By Jan Levine, RotoWire Senior Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week’s article includes a healthy and productive Steven Stamkos, a rookie winger in Boston, a Calder Trophy winner’s return to form and a stud goalie struggling mightily …
First Liners (Risers)
Steven Stamkos, C, TB – Stamkos extended his season-long scoring streak to nine games and 18 points with one goal and three assists Saturday against the Penguins. Last season, Stamkos played in just 17 games before needing season-ending surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, the same leg that needed a metal rod three years before. This year, Stamkos is skating on a line with Vladimir Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov, which is the hottest trio in the league.
Logan Couture, C, SJ – Couture picked up a hat trick Saturday in San Jose’s 5-3 loss to the Islanders, giving him five goals. Also, seven of his eight points this season have come in the last three games. San Jose is still scuffling a bit, but Couture looks to have rounded into form.
Chris Stewart, RW, MIN – Stewart’s strong early season continued Saturday, as he tallied his sixth goal of the season against Calgary. Early in his career, Stewart looked like he would be the next great power forward, scoring 28 goals with 36 assists in his sophomore season. The 29-year old winger was traded with Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for Erik Johnson the following year and has never come close to that level of productivity. He’s a fourth-liner, so be careful not to read too much into this fine start. For now, enjoy the ride.
Anders Bjork, RW, BOS – Bjork earned a spot on the Bruins with a strong training camp and his fine early-season play should keep him in Boston. He is skating on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, an enviable position for any player. Bjork is coming off a stellar effort in his junior year at Notre Dame, in which he logged 21 goals and 52 points in 39 games. He has the speed, hands and work ethic to maintain his top-line spot even as his production varies during the season.
Evander Kane, LW, BUF – Kane, whose 43 points last season were his most since notching 57 as a 20-year old in 2011-12, is off to a great start. He tallied his sixth goal of the season Saturday against the Bruins, giving him a surprising 11 points already. Selected fourth overall in 2009, Kane is in the final season of the six-year, $31.5 million deal he signed with the Jets in September of 2012. If Buffalo is not in the playoff hunt by the trade deadline, Kane will likely be dealt elsewhere.
Olli Maatta, D, PIT – Maatta’s career has been plagued by injuries, making his six-year contract extension ($4.83 million annually) in February of 2016 look like an unwise use of cap space. After missing large chunks of time, Maatta finally appears to be the player that was selected 22nd overall in 2012, potting two goals with six assists in eight games.
Aaron Ekblad, D, FLA – After a Calder Trophy winning campaign and solid sophomore season, Ekblad had a year to forget last season. An injury in the World Cup started the downward trend, which was followed by a concussion during the season. As such, Ekblad finished with career-worst marks in games played (68), points (21) and plus-minus (minus-23). Fully healthy, Ekblad looks like the player that seamlessly fit into the NHL as a rookie after getting selected first overall in 2014, as he has a pair of goals and assists his first four games of the year.
Morgan Rielly, D, TOR – Rielly has traditionally taken on a shut-down role in his early career. This season, coach Mike Babcock has other options on the blue line – like Ron Hainsey – which has allowed Rielly to use his speed and skill to generate offense. That change has paid dividends, as Rielly has a goal and six assists his first eight games of the seaso n while averaging nearly three minutes on the power play.
Connor Hellebuyck, G WPG – RotoWire’s preseason outlook illustrates how disappointing of a season Hellebuyck had last year: “The 2016-17 campaign was intended to be Hellebuyck’s first full season patrolling the crease, but he posted a 2.99 GAA and .906 save percentage through 29 games after the All-Star break, ultimately relinquishing minutes to Ondrej Pavelec (and later, Michael Hutchinson) in a failed bid for a playoff spot.” This summer, Winnipeg signed Steve Mason to a two-year. $8.2 million deal to be their No. 1 goalie. That hasn’t worked out, as Mason has posted an 0-3-0 record and 5.96 GAA. Hellebuyck, with his win Friday, is 4-0-0 with a 2.32 GAA and .928 save percentage, establishing himself as the team’s top netminder.
