By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes a hot winger in Columbus, Chandler (who?) in Las Vegas, McAvoy on a roll, the youngest of the three Staal brothers lighting the lamp, and a former star defenseman scuffling.
FIRST LINERS (RISERS)
Brayden Schenn, C, STL
Schenn benefits somewhat from the attention drawn by Ryan O'Reilly, but Schenn has been excellent since coming to the Blues from the Flyers after the 2016-17 season. After tallying a goal and an assist Friday, the 29-year-old is up to seven goals, six assists, a plus-6 rating, and 46 shots on net through 16 appearances this year. Schenn produced 54-59 points four of the last five years, with his 70-point output in 2017-18 the outlier. Look for him to finish somewhere within this range, despite just a 56-game schedule.
Mitch Marner, C, TOR
Marner lands on this list as a center, though he likely qualifies as a right wing in many leagues. Irrespective of his position, Marner is having a huge campaign, tallying seven goals and 16 assists in 16 games. Skating on the top line and power play unit, Marner might not reach the 94 points he did two years ago, but would somewhere in the 70-point range be an aberration based on his play early this season? Look for him to remain productive despite, and because, of all the talent around him in Toronto.
Cam Atkinson, LW, CLM
Atkinson continued his ascension, scoring 41 goals with 28 assists two years ago. Limited to just 44 games last season due to a nagging ankle injury, Atkinson's production suffered, as he finished the campaign with just 12 goals, 14 assists, and eight power-play points. In many leagues, that decline resulted in Atkinson plummeting in drafts, a move that looks to be a huge mistake. While not scoring at the pace he did in his career-best season, Atkinson has six goals and seven assists through 17 games, aided by a goal and three assists Thursday, followed by a goal and assist Saturday and marker Monday.
Mattias Janmark, LW, CHI
Janmark, a staple on the bottom-six for Dallas, signed a one-year deal with Chicago this offseason. The absence of both Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach due to injuries created an opportunity for Janmark to see top-six minutes, and he has taken advantage of that situation. Janmark reached a career-high 19 goals in 2017-18 with Dallas and is on pace to top that figure through 17 games, having lit the lamp six times already. Maintaining his spot on the Blackhawks' second line both at even strength and on the man-advantage would certainly aid that effort.
Chandler Stephenson, RW, LV
Stephenson continued his surprising start to the season, notching a goal and an assist — both on the man-advantage — Saturday. The 26-year-old has multi-point performances in three of the last four games, boosting his numbers this season to five goals and nine points through 12 games — a blistering pace for a player who managed a career-high 11 goals and 26 points in 65 games last season. Keep in mind, a good part of that output is driven by a shooting percentage higher than 35 percent, but as long as he hangs onto a top-line assignment, Stephenson should remain a valuable fantasy asset even when he experiences some regression.
Charlie McAvoy, D, BOS
Boston was counting on McAvoy taking on a bigger role due to the departure of Zdeno Chara, and, so far, he has delivered. Before the season, Matt Grzelcyk looked to be the flavor of the month, but injuries suffered by him and the fine play of McAvoy have made the latter the top blueliner for the B's. McAvoy's point streak ended Friday at eight games, during which he had a goal and 10 assists, accounting for all of his offense this season. He's completely put a slow start to the year behind him. He's also added a plus-5 rating, 29 blocks, 20 hits, and 16 PIM, displaying his well-rounded game.
Brett Pesce, D, CAR
If anyone told you before the season Pesce would be an offensive threat, you likely would have laughed. Pesce had 18 points and a plus-7 rating in 61 outings last year, regressing from his career-high 29 points and 35-plus marks from the year before. Despite his top-four status, offense was not his game. Averaging more than 22 minutes a game, all seven of Pesce's points (one goal, six apples) have come in the last eight games. The 26-year-old rearguard also has a plus-2 rating, 22 shots on net, and 21 blocks through 13 outings, so even when not scoring, he provides value in leagues that play with blocked shots.
Jaroslav Halak, G, BOS
Halak doesn't start nightly or even 50 percent of the games, but his production warrants a roster spot in nearly every league. After shutting out the Rangers, who he dominates, on Friday, Halak is 4-0-1 with a 1.38 goals-against average (GAA) and .938 save percentage across five starts. Halak did yeoman's work stepping in for Tuukka Rask in the playoffs last year and has produced excellent numbers since coming to Boston from the Islanders three years ago. He is an almost must-start in DFS contests when he is between the pipes due to the strong Bruins team in front of him.
Others include: Mark Scheifele, Nicklas Backstrom, Patrice Bergeron, Auston Matthews, Bo Horvat, Anze Kopitar, Logan Couture, Sebastian Aho, Pius Suter, Roope Hintz, Carter Verhaeghe, Bryan Rust, Tomas Hertl, Conor Garland, Johnny Gaudreau, Maxime Comtois, Brad Marchand, Alex DeBrincat, Filip Forsberg, Brock Boeser, Denis Gurianov, Zach Hyman, David Pastrnak, Nikolaj Ehlers, Robby Fabbri, Justin Faulk, K'Andre Miller, Alec Martinez, Dante Fabbro, Kris Letang, Tyson Barrie, Jordan Binnington, John Gibson, Frederik Andersen, Pekka Rinne, Connor Hellebuyck and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Mike Smith, G, EDM
This likely should have been run last week, but who would have expected Smith to return from his injury in such dominating fashion? In fact, you could also argue that he should be a trade-away candidate since he can't keep up his current pace — indeed, he allowed four goals on 11 shots Monday. But the lineup around Smith should give him a chance to win every start, despite what might be a so-so goals-against average and save percentage. He is on this list more so for shallow leagues, since in deeper ones, he was long gone. Smith has stabilized things in net for the Oilers after starting the season on IR, stopping 65 of 66 shots in his first two appearances. If he continues to play well, he should relegate Mikko Koskinen to opening and closing the bench door duties.
