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Blue Line Buzz: Defensemen coming on strong

by | Rotowire.com
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If you have watched an NHL game on either Versus or the NHL Network the last three weeks, you have undoubtedly seen the new hockey-themed USA Prime Credit commercials with "Peggy" advertising a certain credit card company. These two commercials feature Chicago's Patrick Kane and Bruins' goalie Tim Thomas. The irony of the ads is that Thomas is the one trapped in a taxi cab with a Kathy-Bates-from-Misery type fan and is unable to pay his cab fare.

The mere opportunity for comedic gold was missed by the makers of this commercial, but you have to believe Kane wanted nothing to do with the taxi commercial after his rather unfortunate incident several summers earlier in Buffalo. The spot would have worked better if Kane had called Thomas with instructions on how to avoid paying one's cab fare. Other possibilities for USA Prime Credit commercials could include the Islanders' Rick DiPietro calling from the hospital unable to pay his most recent medical bill and Jeff Carter ringing them up from a Columbus bar complaining he can't pay his tab. The potential for these ads are quite endless actually.

With the season at its unofficial quarter pole, let's examine several notable statistics from the league:

• Florida, Toronto and Minnesota are owners of three of the league's best records.

• Edmonton, Phoenix and St. Louis are currently in position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

• The Florida Panthers boast one of the league's highest scoring blue lines thanks to the re-emergence of Brian Campbell and the breakout seasons of Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov.

• The Islanders’ goaltending situation is about as settled as the BCS standings, although Al Montoya was strong in two recent games against New Jersey.

• First-round draft selections Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo are seeing their playing time usurped by talented backups such as Jhonas Enroth and Cory Schneider.

• In San Jose, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has more points than Dan Boyle and Brent Burns through Saturday's contests.

• Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is only a minus-3 through 22 games, but also boasts 19 points.

Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Fowler and Mark Streit have a combined nine goals and 38 points with a total rating of minus-30.

• Big Buff has the dubious distinction of boasting the most points among defenders, 16, with the worst plus-minus, as Byfuglien sits at a minus-9 through Saturday.

Nick Leddy has more points than Tyler Myers and Alex Goligoski combined while Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Wilson have as many as Myers and Goligoski combined.

• Montreal's Josh Gorges and Ryan McDonagh each have 10 points through Saturday's games.

Travis Hamonic has just two assists through 21 games. Even further disappointing to owners that drafted him is he has as many fights as he does assists.

Erik Karlsson, Dan Boyle and P.K. Subban have combined for 197 shots and just three goals.

Jason Garrison is shooting an astounding 13.6 percent with eight goals on 59 shots.

Jordan Leopold and Steve Montador have a combined 10 goals on 60 shots.

• If you picked Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Joffrey Lupul to be in the top four of the Art Ross Trophy race, you can buy my Powerball ticket tonight.

One-Adam-12

The Devils knew they grabbed a gem at the fourth overall pick with Adam Larsson when the Panthers opted for Jonathan Huberdeau at No. 3. Larsson was quiet offensively in his first month, as it usually takes rookie defenders some time to acclimate to the NHL game. Larsson recently turned 19 and has been one of the league's hottest defenders in the month of November, as the Swede has all eight of his points in 13 games and is currently riding a five-game points streak through Saturday with one goal and four assists during that span.

Larsson has seen some of his power-play time slip to teammate Mark Fayne and the Devils have been surrendering shorthanded chances to opponents often, allowing four shorties in their last 10 games. Larsson is still prone to the large defensive error, such as allowing several of those shorthanded chances, but the kid has been jumping into the play often. Saturday's goal in a loss to the Islanders saw Larsson be the fourth man into the zone and fire a slick wrist shot past Al Montoya. The Devils are freely deploying Larsson and he is well worth a pickup if you have not snagged him already. November's production seems to be more of a harbinger of his ability than his stats from the season's first month.

The Devils do not offer much else from the blue line, but Larsson appears to be an anchor in Newark for years to come.

