By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes a center finding the Fountain of Youth in the Steel City, a 2008 first-overall pick on a roll, a Winged Wheel neophyte blueliner, the new top-man between the pipes in Toronto, Max Pac out six weeks, and the future in net for Big D sent to the minors.
First Liners (Risers)
Jeff Carter, C, PIT
Carter found the fountain of youth after coming to Pittsburgh last season. With both Sidney Crosby (wrist) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) out, Pittsburgh needed a few players to pick up the slack, and Carter has answered the bell. He notched the 400th goal of his career Thursday and has added three assists in the three contests while centering the top line. When Crosby returns, possibly this week, Carter will slide down a line, but he should continue to see major minutes until at least Malkin comes back.
Anze Kopitar, C, LA
Kopitar finished with 13 goals and 37 helpers in 56 games last season, ending the campaign with exactly 1,000 points in his 15-year NHL career. He has been red-hot kicking off 2021-22, notching four goals and three helpers — along with 10 shots on net — in two games. Any concern that he might be slowing down has been alleviated — at least early on — by his start. Kopitar is still the No. 1 center both at even strength and on the man-advantage, which should remain the case even when Quinton Byfield returns from his injury.
Chris Kreider, RW, NYR
I debated putting Kreider as the Trade Away candidate below, but I think everyone knows not to overrate him by now. What you see is what get out of CK20. At least 20 goals in six of the last seven seasons — he was on pace for 20-plus the year he missed 20 games in 2017-18 — but he always leaves you wanting and expecting. With his skill set, size and speed, Kreider should have a 30-goal campaign by now. But injuries and inconsistency have been the hallmark of his career. He qualifies at both wing spots and is a staple on the top power-play unit, notching goals in three straight to begin the year.
Steven Stamkos, RW, TB
Stamkos has been en fuego to start the season, notching multiple points in each of the first three games and seven overall (three goals, four assists). Moved from center to wing, Stamkos has been freed from some defensive duties, which could prolong his career. Stamkos missed exactly a month from mid-April to mid-May with a lower-body issue in 2020-21. He ended up sitting out Tampa Bay's final 14 regular-season games and first two playoff games. He suited up in every contest the rest of the way, finishing with eight goals and 18 points in 23 postseason games, and has carried that performance into this year.
Moritz Seider, D, DET
Seider, the sixth pick in the 2019 draft, broke camp with the Red Wings and has not looked out of place two games in. Three assists in two games, including a power-play helper, is a heck of a way to make a first impression. Detroit loaned Seider to Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) a season ago where he proceeded to post seven goals and 28 points in 41 games. That time in the SHL appears to have done wonders for Seider, who won't be 21 until April. Expect ups and downs, but don't be afraid to roll the dice on the kid.
Gustav Forsling, D, FLA
Forsling struggled three years as a member of the Blackhawks but found his footing last year with the Panthers. He set career highs across the board as a Cat, with Florida rewarding Forsling with a three-year, $8 million contract this summer. Forsling is now a mainstay on the blueline, seeing second-pair duty, albeit with little to no action on the man-advantage. Despite that, Forsling is still worth a look, especially in deeper leagues, where he should notch a little point production and a solid plus-minus rating.
Jack Campbell, G, TOR
Campbell, who resurrected his career last season — his second with the Maple Leafs — entered 2021-22 as the presumptive favorite to see most of the time between the pipes. Toronto signed Petr Mrazek this offseason, but Campbell started and won Opening Night, and now with Mrazek out with a groin injury, Campbell has a relatively clear path to playing time the next two weeks. He has never made more than 26 starts in an NHL season, but he did step up last year when Frederik Andersen got hurt. Now with Mrazek out and on a strong Toronto team, Campbell could be primed for a career year.
Cal Petersen, G, LA
Petersen saw most of the action in net for LA last season, helping facilitate the move of Jack Campbell to Toronto while also taking over from Jonathan Quick as the team's No. 1 netminder. Quick is still around and will factor in the mix, but Petersen is the one to roster if targeting a Kings' goalie. Los Angeles is in transition, blending net faces from the enviable prospect depth. As such, Petersen will experience the normal ups and downs for a goalie exacerbated by the changes around him.
