By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes the No. 1 pivotman in San Jose staying hot, a budding young winger in the U.S. capital, an unsung blueliner in Colorado, a backup netminder holding down the fort in Minnesota, Werenski down a month and Pittsburgh's goalie scuffling.
First Liners (Risers)
Logan Couture, C, San Jose Sharks
Couture got off to a slow start in lighting the lamp, but he has recently rectified that weakness. His two markers Saturday gave San Jose's first-line center six lamplighters in his last six games — aided by a regression up to close to the mean in his shooting percentage — and eight overall on the season. Add in 20 assists and Couture is scoring a point-per-game after scoring a career-high 70 points last season.
John Tavares, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto's change in coaches from Mike Babcock to Sheldon Keefe has resulted in an uptick in Tavares' output. Whether due to causation or correlation, JT has six points, including four goals in his last three games; his goal Saturday was the game-winner. After posting a career-high 88 points his first season up north last year, Tavares is up to 20 points in 21 games despite missing seven games with a broken finger.
J.T. Miller, LW, Vancouver Canucks
Miller just continues to roll for the Orcas. His assist Saturday gave Miller four goals and three helpers in his last five games, including four power-play points and one while shorthanded. Miller's posted 27 points in as many games with 65 shots on goal and 43 hits this season. He scored 56 and 58 (career-high) points in 2016-17 and 17-18 before dropping to 47 points last season. Miller is on pace to far exceed that career-high in points, aided by a major spike in time-on-ice, including an extra two minutes on the man-advantage.
Jimmy Vesey, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Vesey was on the wrong side of the ledger most of the season, but coach Ralph Krueger's promotion of Vesey to Buffalo's top line for a short stint recently has paid great dividends. Vesey scored in three consecutive games and added a pair of assists in a five-game stretch before getting shut out Saturday. Vesey is still a boom-or-bust player, as seen by his highs and lows this season, but in the last year of his contract (he’ll be a UFA after the season), he is trying to prove he deserves a long-term deal, which adds to his motivation for a strong campaign.
Jakub Vrana, LW, Washington Capitals
Vrana's rise in production last season earned the winger a two-year, $6.7 million contract with the Capitals in July 2019. His re-signing at that cap figure looks like a steal for Vrana, who is taking another step forward this season. The Czech winger sits at 12 goals and 11 assists in 28 games, putting Vrana on pace for 36 goals, 30 assists and a plus-18 rating this season. His ice time is relatively static to last year’s, save for a 30-second rise in time on the power play, where he already has exceeded his 2018-19 numbers. Start him with confidence.
Ryan Graves, D, Colorado Avalanche
Graves, who came over to the Avalanche in February 2018 in exchange for Chris Bigras, has solidified his spot as one of Colorado's top-six defensemen this year. The 24 year old is up to nine points in 25 outings overall this season. He's added 56 blocked shots, 36 shots on goal, 35 hits, and 27 PIM. Graves' has been especially good lately, with a goal, two helpers and a plus-7 rating in his last three appearances. The 6-foot-5 blueliner may be worth an add in deeper fantasy formats, especially ones that utilize hits and blocked shots.
Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Slavin's production the first four seasons of his career was nice but not spectacular, with him scoring between 31 and 34 his last three campaigns. This year, he has taken a major step forward offensively following the trade of Justin Faulk for Jake Gardiner. Slavin already has three goals and 13 assists in 27 games, putting the Colorado-born blueliner and fourth-round pick in 2012 on pace for close to 50 points.
Alex Stalock, G, Minnesota Wild
Stalock has filled the breach created with Devan Dubnyk sidelined due to a personal matter. Heading into Sunday's start, Stalock, who spent the first five seasons of his career in San Jose before arriving in Minnesota, had started six of seven games, registering a .920 save percentage and 3-0-2 record while surrendering 13 goals. He allowed just two goals on 28 shots in a 3-2 shootout win Sunday. There is no timetable for Dubnyk's return, so look for Stalock to continue to man the fort between the pipes for the Wild.
Others include Evgeny Kuznetsov, Sean Couturier, Brayden Point, Ryan O'Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, Anthony Cirelli, Nikolay Prokhorkin, Sam Gagner (filling in for RNH), Brad Marchand, Joel Armia, Zach Parise, T.J. Oshie, Elias Lindholm, Ivan Barbashev, Jake Virtanen, Calle Jarnkrok, Kevin Fiala, Joonas Donskoi, Jakub Voracek, Tomas Tatar, David Pastrnak, Gustav Nyquist, Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Ovechkin, Kyle Connor, Nikita Kucherov, Robby Fabbri, Jared Spurgeon, Olli Maatta, Quinn Hughes, Jacob Trouba, Erik Karlsson, Adam Fox, Martin Jones, Frederik Andersen, Joonas Korpisalo, Connor Hellebuyck, Carter Hart and Jake Allen.
