Crashing the Net: Kids to watch
The Kings are off to a tremendous start this season, leading the Pacific Division at 10-3-0, and one of the reasons for that start has been the work by blueliner Jack Johnson. The Indiana-born rearguard has nine points in 13 games, but he has been even better of late with eight points (all assists) in his last seven games. Johnson has also been a solid two-way option of late with a +4 rating in his last four games. He doesn't shoot the puck enough -- only 20 shots in 13 games -- so he isn't likely to light the lamp often (he hasn't yet this season), but he should be able to produce enough points to be worth a starting spot in almost all fantasy leagues.
The 'Canes top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Skinner, who is just 18 years old, has five goals and seven assists in 14 contests. He has really taken off of late, with four goals and four assists in his last six games. It's always a bit of a crapshoot with youngsters, as you never know how their body will respond to the rigors of an 82-game NHL season, but for now this kid is off and flying, looking like the scoring star the Hurricanes hoped when they drafted him in June.
Were you aware that this rookie has four goals in his last six games or that he has more goals than the top two picks in the 2010 NHL Draft -- Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin? (You could win a bar bet with that one.) A lifelong centerman, Wilson has been earning his keep this season off the left wing. He has also seen most of his time on the fourth line with little power-play time. In fact, he has averaged only 11:53 seconds of ice time per game this season, which makes his production of late all the more remarkable.
Someone is missing the injured Marian Gaborik an awful lot. (Gaborik hopes to return from his shoulder issue by Saturday). Frolov has six points in 14 games this season, including only two goals. For a man who has averaged 26 goals per season the past six years, two is a depressing total. (Frolov has gone eight games without lighting the lamp.) Given his track record, and the likely return of Gaborik before the end of the week, it seems like a fair bet that Frolov will pick up the pace soon.
A little fella with a nose for the net, the 5'-7" right winger scored 48 goals in 2005. He has never been able to recapture that magic, but he has scored at least 20 in each of the past four seasons, including 28 markers in just 61 games last season -- his first in Montreal. So how does he have only two goals through 14 games this season, including just one in nine games? Take a look at his shooting percentage. A career .111 shooter, his mark is just .037 this season. Given that he is still firing an average of 3.86 shots on goal per game, his slump will likely end in the near future.
Whitney was never supposed to make it. Doubted from the first time his skates touched the ice because of his size (5'-10", 180 pounds -- if he's lucky), he has defied all expectations on his way to 874 points in 1,083 career games. There was some concern that the aging little fella, he's 38, was slowing down when he scored only 21 goals and 58 points last season, but the Coyotes still gave him a two-year deal. So far it hasn't worked out, as he has yet to light the lamp in 11 games. Can he once again prove the doubters wrong?
Joe Thornton was suspended for two games for a hit he delivered to David Perron. (In this scribe's view, it was an awful decision by the NHL, which is trying to, apparently, eliminate legal hits from the game, but I digress). Into that void steps youngster Logan Couture who will center the club's top line for those two games skating alongside Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. In the first game the trio skated together, Couture had two points (goal, assist), Marleau two points (goals) and Heatley two points (goal, assist). Couture only has one more game with this duo -- one would assume -- but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be paying attention to the Sharks' first round draft pick from 2007.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two of the more gifted offensive skaters in the game, and when they team up on the same line, pity the defenders who are asked to contain them. Viktor Stalberg, in his first season in Chicago, has eight points in 16 games -- decent totals to be sure for a kid with only 56 games of NHL experience. However, his offensive production could climb considerably if he is able to hold on to the third spot on that top line in Chicago alongside the two dynamos, so keep a very close eye on Stalberg, who has four points in his last three games.
Someone is awfully hot. Not only is Bobrovsky 8-2 with a 2.19 GAA and .926 save percentage in his first 11 games in the NHL, he has also won six of his last seven starts while allowing more than two goals only twice in that stretch. (In both of those "off" games, he allowed only three tallies.) Clearly, Bobrovsky has laid claim to the net in Philly, so even when Michael Leighton is healthy, it appears like he will have an extremely difficult time dislodging this Russian-born keeper.
Named the NHL's Second Star of the just completed week after posting two shutouts, Garon has taken over in net for the Blue Jackets with a 4-1 record, 1.28 GAA and .951 save percentage. While he is blazing hot right now and a must start in all formats, it should be noted that he had a GAA of 2.92 and a save percentage of .900 during the past three season, so make sure you keep your expectations reasonable.
An early season star thanks to his 6-2 start, Neuvirth has fallen on some hard times of late. In his last four appearances, he has only two wins. Worse, his ratios have tanked (2.82 GAA, .875 save percentage). There is some concern in Washington that the workload has been a bit too heavy and that he could use a rest, but with Semyon Varlamov continuing to suffer from injuries, it will be tough for the Caps to give Neuvirth much rest.
* Six teams play four games this week: Anaheim, Atlanta, Edmonton, Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Washington.
* Six teams play only two games this week: Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Jersey and Philadelphia.