Buffalo Bites

If anybody could predict the future, they surely would succeed in Fantasy sports and in plenty of other walks of life. When the Buffalo Sabres signed Christian Ehrhoff to a massive contract and brought in Robyn Regehr from Calgary last summer, the signs pointed to a bounceback season from the towering Tyler Myers. Myers was the subject of much debate in this column and its wholehearted endorsement. Myers' poor start earned him a healthy scratch from coach Lindy Ruff earlier this month, only to see Myers return to the lineup with his season's best game, a two-goal effort in a loss to New Jersey on November 16. The hockey gods were as cruel to Myers as they were to Lubomir Visnovky, as Myers suffered a broken wrist two games later and figures to return around Christmas.

Conversely, teammate Jordan Leopold is having another solid season with nine points and five goals through 23 games and a plus-5 rating. Ehrhoff isn't quite living up to his contract, but has respectable numbers with two goals and 13 points, including six during the month of November. With Myers out of action, Marc-Andre Gragnani should see an expanded role as he already receives 3:48 of power-play time per contest with eight points in 21 games. He has been quiet of late with two assists in the last six games, but his name is worth remembering, as Gragnani is a power-play specialist of sorts.

One has to wonder how Myers will play upon his return to action, as it can't be any more frustrating for owners than the opening of the current NHL campaign.

Cook County Assessor's Office

Nick Leddy has been producing at a steady rate (16 points in 24 games) but the high-priced talent on the Chicago blue line is starting to be more consistent offensively. Duncan Keith has been active of late with 10 of his season's 16 points in the last nine games including back-to-back two-assist contests during the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Keith started much too slowly for Fantasy owners hoping for a repeat of his 2009-2010 season, but the Winnipeg native has come on strong the last three weeks. Of Keith's recent outburst, five of the 10 points have come on the man advantage, which tends to happen when your playmates are Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. We should expect this consistency from Keith over the season, as he's showed it before, but now may be the time to jump in and grab the former Norris Trophy winner.

Corving a Niche

Boston moved quickly this offseason to add a defender that would provide an offensive spark, an end they hoped last year's trade for Tomas Kaberle would have achieved. Kaberle proved to be invisible during the team's Stanley Cup run and the Bruins brought in journeyman Joe Corvo. Corvo's numbers are serviceable with nine points on the season, but just one assist in the last five games. Corvo has yet to light the lamp for Boston, but he is seeing 3:57 of power-play time per contest and averaging over two shots per game. He is the only other defender with offensive acumen on the team's blue line after Zdeno Chara as Dennis Seidenberg appears to be able to hit the goal, but not get the puck past the goalie.

Corvo has a track record of being productive, as the veteran had 23 of his 40 points on the power play last year with Carolina and has cracked the 10-goal mark four times in his career and registered 35 or more points five times. He will not hurt your plus-minus (along with every other play on Boston's roster) and Corvo should be seeing his name on the scoresheet more often; he has six of his nine points in November.

Saturday's hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty on Kris Letang was a textbook example of the lateral hits to the head the league is hoping to eliminate. No penalty was called on the play, but Pacioretty was given a three-game suspension from the league on Monday. Pacioretty has no prior record and Letang returned to the game, eventually scoring the overtime winner.

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Player News
Brandon DeFazio
DeFazio Signs With Bruins
Brandon DeFazio, LW, BOS
12:21 AM
News: Brandon DeFazio signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Bruins on Monday.
Analysis: Brandon DeFazio, who played two games for the Canucks last season, gives the B's organization some added depth up front and the 26-year-old could compete for a fourth-line role with the big club in training camp.

Anders Nilsson
Nilsson Inks One-Year Deal With Oilers
Anders Nilsson, G, NYI
7/6/2015
News: Anders Nilsson signed a one-year (one-way), $1 million contract with the Oilers on Monday.
Analysis: It didn't take long for the Oilers to lock up Anders Nilsson after acquiring him from the Blackhawks on Monday. The one-way nature of the deal suggests that the Oilers are confident Nilsson can slot in as the team's backup goaltender. Ben Scrivens may be the odd-man out in Edmonton.

