By Jan Levine, RotoWire Senior NHL Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week’s article includes the second overall pick in last year’s draft, a winger from the State of Hockey, a sophomore blueliner in the City of Brotherly Love, and both the Canadiens’ captain and future face of the Vancouver franchise sidelined long-term.
First Liners (Risers)
Nolan Patrick, C, PHI – Patrick has experienced the typical learning curve for a 19-year old but has found his stride recently. Philly’s second-line pivot lit the lamp in four straight contests in mid-to-late February, and after getting shut out in consecutive games, Patrick tallied a goal and an assist Saturday to raise his mark to 10 in each category.
Kevin Hayes, C, NYR – With the trade of Derek Stepan to Arizona before the 2017 draft, New York had a hole at center. Coach Alain Vigneault shifted Hayes, who had not been known for his defense, to fill that role. Hayes focused on that side of the ice, neglecting his offense, but has figured out the right balance the past few weeks. Hayes’ goal Friday set a new career high in that category with 18, and in his last 18 games, he has eight goals and six of his 14 assists on the season.
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON – Montreal has had another season to forget, but Gallagher is on the verge of setting a new career high in goals. Gallagher’s tally Saturday was his 23rd of the season, and he equaled his career mark of 24, which was set in 2014-15, Tuesday versus the Devils. He also has eight points in his last nine games.
Jason Zucker, LW, MIN – Entering the 2017-18 season, one big question was if Zucker’s campaign last year was a fluke or a true breakout. After tallying 26 points in 51 games 2015-16, Zucker tailed off to 23 points in 71 contests the following season. Zucker exploded with 22 goals, 25 assists, 172 shots and a plus-34 rating last year. But beyond that, there were signs that more growth was on the horizon, as 46 of his 47 points last year came at even strength. He got off to a slow start, but that beginning is a faded memory, as Zucker’s two goals Sunday were his 27th and 28th of the season to go along with 26 helpers. Thirteen of his points have come with the man advantage.
Sebastian Aho, LW, CAR – The Canes are hanging in playoff contention aided by the play of Aho. His assist Sunday gave the sophomore winger 28 on the season to go along with 23 goals. Aho sits just one goal shy of tying his mark from his rookie campaign last season, as he skates on a line with Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm
Ivan Provorov, D, PHI – The Flyers are blessed with several young blueliners, both on the parent club and on the farm, but Provorov may be the best of the lot. Shayne Gostisbehere is probably the best offensively, while Samuel Morin could end up the best defensive defenseman, but Provorov combines the best of each world. Provorov is up to 12 goals and 20 assists this year, so he’s possibly on pace for 40 points with future growth expected down the road.
Ryan Ellis, D, NAS – Ellis moved up to the top pairing last season, skating alongside P.K. Subban and seeing three more minutes of ice time on average. Despite missing 11 games due to injuries, Ellis posted a career-high 38 points, including 11 with the man advantage. A knee injury forced Ellis to miss the first three months of the season, depressing his price in auctions and standard drafts. Those who selected Ellis are reaping the benefits now, though, as he has 13 points in his last 12 games and 20 in 28 contests overall.
Antti Niemi, G, MON – Carey Price is out with a concussion, creating a gaping hole between the pipes. Montreal is in evaluation mode, so management may turn to Charlie Lindgren rather than Niemi. But Niemi is 2-0-1 in his last four starts, all of which have come in the last two weeks, and he’s allowed seven goals on 149 shots. He has seen his career rapidly decline that past several seasons after winning the Cup with Chicago, but if you’re desperate for goaltending help, you could do worse.
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL – After missing nearly a month, Varlamov is fully ensconced between the pipes for the Avalanche. Tuesday was his 11th straight start, and in the previous 10, Varly went 5-2-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Jonathan Bernier stood in more than nicely while Varlamov was sidelined, but Colorado looks like it will ride Varly in the quest for a playoff berth.
Others include Riley Nash (top line with Patrice Bergeron sidelined), Ryan Getzlaf, Derek Stepan, Mathew Barzal, Henrik Sedin (41 assists in 66 games), Eric Staal, Nick Bjugstad, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Pavelski, Aleksander Barkov, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Teuvo Teravainen, William Karlsson, Ryan Strome, Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikael Granlund, Bo Horvat, Sam Reinhart, Alex Iafallo, Anders Lee, Alexander Ovechkin (#40 Saturday), Taylor Hall, Claude Giroux, Jake DeBrusk, Patrik Laine, Brad Marchand, Artemi Panarin, Rickard Rakell, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Spooner, Mikko Rantanen, Mark Stone, Phil Kessel, Evgenii Dadonov, Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Reilly Smith, Daniel Sedin, Yanni Gourde, Jonathan Huberdeau, John Carlson, Cam Fowler, Torey Krug, Olli Maatta, Ryan Suter, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Karlsson, Neal Pionk, Brian Dumoulin, Tyson Barrie, Anton Khudobin, Charlie Lindgren (your Niemi hedge), Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson, Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk.
