By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes a hot Devil in New Jersey, a King reigning next to Kopitar, a Flame D-man on fire, Edmonton's No. 1 netminder filling in nicely, Mac down for the Avalanche and an Islander slumping mightily.
First Liners (Risers)
Dawson Mercer, C, NJ
Mercer, drafted 18th overall in 2020, earned a spot with the parent club with a strong training camp and has not slowed since. He tallied a goal and assist Saturday, a helper Sunday and now has a point in four consecutive games. Mercer has an impressive five goals and 11 points through his first 14 NHL games as he continues to fill in for the injured Jack Hughes (center). Mercer has the smarts and skills to be a top-six winger, but his versatility could keep him in the middle of the rink, as it has now — or into a two-way role that includes the PK thanks to his high motor.
Dylan Larkin, C, DET
Larkin had 63 and 73 points in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively, but fell to 53 the following season and cratered to just nine goals and 23 points in 44 games last season. The Red Wings are one of the more pleasant stories early this season, led by Larkin, who notched his seventh goal and an assist Monday and now has 13 points in 13 games. Signed for this season and next at a cap hit of $6.1 million AAV, Larkin might be setting himself up for a large payday when his deal expires.
Tom Wilson, RW, WAS
Wilson is known more for his questionable-at-best hits and suspension, but he has shown that when he is on the ice, he has the skills to be a productive top-six winger. Wilson continues to reap the rewards from his dreamy top-line assignment with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as he's produced four goals and nine assists in 15 games. At this rate, he should hit a career-high in points (44 in 2019-20) due to his even-strength prowess. Wilson just notched his first man-advantage point Sunday, which is a bit odd considering he's averaging a career-high 2:52 of ice time on the power play this season.
Adrian Kempe, LW, LA
Kempe is living the Life of Riley to the left of Anze Kopitar. His assist Thursday extended Kempe's point streak to six games, during which he scored goals in four straight and has added a trio of helpers. Kempe's season-high in points is 37, set in his first full campaign in 2017-18, and he might have exceeded that total last year but was limited to 56 games due to the pandemic. He has shown no signs of slowing and should remain productive if he keeps his line placement.
Seth Jones, D, CHI
After a brutal start to the season, the Blackhawks have started to play slightly better, which also somewhat coincides with the firing of coach Jeremy Colliton and hiring of Derek King as the interim. A larger component of that turnaround is Chicago's stars, which includes Jones, starting to play up to their potential. Jones is now on a six-game point streak (one goal, five assists) after helping on Dylan Strome's game-winner in the third period. He now has 13 points, 50 shots, 27 blocks, 12 hits and six PIM through 15 appearances while averaging just less than a whopping five minutes of ice time on the power play.
Oliver Kylington, D, CGY
Kylington, drafted in the second round (60th overall) in 2015, had a one-game cup of coffee in 2015 then landed in the minors the next two seasons. He had a pedigree of an offensive blueliner when selected but struggled to translate that ability to the majors, tallying eight points in 56 games the last two seasons after scoring eight in 38 games in 2018-19. The 24-year-old Kylington is oozing with confidence now, however, as his assist Sunday gave him a career-high 10 points with 24 shots on net, 16 blocked shots and a plus-4 rating in 14 games. He still needs a little work in the defensive zone, but playing on a pairing with Chris Tanev should gloss over many of Kylington's mistakes.
Mikko Koskinen, G, EDM
Koskinen has been a godsend in net and a major reason why Edmonton leads the Pacific Division and Western Division in points. Mike Smith has been out since Oct. 19 with a leg injury and suffered a setback in practice this week, ceding the net for more time to Koskinen. The victory Sunday was Koskinen's sixth consecutive win, and his record is a remarkable 9-1-0 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Ride the hot netminder and team.
John Gibson, G, ANA
Gibson's numbers declined nearly across the board the last several seasons — especially in the win column, as he tallied just nine victories last season. Drafted 39th overall in 2011, the 28-year-old is on a personal six-game winning streak, during which he's allowed 10 goals. Gibson improved to 8-2-2 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 12 games with his victory Sunday, as he has put his struggles the last few seasons clearly in the rear-view mirror. The clock will strike midnight to a certain extent at some point, but for now, ride the wave.
