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Blue Line Buzz: Nikitin quietly had a nice season

by | Rotowire.com
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Shamefully, I found myself agreeing with something Pierre McGuire said during Monday's Caps-Bolts game. I know it's embarrassing, but the guy had a point when he said Alexander Semin is an enigma after the much-maligned sniper fired a one-timer past Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson in the second period. Is there a player other than Semin more prone to being invisible?

Speaking of Pierre McGuire, how many people half expected him to hop on the ice and attempt to interview a player during the frays in Sunday's Philadelphia-Pittsburgh game, or, at the very least, shove his microphone in the face of Flyers coach Peter Laviolette while Laviolette was yelling at Tony Granato.

The incidents were sparked by Joe Vitale's hit on Philadelphia's Danny Briere, a hit that didn't appear to be dirty, but it sent the Flyers into a Wolverine-esque berserker rage. The Flyers are not alone in reacting to big hits in this manner; almost any team goes into retaliation mode when one of their players is laid low by a check. How dare someone have the temerity to check an opposing player in a game where hitting is encouraged? It has reached the point where the slightest check will need to be avenged.

Washington's Mike Green must be waiting for a merciful end to this season. His scoring chance late in the second period of Monday night's game basically sums up this campaign. Green received a beautiful cross-ice pass with a gaping goal begging for a puck, only to see Roloson produce arguably one of the best plays of the last month with a stretching glove save. Green has a meager seven points on the season and just one assist since returning to the lineup in mid-February.

Seriously, Discover needs some new commercials with Peggy. Hockey fans have been seeing Patrick Kane and Tim Thomas all season, why not a new player or two? San Jose's Joe Thornton? The Blues' Alex Pietrangelo? Or how about aloof Philadelphia netminder Ilya Bryzgalov? (aloof or not, Bryzgalov was a monster in March, earning himself the NHL's First Star of the Month honors).

Washington's Dennis Wideman, currently manning the point on the power play with the enigmatic Alexanders, Semin and Ovechkin, has been one of the season's best values from the blue line. Many expected John Carlson to take the leap this season and increase his offensive production, but his 31 points in 80 games are down from last season's 37. The numbers are not down like Mike Green's numbers are down (23-game goal drought for Green), but they've certainly fallen.

Wideman leads the Capitals in assists, a title that certainly would have gone to Nicklas Backstrom had he not missed half the season, and Wideman posted double-digit goals for the fourth time in five years. He has 46 points through 80 games and will be an intriguing pick next fall. The Capitals, Mike Green notably, can't possibly be as bad next fall, but we said that about Green coming into this season as well. Wideman has rewarded owners much that used a late-round pick on him, but do you want to pay a higher price for his services next year?

Speaking of surprises, how about the year Teddy Purcell is having for Tampa Bay? The former Los Angeles prospect slammed home his 21st goal of the season in Monday's win over Washington and owns 62 points on the year. A good amount of his points came from riding shotgun with Steven Stamkos on the sniper's second-half surge, making those owners that snagged Purcell quite happy. Purcell rode an 11-game points streak from February 16 to March 8 that saw him notch 22 points over that span. Purcell quieted down after that stretch, but still put up serviceable assist numbers. If he starts the season with Martin St. Louis and Stamkos next year, he could be a nice pick in the middle rounds.

Was there a more amusing moment in the midst of Toronto's second-half plummet than their fans showing enthusiasm for the upcoming baseball season? Last Thursday, in the midst of a 7-1 drubbing at home by Philadelphia, the always supportive, never fickle Leafs' fans serenaded their hockey team with a chant of "Let's Go Blue Jays" in the third period of the loss. Apparently, they're excited about a full season of Brett Lawrie as well.

New Jersey's David Clarkson scored his 30th goal in Saturday's win over Carolina, making him just one of three players this season to pot over 30 goals and register 100 penalty minutes. The other two: Anaheim's Corey Perry and Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell.

La Femme Nikitin

Mercifully, for Columbus, the season has less than a week remaining; another season in which Columbus has been simply abysmal, clinching the league's worst record and likely first-overall draft pick (hello Nail Yakupov). Lost in the Rick Nash trade circus, Jeff Carter's petulancy and the nightmarish netminding of Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford was a quietly productive season from defenseman Nikita Nikitin.

