By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week’s article includes the “other” center in Pittsburgh, a Winnipeg blueliner stepping up, the new No. 1 netminder in Calgary, and last year’s second overall pick scuffling in Carolina.
First Liners (Risers)
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
Malkin sometimes gets lost in Sidney Crosby’s shadow, but he is an elite center in his own right. After posting 58 points in 57 games in 2015-16, Malkin notched 72 in 62 games the following year before tallying 98 points last year — his most since 2011-12. Malkin, the 2004 second overall pick, has struggled slightly this season but appears to be waking up with two goals and nine points in his last six games. He now has 14 goals and 49 points in 45 contests.
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
Toews had seen his production decline the past several seasons. After posting 68 points in 2013-14, Toews’ output dropped to 66, then 58 the following two seasons before declining to 52 last year. Toews got off to a red-hot start this season before running into rough times, but he has scored at least one point in nine of his last 10 contests and is now up to 18 goals and 24 assists in 48 games. The Blackhawks as a team are enduring a rough campaign, but their captain has turned back the clock slightly.
Jake Guentzel, LW, PIT
Guentzel was a revelation in his rookie campaign, posting 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 games. That output raised expectations coming into last season, when he notched 22 goals and 26 assists. The good news is that Pittsburgh realized that Guentzel should be to the left of Sidney Crosby, which is where he has lined up this season while lighting the lamp 23 times to go with 21 assists in 45 contests. 10 of his goals have come in the last 10 games, as well.
Jakub Vrana, LW, WAS
Vrana, the 13th overall pick in 2014, had an uneven rookie season, getting shuffled in and out of the lineup. He posted eight points in 23 playoff games, showing some signs that he could be relied on in key situations. Vrana has found his game lately, notching four goals and five points in his last eight games to give the speedy winger 15 goals and 10 assists on the season. Now on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, Vrana appears to be set up for a big second half.
Jacob Trouba, D, WPG
Trouba is helping Winnipeg withstand the absence of Dustin Byfuglien. Overall, Trouba has 23 points in 45 games, with eight of those points coming in the last seven contests. Trouba’s career high is 33 points in 2016-17. He is on pace to exceed that total this year with much of his time on the power play coming while Big Buff has been sidelined.
Erik Karlsson, D, SJ
Since Dec. 1, Karlsson has notched a goal and 17 assists in 13 games, with 15 of those points coming in a recent six-game stretch. After a very slow start, Karlsson is up to three goals and 38 assists in 45 games and looks more like the elite blueliner who tallied 82, 71 and 62 points in 230 games the past three seasons.
Laurent Brossoit, G, WPG
Brossoit won’t unseat Connor Hellebuyck as the Jets’ top goaltender, but he has been solid this year. Starting for the first time since Dec. 22, Brossoit defeated the Red Wings on Friday and is now 9-1-1 with a 2.10 GAA and .939 save percentage in 11 games. Brossoit is best used in DFS and very deep leagues, as his fine numbers shouldn’t be ignored.
David Rittich, G, CGY
Rittich has pretty clearly taken over as the top netminder in Calgary. Mike Smith is still around and picked up the win Sunday, but Rittich has won his last five starts despite a .902 save percentage, and is 8-1-2 in his last 11 games. Overall, Rittich owns a .920 save percentage and 2.45 GAA this season along with a dazzling 17-4-3 record. It’s still possible that Calgary will look to acquire a top-tier netminder for the stretch run, but Rittich has helped the Flames post the top mark in the West.
Others include Sean Monahan, Chris Tierney, Nico Hischier, Brayden Point, Brock Nelson, Oskar Sundqvist, Pierre-Luc Dubois, John Tavares, Sean Kuraly, Ryan Johansen, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Radulov, Blake Coleman, Kyle Connor, Jeff Skinner, Mike Hoffman, Mikko Rantanen, Conor Garland, Cam Atkinson, Joonas Donskoi (check injury status), Sam Reinhart, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho, Alex Tuch, Nikita Kucherov, Phil Kessel, Michael Frolik, Morgan Rielly, Kris Letang, Jeff Petry, Jared Spurgeon, Mark Giordano, Mattias Ekholm, Zach Werenski, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Murray, Anton Khudobin, Tuukka Rask, Darcy Kuemper, Jordan Binnington and Curtis McElhinney.