Pekka Rinne, G, NAS – Rinne helped carry the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final before fading badly against the Penguins. After allowing eight goals through his first two starts, whispers had started that maybe the Predators should turn to Juuse Saros between the pipes. Since then, Rinne has quieted that talk, posting a .965 save percentage and 0.99 GAA over his latest four outings, upping his record to 4-1-1 for the season. Rinne is locked in between the pipes for an excellent Predators squad and should be a good source of wins with solid ancillary numbers.
Others include John Tavares, Nikita Kucherov, Andreas Athanasiou, Alex Kerfoot, Auston Matthews, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Evgeni Malkin, Dylan Larkin, Anze Kopitar, Ryan O’Reilly, Alexander Wennberg, Derick Brassard, Brad Marchand, Anders Lee, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dustin Brown, Jamie Benn, Alex Iafallo, Brock Boeser, David Perron, Jason Pominville, Jaden Schwartz, Viktor Arvidsson, Clayton Keller, Jeff Skinner, David Pastrnak, Patrick Kane, Reilly Smith, Evgeny Dadonov, Filip Forsberg, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux, Erik Karlsson, Mikhail Sergachev, Michael Del Zotto, Drew Doughty, Aaron Ekblad, Shayne Gostisbehere, Dougie Hamilton, Mike Green, Jake Muzzin, Ben Bishop. Jonathan Quick. Andrei Vasilevskiy, John Gibson, Jaroslav Halak and Jake Allen.
Training Room (Injuries)
Jeff Carter, C, LA – Carter suffered a damaged tendon in his left ankle that required surgery when he was cut by a skate Wednesday against the Canadiens. He will miss at least 6-8 weeks and probably longer. Carter was the Kings’ second-line center, so his absence is a huge blow to a team that had gotten off to a tremendous start.
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA – Luongo, injured Friday night against Pittsburgh, was placed on injured reserve Saturday. The belief is that the injury isn’t serious, but he will miss Florida’s next three contests and won’t be eligible to come off IR until next Saturday against Detroit. James Reimer, who has outplayed Luongo through the early part of the season and defeated Washington on Saturday, has taken over as the Panthers’ starting netminder.
Others include Tyson Jost (lower body, placed on injured reserve), Mikael Granlund (groin, has missed last five games, may be close to returning), Brian Boyle (cancer, cleared to practice), Bobby Ryan (broken finger, out at least a month), Jaromir Jagr (lower-body, placed on injured reserve), Jonathan Marchessault (lower body, could be activated from injured reserve Tuesday), Adam McQuaid (broken right fibula, out eight weeks), Cam Fowler (leg, injured reserve), Cory Schneider (lower body, placed on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 19), Malcolm Subban (lower body, out four weeks), Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion, injured reserve), Tuukka Rask (concussion, injured reserve) and Antti Raanta (lower body, injured Oct. 12, still sidelined).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Victor Rask, C, CAR – Rask tallied 16 goals with 29 assists last season. Unfortunately, his current point drought extended to five games Saturday against the Stars. He now has just two points through six games this season, and if his slow start continues, he could be moved to the bottom six.
Michael Raffl, LW, PHI – Raffl looked like a potential top-six winger for the Flyers two years ago. He fell off a cliff last year, notching just 11 points in 52 games, but there still was some hope he could fill a key role in Philly. This year has been worse for Raffl, who has no points in eight games and has seen his ice time plummet by more than three minutes. The press box looks like the next step for Raffl.
Julius Honka, D, DAL – After playing 16 games last season with the parent club, the hope was that Honka would take the next step forward in his development. Honka has been a healthy scratch at times this year and his ice time has dropped almost two minutes due to the better D in “Big D,” but that shouldn’t detract from his value in long-term keeper leagues.
Carey Price, G. MTL – Price got off to a brilliant start before hitting the skids midway through 2016-17. The switch from Michel Therrien back to Claude Julien sparked Montreal and resulted in Price re-finding his game. This year has been a nightmare for the Canadiens and Price, who leads the league with five losses and owns an .881 save percentage and 3.95 GAA. Eventually, Price will turn it around, but it might be later rather than sooner given the team’s struggles.
Others include Ryan Strome, Mikael Backlund, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zemgus Girgensons, Josh Ho-Sang, Ivan Barbashev, Alex Goligoski, Ryan McDonagh, Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ugly minus-nine rating), Petr Mrazek, Steve Mason and Matt Murray (GAA and SV%).