Others include: Alex Kerfoot, Anze Kopitar, Robert Thomas, Jared McCann, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Ryan Johansen, Mikael Backlund, Alex Newhook, William Nylander, Mikael Granlund, Jordan Kyrou, Brad Marchand, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, Tyler Bertuzzi, Alex Iafallo, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Hartman, Tyler Toffoli, Jesper Bratt, Troy Terry, Chris Kreider, Jaden Schwartz, Charlie McAvoy, Moritz Seider, Adam Fox, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Schmidt, Evan Bouchard, Kevin Shattenkirk, Miro Heiskanen, Igor Shesterkin, Thomas Greiss, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jack Campbell, Jonathan Quick and Mackenzie Blackwood.
Brendan Gallagher, LW, MTL
Nick Suzuki was highlighted here last week. Gallagher gets the nod this week. Gallagher continued his recent stretch of hot play, scoring a power-play goal and adding an assist Thursday. The Canadiens still struggle to score goals and win games, but their offensive stars are starting to produce. Gallagher has three goals and four assists in the last 10 games following a six-game scoreless run to begin the season. His style of play does make him susceptible to injury, but when in the lineup, Gallagher is usually productive and an agitator on the ice.
Training Room (Injuries)
Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
MacKinnon is expected to be sidelined for "give or take three weeks" with a lower-body injury. No word on how and when he suffered the injury, as he played 20 minutes on Nov. 6, which is the last contest he was in before being sidelined. Colorado can afford to be mildly cautious with MacKinnon's return, so he may miss more than the three weeks. J.T. Compher is getting the first crack at replacing MacKinnon at center on Colorado's top line.
Others include: Jack Eichel (underwent neck surgery — finally — and could return in three months), Kevin Hayes (abdomen, out since the beginning of the season, was activated and made his season debut Saturday versus the Stars), Sidney Crosby (COVID-19, played Sunday), Martin Necas (illness, missed games Friday and Saturday, expected to play Tuesday), Mark Stone (out since Oct. 14, was activated and in the lineup Saturday), Victor Olofsson (undisclosed, mixed sixth straight game Saturday, no set return date), Erik Brannstrom (broken hand, suffered Friday night, will miss 6-8 weeks) and Jake Allen (left Saturday's game, possible concussion).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Barrett Hayton, C, AZ
Arizona has a treasure trove of picks for the next two seasons, but for the team to have future success, the Coyotes need to maximize the value of those picks. Hayton was high-riser leading into the 2018 draft, where he was selected fifth overall. It might be a smidge early to call Hayton a bust, but that term is becoming more and more likely of sticking. Arizona is in the tank — I mean, growth mode — so they can keep running Hayton out there and give him significant minutes. But he has just one assist in eight games and has done little to show he warrants that ice time.
Josh Bailey, LW, NYI
Bailey, never a prolific goal scorer, only has nine goals in his last 66 games for the Islanders. He had never eclipsed the 20-goal mark in a season and has only reached as much as 18 once. Still, nine goals in his last 66 games and 23 in 134 games just aren't getting the job done for an Isles team that has struggled to score, relying on a strong defense to win games. Bailey does have 61 assists in that span, but one has to wonder if his time as a top-six forward for the Islanders is coming, or should be coming, to an end.
Jaroslav Halak, G, VAN
Halak's third and final year in Boston ended up being his worst to date, though his final numbers (9-6-4, 2.53 GAA, .904 save percentage) remained reasonable. He began to show some cracks in the armor, starting just two of Boston's final 21 regular-season games. Halak ended up signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent this summer but has played just five games backing up Thatcher Demko, posting subpar numbers. Barring an injury to Demko, where we might end up seeing Michael DiPietro, Halak is not an option in almost all formats.
Others include: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Kaapo Kakko, Denis Gurianov, Sam Bennett, Kailer Yamamoto, Jeff Petry, Noah Hanifin, Thatcher Demko and Philipp Grubauer.
Ivan Provorov, D, PHI
Provorov is averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time, including nearly two and a half on the man-advantage, yet sits with just one goal — notched Saturday — and two helpers in 13 games. Philly added Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis this offseason, which was expected to adversely affect Provorov's production. This most certainly has been the case, though I didn't expect this decline in production, especially after he tallied 36 and 26 points the prior two campaigns. He's still a minute-muncher and is on pace to blow more than 100 shots, giving him value in leagues that play both categories, and maybe the injury to Ellis affords Provorov ice time on the man-advantage.