By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes old is new and new is old, Columbus and Winnipeg swapping problem children, COVID absences coming fast and furious, Jump Joe down a month, and Vancouver's probable future No. 1 netminder scuffling.
FIRST LINERS (Risers)
Jeff Carter, C, LA
Carter was brilliant after coming to LA, stepping in as the team's second-line center, aiding the Kings in winning a pair of Cups. Unfortunately, the good times ran out quickly, as Carter, after getting injured during the 2017-18 campaign, saw his production crater the following two seasons. He’s found the fountain of youth this season though, posting one goal, four helpers, and 20 shots on net in only six games. Keep in mind that Gabriel Vilardi looms as the third-line center and Alex Turcotte is in the pipeline, so be prepared to jump at the first sign of trouble.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, CLM
Bjorkstrand, who tallied 40 points in 2017-18 and 36 in 2018-19, missed 21 games during the abbreviated 2019-20 regular season due to rib and ankle injuries, but as we noted in our preseason outlook, he was pretty productive when healthy, racking up 21 goals, 15 assists, six power-play points, and 162 shots while averaging 17:56 of ice time in 49 games. Early in the 2020-21 season, Bjorkstrand looks like he might exceed the 40 points he scored three years ago, already notching a pair of goals and three assists in six games. Keep an eye, though, on how the Blue Jackets deploy Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, who were acquired for Pierre-Luc Dubois on Saturday.
Alex DeBrincat, RW, CHI
DeBrincat suffered through a rough junior campaign, mustering just 18 goals in 70 games after scoring 41 during the 2018-19 season. A key driver in that decline was a stark drop in his shooting percentage from 18.6 to 8.7 percent. Chicago as a whole should struggle without Jonathan Toews (undisclosed) and Kirby Dach (wrist) but someone needs to score, meaning that DeBrincat should see all the top-line minutes he can handle. His plus-minus likely will be rough but look for a return to his prior output this year, aided by a regression to the mean in his shooting percentage. Keep in mind though, DeBrincat was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Monday. He will miss time until he’s cleared.
Noah Dobson, D, NYI
The Islanders' salary cap gymnastics this offseason contributed to the trade of Devon Toews to Colorado. One possible additional factor was the presence of Dobson, who now has slotted into Toews' spot as a top-four blueliner. Dobson has seamlessly stepped into the role, as he has been entrusted with quarterbacking New York's top power-play unit, and three of his four assists this season have come with the man advantage. Given his role and his pedigree — he was taken 12th overall in the 2018 draft — Dobson should be firmly on most league's fantasy radar, presuming he is still available.
John Gibson, G, ANA
Gibson was brilliant early last season, keeping the Ducks afloat, before wearing down due to the onslaught of shots against. He has gotten off to a strong start again this year, going 2-1-2 with a 2.01 GAA and a .938 save percentage in his first five appearances, punctuated Sunday night when he turned aside 32 of 33 shots in a 3-1 win over the Avalanche. Ryan Miller is backing up Gibson again, but the 2011 second-round pick (39th overall) should be between the pipes most nights. The blue line in front of Gibson is far from elite, so look for decent overall numbers, albeit potentially with a not-great goals-against average.
Philipp Grubauer, G, COL
I am a firm believer that if Grubauer was not injured during the playoffs, Colorado would have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. Entering the season, there was some speculation that Pavel Francouz could steal the No. 1 job from Grubauer. But Grubauer's strong start — allowing only 10 goals over five starts this year, winning three of them with one shutout — coupled with Francouz's recent injury has ended that talk. Roll with confidence with the German netminder between the pipes.
Others include: Jack Eichel, Patrice Bergeron, Dylan Strome, Nathan MacKinnon, Nick Suzuki, Nick Schmaltz, Joel Eriksson Ek, John Tavares, Roope Hintz, Andrew Copp, Bo Horvat, Logan Couture, J.T. Miller, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kirill Kaprizov, Taylor Hall, Tomas Hertl, Kyle Connor, Mark Stone, Joe Pavelski, Andrei Svechnikov, Bobby Ryan, Kailer Yamamoto, Blake Wheeler, Miles Wood, Brad Marchand, Jakub Vrana, Jeff Petry, Devon Toews, Ty Smith, Keith Yandle, Victor Hedman, Shea Theodore, Duncan Keith, Filip Hronek, Bowen Byram, John Klingberg, Vitek Vanecek, Kevin Lankinen, Semyon Varlamov, Tristan Jarry, Anton Khudobin, Darcy Kuemper, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jake Allen.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, WPG
Dubois' wish to be traded came to fruition Saturday, as he was dealt with a third-rounder to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. The final straw came Thursday when Dubois was rightly benched by coach John Tortorella after he lollygagged his way through a shift. Due to quarantine protocols going from the US to Canada, it's unclear when Dubois will play. But Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said the team is looking into getting a private flight for Dubois and has requested an exemption to the 14-day quarantine process. The Jets hope Dubois can follow the seven-day quarantine that players followed upon arrival for training camp. When he can suit up, he will center the second line, shifting Paul Stastny down to the third line.