Julian Melchiori
Melchiori Inks One-Year Deal With Jets
Julian Melchiori, D, WPG
7/6/2015
News: Julian Melchiori signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets on Monday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Julian Melchiori will provide the Jets with depth at defense, which is important for Winnipeg, as the team's defensive corps was banged up early and often last season. He registered one goal and five assists in 70 games with AHL St. John's in 2014-15.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Caps' Kuznetsov Signs Two-Year Deal
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WAS
7/6/2015
News: Evgeny Kuznetsov signed a two-year, $6 million contract extension with the Capitals on Monday, Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington reports.
Analysis: The "bridge deal" is close to what Evgeny Kuznetsov's camp and the Capitals had been rumored to be working on in previous days. Considering that the 23-year-old figures to be a fixture of Washington's offense next season, the cap hit is more than reasonable. After a slow initial adjustment to the North American game upon his debut in the second half of 2013-14, Kuznetsov's production ticked up down the stretch late last season. With Nicklas Backstrom recovering from offseason hip surgery, the Capitals will count on Kuznetsov for a breakout campaign in 2015-16.

Rich Clune
Leafs Sign Clune TO AHL Deal
Rich Clune, LW, NSH
7/6/2015
News: Rich Clune signed an AHL deal with Toronto over the weekend.
Analysis: Bought out of the final year of his contract by the Predators before free agency started, Rich Clune will head north to continue his career after recording 17 points in 62 games for AHL Milwaukee last season while making one appearance with their parent club in Nashville. Clune, who recently opened up in The Players' Tribune about his prior struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, has been sober for five years and could reemerge as a fourth-line option for the Maple Leafs at some point in 2015-16 if he first excels with their farm team.

Colin McDonald
Flyers Pick Up McDonald For Added Forward Depth
Colin McDonald, RW, PHI
7/6/2015
News: Colin McDonald signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Flyers on Friday.
Analysis: The right winger made 18 appearances during the regular season and two in the playoffs for the Islanders, providing two goals and six assists. He'll compete for a fourth-line role with the Flyers in training camp.

Leo Komarov
Leafs' Komarov Facing Charges In Finland
Leo Komarov, C, TOR
7/6/2015
News: Leo Komarov is facing four criminal charges in his native Finland in relation to a 2014 traffic accident, Lance Hornsby of the Toronto Sun reports.
Analysis: Leo Komarov is alleged to have been responsible for a "traffic hazard" and for "falsifying information to police," among other accusations. The 28-year-old could spend up to nine months in jail if found guilty of the charges during his August trial. For their part, the Leafs are standing by Komarov and expect the matter to be resolved before training camp opens, but the charges still cast a dark cloud over the forward. Komarov is under contract with the Leafs for three more seasons after accruing 26 points in 62 games in 2014-15.

Harry Zolnierczyk
Ducks Ink Zolnierczyk To One-Year Deal
Harry Zolnierczyk, RW, ANA
7/6/2015
News: Harry Zolnierczyk signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ducks on Friday, TSN's Ryan Rishaug reports.
Analysis: The 27-year-old has been an insurance forward the last few seasons, occasionally seeing time for NHL clubs when injuries open up opportunities. At this point of his career, Harry Zolnierczyk appears best suited for a full-time role at the AHL level, where he recorded 18 goals and 44 points in 60 games for Bridgeport last season. The Ducks are expected to assign Zolnierczyk to their affiliate in San Diego to begin the upcoming campaign.

Marc-Andre Gragnani
Devils Sign Gragnani To Two-Way Deal
Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, NJ
7/6/2015
News: Marc-Andre Gragnani signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Devils on Friday, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Marc-Andre Gragnani returns to North America after spending the last two seasons in Europe, most recently with Bern of the Swiss Elite League. He led all defensemen in the league with 37 points in 49 games, which was good enough to earn him another look from an NHL club. The 28-year-old previously appeared in 74 NHL contests with the Sabres, Canucks, and Hurricanes, but will likely have to bide his time at AHL Albany before a role with the Devils comes to fruition.

Brett Connolly
Connolly Inks One-Year Deal With Bruins
Brett Connolly, RW, BOS
7/6/2015
News: Brett Connolly signed a one-year, $1.025 million contract with the Bruins on Monday.
Analysis: In the wake of the departures of fellow forwards Carl Soderberg and Milan Lucic this offseason, Brett Connolly -- whom the Bruins obtained from Tampa Bay this past March -- has a real shot at sliding into the team's top-six forward mix in 2015-16. The 6-2, 181-pound winger tallied 12 goals and 17 points in 55 NHL games overall last season, and at age 23, the 2010 first-rounder could be poised for a break-out in his first full campaign with the B's.

 
 
 
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