Fantasy Hockey Risers/Fallers: Pressure falls on Staal

By Jan LevineRotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

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This week's article includes a hot Cout, money in Labanc in San Jose, a pair of first overall-pick D-men, a still-sidelined stud blueliner, and Minnesota's slumping top center.

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First Liners (Risers)

Sean Couturier, C, PHI

Philly is flying, largely thanks to Carter Hart, but Couturier has played a big part in their recent revival. Couturier notched a goal and two assists Saturday, extending his goal streak to four games (during which he has posted four goals, three assists and a plus-5 rating) and point streak to six, collecting four goals and nine points during that span.

After a slow start, the 2011 first-rounder is now up to 23 goals and 25 assists in 54 games, well off last year's 76-point output. But he has eight goals and 19 points in his last 17 games with an eye-popping plus-10 rating. Despite going scoreless with a minus-four rating Monday against the Penguins, Couturier is as hot as anyone in the league.

Carl Soderberg, C, COL

I profiled Soderberg a while ago, but his recent play deserves another mention. With the top line in Colorado scuffling lately, Soderberg has more than picked up the slack, though that has not resulted in wins for the Avalanche. Soderberg had a goal and two assists Saturday, giving him four multi-point games in his last 13 contests, during which he has posted seven goals and four helpers. His goal Saturday gave the 2004 second-rounder his career high in goals (18), and his 34 points in 55 games gives him a chance at his second career 50-point campaign.

Kevin Labanc, RW, SJ

Kevin who? If you didn't know his name before Saturday night, you sure know it now. Lebanc notched his first career NHL hat trick against the Oilers, giving the 23-year-old winger six goals and five assists in his last nine games. After doubling his output from 20 to 40 points last year, Labanc is on pace to hit the 50-point mark in this his third season. Not bad for a sixth-round pick, taken 171st overall in 2014.

Frank Vatrano, RW, FLA

Vatrano came to the Panthers at the 2018 trade deadline, scoring five goals and eight points in 16 games after he suited up for the Cats. His production this season has ebbed and flowed, but since being promoted to the second line with Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau, Vatrano has tallied eight goals and 13 points in his last 13 games. As long as Vatrano remains on that unit — and with the Panthers desperate for more even-strength production outside of the top unit — the 24-year-old winger should remain with those linemates. Jump on board and attempt to ride the wave.

Erik Johnson, D, COL

Johnson is one of those defensemen to stream when hot. Well, now is one of those times he should be in your lineup. While never topping 39 points, Johnson's time on ice, shots, hit and blocks have fantasy value. His goal and assist Saturday give the 2006 first overall pick three goals and seven points in his last 12 games along with 35 shots on goal, 15 blocked shots, 16 hits and a plus-two rating over that stretch. Johnson started slowly but he has made up for that lately, making him one to add.

Aaron Ekblad, D, FLA

If any vitriol comes out in this post, I apologize. But as an Ekblad owner in my home league who dealt him for Dustin Byfuglien the day before Big Buff was injured, pardon my annoyance at his recent hot play. Ekblad's two assists Saturday gives the 2014 first overall pick two goals and seven points in his last eight games. That production has the Panthers' top blueliner at 10 goals and 15 helpers in 54 games, putting him on pace to possibly hit 40 points for the first time in his career.

Martin Jones, G, SJ

Like in baseball for starting pitchers, wins are wins are wins for goalies. Jones' ancillary numbers are well off from what he posted the last three years, but San Jose's starting netminder is now up to 27 wins after going 13-2 in his last 15 appearances since Dec. 26. A 2.88 goals-against average and .899 save percentage stand out like sore thumbs, but those numbers are modified a bit by his wins, which are threatening his career-high 37 set three years ago.

Tuukka Rask, G, BOS

Rask extended his unbeaten streak to 11 games (8-0-3) with a 5-4 win over the Kings on Saturday. The four goals surrendered was the first time since Dec. 23 that Rask has given up more than three goals in a game (a game that was also his last loss) and he now sports a strong 2.30 GAA and .924 save percentage this season. Rask has dealt with both injuries and inconsistent play during the season, but now healthy and back on the beam, he is the clear No. 1 again in Boston, relegating Jaroslav Halak, who has stood in nicely when needed for Rask, to backup duty.

