Ryder with a great opportunity in Dallas, Sabres goaltending and a look at the top free agent signings of the off-season.
Today's Hodgemail question is which players were the best free agent signings of the off-season. Using my NHL Player Rankings, and not including players that re-signed with their old teams, here are my leading contenders among players that have seen action in at least half a dozen games:
The usual caveats about small sample size have to apply when looking at the first 10-15 games of a season, but it's fascinating to see how many guys that would be considered after-thoughts that rank among the leaders early in this season.
Guys like Brian Elliott, Aaron Johnson, Corey Potter, Kent Huskins are in the Top 10, ahead of more highly-touted -- and highly-paid -- performers like Brad Richards and Christian Ehrhoff, to say nothing of, say, Ville Leino.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that Elliott, Potter et al are more valuable and should have landed the monster contracts, it's simply a reflection on which players have performed well through the first month of the season.
On to notes from Tuesday...
One of the top free-agent signings of the off-season, Stars RW Michael Ryder, has been living large since getting a shot on the number one line with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson while Steve Ott is injured.
Ryder has seven points and is plus-6 in the last three games, giving him 11 points and a plus-9 rating in 14 games. In the last six seasons, Ryder has finished better than plus-3 once (plus-28 with Boston in 2008-2009), but if he manages to stay with Benn and Eriksson, the 31-year-old might also be in line for 20 goals and 50 points for the first time since 2008-2009 as well.
He's still not playing as much as he did last season, but Benn has been ripping it up, scoring in nine of the Stars' last ten games, putting up 16 points in that stretch. As a left-winger who is scoring a point per game and (for fantasy owners) has more than a penalty minute per game, Benn's production is rare and, since he's just 22, it may keep getting better.
While it's all well and good to see the Stars' stars producing, part of their early-season success is also due to the play of Eric Nystrom, the left winger that couldn't crack the Minnesota Wild lineup coming out of camp. Well, Nystrom has scored four goals in the last five games -- on seven shots -- helping the Wild to their current five-game winning streak.
Keep in mind, however, that Nystrom is playing 11:27 per game and doesn't generate enough offence for this to continue. Regression will come but, in the meantime, Nystrom can take comfort knowing that he already has as many goals as he scored in 82 games last season.
MILLER TIME? NOT SO FAST
Sabres G Ryan Miller was ultimately victorious Tuesday against Winnipeg, but Miller has now surrendered 15 goals in his last four starts, posing a 4.76 goals against average and .851 save percentage, which stands in stark contrast to the work of backup Jhonas Enroth, who has a 1.41 goals against average and .952 save percentage in five appearances.
Yes, these are small sample sizes and Miller isn't in danger of losing the starting job, but as long as Miller struggles, there will be more opportunities for Enroth to make inroads and gain more playing time.
Sabres rookie RW Corey Tropp scored his first NHL goal Tuesday against Winnipeg, in his third NHL game. The former Michigan State Spartan had 47 points and 129 penalty minutes in 86 AHL games before getting promoted when Patrick Kaleta was suspended. While he did score 20 goals and 42 points in 37 games in his last year at Michigan State, Tropp is more of an energy forward at this stage of his development, playing eight minutes per game with the Sabres.
RW Ales Hemsky returned to the Edmonton lineup Tuesday, playing with Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth on a veteran line, while Magnus Paajarvi took a seat in the press box. Paajarvi has one assist in 13 games this season, not exactly building on his 34-point rookie campaign.
Hall-Eberle-RNH ice time was down against Montreal, with all three playing fewer than 15 minutes. Hall played a season-low 14:05, didn't register a shot on goal and now has zero points and a minus-2 rating in five games on the road this season. Matchups are often the name of the game, especially on the road, and right now Hall's road woes stand in contract to his rookie season (when he had 23 points in 30 road games and 19 points in 35 home games).
DEVIL MAY CARE
New Jersey C/RW Dainius Zubrus now has six points in the last seven games, after coming up with nothing in the first six games of the year, and played 23:19 on Tuesday against Carolina, his most ice time in a game since January 1, 2007.
FRANZEN FINDS THE MARK
After scoring four goals and seven points in 11 games to start the season, Red Wings RW Johan Franzen has four goals and six points in the last two games. He's the only Red Wing ahead of D Nicklas Listrom (who has six) in goal-scoring.
A few observations from the Blues' first game under Ken Hitchcock:
Jaroslav Halak got the shutout win, with a season-high 29 saves.
21-year-old rookie LW Evgeny Grachev played 7:09, his second-lowest time on ice in a game this season, after playing a season-high 12:43 in the Blues' loss to Minnesota on Saturday.
T.J. Oshie continued his hot streak and now has eight points in his last eight games.
BACK IN THE CAGE
Minnesota G Niklas Backstrom made 41 saves in a shutout win at Calgary, the second time this season that Backstrom has made 41 saves in a game and a strong return for his first start since October 27. In the meantime, Josh Harding has been exceptional, allowing three goals against in four starts.
Kings LW Dustin Penner, who had one assist in the first 12 games, recorded two assists in Los Angeles' win over Nashville Tuesday. He still hasn't scored, but is playing with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, which should give him a chance.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.