Nikitin certainly has not been a stranger to this column, as his numbers have been intriguing all season. In the last week, Nikitin had six points over four games, including a three-point effort in last Friday's win over Florida. Nikitin has missed several weeks this year due to various injuries, but has been solid the last month. The 6-3 blueliner has 31 points in 51 games with nine of those points coming on the power play. The goal totals are more impressive due to the dearth of shots Nikitin has put on goal, having registered just 85 through Saturday.

Nikitin is an interesting player to consider next season. Columbus already has Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski, two players more than capable of shouldering the offensive load from the back end. Johnson has adapted nicely since joining the Jackets in the Jeff Carter trade, notching 11 points in 18 games through Saturday. Meanwhile, Wisniewski, he of the massive six-year, $33 million contract this past summer, is dealing with a concussion but could play again this season. You can argue that Nikitin is benefitting from Wisniewski's absence, but Wisniewski was having a decent season with 24 points in 45 games; decent if you ignore the paltry minus-17 rating.

Nikitin appears, at least presently, to be in the same boat as Grant Clitsome last year when projecting to next season; a Columbus defenseman that put up solid point-per-game numbers while not necessarily being the person relied upon to be the primary scorer from the blue line. (Clitsome has since been waived and was claimed by Winnipeg.) Johnson should be put ahead of Wisniewski in your rankings next season as Johnson should benefit much from a full season in Columbus; whether he will be passing to Rick Nash remains to be seen, but Nikitin and Johnson offer seemingly more upside than Wisniewski.

Making a King?

During the fall, many poolies jumped on Los Angeles prospect Vyacheslav Voynov (Slava) after he snagged five points over a three-game span. Blessed with a booming shot and a big body, the youngster showed much promise before being sent back to Manchester (AHL). Voynov resurfaced about a month later and has been in the lineup consistently while posting 20 points in his rookie season.

Voynov slammed home a goal Monday in the Kings' vital 2-0 win over Edmonton to further tighten their grip on a playoff spot and the Pacific Division title, sneaking down from the point on the weak side and firing a one timer through Edmonton goalie Devan Dubynk. A closer look at Voynov's numbers will show that the talented rookie has not gone more than two games without a point since February 28 with nine of his season's 20 points over the last month.

His eight goals are tied with Carolina's Justin Faulk for the league lead amongst rookie defenders while playing 11 less games through Monday than Faulk. Voynov also has a plus-13 rating, impressive for any rookie defender, let alone one with an offensive flair to his game.

Voynov will be a trendy pick next fall, especially with Jack Johnson no longer taking his power-play time away. Voynov will still share the duties with Drew Doughty, but Voynov's consistent finish to his rookie season is turning heads.

As for the rookie lead among defensemen in scoring, that honor belongs to Toronto's Jake Gardiner through Monday; Gardiner has 27 points with five goals, not bad for one of those American college boys Don Cherry loves to see on the Buds. Gardiner, Faulk and Voynov are the only players above the 20-point mark for rookie blue liners while Washington's Dmitry Orlov sits with 18 points through Monday.

Voynov appears to be the player with the most upside out of the three rookies for next fall's drafts.  If Los Angeles can make a run this spring, certainly a possibility with the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick, Voynov should be a savvy pick for playoff pools as well as next fall.

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Player News
Teuvo Teravainen
Hawks' Teravainen Back In Lineup For Game 4
Teuvo Teravainen, LW, CHI
1:42 PM
News: Teuvo Teravainen, who was a healthy scratch for Game 3 in the Stanley Cup Western Conference Finals, will be in the lineup for Game 4 against the Duck, ESPN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Both Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette were healthy scratches for Game 3. The lack of offense in the 2-1 loss in Game 3 gave Hawks' coach Joel Quenneville a change of mind for Game 4. Teravainen and Vermette rejoined Patrick Sharp on the Blackhawks' third line during the team's morning skate at the United Center on Saturday.

Antoine Vermette
Hawks' Vermette Back In Lineup For Game 4
Antoine Vermette, C, CHI
1:39 PM
News: Antoine Vermette, who was a healthy scratch for Game 3 in the Stanley Cup Western Conference Finals, will be in the lineup for Game 4 on Saturday night against the Ducks, ESPN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Both Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen were healthy scratches for Game 3. The lack of offense in the 2-1 loss in Game 3 gave Hawks' coach Joel Quenneville a change of mind for Game 4. Teravainen and Vermette rejoined Patrick Sharp on the Blackhawks' third line during the team's morning skate at the United Center on Saturday.

