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Fantasy Hockey: Jack Eichel could make an impact as soon as next month

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By Jan Levine, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

This week's fantasy hockey article includes Hockeytown's top pivotman, Rust in the Steel City, Colorado's No. 1 goalie, Eichel inching closer to returning and a long-term deal not paying dividends on the Island.

First Liners (Risers)

Anze Kopitar, C, LA

Kopitar continues to roll, showing no signs of slippage or aging, racking up a five-game point streak leading into the All-Star break. In addition, he has hit the scoresheet in 10 of his last 12 games; the 34-year-old center is up to 42 points, 130 shots on net, 41 hits, 40 blocked shots and a minus-5 rating in 47 appearances. Kopitar, who hit the 1,000-point mark at the end of the 2020-21 season, is firmly entrenched as the Kings' top-line center with Phillip Danault at the No. 2.

Dylan Larkin, C, DET

Rumors of Larkin's demise were greatly exaggerated. Coming off a brutal 2020-21 season, Larkin has re-established himself as an All-Star and top-line center in the league. During his three-game point streak leading to the All-Star Game, Larkin racked up three goals and three assists. He's gotten on the scoresheet in seven of his last 10 games, propelling his season point total to 44 in 42 games and putting him on pace to exceed his career-high set in 2018-19 of 73 points in 76 games.

Matthew Boldy, LW, MIN

Boldy, selected 12th overall in 2019, has fit in quite well with the Wild attack since his promotion in early January. Despite missing time due to a pair of injuries, Boldy picked up four goals and 10 points in 10 games for AHL Iowa before his call-up. Ensconced on the second line at even strength and seeing some first-line man-advantage playing time, Boldy has four goals and six assists with a plus-nine in 10 games for Minnesota. He is likely in the NHL to stay.

Bryan Rust, RW, PIT

Injuries have limited Rust to just 24 games, but he has been exceedingly productive when healthy. Rust posted back-to-back two-goal performances to close out the pre-All-Star Game portion of the schedule, and he has 14 goals and 32 points. After a breakout 2019-20 season in which he scored 27 goals and 56 points, Rust took a slight step back offensively last year. He registered 22 goals and 42 points (including 11 power-play points) through 56 games. If he can stay healthy, Rust, skating on a line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby, could approach the mark he posted two seasons ago.

Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Bryan Rust (17) is making a serious fantasy hockey impact when healthy
A healthy Bryan Rust is a productive fantasy hockey winger. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Duncan Keith, D, EDM

Keith has a goal and 13 assists in 33 games but nine of those points — all assists — have come in his last 12 games since Dec. 31. Signed to provide a veteran presence to the Oilers' blueline, Keith skates on the second pair for Edmonton. He averages nearly 21 minutes a game, with two minutes coming shorthanded, as he sees just 12 seconds per game on the power play. The hot streak will end, but playing on a high-powered offense should continue to allow Keith to get on the scoreboard.

Dmitry Orlov, D, WAS

Orlov is not a first or second defenseman in most fantasy formats, but that doesn't mean he has no value. He has found another gear since Christmas despite missing four games due to a stint on the COVID-19 list and a suspension, collecting three goals and eight points in his last 11 games. Orlov is up 22 points this season, the seventh consecutive campaign he has posted that kind of production. The hot pace is likely not sustainable, but even with a mild regression, Orlov is a strong candidate to exceed the career-high 33 points he notched in 2016-17.

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Darcy Kuemper, G, COL

Last week, Pavel Francouz got the bolded, highlighted treatment — this week it's Kuemper. His overtime loss Tuesday ended Kuemper's five-game winning streak during which he posted a 1.52 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. Francouz's fine play when Kuemper was struggling earned him a larger share of the net-minding duty in Colorado. But Kuemper is still the No. 1 goalie for the Avalanche, though his hold on the job has gotten slightly more tenuous.

Ilya Sorokin, G, NYI

The Islanders have gotten somewhat back in the playoff race, though they have a long way to go to be considered true contenders for a wild card, but this recent run has been driven by the play of Sorokin between the pipes. Following a 4-1 win over Ottawa last Tuesday, the 26-year-old netminder is 7-2-1 in his last 10 starts stretching to Dec. 11. In that span, Sorokin has posted a 1.99 goals-against average and .925 save percentage, improving his season marks to 2.31 and .924, respectively. Semyon Varlamov still is splitting time in net, but Sorokin has been the more effective man between the pipes.