Jack Roslovic, LW, CLM
Roslovic held out in Winnipeg, not due to money but because he wanted a top-six role. Traded to Columbus, Roslovic signed a two-year, $3.8 million deal, which was about $100K more per season than the Jets offered, showing that money wasn't his primary concern. What the deal should afford him is a chance to show he does belong on the top-two lines. Rushed to the majors, Roslovic's output failed to meet his talent level, but he now has an opportunity to marry the two as a member of the Blue Jackets.
Rasmus Dahlin, D, BUF
Dahlin, the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, has yet to score a point this year and was benched for most of the second half of the Washington game, playing just 10:13 in the contest. With no points and a minus-four rating in his first five contests, Dahlin is off to a horrific start, as he continues to adjust to coach Ralph Krueger's system after Phil Housley pretty much gave the young Swedish blueliner carte blanche. Dahlin was in danger of being benched Sunday, but was in the lineup, posting no points and a minus-one. Look for him to figure it out before too long.
TRAINING ROOM (Injuries)
Joe Thornton, C, TOR
Jumbo Joe will miss a month with a rib fracture suffered last Wednesday on a hit by the Oilers' Josh Archibald. Thornton signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs this offseason. At the time of the signing, the expectation was that he would be on the fourth line. But Thornton was seeing top-line duty, though he had just a pair of points his first five games as a Bud. Now he, unfortunately, will be sidelined until late February.
Others include: Filip Chytil (upper body, injured Sunday, to be examined further and missed Tuesday's game), Nico Hischier (leg, progressing in his recovery and hasn't suffered any setbacks, but no timetable for his return), Jamie Benn (lower body, injured in Dallas' opening game Friday, missed Sunday's game versus Nashville), Andre Burakovsky (upper body, missed his third straight game Friday against the Ducks, returned to action Sunday), Tom Wilson (lower-body injury, injured Friday, missed Sunday's matchup with the Sabres, skated Monday), Matt Grzelcyk (leg, injured in consecutive contests, sat Saturday against the Flyers), Josh Manson (oblique, injured Jan. 18, out six weeks) and Cam Talbot (undisclosed, left Friday's game against San Jose after the first period, missed Sunday's game). Ilya Samsonov, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov (placed in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol, missing four Capitals' games at a minimum, meaning they could return Jan. 30 against the Bruins).
FOURTH LINERS/PRESS BOXERS (Fallers)
Eric Staal, C, BUF
Buffalo brought in Staal, selected second overall way back in 2003, to fill their second-line center role. I expect Staal to be productive — maybe not at the level he was first two seasons in Minnesota, but close to or greater than what he produced in his last two campaigns with the Wild. He has gotten off to a slow start however, as he adapts to a new system and teammates with no training camp. So be patient; even though his output may be uneven for a while, despite scoring Sunday — after I waived him by the way — but for now, he lands on this side of the ledger.
Will Butcher, D, NJ
Butcher burst on the scene with 44 points his rookie season and looked like he would be a point-producing blueliner for years to come. But warning signs existed, as the league caught up to him after he posted 18 points in his first 23 games. Butcher's second season saw a drop in production that continued into last year. Despite the absence of Sami Vatanen, who is not yet ready to play, Butcher has been in the press box for all of the Devils' five games to date, a situation likely to repeat more often than not the rest of the way.
Thatcher Demko, G, VAN
Braden Holtby is the Canucks' top netminder, though he has struggled, opening the door for Demko — who was brilliant in the bubble — to grab ahold of the role. Demko has yet to be up to the task, allowing at least four goals in each of his three starts and posting an .866 save percentage through Sunday's games. Of course, after I wrote this Monday, Demko allowed one goal on 36 shots in a 7-1 win over the Senators. Both netminders have not been aided by the swiss-cheese defense in front of them, but Demko will need to perform as he did Monday and outplay Holtby, signed to a two-year, $8.6 million deal this offseason, to warrant more playing time.
Others include: Mika Zibanejad, Tyson Jost, Cam Atkinson, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jakob Silfverberg, Kevin Labanc, Chris Kreider, Erik Johnson, Zach Werenski/Seth Jones (zero points to date, but just a blip on the radar), Ryan Graves, Igor Shesterkin and Carter Hart.
Tyler Toffoli, RW, MTL
Toffoli is skating on the third line but seeing first-unit, power-play duty for the bleu blanc et rouge. The right winger put up a career-high 31 markers and 58 points in 2015-16 but posted between 34 and 47 points the following four seasons. While I expect Toffoli to post solid numbers it's, of course, not a stretch to say he won't score five goals in a pair of games or remain on close to a goal-per-game pace. If you get an offer you can't turn down, deal Toffoli, but 25-plus goals still might be where he lands at the end of the season. As someone who has Toffoli on his roster in several leagues, I hope I am way off base.