Training Room (Injuries)
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON – This has been a season to forget for Patches. A knee injury will sideline Pacioretty the next 4-6 weeks, likely keeping him out the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, this is far from the worst thing Pacioretty has endured, as he has slumped to just 17 goals, 20 assists and a minus-17 rating in 64 games after posting 35, 32 and plus-15 rating a year ago. Strong rumors and whispers exist that the Montreal captain could get moved in the offseason, possibly to Florida, where he reportedly has expressed an interest in playing.
Brock Boeser, LW, VAN – Boeser was hurt late in Monday’s game against the Islanders and will be sidelined 4-6 weeks due to a back injury. The 23rd overall pick looked to be neck-and-neck with Mathew Barzal in the Calder Trophy race, but now will need to watch from the sidelines. The dynamic rookie with the quick release had a breakout campaign with Vancouver this season, notching 29 goals along with 26 assists and 179 shots on net in 62 games.
Others include Auston Matthews (shoulder, injured February 22, could be back Saturday), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (ribs, injured January 13, return to action with a goal Saturday while skating to the left of Connor McDavid), Mark Scheifele (left Tuesday’s game with an upper-body injury), Reilly Smith (left Tuesday’s game with an upper-body injury), Wayne Simmonds (upper body, injured Feb, 18, resumed skating last Wednesday and could be back this weekend), Ryan McDonagh (out since Feb. 7 with broken hand, should play Thursday against the Rangers), Jacob Trouba (ankle, out since Jan. 25, aiming to return after Winnipeg’s current six-game road trip), Charlie McAvoy (strained left MCL, injured Saturday, out four weeks), Carey Price (concussion, out indefinitely), Matt Murray (concussion, injured in the morning skate on February 26, skated on his own prior to Monday’s game-day skate) and Tuukka Rask (lower-body, day-to-day, missed Tuesday’s game).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Alex Kerfoot, C, COL – Kerfoot exceeded expectations during the first part of the season but appears to have hit the rookie wall. After scoring 33 points in his first 45 games, Kerfoot has recorded just three goals and an assist through 18 games since the All-Star break. Kerfoot, a Hobey Baker finalist who recorded 45 points (16-29) for Harvard last year, was originally selected by the Devils in the fifth round of the 2012 entry draft at 150th overall but opted not to sign with New Jersey. Instead, he inked a contract this offseason with Colorado, where he should continue to be a second or third center for awhile.
Danton Heinen, LW, BOS – Heinen saw top-six duty earlier this season, racking up 38 points in his first 58 games. But, the wheels have fallen off lately, as the 2014 fourth-rounder has just one point his last 11 games. That decline in production has somewhat corresponded with the Bruins’ trade deadline moves that saw Rick Nash and Tommy Wingels come to Boston and reduce his role. The future is still fairly bright for the 22-year-old, but for the remainder of the current campaign, he’s likely to remain relevant only in deep formats.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, ARI – Two years ago, OEL potted 21 goals and added 34 assists with a relatively decent minus-6 rating. The past two seasons, his fantasy worth has plummeted along with the Coyotes in the standings. Ekman-Larsson sank to 12 goals, 27 assists and a minus-25 rating in 2016-17, but he was just getting started. This season, OEL only has nine goals, which is his worst total since the 2012-13 lockout season, with 24 assists and a league-low minus-34 rating. Arizona has resisted trading him, but with one year left on the six-year extension he signed in March 2013, the Swedish blueliners could be on the move either at the draft or during the season.
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI – Halak entered Monday’s road contest against the Canucks with an 0-4-1 record in his last five starts, having allowed 18 goals on 146 shots. Overall, the 32-year-old netminder has a 3.23 GAA and .908 save percentage, but still is the best option the Islanders have between the pipes. If the Isles are to make a run, it will be the offense that drives the push, but the team will need Halak to play as he did when he came back from AHL Bridgeport last season.
Others include Brock Nelson, Ryan Kesler, Alexander Wennberg, Blake Comeau, Jakob Silfverberg, Tage Thompson, Marian Gaborik, Jake Dotchin, Sebastian Aho, Travis Dermott, Oscar Klefbom, Mikhail Sergachev, Cam Talbot, Casey DeSmith and Jake Allen.