By Jan Levine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
This week's article includes COVID still wreaking havoc on the league's schedule, Stephenson rolling again, a hot Bratt in New Jersey, a somewhat unknown in Music City, Pacioretty out long-term and a big name winger struggling in the Hub.
First Liners (Risers)
Chandler Stephenson, C, LV
Stephenson, profiled earlier in the year, gets another mention as he continues to rack up points. He extended his point streak to four Friday, giving him two goals and 12 assists in 12 December games. Stephenson is up 10 goals and 24 helpers in 34 games, putting him one point shy of the career-high 35 points he tallied in 51 games last season. Stephenson will continue to operate as the Knights' first-line center until Jack Eichel returns from his surgery, at which point he could shift down to pivot the second trio.
Robert Thomas, C, STL
Thomas has taken advantage of the injury to Brayden Schenn to center the Blues' second line. His two assists in the Winter Classic gave Thomas three points in a pair of games after missing seven contests with a lower-body injury. Thomas only has three goals but has notched 22 apples in 26 games, putting him on pace to exceed the career-high 42 points he notched in 2019-20. When Schenn returns, Thomas likely will slide down a line, but should still see ice time on the second man-advantage unit.
Jesper Bratt, LW, NJ
Bratt built on his solid 2021-22 campaign by notching five points the last two days of 2021. That output gave the Swedish winger nine goals and 31 points through 33 games in what's proving to be a breakout season. Bratt is New Jersey's second-line winger but sees time on the first man-advantage unit. His ice time is about the same as last year, but he clearly has been substantially more productive, as he is just four points shy of his career-high set as a rookie in 2017-18.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, LW, CAR
Kotkaniemi notched a helper Saturday, extending his point streak to five, during which he has posted a goal and five assists. After a dismal start to the season (three points in his first 15 games), Kotkaniemi seems to have finally found his stride and has been much more consistent lately with 13 points in his last 16 games. Kotkaniemi likely just needed time to settle into his new surroundings and deal with the swirl from the receipt and signing of the offer sheet, resulting in his departure from Montreal and arrival in Carolina.
Noah Dobson, D, NYI
Dobson completed his hot December with his first multi-point effort of the season Thursday and kicked off 2022 on Sunday in similar fashion. All five of Dobson's goals have come in the last nine games, and he's added four assists in that span as well. Not known as a scorer, Dobson's streak has coincided with the Islanders closing out December on a roll of their own. With Ryan Pulock still sidelined and New York desperate for blue-line production, roll with Dobson — who is one point shy of his career-high 14 points (46 games) in just 26 games — for the immediate future.
Brent Burns, D, SJ
Burns running roughshod on the scoresheet are from days of yore, but he has increased his production lately. In his last eight games, Burns has two goals and four assists, giving the veteran blueliner four markers and 15 assists on the season. Burns' production has declined the last few seasons, moving him from a first blueliner to second or third one in most leagues, but as seen lately, he still has value.
Thatcher Demko, G, VAN
Demko entered the New Year on an absolute roll, closing out 2021 winning six consecutive games while posting an impressive 1.30 goals-against average and .958 save percentage. He continued that roll by stopping 30 of 32 shots Saturday to earn the win. With three-plus months left in the season, Demko is one win shy of the 16 he posted last season while splitting time with Jacob Markstrom, who departed this offseason for Calgary. With Markstrom out of the picture, Demko has shown he has the talent to be a No. 1 netminder while aided by the improvement in Vancouver's play since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach.
Juuse Saros, G, NAS
Saros has excelled in this his first season as the unquestioned No. 1 goalie in Music City. After stopping 37 of 38 shots to earn the win Saturday, Saros is 8-2-0 with two shutouts in his last 10 games. His goals-against average and save percentage are almost the same as last season, when he posted 2.28 and .927 marks, respectively. Saros' fine play coupled with the resurgent performance of several veterans has the Predators near the top of the Central Division and Western Conference.
Others include: Mathew Barzal, Nico Hischier, Adrian Kempe, Clayton Keller, Matt Duchene, Mika Zibanejad, Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos, Tomas Hertl, Jack Hughes, Travis Konecny, J.T. Miller, Evan Rodrigues, Vladimir Tarasenko, Teuvo Teravainen, Anders Lee, Nino Niederreiter, Ondrej Palat, Alex Tuch, Matthew Tkachuk, Kieffer Bellows, Filip Forsberg, Ondrej Kase, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Kyrou, Cam Atkinson, Calle Jarnkrok, Jonathan Huberdeau, Phil Kessel, Corey Perry, Charlie McAvoy, Dougie Hamilton, John Carlson, Zach Whitecloud, Victor Hedman, Torey Krug, Ilya Samsonov, and Juuse Saros.