Jordan Greenway, RW, MIN
Greenway, a second round pick in 2015, looks to be finding his form. The Boston University product was more than willing to use his 6-foot-6 size, carving out room in the offensive zone while scoring 92 points in 112 games. Grennway got his first taste of the NHL last season, notching an assist in six games. His minutes this year have been limited, but Greenway is up to eight goals and 14 points through 44 games while now skating on the second line with Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter.
Training Room (Injuries)
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
Holtby was injured Saturday night when Cam Atkinson’s stick slipped through Holtby’s mask, hit him in the face, and appeared to affect his eye. While Holtby did not suffer a serious injury and was able to practice Sunday, Pheonix Copley started Monday and would see the majority of the action if the injury ends up sidelining Holtby for more than the one game. Holtby’s overall numbers are similar to that of last year’s early struggles, but he had righted the ship recently prior to leaving Saturday’s game.
Others include Jack Eichel (upper body, returned to action Friday), Kevin Hayes (upper-body, still sidelined but started skating this past week), Elias Pettersson (knee, could play Wednesday), Michael Rasmussen (lower-body injury, missed fourth consecutive game Saturday), Andrew Shaw (neck, missed seventh straight game Monday), Robert Thomas (upper body, will miss the Blues four-game road trip), Alexander Steen (shoulder, could return during St. Louis four-game road trip), Colin Miller (undisclosed, missed his 12th consecutive game Saturday), Patric Hornqvist (concussion, skated Friday and Saturday), Charlie McAvoy (foot, activated from injured reserve Saturday following a seven-game injury layoff), Oscar Klefbom (finger, expected to start skating soon, but won’t return to action until after the All-Star break), Frederik Andersen (groin, still sidelined, now with illness) and MacKenzie Blackwood (lower body, started Saturday).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Filip Chytil, C, NYR
Chytil’s goal Saturday was his first since Dec. 18 and just his second since Nov. 21. Shifted from center to wing, Chytil has also been bounced around the depth chart during his rookie campaign. Selected 21st overall in the 2017 draft, Chytil — who is just 19 years old — projects to be a top-line center or wing as he matures. But expect the growing pains to continue for the near-term despite that he has points in three straight skating on the second line while Kevin Hayes has been sidelined.
Andrei Svechnikov, LW, CAR
Svechnikov was held off the scoresheet for the 11th time in the last 12 games Sunday against Nashville. Selected second overall in last year’s draft, Svechnikov has alternated hot and cold streaks in his rookie season. Even with those wide swings of play, Svechnikov has 19 points through 44 games and could still crack the 40-point mark with a strong push in the second half. Carolina will continue playing the rookie, though his minutes may continue to be curtailed until he finds his form again.
Sami Vatanen, D, NJ
Following Saturday’s game. Vatanen had just two points — which came in the same game — in his last 12 contests. After coming over from Anaheim last year, Vatanen posted 28 points in 57 games as a Devil. Vatanen is probably the best two-way blue liner on the team, but he had just 15 points in 41 games on the year before tallying a goal and assist Monday.
Others include Eric Staal, William Nylander, Derek Ryan, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Toffoli, Patrick Maroon, Conor Sheary, Kevin Shattenkirk, Vince Dunn, Anton Stralman, Devan Dubnyk and Henrik Lundqvist.
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
I could have also listed Philipp Grubauer here, as Colorado’s net play has left a lot to be desired. Entering Saturday’s contest against Montreal, the Russian hasn’t skated off with a win since Dec. 15 and yielded at least three goals in eight straight contests. He’s inconsistent and prone to blow-ups at times, so its probably best to stay away from both Avalanche netminders while they’re struggling, if possible.