At the end of last season, we started to see flashes of Aleksander Barkov's potential. This season, he started to string games together until he went down with an injury. Since he's been back, he's been on a torrid pace culminating with two goals and an assist with four shots in the 3-1 win over the Canadiens Tuesday. The win extended the Panthers win streak to seven and put the Panthers in first place in the Atlantic Sasha now has four goals in the last two games and ten points in the last seven games putting him close to a point per game on the season. Not bad for somebody who can't drink in the U.S. for eight months. He's doing so much already that he's solidly in my top 20 in dynasty rankings and pushing the top 50 for the rest of the season despite the lack of penalty minutes. Here's what else I saw on a busy Tuesday night:
The Arizona Coyotes put forward a great display of tanking at the end of last season pushing the Sabres for the worst record in the league.  Unfortunately for them, they came up short and were jumped in the lottery.  They were expected to be horrible again and the first two games do not really change their expectations.  That said, you had to come away impressed by the Desert Dogs this weekend crushing the Kings 4-1 in LA on Friday and beating Pittsburgh 2-1 on Saturday. The quick start can largely be attributed to Mike Smith stopping 40 of 41 shots Friday and 27 of 28 on Saturday. He's an incredibly streaky goalie so it's not a terrible idea to pick him up and stream him while it lasts.  He could also get shelled in their next game  (Wednesday at Anaheim) so you have to decide for yourself if it's worth the gamble (I'd lean yes).  Let's take a look at what else happened over the weekend:
The hockey season is finally upon us!  While there are only 4 games tonight, it's great for hockey to start.  I will go through a preview of the games tonight and Thursday (11 total games) and will have a recap of all of that action out on Friday morning.  Here's a breakdown of what we're looking to see from a fantasy perspective in the first couple games of the season.
Yesterday I brought big Anthony Mantha to your attention and said you should keep an eye on him as he’s on the rise. Well, there’s another kid you should get to know that’s already on big ice and lately his star is rising fast. Nick Bjugstad, C (2 G, 5 SOG, +1) is on a roll with seven points in his last three games including multiple two goal games giving him six goals in his last seven games. In fact, he has nine points in his last eight games and these totals aren’t unexpected. He started the season slowly, but at just 22 years of age and one full season under his belt that’s not surprising. It was only a matter of time before he started producing, and here it is. Can he keep it up? Absolutely. Just like Mantha he’s a big boy at 6’5”, 215lbs and he knows how to use his big frame to create space and opportunities for himself. Clearly he knows how to cash in on those opportunities as well bringing a heavy, accurate shot to the table in his big bag o’ tricks. He’s not just big; he’s strong too often winning battles along the boards. With exceptional on-ice awareness and vision he rarely finds himself out of position. Lately he’s playing with fellow prospect Jonathan Huberdeau (2 A, 4 SOG, +1) and veteran Brad Boyes (+1) so it’s a solid line for him to grow on. I don’t expect more than 50 points from Jugs, but he could beat that mark if he and Huber gel like the Cats hope they will. In any case, he should be added in all keeper leagues if he was on the wire and in deep re-drafts as well. It may not be long before he’s relevant in all leagues, so like I always say, get it while the gettins’ good, y’all! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Seven years ago Kris Versteeg, RW – (1 G, 2 A, +3, 7 SOG) started his career in Chicago with high hopes and what seemed like a higher ceiling. Initially all the signs looked good; he notched 20 goals in each of his first two full seasons and ended up with 53 and 44 points in each season respectively. Despite the slight drop-off in production many expected a breakout season in 2010, but alas, it didn’t happen. In what would become a theme for throughout his young career Versteeg went down with a knee injury. Over the next few seasons he struggled with more knee problems and after failed stints in Philly and Toronto he landed in Florida where it looked like he regained his form setting a career high in goals with 23 and points with 54. Again, a breakout was expected the following season and again knee problems knocked him down, but if Kris Versteeg has shown us anything in his time on big ice, it’s