Others include: Jack Hughes, Kirby Dach, Jared McCann, Mika Zibanejad, Mikael Granlund, Chandler Stephenson, Mason McTavish (unclear if he will stick), Tyler Johnson, Nils Hoglander, Danton Heinen, Johnny Gaudreau, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Ennis, Andrei Svechnikov, Josh Anderson, Eeli Tolvanen, Brandon Tanev, Zach Hyman, Jordan Kyrou, Jesse Puljujarvi (on a line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), Brady Tkachuk (scheduled to be in the lineup Thursday), Sam Bennett, Tony DeAngelo, Drew Doughty, Bowen Byram, Jamie Drysdale, Shayne Gostisbehere, Rasmus Andersson, Brett Pesce, Braden Holtby, Vitek Vanecek, Jack Campbell, Frederik Andersen, and Igor Shesterkin.
Patrik Laine, LW, CBJ
Call it a hunch. Call it hopeful thinking as I have Laine in my league. Call it whatever you will. But Laine has gotten off to a strong start to the year, notching a game-winning goal Saturday while adding a pair of assists in his two games played. Laine was ineffective after being acquired from Winnipeg last season, accounting for 10 goals and 21 points with a minus-29 rating in 45 games. Still only 23, Laine racked up 138 goals in his first four NHL campaigns and is playing for a long-term deal after signing a one-year contract with Columbus this offseason.
Training Room (Injuries)
Max Pacioretty, LW, LV
Pacioretty is expected to miss six weeks after suffering a lower-body injury last Thursday against the Kings. After a so-so last season in Montreal and the 2017-18 campaign in Vegas, Pacioretty rebounded in 2019-20 with 71 points in 66 games. He followed that solid season with 24 goals and 27 helpers in 48 games last year and had two goals and an assist in a pair of games when injured. Pacioretty's absence likely means Chandler Stephenson will drop down the lineup, while the trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith will function as the top line for the foreseeable future. Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick now have a bit more pressure on them while Peyton Krebs could be promoted.
Others include: Auston Matthews (offseason wrist surgery, missed first three games, in lineup Monday), Casey Mittelstadt (upper body, injured Thursday, will be out for at least a couple weeks), Ryan Strome (COVID, missed Saturday's and Monday's games), Max Domi (rib fracture, placed on injured reserve, will miss 2-4 weeks), Nikita Kucherov (lower body, injured Saturday, could require surgery), Kaapo Kakko (upper body, injured Saturday, placed on IR on Sunday, out at least seven days). John Klingberg (lower body, injured Thursday, out Sunday) and Petr Mrazek (groin, injured Thursday, out a minimum of two weeks).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, CAR
The future is bright for Kotkaniemi, who was selected third overall in 2018. Signed to an offer sheet by Carolina, the Canadiens were unwilling to pay the 21-year-old $6.1 million next season, so they'll receive the Hurricanes' first- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft as compensation. Kotkaniemi is considered a talented young center, but he will spend at least this year at left wing — either on the first or third line — likely transitioning back to the pivot next season. Look for a year of growth with a big step forward next year.
P.K. Subban, D, NJ
Subban has struggled since coming to New Jersey, having the two worst seasons of his career. The additions of Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves should take some of the burden off Subban, allowing him to recover slightly. Subban should have a better year overall, but that may be more for real-life NHL rather than fantasy. Therefore, modify your expectations but be prepared to jump on board if the second power-play duty suits him well.
Jake Oettinger, G, DAL
Oettinger ended up the odd man out in Big D, landing in the AHL to start the season. Many believed Oettinger would come out of camp as the Stars' No. 1 or No. 2 netminder after going 11-8-7 while posting a 2.36 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 29 NHL appearances last season, but he'll instead start the campaign in the minors. With Oettinger no longer in the picture, Anton Khudobin and Braden Holtby enter the regular season as Dallas' top two netminders. But if either falters, Oettinger, who is clearly NHL ready, might be back with the big club before long.
Others include: Sean Monahan, Cole Caufield, Reilly Smith, Josh Bailey, Vitali Kravtsov, Evander Kane (suspended 21 games), Matt Dumba, Carter Hutton, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Drew O'Connor, LW, PIT
With both Sidney Crosby (wrist) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) out, the Penguins need help. Enter O'Connor, who had a cup of coffee last season for Pittsburgh, along with a handful of others. O'Connor has a pair of goals and a helper his first two games while seeing solid minutes. He does have a scorer's pedigree, recording 38 goals and 21 helpers in his two seasons at Dartmouth. The undrafted winger could get a shot at the top-six even when Crosby and Malkin are back, but be careful not to overrate — just enjoy this ride while it lasts.