David Rittich, G, Calgary Flames
For a second straight week, a Flame earns the bold treatment. Despite everything swirling around the team, which resulted in the rightful removal of Bill Peters, Rittich had a big week following a fortnight with no wins. With Saturday's victory, Rittich is 3-0-1 over his last four starts, and on the season he sports a 12-7-2 mark with a 2.68 goals-against average (GAA) and .915 save percentage. Cam Talbot has proven not to be a major threat behind the pipes, so Rittich is clearly the main man in net for Calgary.
Training Room (Injuries)
Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski injured his shoulder Saturday running into the Blue Jackets net and will miss the next four weeks. After tallying 47 points as a rookie and slipping to 37 the following season, Werenski bumped his output back up to 44 points last season and signed a three-year, $15 bridge contract with Columbus this offseason. Prior to getting injured, Werenski posted six goals and 16 points — seven on the power play — through 26 games. Ryan Murray stands to be the top left-handed defenseman in his stead.
Others include Mika Zibanejad (neck, missed last 13 games, played this past Wednesday versus Carolina), Jack Hughes (lower-body injury, missed second straight game Monday), Dylan Strome (concussion, missed third straight game Saturday). Steven Stamkos (lower-body injury fractures, missed three consecutive games, played Friday), Nicklas Backstrom (upper-body injury, missed five straight games, could play Tuesday), Mikko Rantanen (lower-body injury, out since Oct. 21, returned with a goal and three assists Saturday), Gabriel Landeskog (lower body, has missed 15 games, could return during the Avalanche's upcoming three-game road trip), Andre Burakovsky (upper-body injury, missed second straight game Saturday), Bryan Rust (lower body, missed Saturday's game), Jesse Puljujarvi (won't return to NHL this year), Tomas Hertl (undisclosed, missed four straight games, returned to action Friday), Rasmus Dahlin (concussion, injured Monday, Nov. 25, out indefinitely) and Devan Dubnyk (family reasons, out since Nov. 19, will not join the Wild on their upcoming three-game road trip).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Barrett Hayton, C, Arizona Coyotes
Hayton, the fifth pick in the 2018 draft, extended his pointless streak to eight games Friday. This lack of production earned Hayton a spot in the press box on Saturday. Viewed as a mild reach but a fast riser when he was drafted, Hayton is still feeling his way in the NHL. With Arizona firmly in the playoff mix, coach Rick Tocchet may need to be judicious with how he uses Hayton, balancing the need for production and team wins with growth from the youngster.
Brad Hunt, D, Minnesota Wild
Hunt continued his fine play from 2018-19, racking up 10 points his first 17 games of the season and averaging 15:27 of ice time, including 2:12 on the man-advantage. Since Nov. 9, Hunt has notched just one assist his last 10 games while posting a minus-four rating. Hunt continues to see copious time on the power play, though that has not resulted in production. With Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Mathew Dumba healthy, Hunt should struggle to score consistently.
Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Murray has hit the skids lately. After allowing five goals on 27 shots Saturday, Murray has now yielded four or more goals in each of his last four starts and has seen his season save percentage dip below .900. The 25 year old has just one win in his last six starts and is now 9-5-4 on the season with a 2.84 GAA and an .897 save percentage. Murray's downturn came shortly after Pittsburgh lost Sidney Crosby, which is somewhat of an indication of just how valuable the star center is in all aspects.
Others include Craig Smith, Tyler Johnson, Taylor Hall (rumored to be on the trading block, which might be a very good thing for his production), Joe Pavelski, Jake Gardiner, Ryan Pulock, Carter Hutton, John Gibson, and Jonathan Quick.
Jordan Eberle, LW, New York Islanders
Eberle's struggles this year resulted in a brief demotion from the second to the third line this past week. The No. 22 pick in 2012 dropped from 59 to 37 points last season, yet signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract to remain an Islander in June 2019. Eberle's contract might have been partially influenced by his postseason output, as he notched four goals and nine points in eight playoff contests, along with his status on the squad. But New York is far from getting bang for their buck due to his poor first third of the season, though he did tally his first two goals of the season Monday.