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Blue Line Buzz: This year's surprises and disappointments

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

It Can Only Get Better

When the lockout-shortened season began back in January, we were under the assumption that several players throughout the league were going to produce slightly more than they are currently doing. These players were trendy picks late in drafts that we believed would give us a leg up on owners that went with players who had more recognizable names and had a nagging little thing called a track record or precedence. Drafting a team is never an exact science, but it's how you handle the roster after draft that will affect your team. Is it too late to wait for that one player to get on track (Erik Johnson), or you get a bit too excited by a mere assist in one game, only to see that player disappear for the next four (Travis Zajac)? Lastly, do you drop an underperforming player with upside for a veteran who's seemingly having a resurgence (Jay Bouwmeester)? Or gamble on a rookie with a history of producing at the lower level (Tyson Barrie)?

Several players listed below have disappointed so far this season, making those that drafted them wonder when they'll start raking in points.

Brendan Smith, Detroit: With the mammoth-sized hole on Detroit's blue line left by Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement, the Red Wings were going to need production from somewhere. Brian Rafalski had retired the season before and Ian White's numbers are not ideal for fantasy owners. An uptick in Niklas Kronwall's production was to be expected but it was rookie Brendan Smith who was the trendy late-round pick in drafts during January.

Smith possesses an offensive skill-set that should allow him to reward owners that took a flier on him, but his performance on the ice has left much to be desired. Through 10 games, Smith has one assist and 12 shots on goal despite averaging 2:14 of power-play time. He's missed some time due to a shoulder injury he sustained in early February, but Smith has not stepped in to fill Detroit's void on the blue line as a secondary scorer. Smith aggravated that shoulder injury last Wednesday thanks to a hit from Los Angeles's Dustin Penner, but he did not miss any further time.

Smith jumped onto the radar of fantasy owners after posting an impressive seven points in 14 NHL contests last season and he had 20 points in 32 AHL games during the lockout. He recently turned 24, so there is potential for him to show the offensive skills that made him a first-round pick in 2007, but he can not seem to mesh with Detroit's scorers this season. If you haven't dropped him in single-season leagues, there's the possibility that he can bounce back, but Niklas Kronwall seems to have a stranglehold on the defensive scoring for Detroit, clocking in at second in the league amongst defenders with 17 points. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ericsson has seven points as well.

Roman Josi / Ryan Ellis, Nashville: The task of replacing Ryan Suter seemed less of a burden given that Nashville had both Josi and Ellis ready to step in see more ice time and opportunities to contribute offensively. It was assumed that both would be able to collectively replace some of Suter's production while Shea Weber continued his consistent, dominant scoring pace. Through a combined 44 games, Josi and Ellis have 13 points between the two of them and Weber took 10 games to notch his first point of the season.

Weber appears on his way to a strong second half with seven points over the last two weeks, but owners that gambled on either Josi or Ellis have to wonder when the production will start. Ellis joined the team with many expectations after he lit up the OHL with Windsor, winning two Memorial Cups in the process. Ellis's numbers during the lockout while playing for Milwaukee (AHL) left something to be desired though (nine points in 20 games). His six points through 22 games this NHL season have owners wondering when they will see the Ryan Ellis that can produce regularly.

Roman Josi's numbers are even more deceptive as he owns seven points on the season but four of those points came on February 25 in a win against Dallas, leaving just three points from his season's other 21 games. Josi is seeing 3:03 of power-play time, but has not been able to consistently get on the scoresheet, a common problem among this year's corps of Nashville defensemen.

Suter's impact on the Predators may have been understated as Weber and his knack to score close to 20 goals may have dominated the headlines more, but it's clear that the Preds were missing Suter and his puck-moving abilities to start the season. What's odd about Nashville this season is that their top forwards are largely unchanged from the squad that made it to the second round last season and the team is getting a great boost from Colin Wilson, who has 15 points through 22 games and five goals from Gabriel Bourque. For the most part, this group of forwards is the same set of players that allowed both Suter and Weber to crack 40 points last season: David Legwand, Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat, Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Underwood Fisher.

Cam Fowler, Anaheim: We're not ready to anoint Fowler the new Tyler Myers, not while Tyler Myers is still being Tyler Myers, but Fowler's two-plus seasons in the NHL are trending toward a Myers-like regression. After 40 points in his rookie season, Fowler earned a respectable 29 points in 54 games his sophomore season, yet has a mere one point through 11 games in the current campaign. Fowler again has battled nagging injuries this season, missing most of February with a mysterious upper-body injury.

