James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Is the NHL back to normal?

Monday, December 05, 2011


If there was one theme of this past weekend, it might have been “things going back to normal.” At least, for the most part, it seems.

 

Roberto Luongo started in goal for the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Miller finally came back to restore some order to the Buffalo Sabres. Even with the addition of a (perhaps?) concussed James Reimer, the Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t find an answer for the red-hot Boston Bruins. (To be fair, no one really has lately.)

 

In a way, this all feels right. Sure, there are exceptions here and there. The Florida Panthers keep chugging along to a rather surprising degree, but even that unexpected success follows a recent trend (AHL coaching studs finding gold at the NHL level).

 

Even with a significant amount of returns to normalcy, there were some interesting rising players to take a look at. Here are a few guys who raised some eyebrows in the last three nights.

 

Ryan O’Reilly


As someone with an Irish name, I feel obliged to pretend to care more about Irish-American hockey players. (A lot of that spirit was lost in the antics of Shane O’Brien, although he might be more of a kindred spirit than I’d like to admit.)

 

In the case of Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly, it’s hard to say. He scored four of his six goals in the last three games and nine of his 21 points in the last five games.

 

If you have a really obvious opening on your roster, then give him a try – at least on a trial basis. He’s obviously on a hot streak right now, but it’s hard to say if he can sustain something reasonably close to this or not. On one hand, O’Reilly is five points away from matching his previous career high for points in the NHL, which shows how high he's shooting right now. On the other hand, he’s just 20 years old, so it’s pretty unfair to say that we’ve seen the best of what the solid forward can do.

 

Again, my verdict is a little wishy-washy: pick him up if you have a good-for-nothing player on your roster. Otherwise, keep an eye on him but wait for now.

 

David Booth/Chris Higgins


It’s a bit early, but the “American Express” line is starting to heat up like a credit card at Christmas. Both Booth and Higgins scored a goal and two assists each in last night’s game against the Calgary Flames. Some of the excitement should be contained by the fact that it was against Henrik Karlsson rather than Miikka Kiprusoff (who’s having an underrated season so far, by the way), but adding support offense would be a huge boon for the Canucks.

 

Both have their positives. Higgins has the high-end pedigree and the fantastic speed. Booth has achieved higher accomplishments - particularly a 31 goal season - in his career. Each player happens to be playing with Ryan Kesler right now, though, which is the biggest reason to give them an interim spot on your roster. (Kesler, by the way, is starting to resemble the guy who ran away with the Selke Trophy last season.)

 

My instinct is to say that Booth should be scooped up over Higgins, but each winger should be on your radar now. It might be a little too early to jump on that bandwagon, but don’t sleep on them, either.


SLEEPING BLUES


Two interesting St. Louis Blues happened to be ones who scored goals on Saturday.

 

Chris Stewart is starting to heat up after getting over his three-game suspension. He currently has points in three consecutive contests and should be a nice source or PIM (though it must be noted that his 46 have been inflated by the 15 penalty minutes he received during the Nov. 15 game in which he earned his suspension. I’d recommend keeping an eye on his progress, but I’d be lying if I didn’t note that he was on my list of possible breakout players heading into this season.  You should still be weary of his ups and downs, but keep him on your radar during the next month.

 

David Perron is a bit of a mystery. He actually sat out a longer period (Nov. 2010-Dec. 2011) than Sidney Crosby did for his concussion. Obviously Perron’s ceiling isn’t as high, but he managed some magic in his return, too. Perron scored a goal 6:21 into a game that the Chicago Blackhawks eventually took 5-2.

 

Perron had five goals in 10 games last season and reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in 2009-10. It’s a bit much to pencil him for 40 or even 30 goals (this season, at least), but he has the potential to be another solid scorer on an intriguing St. Louis team.

 

Personally, I think Stewart is the best choice of the two because of his track record, but both are worthy of inclusion on your “watch list.”


QUICK HITS


Sure, his name is difficult to spell, but Valtteri Filppula is worth a look. (For more, read up on Corey Abbott’s take.) … Dale Hunter is the only new coach (excluding Ken Hitchock, who I think we can all agree is only semi new in this age of quick news cycles, anyway) to earn his first win this weekend. The most troubling bit might be new Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s start. His team built multiple-goal leads in both games only to relinquish them to their opponents. The bright side is that those losses came to two great teams, though. I guess … Patrick Kane is a right wing again, for whatever that’s worth … Dallas Stars fans might feel the urge to add Eric Nystrom at this point. It’s not a crazy impulse, especially in a hits league. (It doesn’t hurt that he has the pedigree of a first-round pick, either, although he was the No. 10 pick all the way back in 2002.) The problem is that his 10 goals came with a shooting percentage of 25.6. Simply put, that isn’t likely to repeat itself over the next quarter of the 2011-12 season, let alone the full campaign. If you really want a Star who is likely to be available, opt for Steve Ott. He does a little of everything, which makes him a solid choice - especially if he finds himself alongside Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson again.

 

INJURY SNIPES


The Los Angeles Kings placed Mike Richards on the IR. That's awful news for an offense that is amongst the most top-heavy in the NHL … Niklas Backstrom went down with a lower-body injury, which is a big bummer for Backstrom owners and a potentially incredible break for Josh Harding, Harding's accountant and to the least extent, Harding's fantasy owners … Michael Grabner and Rick Dipietro are dealing with groin injuries while Nino Niederreiter suffered a concussion this weekend for the banged-up Islanders … Jordan Staal is on the sidelines with some kind of facial injury … Alexander Semin was scratched, but not because of his foul play. Instead, he is dealing with a shoulder problem. Long-time Semin owners are well-aware of the snipers injury-prone nature. He won’t be missed nearly as much now, though. (Click here for the full injury list.)



James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than two years. Follow him on Twitter.
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