Derick Brassard
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10:38 AM
News: Derick Brassard picked up a power-play assist in Friday's Game 4 victory over the Lightning.
Analysis: Derick Brassard has been a steady producer for the Rangers throughout their playoff run, never going more than one game without recording a point. Collectively, he's accrued six goals and five assists across 16 contests and three rounds, which has made him a serviceable selection for those in postseason pools.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers' Hagelin Gathers Assist In Game 4
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
10:36 AM
News: Carl Hagelin was credited with an assist on Rick Nash's first-period goal in Friday's 5-1 triumph over the Lightning.
Analysis: Carl Hagelin had been held off the score sheet in the Rangers' previous nine games before collecting the helper Friday. The elusive winger can occasionally present matchup problems for the opposition, but that likely won't be the case often against the Lightning, who don't count team speed as one of their weaknesses.

Ben Bishop
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Ben Bishop, G, TB
10:28 AM
News: Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it would be "asinine" to bench Ben Bishop for Sunday's Game 5 against the Rangers, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Giving up five goals in Friday's loss qualified as a disappointment for Ben Bishop, but there was little chance the Lightning would turn to the untested Andrei Vasilevskiy with the series knotted at 2-2. This should be all the confirmation anyone needs that Bishop will be between the pipes Sunday.

Oscar Dansk
Jackets Sending Dansk Back To Sweden
Oscar Dansk, G, CLB
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News: Oscar Dansk will play for newly promoted Rogle in the SHL next season rather than returning to the AHL, the Columbus Dispatch reports. "We wanted to make sure he gets to a place where he can play and get his career back on track," Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said.
Analysis: The young goaltender struggled in his first season in North America, posting a 3.57 GAA and .880 save percentage in 21 games for AHL Springfield and a 3.73 GAA and .889 save percentage in 11 games for ECHL Kalamazoo. Oscar Dansk still has a potentially bright future, but he'll need to rebuild his confidence back at home before the Jackets give him another shot on their side of the pond.

Steven Stamkos
Bolts' Stamkos Stays Hot In Game 4 Loss
Steven Stamkos, C, TB
1:11 AM
News: Steven Stamkos stayed hot Friday, scoring for the third straight game in a Game 4 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: While it was another strong performance from Steven Stamkos, the Bolts fell 5-1 to the Rangers in the game, bringing their best-of-seven series to a 2-2 tie. The 25-year-old has now scored in five of his last six games and is up to 15 points in the playoffs -- fifth most in the NHL. He's fired four shots on goal in back-to-back outings and is the first Lightning player to score in 3 straight playoff games since Sean Bergenheim did so in 2011. While Stammer had a slow start to the postseason, he's in full throttle now and will play a key part in determining whether Tampa Bay can advance onto the Stanley Cup Final.

Michael Keranen
Wild, Keranen Agree To One-Year Deal
Michael Keranen, LW, MIN
12:21 AM
News: Karanen agreed to a one-year, two-way deal with the Wild on Friday, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Michael Keranen appeared in 70 games for AHL Iowa this season, registering 10 goals and 27 assists to go with a minus-12 rating. He'll look to crack the Wild's roster at some point in 2015-16.

Kevin Klein
Rangers' Klein Assists Twice In Game 4 Win
Kevin Klein, D, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Kevin Klein dished out two helpers, went plus-2, collected two PIM, blocked two shots and laid four hits in Friday's Game 4 victory over the Lightning.
Analysis: That's a lot of work for just 17:43 on the ice. It's Kevin Klein's first multi-point game of these playoffs, which started on a delay for him due to a broken arm. We've yet to see Klein find twine in the postseason after he did so nine times in 65 regular-season games, but he's been getting involved with the offense regularly, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the veteran were to find his way onto the scoresheet again soon.

Kevin Hayes
Rangers' Hayes Providing Steady Offense
Kevin Hayes, RW, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Kevin Hayes assisted on both of Rick Nash's goals -- one on the power play -- Friday as the Rangers took Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final from the Lightning by a 5-1 tally.
Analysis: Kevin Hayes has been providing consistent offense since Game 7 against Washington -- he scored a goal in that one, keying a run of five points in five games. The young forward has looked lost at times in these playoffs, but he generates takeaways and offense brilliantly, and the fact that he was able to help Nash wake up Friday is quite promising.

 
 
 
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