Others include Ryan Johansen, Jack Eichel, Steven Stamkos, Nico Hischier, Anze Kopitar, Dylan Strome, Patrice Bergeron, Mika Zibanejad, Casey Mittelstadt, Elias Pettersson, Tomas Hertl, Zach Parise, Travis Konecny, Brad Marchand, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evander Kane, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Brendan Gallagher, Mats Zuccarello, Andreas Johnsson, James van Riemsdyk, Alex DeBrincat, Josh Leivo, Brett Connolly, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Kucherov, Jacob Trouba, Roman Josi, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Pulock, Carter Hart, Carey Price, Jordan Binnington, Thomas Greiss, Linus Ullmark, Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson.

Buy Low

Josh Anderson, RW, CLM

Anderson very quietly tallied his 19th goal Saturday. In the last three years, the Blue Jackets winger has notched 17, 19 and 19 markers. With a plus-14 rating and 140 hits, Anderson is having a nice all-around season that likely is ignored in many circles. With all the drama surrounding Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, Anderson has stayed under the radar, save for deeper or more intense fantasy leagues. Anderson is now on the second line and has seen an uptick in ice time lately, aiding his recent production.

Training Room (Injuries)

Erik Karlsson, D, SJ

Karlsson has been sidelined with an undisclosed illness since before the All-Star Game. The blueliner hasn't suited up since Jan. 16, missing the three games prior to the Jan. 26 All-Star Game. Karlsson did play in front of the hometown fans for that contest, but that doesn't help his owners or the Sharks much. San Jose is battling Calgary for the top spot in the Pacific Division as well as the Flames and Jets for the No. 1 seed in the West and will get a boost once the elite D-man is finally able to return.

Others include Dylan Larkin (strained oblique, returned to action last Thursday), Mikko Koivu (undergoes surgery to repair torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee), Jeff Carter (lower body, missed third straight game Saturday), Nikolaj Ehlers (upper body, out since Jan. 4, likely a week away), Taylor Hall (lower body, missed last 20 games, still no timetable to return), Kyle Turris (lower body, out since Dec. 27, played Thursday) Oscar Klefbom (finger, out since Dec. 11, returned to action this past Tuesday), Dustin Byfuglien (ankle, missed 15 games with injury, activated Thursday), Ian Cole (possible concussion, injured Thursday, out indefinitely), Justin Schultz (lower leg, out since fourth game of the season, should return this week), Ben Bishop (upper body, placed on injured reserve) and Corey Crawford (concussion, seen working on side in practice last week).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Eric Staal, C, MIN

Staal has been streaky this season, and he is now in the midst of a slump. Minnesota's top center was held off the scoresheet Sunday, the fifth consecutive game that has occurred. Overall, Staal has 37 points in 55 games, a far cry from the 76 points he tallied last season. With Mikko Koivu out for the season with a torn ACL, the pressure is on Staal to produce for the Wild to win and remain in the playoff hunt. Minnesota's lead for the second wild card is razor thin, which likely will force the team to make a deal to provide some support behind Staal down the middle.

If Minnesota is planning a deep playoff run, they will need their stud center to play better. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
If Minnesota is planning a deep playoff run, they will need their stud center to play better. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

David Backes, LW, BOS

Backes was a healthy scratch Sunday. With no points in his last six games and just 13 points this season, Backes has earned his time in the press box. Backes' production has fallen off the last four seasons since he posted 58 in 2014-15, resulting in a two-minute drop in ice time per game. With rookie Trent Frederic, who got back into the lineup in Backes' place Sunday, available, Backes may see more games as a healthy scratch.

Neal Pionk, D, NYR

Pionk was back in the lineup Sunday after being a healthy scratch the prior two games. His offense has dried up, as before Sunday, Pionk had just one assist with a minus-nine rating in his last 14 games. Pionk's own zone play is passable at best, and that's being kind. So when his production goes completely south, coupled with his lousy defensive play, that's a recipe for watching from the press box.

Others include Leo Komarov, Derek Stepan, Ryan Kesler, Alex Chiasson, Anders Lee, Artturi Lehkonen, Sam Bennett, P.K. Subban, Carter Hutton and Semyon Varlamov.

Sell High

David Rittich, G, CGY

Rittich's overall numbers — 20-4-5, 2.55 GAA, 9.15 save percentage — are still impressive, but a deeper look shows some warts and concerns. In his last 11 games since Dec. 30, Rittich is 8-0-2 but with a 3.09 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. The Flames' offense has bailed out the young netminder, who has allowed three or more goals seven times in those 11 games. Calgary believes it can win the West, which might make the team pursue a veteran netminder for the stretch run and playoffs despite the presence of Rittich and Mike Smith.

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