Others include Phillip Danault, Jared McCann, Frederick Gaudreau, Clayton Keller, Anton Lundell, Mika Zibanejad, Vincent Trocheck, Mathew Barzal, Tyler Ennis, Elias Lindholm, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Michael Bunting, Nazem Kadri, Zach Parise, Zach Hyman, Trevor Moore, Troy Terry, Rudolfs Balcers, Kevin Fiala, Alex Tuch, Patrik Laine, Evander Kane, Roope Hintz, Chris Kreider, Victor Hedman, Morgan Rielly, Luke Schenn (hits galore) Philipp Grubauer, Cam Talbot, Petr Mrazek, Linus Ullmark, Robin Lehner and Matt Murray.

Trade For

Blake Coleman, LW, CGY

Coleman, who won back-to-back Cups with Tampa Bay, signed a six-year, $29.4 million contract with the Flames in July 2021. Signed to provide secondary scoring and a physical presence, Coleman started slowly in Calgary but has been making up for lost time recently. The 30-year-old has stepped up with six goals and five assists in his last 13 games, giving him 18 points in 41 appearances this season. He's added 128 shots on net, 89 hits and a plus-5 rating in a second-line role.

Training Room (Injuries)

Jack Eichel, C, LV

Eichel, recovering from neck surgery, took part in full-contact practice Monday. Acquired from Buffalo on Nov. 4, Eichel underwent surgery about a week later and began skating with the Golden Knights on Jan. 12. Eichel figures to need a fair amount of full-contact practice before returning from long-term injured reserve but could make his debut sometime in March. Once active, Eichel likely will slot in as Vegas' first-line center flanked by Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.

Others include players still on the COVID-19 protocol list, as well as Josh Norris (shoulder, surgery not needed, out at least another two weeks), Teuvo Teravainen (lower body, out since Jan. 27, did not play Monday against the Maple Leafs), Dougie Hamilton (jaw, skated on his own before Sunday's practice, not yet cleared for contact and out at least the next three games) and Tuukka Rask (lower body, out at least another week).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Kirby Dach, C, CHI

Dach was a late-round retention for me in my home league based on the hope he would fill the second-line center role in Chicago and build off the mild success he had after returning from injury last season. That decision looks to be a major mistake based on what we've seen in the first half of this year. Dach was moved down to the third line, and even though he filled in on the second line the last three games with Jonathan Toews (concussion) out of the lineup, little was seen from him. With 15 points, 73 shots on net, a minus-3 rating and 33 PIM in 42 games, Dach likely can be left on waivers in most standard redraft leagues.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, VAN

The downward slide that began in Ekman-Larsson's 2019-20 has continued unabated this season. He finally ended a 24-game goalless streak Tuesday, during which he posted just four assists. Ekman-Larsson has just three goals and six assists in 43 games, though if there is a silver lining, his advanced defensive metrics are solid. Unless your league utilized those categories, however, they are of little solace. In addition (to pile on), Ekman-Larsson has five years remaining after this season on the eight-year, $66 million deal he signed with Arizona, which dealt him to Vancouver this offseason.

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Elvis Merzlikins, G, CLM

Merzlikins had a solid rookie season, and despite regression in his second season, mirroring that of the team overall, Columbus signed him to a five-year, $27 million contract extension in September 2021. If he regressed last year, Merzlikins might be hitting rock bottom this season. The 27-year-old netminder is in the midst of the worst slump of his season, with a 1-4-0 record and 5.19 goals-against average (GAA) in his last five games, making his overall numbers 14-12-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .905 save percentage. His only saving grace is that Joonas Korpisalo might be worse in net.

Others include Jamie Benn, Pius Suter, Tomas Tatar, Josh Bailey, Martin Necas, Radko Gudas, Mario Ferraro, and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Trade Away

Kyle Palmieri, LW, NYI

Palmieri has yet to register a point in four games since he was activated from injured reserve with a lower-body injury. After struggling with the Islanders following his arrival from the Devils, Palmieri had a strong showing in the playoffs, resulting in New York signing him to a four-year $20 million contract this offseason. That signing has yet to pay off as Palmieri has only lit the lamp once this season to go with six assists. Coach Barry Trotz has moved him across multiple lines with no success, and the next option may be to bench him, though he entered COVID protocol on Monday, which will sideline him.