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NHL Barometer: Murray Up!

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 #2 center in Pittsburgh, a pair of rising rookie wingers, the Zach attack in Columbus, Florida’s top D-men suffers yet another concussion and Philly’s top center slumping.

First Liners (Risers)

Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT – Malkin has been red hot since returning from a seven-game absence. His 11th power-play goal gives the ‘number two’ center in Pittsburgh 11 goals and seven assists since coming back to game action. Malkin’s 33 goals are the most he has tallied since 2011-12, and barring injury will easily finish with the third highest goal total of his career.

Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA – Getzlaf has just 13 goals on the campaign, but four of them have come in the last 10 games along with 10 helpers. The Anaheim captain is more of a facilitator than a scorer, but he has shown in several seasons he can light the lamp when needed, posting at least 25 markers in five of them. Add in what should be over 100 hits and possibly close to as many blocked shots and you have a complete player.

Brendan Perlini, LW, ARI – Perlini scored for the third straight game Monday, giving the rookie winger 13 goals on the season. The 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft is a big, fast winger with a wicked shot. He may have been passed on the Coyotes’ prospect depth chart the first two years, but Perlini may have shot back to the top with his performance this year.

Paul Byron, LW, MTL – Byron helped carry the Canadiens’ bacon earlier this season before hitting the skids. He is back on the beam of late, racking up another goal Tuesday to give the forward five markers in his last six games and 19 for the season. That goal total is surprisingly second on Montreal behind Max Pacioretty, which is a decent indication of the offensive issues for the bleu-blanc-et-rouge this season.

Josh Ho-Sang, RW, NYI – Ho-Sang has garnered lots of publicity for his attitude and maturity issues along with wearing #66 after his promotion to the NHL. But what has always been the case and enabled him to receive lots of second and third chances is his undeniable talent. That skill has resulted in three goals and three assists in his first eight games, including a goal and assist Tuesday in the Isles’ comeback win versus Carolina. Almost as impressive was that Ho-Sang was on with John Tavares and Nick Leddy for what turned out to be the captain’s overtime winner.

Zach Werenski, D, CLMAuston Matthews, Patrik Laine. Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews. Those two names are rightfully garnering much of the Calder Trophy consideration but maybe Werenski should be receiving more attention. All he has done is pass Rick Nash for most points as a Blue Jackets rookie, tallying 10 goals and 33 assists while posting a plus-20 rating and skating 21:05 on the top pairing. Pretty impressive numbers for a veteran D-man, let alone a 20-year old rookie blueliner. Columbus has a darn good one anchoring their back line.

Paul Martin, D, SJ – Martin’s overall numbers – four goals, 20 assists, plus-16 rating – don’t pop off the page, but a look behind the numbers is key. His defensive presence on Brett Burns’ other side has enabled the probable Norris Trophy winner to be the puck-rushing, offensive fantasy monster defensemen he has been the past two seasons. Martin gets to ‘ride’ Burns’ coattails to notch decent production, which is also bolstered by 99 hits.

Matt Murray, G, PIT – All Murray does is win. He backstops an extremely strong Penguins lineup, but is more than just a bolt-on to it. The kid is 26-8-3 with a 2.25 GAA and .925 save percentage and four shutouts. Marc-Andre Fleury still sees the occasional start, but Murray is the clear-cut top goalie in Pittsburgh and should receive plenty of Calder consideration.

Aaron Dell, G, SJ – Aaron who? Dell parlayed a 32-24-8 record, 2.24 GAA and .924 save percentage in the AHL the past two seasons into a backup gig for the parent club this year. He has ably filled in when the Sharks rest Martin Jones, going 10-3-1 with a ridiculous 1.82 GAA and .938 SV%. Dell is perfect to roll in daily fantasy, and he could see a few extra starts if the Sharks clinch playoff positioning before the end of the season.

Others include John Tavares, Eric Staal, Brayden Point, Aleksander Barkov, Mikael Granlund, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stastny, Sidney Crosby, Logan Couture, Jeff Carter, Vincent Trocheck, Patrick Kane, Brad Marchand, Filip Forsberg, Conor Sheary, Michael Frolik, Wayne Simmonds, Alex Burrows, Michael Grabner, Henrik Zetterberg, Alexander Steen, Nikita Kucherov, Brandon Saad, Artemi Panarin, Radim Vrbata, Sam Gagner, Josh Bailey, David Pastrnak, Tomas Tatar, Tobias Rieder, Vladimir Tarasenko, Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan McDonagh, Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk, Nick Leddy, Victor Hedman, Justin Schultz, Troy Stecher, Oscar Klefbom, Jake Allen, Antti Raanta, Tuukka Rask, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Elliott.

Training Room (Injuries)

Aaron Ekblad, D, FLA – Ekblad suffered a concussion Saturday against the Lightning, as he appeared to hit his head on the glass following a hit by Gabriel Dumont. This is rumored to be his fourth concussion, so hopefully Florida is smart with their top blueliner and allow him all the time he needs to make sure he is healthy before he returns to action.

Others include Artem Anisimov (lower-body, day-to-day), Jori Lehtera (upper-body, sidelined for Blues’ West Coast swing), Vladislav Namestnikov (lower-body, reaggravated injury Monday), Kyle Okposo (ribs, unknown return), Andre Burakovsky (hand, placed on LTIR, out at least another week), Carl Hagelin (lower-body, out four weeks), Patric Hornqvist (concussion, indefinite), Jesper Fast (shoulder, may practice Thursday), Mark Stone (lower-body, week-to-week), Ryan Murray (broken right hand, out 4-6 weeks), Mark Streit (suffered lower-body injury Monday, undisclosed), Henrik Lundqvist (hip, out 2-3 weeks) and John Gibson (lower-body, day-to-day).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Claude Giroux, C, PHI – Giroux has points in four straight, but is on pace to see his production drop for the third straight season with 49 points in 68 games. After peaking with 93 points in 2011-12, he appeared to have taken his place among the NHL’s elite. While Giroux has been very good at times since then, his production has waned at times since. There are whispers he has played through an injury most of the season, which could explain his struggles.

Craig Smith, RW, NAS – Smith’s assist Monday was just his second point in 20 games. In 2013-14, he was likely Nashville’s main weapon, tallying 24 goals and 28 assists. But the production has steadily fallen off, moving from 44 to 37 the last two seasons, and bottoming out at 18 in 67 contests this year. Smith was signed to a five-year, $21.25 million extension last July, which looks like a waste of available cap space.

Morgan Rielly, D, TOR – Rielly has hit the scoresheet in back-to-back games, but that expected step to the next level has failed to materialize. After moving from 27 points as a rookie in 2013-14 to 29 and 36 points, he was rewarded with a six-year, $30 million contact by Toronto last April. With the team around Rielly, a rise in production was expected, but he has just 24 points in 61 games along with a minus-20 while seeing his power-play time – which was already weak – cut nearly in half. There is still major upside, but keep saying defenseman growth isn’t linear to feel better about Rielly for the future.

Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN – Dubnyk’s overall numbers are still impressive and he likely leads in the Vezina trophy race but has recently hit a bump in the road. He allowed four goals on 40 shots Tuesday against Washington, and has surrendered 22 goals on 238 shots in his last 10 appearances. If Dubnyk’s slump continues, he could lose out to Sergei Bobrovsky or Braden Holtby for the award while Minnesota cedes the Central Division to Chicago.

Others include Brandon Sutter, Charlie Coyle, James Neal, Mikko Rantanen, Marian Hossa, Rick Nash, Ivan Provorov, Michael Stone, Sami Vatanen, Calvin Pickard and Robin Lehner.