By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes the No. 1 center on Broadway, a young winger in Buffalo, a veteran blueliner making the most of his chance in the Sunshine State, Vegas losing a key member of its defense, and the chants in Home of Hockey might be “Boo!” — not “Zucc!”.
First Liners (Risers)
Mika Zibanejad, C, New York Rangers
Eight points in two games warrants bold treatment even if he is likely rostered in all formats. Zibanejad has meshed ridiculously well with new addition Artemi Panarin and holdover Pavel Buchnevich — the AMP line, according to Larry Brooks — with that trio factoring into almost 11 goals New York tallied the first two games of the season. Zib notched career highs in goals (30) and assists (44) last season; each mark may be at risk of falling this year.
Victor Olofsson, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Olofsson spent most of 2018-19 in the AHL, compiling 30 goals and 63 points in 66 games. He didn't look out of place in a cup of coffee at the end of the season, notching two power-play goals and two assists in a six-game taste of NHL action. Olofsson parlayed a solid training camp into top line placement, both at even strength and on the power play, alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. So far, so good, as Olofsson has three goals on the man-advantage along with an assist in the first two games of the season.
Blake Coleman, LW, New Jersey Devils
When you think of New Jersey forwards, Coleman, selected 75th overall in 2011, is not the first or even fourth name that would come to mind. But he is the one who has produced the best early in the season. Through two games, Coleman — who is skating on the second line — has two goals and an assist, building off a 2018-19 campaign where he recorded a career-high 36 points and eclipsed 20 goals (22) for the first time in his career.
Neal Pionk, D, Winnipeg Jets
Pionk showed offensive ability while a member of the Rangers, but his defensive issues landed the young blueliner in the press box. He was dealt this offseason to Winnipeg in the Jacob Trouba deal. With Trouba no longer in the fold and Dustin Byfuglien determining his future, the Jets have a huge hole on defense. Pionk is seeing almost three-and-a-half more minutes of ice time, with 2:10 of his 24:42 nightly on the man-advantage. This bodes well for his future success, albeit with a possible weak plus-minus.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
Hell hath no fury like a scorned hockey player (yes, I am modifying William Congreve, not William Shakespeare as many have credited, but you get the idea). Shattenkirk took less money and years to sign with his hometown Rangers, but injuries and ineffective play — continuing a pattern that started his last season in St. Louis — wreaked havoc on that deal. After getting bought out on Aug. 1, Shattenkirk inked a one-year, $1.75 million contract with Tampa Bay four days later. While he isn't seeing much power play time, the weapons around him have allowed Shattenkirk to post two goals and an assist through the first three games of the year.
John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks
Gibson was brilliant early last season, carrying the Ducks while receiving some Hart and Vezina Trophy consideration. He wore down due to the heavy workload and suffered an upper-body injury in February that slowed him. Anaheim could struggle this season, as Ryan Getzlaf continues to age and the team incorporates some younger players, but Gibson has been sharp early on. He allowed one goal on 36 shots in a win Saturday, improving to 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .971 save percentage.
Philipp Grubauer, G, Colorado Avalanche
Grubauer moved from Washington to Colorado before last season, supplanting Semyon Varlamov as the starter during the year. He posted an 18-9-5 record, 2.64 GAA and .917 save percentage between 33 starts and 37 total games. Varlamov is now on the Island, making Grubauer the unquestioned No. 1 between the pipes for the Avalanche. He has rewarded that faith early on, winning his first two starts while allowing five goals on 61 shots.
Others include: Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Sean Monahan, Matt Duchene, Jack Eichel, Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl, Mitch Marner, Johnny Gaudreau, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mikko Rantanen, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tyler Bertuzzi, Artemi Panarin, Sammy Blais, James Neal ("the McDavid effect"), Andrei Svechnikov, Mike Hoffman, Anthony Mantha, Jacob Trouba, Rasmus Dahlin, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Ellis, Cale Makar, Dougie Hamilton, Tyson Barrie Oscar Klefbom, Dmitry Orlov, Carter Hutton, Matt Murray, Ilya Samsonov, Marc-Andre Fleury and Frederik Andersen.
Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers
If for some reason a gamer in your league looks at Barkov with just one point in two games and is concerned that his production won't match his lofty draft position, run, don't walk, to grab him. Barkov posted 35 goals and 61 assists while skating 22:21, including 3:31 on the man-advantage, nightly. He still gets three-plus minutes on the power play, though one concerning number is that his ice-time is down 1:45 a game. He will heat up and post more than a point a game, so pounce now if the opportunity arises.
Ondrej Kase, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Kase was limited last season to just 30 games due to a concussion and a torn labrum in his shoulder, which required surgery. In those 30 games, the Czech winger posted 11 goals and nine assists after tallying 20 and 18, respectively, in 66 contests the prior season. Now healthy, Kase already has 11 shots and a pair of assists through two games. With volume like that, it's only a matter of time before one of those attempts ends up rippling twine.
Training Room (Injuries)
Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Malkin will miss at least a month with a soft tissue injury in his leg suffered Saturday. His absence leaves a gaping hole at the team's second-line center. Jared McCann may get the first chance at filling that role. Malkin is coming off a down season in which he notched 72 points in 68 games, a year after he tallied 98 points.
Nate Schmidt, D, Las Vegas Golden Knights
Schmidt was placed on the injured list Friday after taking a knee-to-knee hit Opening Night. This marks the second straight season that Schmidt will miss a chunk of the year, as a 20-game ban for violating the NHL's performance-enhancing drug policy set him back to start the year last season. With Schmidt sidelined, Nicolas Hague and/or Jimmy Schuldt will need to help pick up the slack on the Golden Knights blue line.
Others include: Robert Thomas (upper-body injury, missed Saturday's game), Brayden Point (hip, still sidelined, missed Saturday's and Sunday's contests), David Krejci (lower-body injury, missed Opening Night and Saturday's contests), Sam Steel (upper-body injury, day-to-day) Adam Larsson (fractured left fibula, placed on long-term injured reserve) and Antti Raanta (lower body, posted shutout in conditioning stint, back with parent club).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Ryan Dzingel, C, Carolina Hurricanes
Dzingel set career highs in goals (26) and assists (30) in 78 games split between the Senators and Blue Jackets last campaign. He was unable to carry over that success to the playoffs, tallying just one point in nine games. Carolina inked Dzingel to a two-year, $6.75 million deal this offseason to provide depth. He is skating with Erik Haula and Jordan Martinook on the Hurricanes' third line, which will limit his offensive chances.
Mats Zuccarello, LW, Minnesota Wild
Zuccarello parlayed his history with the Rangers and a strong run with the Stars into a five-year, $30 million contract with the Wild. I am a huge Zucc fan, stretching back to when I was clamoring for New York to bring him back from overseas, but even this deal surprised me, as I am unsure how well his game will age.
The good news is that he is on Minnesota's top line with Eric Staal and Zach Parise. The bad news is that this trio struggled against Nashville and Colorado, as it lacks the foot speed to keep up with the faster Western teams, which might adversely affect Zucc's production.
Joonas Korpisalo/Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets
Korpisalo and Merzlikins didn't inspire much confidence while trying to replace Sergei Bobrovsky in their opening forays. Korpisalo stopped 25 of 29 shots in Columbus' loss to Pittsburgh on Friday while Merzlikins turned aside just 33 of 40 shots in the Blue Jackets' 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Penguins on Saturday. If choosing one, my money is on Merzlikins, but neither looked like a reliable option in their first outings this season, augmented by Korpisalo blowing 2-0 and 3-2 leads in a 4-3 overtime win over the Sabres on Monday.
Others include: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Derick Brassard, Ryan Strome, Paul Stastny, Anders Bjork, Milan Lucic (unless you need penalty minutes), Josh Ho-Sang, Duncan Keith, Sami Niku, MacKenzie Blackwood, Martin Jones, and Jonathan Quick.
Sami Vatanen, D, New Jersey Devils
Vatanen tallied a goal in the Devils' season opener, but that's not the main story of his game. After averaging 2:15 on the power play last season, Vatanen has received no time on the man advantage in either of New Jersey's first two contests. P.K. Subban and Will Butcher are seeing almost of the time while the Devils skate 5-on-4, which cuts into Vatanen's value. As RotoWire noted after the first game of the season, "76 of Vatanen's 172 career points have come on the power play, so he'll have a hard time cracking 20 points if he doesn't carve out a role on the man advantage."