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NHL Barometer: Ellis Again

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 pair of hot centers best known by their initials, a Rangers’ winger referred to by his first two initials, a sophomore center injured in Motown and the top pivot in Jersey in the midst of a rough patch.

First Liners (Risers)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM – RNH is on a roll playing alongside Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot. He has two goals and six assists in his last seven games, giving him 10 and 15 for the season. After notching 50-plus points in three of his first four campaigns, Nugent-Hopkins’ star dimmed a bit last year while he was limited to 55 games with a broken finger. Edmonton has shifted Leon Draisaitl to wing, opening the second line center spot for RNH, who was granted a reprieve from all the trade rumors when Taylor Hall was dealt to New Jersey.

Ryan O'Reilly, C, BUF – ROR missed four games due to an appendectomy but has more than made up for that short absence. O'Reilly, the Sabres’ second center, has 11 points his last 10 games. Despite being behind Jack Eichel in the pivot pecking order, he is seeing just eight seconds fewer of playing time per game compared to last year and two seconds more on the power play. Buffalo made a steal of a deal when they acquired ROR from Colorado at the 2015 Draft.

Andre Burakovsky, RW, WAS – Burakovsky, selected 23rd overall in 2013, continued his hot streak Monday by notching a trio of assists. Those points had him on a six-game streak, consisting of four goals and six assists, but that ended on Tuesday. Burakovsky is still only playing third-line minutes, seeing 13:35 in each contest, which downgrades him slightly. But the myriad of weapons in Washington means the Austrian winger often matches up against third-pair defensemen, which has helped him grab 25 points in 45 games.

Filip Forsberg, RW, NAS – Forsberg has been on fire, tallying two goals Sunday and another Tuesday, giving him six goals in his last seven games. Overall, the Predators’ top line left-winger has 32 points in 48 games with 15 coming in his last 18 games. Forsberg had 63 and 64 points the past two complete seasons, so he has an outside shot if he maintains his recent scoring pace – even with the slow start.

J.T. Miller, LW, NYR – Miller is listed in the RotoWire database as a center but sees most of his time as the third-line left winger. With Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks, Miller is showing his versatility by shifting over to center. That’s a small portion of his value, as he has seven goals and six assists his last 11 games and 35 points (16 goals and 19 assists) in 48 games. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2011, had a breakthrough campaign with 43 points in 82 points and is well on pace to surpass that number.

Ryan Ellis, D, NAS – When thinking about Nashville defensemen, Ellis isn’t the first name that comes to mind. Fortunately, he is having a bit of an under-the-radar campaign. Ellis’ two assists Sunday gave him eight goals and 20 points in 40 games, as he continues to help make up for the absence of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. He is also on pace for 100-plus blocked shots and somewhere in the vicinity of 75-80 hits, augmenting his solid value.

Matt Niskanen, D, WAS – Niskanen parlayed a monster free agency-in-waiting season with Pittsburgh – 10 goals and 36 assists – into a seven-year, $40.25 million contract with Washington in July 2014. His first two years in the Nation’s Capital can be characterized as steady, not spectacular and maybe mildly disappointing. This season won’t contain most of those adjectives, as Niskanen already has 26 points, including eight in his last six games. He has been the one constant on the Capitals’ blue line in 2016-17, as both John Carlson and Karl Alzner have slightly struggled.

Martin Jones, G, SJ – Jones extended his win streak to four games, stopping 26 of 28 shots Monday against the Avalanche. The former King has more than solidified the Sharks’ netminding situation since coming over to San Jose. Jones’ three-year, $9 million deal signed in June 2015 is looking like a flat-out steal, as he won 37 games last year and is on pace to exceed that total this year with 25 wins in 37 games.

Matt Murray, G, PIT – Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last season, missed the first part of the year due to a hand injury suffered in the World Cup. A lower-body injury cost him time in late December/early January, but he has been stellar of late other than a nightmarish start Jan. 16 versus Washington. Murray started his fifth straight game Tuesday, and he has allowed one goal in each of the three contests since that seven-goal blip against the Caps. That streak ended against St. Louis, as he allowed three goals on 28 shots. But if Murray can maintain his strong overall numbers, he might end up a Calder Trophy finalist.

