By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes another Capitals' center, Mikko rolling, Perron on fire, Elvis in the building, major losses for Buffalo and Pittsburgh, and the clock striking 12 for a Predators' center.
First Liners (Risers)
Lars Eller, C, Washington Capitals
Eller, surprisingly, continues to produce for the Caps. His game-winning goal and assist Sunday gave the veteran pivotman four goals and five helpers in his last 10 contests. He is up to 25 points, 103 shots on goal and 26 PIM through 43 games, a career-high pace on offense. Eller's previous high came in 2017-18 — his first season in Washington — when he recorded 38 points in 81 games. His ice time, including on the power play, and shooting percentage are not vastly different from last year, making the likelihood of Eller maintaining this pace a bit stronger since there is no outlying reason for the rise.
Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Rantanen missed five weeks from Oct. 21 to Nov. 30 but has been productive since returning. Since his activation off the injured list, Rantanen has 10 goals — including a hat trick Saturday — and as many assists in 17 games. The only negative is his minus-four rating, with several minus games recently, though he was a plus-three Saturday. Coach Jared Bednar has played Rantanen on each of the first three lines to balance the lineup. Regardless of where Rantanen plays, look for him to post close to a point per game.
David Perron, LW, St. Louis Blues
Perron continued his magical season, posting a goal and an assist Saturday against the Golden Knights. He has 17 goals and 25 assists in 43 games, and 27 of those points have come with the man advantage. Perron, drafted 25th overall in 2007, posted a career-high 66 points in 2017-18 for Las Vegas before rejoining the Blues again last season. He is on pace to exceed that total, though keep in mind he has been injury-prone, which might require a solid backup on your bench.
Kyle Connor, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Connor has seven goals in his last five games, including a hat trick on New Year's Eve. He started slowly this season, but those aforementioned seven markers give Connor 21 tallies in just 41 games. After posting 57 points two seasons ago and 66 last year, earning the seven-year, $50 million contract he signed with the Jets in September 2019, Connor is on pace to exceed those totals. Situated as the first-line left wing at both even-strength and on the man-advantage, Connor, drafted 17 overall in 2015, is in a prime position to continue his success.
Esa Lindell, D, Dallas Stars
Lindell helped make up for the absence of John Klingberg by posting a trio of assists Friday. Those three apples give Lindell five in his last three games. Overall, Lindell has 16 points, 75 blocked shots, 57 shots on goal, 46 hits and a plus-8 rating through 42 appearances this year. Lindell's value is somewhat tied to Klingberg's absence, but his strong performance the last few games could earn him additional ice time, including on the man-advantage.
Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski continued his hot run, tallying a pair of goals Saturday against San Jose. He has scored seven goals and nine points in the last eight games and is up to 13 markers and 12 apples for the season. Despite missing seven games in early December, Werenski is still on an early pace to exceed the 47 points he posted as a rookie in 2016-17. The three-year, $15 million contract Werenski signed with the Blue Jackets last September looks like a bargain for Columbus.
Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets
Sergei Bobrovsky's departure for Florida created an opening between the pipes for Columbus. Joonas Korpisalo was expected to begin the season as the team's No. 1 netminder with Merzlikins in the mix to receive playing time. Merzlikins' slow start earned him a brief demotion; then Korpisalo's fine play resulted in Merzlikins riding the pine. Korpisalo injured his knee Dec. 29, sidelining him 4-6 weeks, meaning that Merzlikins, a third-round pick in 2014, should see most of the playing time in goal. Heading into Monday's game, Merzlikins was 2-1-0 since Korpisalo's injury, stopping 86 of 91 shots. Monday, he stoned 35 of 37 shots in a 4-2 win over the Kings.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay has had their struggles this year, mirrored or caused by those of Vasilevskiy. But the Lightning and their No. 1 netminder seem to be rounding into shape. Heading into Sunday's game, Vasilevskiy had four consecutive wins and a .929 save percentage in that stretch, winning nine of 12 games since the beginning of December. He added to those numbers on Sunday, stopping 28 of 29 shots in a 3-1 win. After winning 44 and 39 games the last two seasons, respectively, with 19 victories this year, Vasilevskiy is likely to fall short of both marks, but a strong second half could get him close to his win total of a year ago.