TRAINING ROOM (INJURIES)
Ilya Samsonov, G, WAS
Samsonov, who missed three weeks due to COVID-19, was back between the pipes Saturday. Vitek Vanecek has played fairly well standing in for Samsonov, but he has allowed 11 goals in his last three outings after a strong start. Samsonov, who went to the AHL for a short conditioning stint, will at a minimum split time with Vanecek, and if he gets on a roll, he should assume the banner of the team's No. 1 goalie — a role that he was expected to fill first when Braden Holtby went to Vancouver and then after Henrik Lundqvist had to, unfortunately, miss the season due to heart surgery.
Others include: Nathan MacKinnon (lower body, injured Sunday, Jan. 31, returned to action Sunday), Joe Thornton (broken ribs, injured Jan. 20, was to miss a month, activated Feb. 15), Anthony Cirelli (arm, injured Thursday, listed as week-to-week), Steven Stamkos (COVID-19 protocol, missed Thursday's and Saturday's games, played Monday), Pierre-Luc Dubois (lower body, injury suffered during Friday's practice session, missed next two games), Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID-19 protocol, out since Jan. 19, played Sunday), Mats Zuccarello (arm, made his season debut against the Kings on Tuesday), Artemi Panarin (lower body, injured Wednesday, missed Friday's game), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (lower body, missed 10 contests with his injury, played Friday), Jared Spurgeon (upper body, activated from the NHL's COVID-19 protocol Saturday, could suit up Tuesday), Shea Theodore (undisclosed, missed third straight game Sunday), Justin Schultz (face, missed the last four games after taking a puck to the face Jan. 28 against the Islanders, activated Sunday), Zach Werenski (lower body, missed three games, activated from injured reserve, played Saturday but aggravated injury) Matt Grzelcyk (lower body, banged up all season, out again, glad I drafted him over Jakob Chychrun in my home league), and Robin Lehner (upper body injury, suffered at last Thursday's practice, has missed last three games).
FOURTH LINERS/PRESS BOXERS (FALLERS)
James Neal, RW, EDM
Neal was placed on waivers by the Oilers on Friday. He served as a healthy scratch in two of the last five games, and he's accrued just three points through the nine games he has played this year. The 33-year-old Neal, signed through the 2022-23 season at a cap hit of $5.75 million AAV, was originally inked by Calgary and then dealt to Edmonton for Milan Lucic. Neal enjoyed an early season surge in 2019-20, racking up 11 goals in 14 games in October. Over his remaining 41 games, he potted just eight. Neal has been unable to turn the tide this year, resulting in him landing on waivers.
Erik Karlsson, D, SJ
Remember when Karlsson was an elite defenseman? Injuries started to nip at him in Ottawa and have gone to a new level in San Jose. The Sharks acquired Karlsson before the 2018-19 season, and despite him missing much of the second half of the year with a groin injury, San Jose signed him to an eight-year, $92 million contract extension in June 2019. Since that signing, Karlsson has not come close to earning his paycheck, as injuries and ineffective play in all three zones have resulted in a massive decline in output, moving him down the defensemen rankings. Be sure to check our injury updates, as Karlsson exited Saturday's loss to the Golden Knights and didn't play Monday due to a lower-body injury.
Juuse Saros, G, NAS
In the experts' league, after Igor Shesterkin went right before my pick, I grabbed Saros and thought I had a solid first half to my required duo between the pipes. How wrong have I been? Pekka Rinne struggled mightily last year and was entering the final year of his deal this season. Plus, Saros appeared to take over as the Predators' No. 1 netminder in 2019-20 and he held up pretty well with the increased workload, finishing the year 17-12-4 with a 2.70 GAA, a .914 save percentage, and four shutouts, apparently setting him up well for 2020-21.
Not so fast, as Saros, after a decent start, has been brutal, sitting with a 3.65 GAA and .880 save percentage.
Others include: Matt Duchene, Brandon Sutter, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Viktor Arvidsson, Rickard Rakell, David Backes, Jimmy Vesey, Tomas Tatar (healthy scratch Saturday), Duncan Keith, Alex Goligoski, Cam Fowler, Thatcher Demko, and Alexandar Georgiev.
Jordan Staal, C, CAR
For those who have read my column over the years, I don't like having two players from one team in the article. Occasionally, I make exceptions; this column is one of those exceptions. I wrote the Brett Pesce post first and then was deciding who to include for centers. Skating as the 'Canes third-line center, Staal's production has far exceeded expectations, especially after seeing his decline the last two years. With six tallies, eight helpers, 28 hits, and a plus-6 rating through 11 games, Staal is more than halfway to his 2019-20 output in just a fraction of the number of games played.