Wild West – Early Risers (2017)

by Kevin Wickersham on October 9, 2017


It’s early, very early as we close out the NHL schedule’s first week, but a few names emerged from their teams’ initial two or three games. They might fade, but could also tighten a hold on roles that will bring greater production than originally forecast. If you have room on your roster maybe take a flier on one or two of them. Even if these players and others that emerge in the next week or two don’t sustain for the majority of the schedule, riding out an October streak can bring solid returns.


Ryan Hartman - Chicago Blackhawks


Hartman’s the current beneficiary of the left wing role on the Patrick Kane line. He surely wants to retain it and helped his case with a goal and four assists in the Blackhawks’ opener. A follow-up assist in the next contest versus Columbus has him tied with Kane for the Western Conference lead in points. Who knows how long it will last, but with Hartman’s penchant for physical play (second on Chicago to Panik with 121 hits last year and a team-best 70 penalty minutes) he could develop into a multi-category monster as the season progresses. It’s a best-case scenario for sure, but there’s a decent chance he’s in for a big year.


Vladimir Sobotka – St. Louis Blues


As with Hartman, Sobotka’s value rises with his first-line role opposite Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny. Known more as a scrappy middle-sixer, following his impressive playoff performance last year (two goals, four assists in 11 contests) he’s rewarded St. Louis for their faith in him with three assists to lead off the campaign. After a successful three-year KHL run with Avangard Omsk he’s continued to dole out NHL hits registering seven in two games. With a career-best 152 in 2011-12, he’ll top that if he maintains near this pace. Averaging 19:28 TOI at this extremely early stage, he stands a chance to top his 16:44 per game average high of 2013-14, a year in which he added 72 penalty minutes.


James Neal – Vegas Golden Knights


You’ve surely seen how Neal has helped lead Vegas to a dramatic 2-0 start. Missing the entire preseason while recovering from a broken hand suffered in last May’s Western Conference Finals, he’s scored three of their four goals this year, two in the third period of a comeback victory in Dallas and an OT game-winner the next night at Arizona. He’s also clicked on the top line with Cody Eakin (who leads Vegas with 22:31 TOI) and David Perron sparking an offense slowly finding itself, and registered a plus-four – again impressive while playing for a club with only four goals. While he can’t sustain this pace, as member of the Knights’ top power play unit (one of six teams yet to score on the man advantage), should the club continue a measure of their early success Neal may warrant a year-long roster spot in deeper leagues.


Andrew Cogliano - Anaheim


Another steady vet finding himself on a top line, Cogliano’s assumed an injured Nick Ritchie’s left wing role next to Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell - a trio that registered nine points on opening night. With his career-long consecutive game streak now fourth-best in NHL history at 786, he’ll try to make his eleventh campaign his most prolific. Topping out with 45 points in his rookie year with Edmonton, if he can continue to carve out a scoring spot while forwards Ritchie, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Patrick Eaves mend, Cogliano could see a career year. At the very least he’ll continue as a stable presence helping negotiate Anaheim through their early injury troubles which include defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm as well as Ryan Miler. He also carries the potential to offer decent hits numbers, although his totals have declined as he’s aged from a career-best 139 three years ago to 76 in 2016-17.    


Dmitrij Jaskin - St. Louis  


Jaskin has generated a respectable rate of hits (2.2 per game) over parts of six campaigns with the Blues, but the early 2017-18 returns have him busting through that with 11 in two games. No doubt his second line spot as a physical presence alongside scorers Schwartz and Schenn has contributed. If he can keep his role, look for continued peripheral success. While he’s never been much of a points-producer with a high of 18 points in 2014-15, that could increase while dishing to two teammates slated for at least 50 points.


Corey McLeod/Scott Hartnell – Nashville


If your league counts penalty minutes look to the Predators. After two contests Nashville sports the top two in the West with McLeod at 24 and Hartnell 16. While Ryan Reaves in the East laps them both with 34 in three contests after scraps with McLeod and teammate Austin Watson in their recent Saturday evening affair, the pair of Predator wings still rank second and third in the NHL. Hartnell’s second line role and power play potential should net a decent number of goals and assists as well.


Jan Rutta - Chicago


Powered by Chicago’s opening night crushing of the Penguins and strong follow-up victory against Columbus, Rutta’s raced out to a goal and an assist while averaging a second below 20 minutes per game. His plus-seven earned in a bottom pairing with Gustav Forsling has the 27-year-old Czech league veteran atop the NHL in plus-minus during his initial North American action. With a squad-wide scoring explosion, his starting Corsi relative is particularly impressive at 2.9.  


Jason Garrison - Las Vegas


Seemingly energized by his role with the inaugural Knights’ squad, Garrison has been a crucial player in front of Marc-Andre Fleury leading the Western Conference with 12 blocks. Never a huge producer of blocked shots, hitting his career high of 128 in 2013-14, perhaps he’ll up his peripheral production in the desert. His early 20:46 average time on ice is also Garrison’s highest in four years.  


Marc-Andre Fleury – Vegas


Speaking of Fleury, in spite of Garrison’s and other Vegas defensive efforts he leads West goalies in shots faced with 74, letting in only two in two full games plus a few minutes of overtime. That’s a .979 save percentage and 0.98 goals against if we want to tabulate it this early. This includes a Herculean 46-save effort in the franchise’s initial game in Dallas. With the less-experienced Malcom Subban recent supplanting Calvin Pickard as number two Knight in net, Fleury’s saves and starts over 82 games will likely increase. His win total could exceed expectations also if Vegas remains as competitive as they’ve appeared in their initial two contests.


Antti Raanta – Arizona


After missing opening night in Anaheim, Raanta was superb for the bulk of his duel against Fleury in the Coyotes’ home opener. Nearly perfect, he stopped 42 shots letting his first in with just over a minute of regulation play remaining, and of course Neal’s game-winner in extra time. Despite the loss, Arizona’s second of the year when taking a lead into the third period, after coming over from the Rangers along with top-line center Derek Stepan he’s expected to take the reins in net and 60 starts wouldn’t be a stretch.



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  • finminer

    Will Butcher, Kevin Labanc………..