that you can knock him down but he’s going to get right back up. Fast forward three more years and it’s 2014, Versteeg’s knee is doing well and since joining a line with Brad Richards and Patrick Kane he’s been scoring to the tune of five points in his last four games. You might pause in terror seeing Richards’ name here, but he seems to have found a home on this line and he’s is scoring too, so worry not for now. Vertseeg might leave a lot of owners gun shy after years of disappointment, but he was battling knee issues that prevented him from, you know, skating properly. Those knee problems seem solved for now and the talent was always there, so if you want in on a guy who could score 60 points and 25 goals on the cheap, now’s the time to buy in. I already did. Anyway, here’s what else I saw last night in the world o’ fantasy hockey:
Pekka Rinne is headed to the AHL for a rehab assignment and should be back in the crease for the Preds sometime over the next two weeks. That’s great news for fantasy owners and Preds fans alike, but what can Rinne give you when he returns? Frankly I’d expect every ounce of what he normally would give you if he hadn’t been hurt. When asked about how he was doing Rinne said “So far I feel really comfortable, I'm happy how things have gone in practice and how things have gone so far. I think I'm actually a little bit surprised it's been going so well. But like I said, it's still a process but for sure I feel like I'm really close to game shape and now it's just a final couple of games before I jump on the ice with the Nashville team." You have to love the sound of that if you’re a Rinne owner. With Devan Dubnyk keeping the bench warm for de facto starter Carter Hutton (2 GA, 14 SV, W) you’d think that Hutton would get the backup job once Rinne returned, but Hutton’s two-way deal and Dubnyk’s one way deal say otherwise, so expect Hutton to be sent back down to the AHL so Dubnyk can continue to collect a salary on the bench. While most Rinne owners held him, IR slot or not, he is only owned in 75% of ESPN leagues and 84% of Yahoo leagues, so there’s a slim chance he’s out there for you to grab, so go scope out your wire and if he is? Grab him now, now, yesterday! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey yesterday:
Ryane Clowe (1 A, 0 SOG, -2) had some pretty solid seasons as a member of the San Jose Sharks from 2008 to 2012 and after getting dealt to the Rangers last year because there was just no room for him on the Sharks, he signed a $24 million deal with the Devils. His first five or six games this season were just awful, and then rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba elbowed him in the head and he fell like a sack o' potatoes. After missing the last two-and-a-half months with a concussion he's returned with a vengeance quickly establishing himself as an important cog in a seemingly rejuvenated Devils offense for the second half of the season. He's everywhere out there right now; clearing space, getting shots on goal, creating offensive chances where earlier in the season the Devils couldn't buy an opportunity and what's more, he's scoring consistently since returning from injury with 10 points in his last 10 games. While I don't expect he can keep that pace up, the Devils brought him in to win battles and help generate offense and it appears that's exactly what he's doing while healthy. Even on nights where the Devils have struggled (like last night) he still manages to look good out there with line-mates Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder. While most owners probably hoped he'd see more time on the top line with Jaromir Jagr, he seems to be doing just fine on what appears to be New Jersey's new second line so don't hope to fix what isn't broken. By this point in the season the wire is pretty thin getting thinner making finding fresh legs almost impossible so that gives Clowe a bit more value than he might otherwise have had at this point in the season. That being said, 10 points in his last 10 games, are you going to ignore that? Well, you go right ahead, but the rest of us are paying attention. While everyone else is going to be digging deep after the Olympic break Clowe is going to be churning on fresh legs and that could help him score more and you win more. He's not sexy, he's not fast, he's not going to wow you, but when other guys are slowing and getting hurt when you need them the most, Clowe is likely to be happy, healthy and fairly productive. Would you buy that for a dollar? Doesn't matter! Clowe's probably out there for free, so cash in now y'all! Anyway, here's what else I saw last night in the world o' fantasy hockey: