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Blue Line Buzz: A defensive game plan

by | Rotowire.com
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(all statistics through Saturday, March 9)

No Dough(ty) Needed

Taking a quick glance at the last week's leading scorers among defensemen, one will see several expected names on the list: Montreal's P.K. Subban (more on him later), St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo and Kris Letang of Pittsburgh have all been, unsurprisingly, raking in points lately. It's the name Jake Muzzin of Los Angeles, his three goals and four points that might make people stop and look. For instance, who is Jake Muzzin and why is he a plus-7 over the last four games?

Muzzin has been seeing close to 17 minutes per contest and has eight total points on the season in 20 games with two on the power play. If you're looking for a recent run of play to confirm whether Muzzin has been a viable option, seven of those points have come over the last seven games and he's seen an uptick in power play time. Muzzin's track record, however shows this recent burst might be the aberration (however it is worth noting that Muzzin's eight points are two less than Drew Doughty while his five goals are five more than Doughty has delivered). Muzzin's last year in junior with the Soo Greyhounds saw him snag 67 points in 64 games while his best season professionally was the 2010-11 campaign with Manchester (AHL), where Muzzin notched 31 points in 71 games. During the lockout earlier this season he grabbed 11 points in 29 games, a points-per-game pace that seems more in line with what he usually does.

Muzzin's rate of production likely will flatten out but he's getting opportunities to produce and he won't hurt your plus-minus as the Kings have figured out they are the defending champions and subsequently have been attempting to play like it. Less surprising than Muzzin's recent performance has been the re-emergence of Slava Voynov as a legitimate scoring threat from the blue line.

Poolies will remember Voynov as the frustratingly talented prospect the Kings shuttled between the AHL and NHL last season, allowing him to post 20 points in 54 games scattered over the course of the season. Given his talent level, Voynov was a savvy late round target for owners in drafts this January and he's been quietly delivering before a seven-point outburst this past week which saw him record three assists in two separate games. Voynov's a plus-11 on the season with four of his season's 16 points on the power play. Voynov has been as streaky as any other player during his brief NHL career, but he possesses a howitzer of a shot and can dish the puck. He's an excellent keeper league prospect and could make a run at 25-30- plus points in this shortened season based on what we've been seeing. The only question is whether you can cope with the ebbs and flows while Voynov is not producing.

One has to begin to wonder when the Kings' immensely talented and underachieving blueliner Drew Doughty will step up and start owning the Kings' blue line as he did as a 21-year old.

Subban Emerging As Elite

Montreal's lightning rod for media criticism and whipping boy for when things go wrong, P.K. Subban, is emphatically establishing himself as a top-five fantasy defender for next season. Many in Montreal are quick to point out when he errs (he is from Toronto after all) and the fact that he's been called “brash” by many hockey pundits borders on prejudice, but Subban can play. He can hit, shoot, lug the mail and agitate opponents. He plays with an edge that endears him to few and he's perfectly fine with that. After signing a backloaded, two-year contract in late January that will earn him close to $4 million next season following a contract holdout, he's delivered.

Some expected Subban to struggle to produce this season, while others believed he would take the next step in his development. It's the latter after over a month of Subban action as the mercurial blue liner has an impressive six goals and 15 points through 19 games with eight on the power play. The last 10 days saw Subban notch seven points over a five-game stretch and he's been remarkably consistent.

Subban gradually saw his ice time increase at the discretion of Habs' coach Michel Therrien and P.K. is occasionally prone to a mistake that will put him in the coach's doghouse, but he's immensely talented.

As for other Montreal defenders that have graced the spaces of this column, Raphael Diaz is on the shelf with a concussion and out indefinitely, not that Diaz was getting in the way of Subban's production.

Random notes and observations

Nashville stalwart and consensus top three pick among fantasy defensemen Shea Weber has found his scoring touch. Owners that used a high pick on Weber were panicking early in the season as game after game went by for Nashville and Weber's name did not appear in the box score. In fact, it was 10 games into the season before Weber notched his first point.