Others include Jack Eichel, Max Domi, Auston Matthews, Alex Killorn, Ryan O'Reilly, Leon Draisaitl, Mark Scheifele, Sam Reinhart, Erik Haula, Robert Thomas, Alex Iafallo, J.T. Miller, Blake Wheeler, Nick Schmaltz, Evgenii Dadonov, Pierre Engvall, Roope Hintz, Kailer Yamamoto, Patrick Kane, Tyler Ennis, Phil Kessel, Marcus Johansson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Artturi Lehkonen, Craig Smith, Nikita Gusev, Tanner Pearson, Alexander Edler, Shea Theodore, Adam Fox, John Carlson, Neal Pionk, Quinn Hughes, Roman Josi, Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole, Jakob Chychrun, Darnell Nurse, Igor Shesterkin, Semyon Varlamov, Aaron Dell, MacKenzie Blackwood, Jacob Markstrom, and Tristan Jarry.
Luke Kunin, C, Minnesota Wild
Kunin, drafted 15th in 2015, has for the most part yet to maximize his talent, but he has shown signs lately of figuring it out. Kunin notched a goal and an assist Saturday, then added an assist Sunday, so he has quietly put up six points in his last six games, including a couple goals. He now has a career-high 19 points in 42 games after posting 17 points in 49 games last season. His ice time still varies widely game-to-game but his upside makes Kunin worth a look in deeper leagues.
Training Room (Injuries)
Jake Guentzel, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins
Guentzel was injured while scoring his 20th goal of the season and 200th career point before crashing awkwardly into the boards. That injury necessitated shoulder surgery, which will sideline the former 2013 third-rounder for 4-6 months. The winger was named to his first NHL All-Star Game just hours before he was injured.
Victor Olofsson, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Olofsson, a Calder Trophy candidate, will miss the next 5-6 weeks with a lower-body injury. It looked like Olofsson got his skate caught in a rut and everything twisted awkwardly from there. Olofsson, the NHL Rookie of the Month in December, has 35 points in 42 games this season. Buffalo, already without Jeff Skinner, will now count on Jack Eichel even more due to the absence of Olofsson.
Others include Sidney Crosby (sports hernia, sidelined since Nov. 9, skated with regular jersey in practice last Friday, joined Pittsburgh on its three-game road trip), Jack Hughes (upper-body, missed third straight game Tuesday), Cody Glass (right leg, injured Saturday, week-to-week), Andreas Johnsson (leg, injured Dec. 4, skated with no-contact sweater for first time Saturday), Brendan Gallagher (concussion, left Tuesday's game with the injury), Ryan Ellis (head, injured by Corey Perry elbow in Winter Classic, placed on injured reserve), Ryan McDonagh (undisclosed, left Saturday's game, missed Sunday's contest), Anders Nilsson (concussion, sidelined since Dec. 16, will remain on the sidelines for at least another week), Darcy Kuemper (lower-body injury, left the game Dec. 19, termed week-to-week, took shots Saturday) and Antti Raanta (upper body, left Saturday's game, exited practice early Monday).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Sam Bennett, LW, Calgary Flames
Bennett, selected fourth overall in 2014, has failed to live up to where he was drafted. He topped out at 36 points his rookie season but failed to notch more than 27 points the last three campaigns. Bennett has just four goals and a pair of assists in 28 games, though he did miss a month with an upper-body injury. Signed to a two-year deal worth $2.55 million AAV with the Flames in July 2019, Bennett could be on his last contract in Calgary.
Carson Soucy, D, Minnesota Wild
Soucy has started to fall back to earth. He posted three goals and four assists in a nine-game stretch from Dec. 3-19 but has just one point since — a goal — in his last seven games. That decline coincides with the return of Jared Spurgeon to the Minnesota lineup. Even though Mathew Dumba is scuffling, Soucy is skating on the third line and not seeing any power-play time, limiting his opportunities to produce.
Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Murray is showing signs of life but appears to have lost his starting job to Tristan Jarry. After stopping 26 shots in a 3-2 win, Murray has won back-to-back outings, but he made just three appearances in 12 December games and allowed 20 goals on 131 shots in his prior five starts. Also, Saturday was the first time he allowed just two or fewer goals since Nov. 15 (eight starts). Jarry has burst on the scene and steadied the ship between the pipes, but don't be surprised if Murray does get another shot if he can build on his performance from his last two starts.
Others include Jeff Carter, Kevin Hayes, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Greenway, Alexander Steen, Sam Gagner, Noah Dobson, Erik Johnson, Ryan Graves, Carter Hart, Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price.
Nick Bonino, C, Nashville Predators
Could the clock have struck midnight on Bonino's season? After topping out at 39 points the last five seasons, Bonino had 13 goals and nine assists his first 33 games of the year. Since then, Bonino is scoreless in the last seven games. When tallying those 13 goals, Bonino had a 19.4 shooting percentage, markedly above his norm, making his regression expected. Hopefully, you punted when you had the chance.