By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes Matthews on fire, a Blue settling in nicely with his new team, a fine option in Hockeytown, the return of the Devils' captain, and several scuffling veterans.
FIRST LINERS (RISERS)
Auston Matthews, C, TOR
Matthews continued his assault on NHL goalies Saturday, scoring twice while adding an assist. In 19 games, Matthews has 18 goals and 11 assists while shooting 23.1 percent, despite seeing his point streak end at 16 on Monday. He leads the league in goals, and at this pace — which will be difficult to continue — he could notch his first 50-goal campaign, which would take on even more meaning in a 56-game season. Toronto is loaded, and Matthews looks like the leader of the band.
Logan Couture, C, SJ
San Jose is a mess but at least its captain is producing. Couture scored twice Saturday and added a marker Monday, increasing his season mark to 10 goals, eight of which have come in the last 11 games. Add six assists and a plus-minus in positive territory on a lousy team and you have a very productive player. Couture is seeing just about 20 minutes of ice time a game, including three minutes on the man-advantage, boding well for future success. After posting just 39 points last season, Couture looks to be more like the player who was brilliant the two previous campaigns before last year's decline.
Nino Niederreiter, LW, CAR
I debated several Hurricanes before landing on Niederreiter this week. Scoring twice with an assist Friday followed by another helper Saturday certainly aided that decision. After scoring only 11 goals in 67 games last season, Niederreiter has come out firing in 2020-21. The 28-year-old has already lit the lamp nine times on 51 shots in 17 games, though his two helpers give him just three this year. Look for the goal-scoring to possibly decline slightly, with regression to the mean in shooting percentage offset by a rise in apples.
Mike Hoffman, LW, STL
Hoffman tallied at least 59 points in each of the last five seasons. With just 56 games this year, don't expect him to hit that total again, though his prorated production should enable him to fall right back in that range. Hoffman expected several multi-year offers this past offseason as a free agent. When none were forthcoming, he signed a PTO with the Blues that became a one-year, $4 million contract. His pair of apples Saturday gave the veteran winger eight helpers to go with his six goals in 17 games on the season with 12 of those points coming in the last 11 contests.
Keith Yandle, D, FLA
I bring you way, way back to a month or so ago when Yandle's consecutive games streak was at risk as coach Joel Quenneville was considering making the blueliner a healthy scratch. Fast forward 17 games and the veteran D-man is proving he can still be an offensive asset with three goals and 13 points. Of those points, nine have come on the power-play where Yandle mans the first-line point and is surrounded by a lot of offensive talent. Enjoy the production, which might slow slightly, though Yandle should continue to score as a solid second D-man, at a minimum, in your lineup.
Neal Pionk, D, WPG
Pionk is proving last year's breakout campaign in Winnipeg was no fluke. His goal Sunday gave the 25-year-old blueliner 15 points, 30 shots on net, a plus-3 rating, 43 hits, and 22 blocked shots through 18 appearances. Pionk came over to the Jets from the Rangers along with a first-round pick for Jacob Trouba. To date, Winnipeg has gotten the better end of that trade, though its usages are vastly different. But from a dollar cost to production comparison, Pionk has a large edge on Trouba, who had seen his role change as a Blueshirt as compared to his usage as a Jet.
Igor Shesterkin, G, NYR
The Czar, as he is called by some in New York, was expected to open the season as the clear No. 1 netminder for the Blueshirts, replacing Henrik Lundqvist. Coach David Quinn opted to rotate Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev to start the season, but lately, the Russian goalie has started to take control between the pipes. Shesterkin allowed one goal on 27 shots to earn the win Saturday and is now 4-5-1 on the season. But the 25-year-old is 3-3-0 in February with an outstanding 1.87 GAA and .940 save percentage on the month.
Chris Driedger, G, FLA
I generally don't highlight two players from the same team in the column, but I am making an exception this week. Sergei Bobrovsky is "the No. 1 goalie" for the Panthers, but like last season, he is being outplayed by Driedger. With his victory and fine performances Friday and Monday, Driedger is now 7-1-1 on the season with a 2.34 GAA and a .926 save percentage, and he's making a serious push to displace Bobrovsky at the top of Florida's depth chart in net. The Panthers in general are on a roll, so don't expect a swap to occur, but we could see close to a 50-50 split between the pipes.
Others include: Mitch Marner, Nicklas Backstrom, Connor McDavid, Sean Couturier, Evgeni Malkin, Sebastian Aho, Joe Thornton, Aleksander Barkov, Alex Iafallo, Brock McGinn, Cam Atkinson, Drake Batherson, Dustin Brown, Conor Garland, Mikko Rantanen, Pavel Buchnevich, Jesse Puljujarvi, Andreas Johnsson, David Pastrnak, Blake Wheeler, Patric Hornqvist, Kevin Fiala, Sam Reinhart, Jordan Kyrou, Kyle Palmieri, Anthony Duclair, Mats Zuccarello, Rasmus Andersson, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Aaron Ekblad, Morgan Rielly, MacKenzie Weegar, Drew Doughty, Kris Letang, Jake Gardiner, Tyler Myers, Mike Smith, James Reimer, Tristan Jarry, and MacKenzie Blackwood.