Weber then went another three games before notching a point again, but that lone assist put him on four-game points streak. Weber now sits with 13 points through 25 games, 12 of which have come over the last 12 games. He hasn't scored a goal in eight games, but he has five assists over the last three contests. Weber is good at hockey and this trend should continue. He's been one of the most productive players in terms of points-per-game over the last month and Weber has a slight track record of being productive.

John Carlson is another defender who alienated fantasy owners early in the season, but the American hero from the 2010 World Junior championship has seven points over his last 10 contests. The Caps seem to be finding their stride offensively and Carlson has easily eclipsed Mike Green in terms of production and on-ice talent. Green is back on the IR with a groin injury, the same injury that plagued him last season.

Veteran Dan Hamhuis has 14 points on the season, which is just two less than the 16 combined points from Alexander Edler and huge free agent signing Jason Garrison. Hamhuis is enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest and currently the only player in the top three of scoring for the Canucks without the last name Sedin. Edler obviously has more upside and Garrison has more potential to score goals, but Hamhuis has been a steady source of secondary scoring for owners that burned a late round pick on him.

Philadelphia has not had many bright spots this season with spotty defensive play, inconsistent scoring and goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov that has left much to be desired, whether the goals are his fault or not. However, veteran puck-mover Kimmo Timonen is enjoying another successful season offensively. He has seven points over the last six games and one of those contests was a shutout. Timonen has never been a goal scorer in his career but he's supplying excellent numbers to his owners.

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Player News
Elias Lindholm
Lindholm Signs Two-Year Extension With Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm, C, CAR
8/27/2015
News: Elias Lindholm signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Analysis: Elias Lindholm was a solid contributor in his first full NHL season in 2014-15, registering 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games with the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Carolina this season, and should have a great shot at improving upon his offensive numbers from a year ago as he continues his development as an NHL forward.

Patrik Berglund
Blues' Berglund To Require Shoulder Surgery
Patrik Berglund, C, STL
8/27/2015
News: Patrik Berglund aggravated a dislocated right shoulder while working out and is set to undergo surgery Friday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. He'll require at least four months of recovery time.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund first dislocated the shoulder in 2013-14, and required surgery last offseason to address the issue. The center was able to recover in time from that procedure to play on Opening Night last season, but given how late in the offseason calendar the setback occurred this time around, it looks like Berglund won't take the ice again until the calendar flips to 2016. His extended absence could allow prospect Robby Fabbri to claim third-line center duties out of training camp, with veteran Scott Gomez also in the mix if coach Ken Hitchcock prefers a more experienced option for that role.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Signs PTO With Blues
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/27/2015
News: Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Thursday, Andy Strickland of FOX Sports Midwest reports.
Analysis: After failing to garner a contract in free agency for the second straight offseason, Scott Gomez will again head to training camp on a PTO, as he did last season in New Jersey. Though he wasn't able to crack the Devils' Opening Night roster, he continued to work out with the team after the tryout period ended and was eventually signed to the team when injuries opened up an opportunity in late November. Gomez would end the season as one of the more productive contributors on the offensively challenged Devils, finishing third on the team with 34 points. The Blues boast a far deeper roster of forward talent, but with the news surfacing after Gomez's signing that Patrik Berglund would miss at least four months following shoulder surgery, an opening on the third line could exist for the 35-year-old.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Still On Schedule With Rehab
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
8/27/2015
News: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently that Max Pacioretty (knee) remains on schedule in the rehabilitation process, Arpon Basu of LNH.com reports.
Analysis: Max Pacioretty sustained the knee injury while working out in Florida in early July, and was given a projected recovery timetable of 10-to-12 weeks. Given the length of the timetable, Pacioretty is expected to sit out all of training camp, and while his availability for the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Toronto remains possible, he'd likely be subjected to limited minutes in the early going as he looks to build endurance. Once back to full health, Pacioretty should reemerge as the Habs' most dangerous offensive option after he potted 37 goals and a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.