Anaheim's defensive production is being taken care of by the likes of Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray, who have a combined 21 points in 39 games and are plus-25 as a pair. Luca Sbisa is slowly coming along with five points in 19 games. Anaheim is one of the hottest teams in the NHL not named Chicago and they're scoring with aplomb, notching 15 goals in their last three games. Anaheim's defensemen definitely have talented playmakers to pass to as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are heating up and Kyle Palmieri is establishing himself.

Fowler has returned to action, but has not registered a point in five games, five games in which the Ducks have scored quite a few goals. There's serious cause for concern as to whether his numbers will rebound, but he's young enough and has the talent to do so. He's not shooting much, with a modest 18 shots through 11 games, which could limit some of his assist numbers. The good news is that Fowler can likely be had for a waiver pickup at this point of the season and won't cost you anything to return to the scrap pile should this lack of production continue.

Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota: When Ryan Suter signed with the Wild on July 4, the focus turned to identifying who would be the No. 2 scorer in St. Paul. Currently, Suter is seeing his name on the scoresheet more regularly as he has 13 assists, (no goals yet), through 20 games including dishing out five helpers over the last five contests. Spurgeon entered this season as a candidate to pick up secondary scoring on the Minnesota blue line along with Tom Gilbert. Both are likely to be usurped statistically by Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba in the next few years, but Spurgeon is a player that can make an impact now.

However, Spurgeon has a goal and an assist through 11 games and, like Fowler, has battled a nagging injury which forced him to miss nine games. Spurgeon can move the puck and is a strong skater despite being one of the smaller players on the ice, notching 23 points in 70 games last season. He's another player that won't cost you anything and could benefit your roster. If he doesn't produce, you haven't spent much.

First-Half Surprises

Francois Beauchemin has 13 points and a plus-12 rating through 20 games with the Ducks. (Why can't the Leafs get players like Beauchemin?)

Pittsburgh's Paul Martin has 15 points and is third in scoring through 20 games. Meanwhile, the Penguins don't seem to be playing much defense of late, as evidenced by Saturday's 7-6 overtime win over Montreal where Kris Letang grabbed four assists, putting him back at a point-per-game with 19 in 19 contests.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson appears to be taking the next step in his development as one of the league's rising two-way defensemen. OEL has 14 points and a plus-12 rating in Phoenix.

Any concerns about P.K. Subban starting slowly with Montreal after missing several weeks in a contract holdout have dissipated. The mercurial talent has 10 points through 16 games and appears to be evolving into a more complete player with a special set of skills. Of his 10 points, seven are on the power play.

Marc Staal is leading the Rangers' defensemen in scoring. Not Dan Girardi. Not Michael Del Zotto and not Ryan McDonagh. Staal has 11 points through 19 games, or one less point than Marian Gaborik to put it differently.

Dallas rookie Brenden Dillon is quietly establishing himself in multi-category leagues with six points and 33 penalty minutes spaced rather evenly throughout the season. A closer look will show Dillon has 56 hits and 26 blocked shots with a plus-5 rating through 21 games as well.

New Jersey Devils cast off Mark Fraser is leading all NHL defensemen in plus-minus with a plus-15 rating for the Leafs. He hasn't produced much offensively with a modest four assists, or the same number of points as Tyler Myers.

Erik Karlsson is still leading all NHL defensemen in shots through Saturday, despite not having played a game since February 13. He will be passed by the likes of Keith Yandle and Shea Weber this week, but Karlsson had 63 shots through 14 games, which led the entire NHL at the time of his Achilles' injury.

Washington's John Carlson is fourth among NHL defensemen in shots with 49 and has been heating up recently, with four points over the last seven games.

It's not much of a surprise, but next time you watch a New Jersey Devils game, try to identify how bad Marek Zidlicky has been. Zidlicky has eight points on the season with seven on the power play but has created more goals for the opposition than he can hope to for the Devils. He'll still see regular ice time and power-play time, but the Devils are at risk when he's on the ice. A few more poor performances and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him as a healthy scratch. He's not the worst option to use in deeper leagues, but he's not the most consistent player.

Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman have combined for eight goals in Tampa Bay, which is two more than the 16 defensemen used this season by Colorado and New Jersey.

Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are a combined minus-37 for the Islanders. Through 11 games, Lubomir Visnovsky has a goal and five assists, yet is somehow a plus-1 on the same team. Visnovksy, along with Brian Strait, is one of just two players with a plus rating on the Islanders.

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Player News
Jori Lehtera
Blues' Lehtera Poised To Return
Jori Lehtera, C, STL
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Analysis: Based on warmups, look for Jori Lehtera to work Sunday on a trio with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Lehtera -- who was was held out of Friday's Game 5 -- checks back into the Blues' lineup with two helpers in four playoff games to date.

