back, activated off long-term IR), Chris Kunitz (lower-body, not close to returning) and Alexander Edler (fractured finger, out 4-to-6 weeks).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Sean Monahan, C, CGY – No, I am not picking on the Flames, but their poor start does make selecting Fallers fairly easy. Monahan scored Calgary’s only goal in their 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders on Monday, giving him just nine points through 25 games. The Flames are only averaging 2.24 goals a night, so you would have to figure the team will turn it around eventually. However, it likely will be too little, too late for Monahan to notch his third straight 60-point season.

Mikkel Boedker, LW, SJ – Boedker signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Sharks this summer and he was expected to be the missing piece to the San Jose offense. So far, all that has been missing is Boedker from the scoresheet. Through 23 games, the Dane has tallied just two points after scoring 51 between Arizona and Colorado last season. Maybe Boedker turns it on later in the year or produces in the postseason; but, at this moment, cutting him from your fantasy squad is the prudent call.

John Carlson, D, WAS – Carlson took the next step forward in his development with 12 goals and 43 assists in 2014-15. Last year, an injury cost him 26 games, but he still posted eight goals and 31 assists. Coming into this season, most expected Carlson to once again post 50-plus points while leading the Washington power play. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, as he has eight points in 21 games and is seeing a minute less of power-play ice time.

Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL – Run far away from the Dallas goaltending situation. Neither Lehtonen nor Antti Niemi is worth owning, save for deeper leagues, as both goalies have struggled and are splitting time. Lehtonen allowed a pair of goals in a 3-1 loss to Detroit on Tuesday, dropping his season mark to 4-7-3 with a 3.28 GAA and .885 save percentage. He is signed through 2017-18 with a $5.9 million cap hit, draining useful cap space in Big D.

Others include Ryan Strome, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Vesey (despite a goal Tuesday), Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams, Aaron Ekblad, Torey Krug, Antti Niemi, Ben Bishop, Jaroslav Halak.