Others include Vincent Trocheck, Derek Stepan, Sean Monahan, Nazem Kadri, Mark Scheifele, Nicklas Backstrom, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Wennberg, Mitch Marner, Mikael Backlund, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Burmistrov, Phillip Danault, Anders Lee, Ryan Johansen, John Tavares, Tyler Bozak, Justin Williams, Mike Hoffman, Conor Sheary, Jason Zucker, Mats Zuccarello, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Nick Leddy, Brent Burns, Adam Larsson, Ryan Suter, Trevor Daley, Jakob Chychrun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Pekka Rinne, Corey Crawford, Cam Talbot, Carter Hutton, Thomas Greiss, Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen.

Training Room (Injuries)

Dylan Larkin, C, DET – Larkin exploded on the scene last year as a rookie, tallying 23 goals on 221 shots along with 22 assists and a plus-11 rating. This season hasn’t gone as smoothly for the next leader in Hockeytown, USA, as he has been limited to 12 goals and six assists in 47 games with an unsightly minus-14 rating. Larkin injured his upper body Sunday against the Rangers and was placed on injured reserve Monday, costing him games Tuesday and Wednesday. The All-Star break could allow Larkin to slide back into the lineup by the end of this month.

Others include Alex Galchenyuk (reaggravated knee injury that previously cost him 18 games), Aleksander Barkov (undisclosed, on IR, could miss rest of the season), Kevin Hayes (left leg/knee, out 2-3 weeks), Jonathan Huberdeau (Achilles, could miss the rest of the season), Tyler Toffoli (lower-body injury suffered on Dec. 20, skated on Jan. 18), Thomas Vanek (lower-body injury, should return next week), Kris Letang (knee, missed fifth straight game Tuesday, likely back after All-Star break), John Carlson (upper-body, out until after ASB), Roman Josi (upper-body, on IR, out through ASB), Jonas Brodin (broken finger, out a month), Morgan Rielly (lower-body, out since Jan. 17, sidelined until after ASB), Tyson Barrie (lower-body, missed third straight game Monday, doubtful Wednesday), Jake McCabe (shoulder, out 10-14 more days), Jimmy Howard (sprained MCL, injured Dec. 20, took shots on Tuesday), Craig Anderson (wife’s illness, may be back late January/early February), Jonathan Quick (groin, now out until early March) and John Gibson (upper-body, left Monday’s game).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Adam Henrique, C, NJD – Henrique has been streaky this season. Right now, he is in the midst of a streak in the wrong direction, notching just one point in his past nine games. Henrique posted 30 goals and 20 assists last year, with that marker total resulting from a 20.1 shooting percentage. This season, he has returned to a more normal 12.5%, but he has just 11 goals from only 91 shots. Henrique will get hot again, but bench him until you see that happen.

Viktor Stalberg, LW, CAR – Stalberg potted 22 goals with Chicago in 2011-12 but has yet to break double-digits in that category since. He could end that streak this year, but he is best left on the waiver wire with his eight goals and three assists in 46 games, unless you’re in a deeper league. If Carolina falls out of playoff contention, Stalberg could be moved to a contender to fill a third or fourth-line role.

Sami Vatanen, D, ANA – Vatanen missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed ailment, but the illness is not believed to be long-term and it’s possible he was just a healthy scratch. It’s been a year to forget for the Finn, who signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract extension in June 2016. Vatanen has just two points in his last 13 contests, and 17 in 46 games this year after notching 37 and 38 the past two seasons. Anaheim expected him to continue his progress; but, as we know, defenseman growth is not linear.

Brian Elliott, G, CGY – Elliott got off to a horrific start in his new home, eventually losing the #1 job to Chad Johnson. He looked to have righted the ship when he won four in a row. Elliott struggled in a relief appearance Jan. 6 and then rode the bench for four straight. He is still splitting time with Johnson and now sits with eight wins, an .891 save percentage and 2.92 GAA – each number worthy of pine time.

Others include Jason Spezza, Jiri Hudler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Julius Honka, Torey Krug, Mike Smith, Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen (not picking on Dallas, just lots of players slumping), Jake Allen, Steve Mason and Ondrej Pavelec.