Ladislav Smid
Flames Expecting Smid Back For Training Camp
Ladislav Smid, D, CGY
8/27/2015
News: The Flames' front office believes Ladislav Smid (neck) will be ready to skate during the team's first on-ice session at training camp in September, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ladislav Smid's season came to an end last January when he required surgery on his neck, but his communication with the Flames to this point in the offseason suggests he has recovered well from the procedure. If healthy, Smid will compete in camp with Deryk Engelland for a spot as Calgary's sixth defenseman.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Likely To Play Next To Kessel
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
8/27/2015
News: Coach Mike Johnston said earlier this week that Sidney Crosby is expected to play next to Phil Kessel to begin training camp, CBS Sports reports.
Analysis: The Penguins have cycled in a number of right wingers next to Sidney Crosby throughout his career, and while Patric Hornqvist proved capable in that capacity last season, he's not nearly as prolific at finding twine as Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. With his health concerns beginning to fade away after missing only seven games over the last two seasons, Crosby once again looks like a reasonable choice at No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, even after scoring only 28 goals in 2014-15, his lowest total in any year he's suited up for at least 60 contests. Crosby probably won't come close to approaching the 51-goal peak he reached in 2009-10, but a slight uptick in his anomalous 11.8 shooting percentage coupled with the likely increase in assist opportunities with Kessel blitzing the net could make a return to 100 points conceivable.

Mike Richards
Charges Announced For Ex-King Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
8/27/2015
News: Mike Richards was formally charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada stemming from a June 17 border stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: The Kings determined the incident gave them just cause to release Mike Richards for a "material breach" of his 12-year contract, a decision that prompted the NHL Players Association to file a grievance. The nature of the border stop likely won't affect the outcome of that legal battle, as both the NHLPA and the Kings were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Currently a free agent, Richards is able to sign with any team while the grievance remains underway, but his steep decline in performance over the last few seasons coupled with this ongoing dispute probably has few organizations interested in his services.

Kyle Okposo
Isles Begin Contract Talks With Okposo
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
8/26/2015
News: Kyle Okposo and the Islanders have begun talks on a new contract, according to Islanders Point Blank.
Analysis: Both sides are hoping to get an agreement done before the start of the season but the parameters on a new deal could be difficult to negotiate. Kyle Okposo will make $4.5 million this season and could command a deal north of $6 million per year on the open market, a figure the Islanders may not be willing to approach at this time. If the two sides can't come to an agreement before the start of the season then Okposo's name will be one we will hear quite often in trade rumors.

Sami Aittokallio
Avs Re-Sign Aittokallio
Sami Aittokallio, G, COL
8/26/2015
News: Sami Aittokallio has re-signed with the Avalanche on a one-year, two-way contract, General Fanager reports.
Analysis: Sami Aittokallio appears to be the clear No. 4 goalie in the Colorado organization behind Semyon Varlamov, Calvin Pickard, and Reto Berra, so it's somewhat surprising he elected to commit for another year rather than bolt for Europe. Even so, Aittokallio's contract does at least include a clause for him to play overseas if he isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the Avalanche, potentially opening the door for him to leave the club if he's assigned to the AHL out of training camp, as expected.

Adam Cracknell
Canucks Ink Cracknell To Two-Way Deal
Adam Cracknell, RW, VAN
8/26/2015
News: Adam Cracknell signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Mostly due to the Blue Jackets' array of injuries last season, Adam Cracknell saw 17 games at the NHL level, producing no goals and one assist. He'll function as an organizational depth piece for the Canucks, but will once again require several players to go down before skating in the NHL. Even if that materializes, he'd likely be limited to a bottom-six role with limited ice time.

 
 
 
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