Max Pacioretty
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Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
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News: Max Pacioretty potted his second goal of the playoffs in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: The goal was an empty-netter and came with less than a second remaining, but it counts the same nonetheless. Max Pacioretty also finished with a plus-2 rating on the night, making up for the minus-2 he sported through the first five games of the series. The winger finished the series with just the empty-net goal and a power-play tally in Game 1, but figures to be the team's top offensive producers going forward.

Brendan Gallagher
Habs' Gallagher Scores In Win
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON
4/26/2015
News: Brendan Gallagher scored the game-winning goal in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Brendan Gallagher went on a four-game goal streak toward the end of March, but entered Sunday's contest with just one goal in his the 12 games since then. The winger logged a pair of points in the series win, but figures to be a fairly reliable source of offense going forward as the Habs await their second round opponent.

Carey Price
Habs' Price Perfect In Game 6 Win
Carey Price, G, MON
4/26/2015
News: Carey Price stopped all 43 shots he faced in Sunday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Carey Price was sensational Sunday as he withstood a late Senators attack to help clinch the series and send the Habs into the second round. Aside from Game 5's five-goal outing, Price has continued his regular season excellence into the postseason as he's posted a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage through six games. He's as reliable as they come and figures to remain as one of the top, if not the very best, options for the duration of the playoffs.

Nick Leddy
Isles' Leddy An Assist Machine
Nick Leddy, D, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Nick Leddy was credited with two assists and five shot attempts in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: The blueliner has been an offensive force in the series for the Islanders, as Saturday marked his fourth straight game with an assist. Coach Jack Capuano rewarded Nick Leddy with 28:59 of ice time Saturday, his highest total of the season.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson Allows Just One In Loss
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
4/26/2015
News: Craig Anderson stopped 18 of 19 shots Sunday but was on the wrong end of the series-ending Game 6 loss.
Analysis: Craig Anderson did all he could to keep the Sens' season alive after receiving the starting nod since Game 3 as he allowed just four total goals in those four games, but the offense in front of him couldn't provide any support Sunday. The 33-year-old finished the season at 14-13-8 with a 2.49 GAA and .923, but it remains to be seen how the club will approach their goaltending next season between Anderson and the soon-to-be restricted free agent Andrew Hammond.

Ryan Strome
Isles' Strome Assists In Win
Ryan Strome, C, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Ryan Strome gathered an assist in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: After kicking off the postseason with goals in the first two games of the series, Ryan Strome had been held off the score sheet for three contests in a row before breaking through again Saturday. He was skating on the top line Saturday, a role that could prove fruitful again in Game 7 next to a sizzling John Tavares.

Cal Clutterbuck
Isles' Clutterbuck Active In Win
Cal Clutterbuck, RW, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Cal Clutterbuck supplied an empty-net goal, seven hits, and 10 PIM in Saturday's Game 6 victory over the Capitals.
Analysis: The Islanders have gotten an impressive amount of production out of the fourth liner thus far in the series. While his huge PIM (26) and hit totals (37) were to be expected, Cal Clutterbuck's offensive production (two goals, one assist, 12 SOG) has been a welcome development. It shouldn't be counted on to continue, but the forward's physical presence could make a noticeable impact in Monday's Game 7.

Johnny Boychuk
Isles' Boychuk Gets First Point Of Playoffs
Johnny Boychuk, D, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Johnny Boychuk captured an assist, attempted four shots, and was credited with six blocks and four takeaways in Saturday's Game 6 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: The assist gave Johnny Boychuk his first point since Game 1, but it was his work in front of the Isles' net Saturday that kept the team's playoff hopes alive. The Capitals had a golden opportunity to tie the game with around five minutes remaining in the third period, but Jay Beagle's shot ricocheted off the crossbar behind the Isles' Jaroslav Halak before Boychuk came in to whisk the puck to safety under Halak's body. Plays like that are precisely why the Isles were willing to pony up $42 million to keep Boychuk off the free-agent market.

Jaroslav Halak
Isles, Halak Stave Off Elimination
Jaroslav Halak, G, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Jaroslav Halak denied 38 of 39 shots in Saturday's Game 6 victory over the Capitals.
Analysis: Jaroslav Halak was strong in goal from most of the day, but also benefited from a some fortunate luck at the tail end of the game. After teammate Nikolay Kulemin tallied the eventual game-winner about midway through the third period, Halak nearly let in the tying goal four minutes later from the Caps' Jay Beagle, whose shot attempt off a rebound elevated over the goalie and hit the crossbar before Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk shuffled the puck to safety. Halak's .974 save percentage was his best mark of the series, and should give him some confidence heading into Monday's Game 7 in Washington.

 
 
 
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