Robby Fabbri, LW, DET
Team bias and injury history are what lands Fabbri here. A 2014 first-round pick by the Blues, Fabbri spent copious time on the injured list before he landed in Detroit last season, where he notched 32 points in 61 appearances last season, his best effort since his rookie year. Now seeing most of his team at center, behind Dylan Larkin, Fabbri added a pair of assists Friday and now has a respectable four goals and seven points in 12 contests for the Winged Wheel. Look for him to remain in his current role and on the first unit power play for the Red Wings.
TRAINING ROOM (INJURIES)
Nico Hischier, C, NJ
The Devils welcomed back their second-line center Saturday when Hischier returned. Hischier missed the first 11 games of the season due to a leg injury that was followed by a stint in the league's COVID-19 protocol. The 22-year-old was named New Jersey's captain just before he made his season debut. Hischier recorded 36 points in 58 games last year, the second straight season his production fell after recording 52 points as a rookie in 2017-18 when he was selected first overall in that year's draft.
Others include: Teuvo Teravainen (two power-play assists Friday, but will miss at least a few games with an upper body injury), David Krejci (lower body, missed Sunday's outdoor game against the Flyers at Lake Tahoe), Ryan Johansen (upper body, missed his seventh straight game Saturday), Pierre-Luc Dubois (lower body, injury suffered during practice Feb. 12, activated and scored twice Sunday), Jaden Schwartz (lower body, sat out a fourth straight game Saturday), Kaapo Kakko (COVID-19 protocol, ruled out Saturday), Colton Parayko (undisclosed, missed second straight game Saturday), Jacob Trouba (broken thumb, will miss 4-6 weeks), Zach Werenski (lower body, missed three games, activated from injured reserve, but aggravated injury last week and sidelined since, playing in just one of Columbus' last seven contests), Rasmus Ristolainen (off COVID protocol, but dealing with significant aftereffects from the virus, will be sidelined a few weeks), Jacob Markstrom (upper body, missed Monday's game) and Elvis Merzlikins (arm/shoulder, injured in the third period Saturday, week-to-week).
FOURTH LINERS/PRESS BOXERS (FALLERS)
Adam Henrique, C, ANA
For years, Henrique was as constant as a Timex. From 2011-12 to 2019-20, in every season Henrique played at least 71 games, which was every year but strike-shortened 2012-13, he posted at least 43 points. This year, Henrique had endured an extremely slow start with just four points through the first 16 games, landing the veteran center on waivers. The 31-year-old carries a $5.825 million AAV salary cap hit through the 2023-24 season, so it was not a surprise that he was not scooped up, but placing up on waivers did result in Trevor Zegras getting promoted and more ice time for Sam Steel, possibly.
Patrick Marleau, LW, SJ
Marleau had a decently productive year his first season in Toronto in 2017-18, notching 27 goals for the second straight campaign while adding 20 assists. His decline started the following year and he cratered last season with just 22 points in 66 games. Who says you can't go home again, as Marleau signed up for his third stint by the Bay this offseason. But this year is not going particularly well, as Marleau notched his first goal of the season in game No. 16 on Saturday to go with his three assists. The venerable 41-year-old is strictly a role player at this stage of his terrific career.
Thomas Greiss, G, DET
Greiss went from playing in the Islanders' system that was heavily focused on strong defensive play under Barry Trotz to a Detroit team that is rebuilding. We knew that transition would not go well, but it has been even worse than expected. After getting chased Friday, Greiss was saddled with his league-leading 10th loss of the season. He now has a 1-10-3 record along with a subpar 3.16 goals-against average and .891 save percentage through 14 appearances. If there is a silver lining, Jonathan Bernier is back, allowing Greiss to not be between the pipes each game.
Others include: Mikael Granlund, Brett Howden, Carl Soderberg, Kieffer Bellows, Reilly Smith, Jeff Skinner, Nikita Gusev, Nate Schmidt, and Matt Murray.
Duncan Keith, D, CHI
Your window to trade Keith at top value likely ended three weeks ago, but maybe his name recognition still has some stock in your league. Keith came out blazing, notching five assists his first five games of the season, all of which actually came in contests 3-5 after going scoreless the first two games of the year. Since then, Keith has one measly, lonely point in his last 13 games, including 11 consecutive games without hitting the scoresheet. Keith will still log major minutes, including on the power play, but his days as a productive D-man appear long past.