Tanner Jeannot, LW, NAS
Jeannot's overall numbers leave little to write home about, but that does not come close to telling the whole story. A better area of focus is on his recent output, as he has been red-hot the last nine games. Jeannot tallied a pair of goals Saturday, giving him five goals and as many assists in his last nine games. Don't overrate this, of course, as Jeannot is skating on the third line, but he has shown he can be deployed in nearly all situations and be a secondary source of scoring.
Training Room (Injuries)
Max Pacioretty, LW, LV
Pacioretty recently underwent surgery on his wrist and is sidelined indefinitely. Before this operation, Pacioretty had been red-hot, racking up 10 goals and 18 points in his last 13 games since returning from a 17-game stint on injured reserve. Overall, the 33-year-old winger had 12 goals and 21 points through 16 games after accumulating 24 goals and 51 points in 48 games last year. If there is a silver lining, when Pacioretty is placed on LTIR, that should clear enough camp room to activate Jack Eichel, when he is ready to return, without requiring a trade of an asset.
Others include players still on the COVID-19 protocol list, as well as Brayden Point (upper body, out since Nov. 20, returned with a pair of goals and an assist last Tuesday), Sean Couturier (upper body, COVID-19 protocols, placed on injured reserve Thursday, week-to-week), Joel Eriksson Ek (upper body, injured Dec. 20, will not return for several weeks), Mitch Marner (shoulder, out since Dec. 4, activated and in lineup Saturday), Jake Guentzel (upper body, out since Dec.6, played Jan. 2), Martin Necas (concussion, returned to action Thursday), Gabriel Landeskog (lower body, out since Dec. 12, activated off IR and in lineup Sunday), Jason Zucker (lower body, week-to-week), Brendan Gallagher (lower body, missed Saturday's game), Erik Brannstrom (broken hand, out since Nov. 11, was activated from injured reserve last Wednesday), Bowen Byram (concussion, activated and in lineup Jan. 2), Jared Spurgeon (lower body, unlikely to return for several weeks), Jakob Chychrun (upper body, expected to miss another two weeks), Mike Smith. (leg, out since Oct. 19, was activated and between the pipes last Wednesday), Cam Talbot (lower body, injured Saturday versus the Blues) and Tuukka Rask (offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in right hip, skated with the Bruins last Sunday and could play in 2-3 weeks).
Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)
Nick Suzuki, C, MTL
Suzuki's goal Saturday was his seventh on the year in what has been a disappointing season. Montreal has struggled overall while also having several games postponed due to COVID, including four games in late December and four games from January 4-10. In the 34 games Suzuki has played, he has tallied those seven goals along with 12 assists with a minus-15 rating after scoring 41 points each of his first two seasons in the league.
Taylor Hall, LW, BOS
Hall, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Bruins last July, has struggled a bit with the team he finished 2020-21. He excelled in the Hub following his arrival from Buffalo, notching eight goals and six assists in 16 games. Hall parlayed that run into a long-term deal, but his goal Saturday was just his sixth in 28 games this year. If you believe this marker and assist Sunday will kickstart his game, jump on board now. He is still playing more than 2:30 a game on the man-advantage, though his ice time is around the 16 minutes he received last year as a Bruin, down nearly two minutes from the ice time he was seeing in Buffalo.
Mikko Koskinen, G, EDM
Koskinen was brilliant earlier this season, but his magical run looks to have come to an end. Mike Smith just returned from his injury, shifting Koskinen back to a secondary role. In addition, Koskinen fell 4-1 to the Rangers on Monday, extending his losing streak to six games, stretching to Dec. 5 (0-5-1). Smith will be rested judiciously, so Koskinen still should see a decent number of starts, but he can be relegated to third goalie or bench status in most leagues.
Others include Kevin Hayes, Joonas Donskoi, Nils Hoglander, Tyson Barrie, Matt Murray, Alex Nedeljkovic, and Charlie Lindgren.
Ryan McDonagh, D, TB
McDonagh, hot as Hades for a short period earlier this year, has seen his scoring production fall off a cliff. In his last 16 games, McDonagh has just three points, all of which were scored Dec. 5. The decline shouldn't be that surprising, as it is in line with what McDonagh has posted the last two seasons. But he did have a resurgence during last year's playoffs, which raised some hopes for that to continue in the regular season. As we have seen, that has not been the case.