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Blue Line Buzz: This year's top surprises

by | Rotowire.com
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(all statistics through Sunday, April 21)

With the season waning down and the final playoffs set to be locked up, there's three words all hockey fans want to hear: Go Blue Jackets!

Columbus is sitting pretty after Sunday's 4-3 win over San Jose earned them a three-point lead on Detroit for the West's eighth and final playoff spot, but the Wings have a game in hand and handled Phoenix with aplomb on Monday night. The Jackets finish the season with a game against fellow surprise playoff contender Dallas and then against Nashville. Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has played himself into a Hart Trophy discussion and he'll likely be a nominee for the Vezina.

Now, the odds of Columbus getting in at Detroit's expense are still long and they likely will face Chicago should they get into the top 8 out West, but Columbus is a team that was in dead last during February.

While teams like Columbus, Dallas and the Islanders have surprised, other squads have disappointed, namely clubs like New Jersey and Philadelphia, who are both ticketed to miss the playoffs. Edmonton had large expectations heading into the season with their set of free-wheeling youngsters, but the fact that defense needed to be played hurt the Oil.

Poolies also had high hopes for some of the players they added to their roster while several players surprised massively; young stars began to establish themselves as elite players.

It's doubtful that many owners had Toronto's Cody Franson sitting at No. 5 in defenseman scoring in the season's final week, amassing 27 points for the playoff-bound Leafs. (The Parade is slated to begin Sunday afternoon starting at the Hockey Hall of Fame and winding its way up Yonge Street).

It's hard to believe that the likes of Alex Goligoski, Fedor Tyutin and Dan Hamhuis were going to outscore Los Angeles stalwart Drew Doughty. Owners that drafted Shea Weber as the second or third blueliner off the board wouldn't have believed it would take Weber nine games to grab his season's first point and 14 to tally his first goal. Weber is Weber though and he has 23 points in 32 games if you throw out the first 13 of the season.

With the season closing down this week and the playoff circus set to begin, it's time to take a look back at the three months that were the 2013 NHL season, or more accurately the shortened season due to the most recent lockout.

Top Surprises

In no particular order ...

Paul Martin, Pittsburgh: After signing a five-year, $25 million contract with the Penguins in 2010, Martin became the team's whipping boy after what was perceived to be a poor performance one season ago. Martin never produced big numbers during his days with the Devils, but he was solid, usually a good disher of the puck, topping out at 37 points in his sophomore campaign. He cracked 30 points two more times in New Jersey before heading to Pittsburgh. Martin has missed the last three weeks with a broken bone in his hand, but he had a more-than-impressive 21 points in 33 games, helping out the Pens while all-world defender Kris Letang dealt with injuries. Martin was on pace for a career-best season in terms of points-per-game, being a nice bonus for owners that gambled on him to rebound.

Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim: Why can't the Leafs get players like Beauchemin? Leaving Toronto and those Ontario winters for the beautiful coast of California can have a rejuvenating affect on the body and mind, but few expected Beauchemin to produce like it was his first stint in The OC (don't call it that). The veteran sits with a plus-20 rating, one of the best in the NHL for defensemen and an impressive 22 points, or close to his best numbers during a full, 82-game season. This is a player that was a minus-35 the last four seasons combined. True, plus-minus has to do with the players around you as well, but Beauchemin has made a nice waiver pick up for those that got in on him early enough, as his production has fallen of late with a minus-1 and just one assist in the month of April.

Cody Franson, Toronto: It's Franson, not Dion Phaneuf or Jake Gardiner who is leading the Leafs in points from the blue line. Franson sits with 27 points after the Leafs sewed up their first playoff spot since 2004, or more accurately, the span of two NHL lockouts. Franson can dish the puck, as evidenced by his 23 assists, but he's making David Nonis and Co. look at moving some other defenders. Whether Franson's season will be the outlier in his career remains to be seen, but he's worth remembering heading into the middle rounds of next year's drafts.

Fedor Tyutin, Columbus: It's not that Tyutin's 22 points in 46 games this season are a surprise, as he has cracked 30 points twice in his career since joining the Sport Coats from the Rangers, but this season's numbers had him on a career-best in terms of points-per-game. Tyutin's more of a surprise considering there were three other defenders projected to do more offensively on the Columbus blue line than Tyutin. Jack Johnson acclimated himself well following the Jeff Carter Escape To LA trade last season (reverse Snake Pliskin) and Nikita Nikitin had a solid season during his stints away from injured reserve with 32 points scattered over 54 games. Meanwhile, James Wisniewski was looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled campaign. However, it's been Tyutin leading the attack for Columbus, earning five more points than Johnson, who's become one of the NHL's leaders in total ice time.

Mike Green, Washington: Green's presence on this list is more of a reaction to his last two seasons, or more accurately, the handful of games Green played heading into this shortened season. This was a player that was a late first-round, early-second round pick who compiled two point-per-game seasons from the blue line from 2008-2010 only to become a player that simply couldn't stay healthy while amassing 31 points in 81 contests. The last two weeks, while Washington has surged to the top of the Southeast Division, Green has been leading the charge as the Caps turn back the clock with 13 of his season's 21 points in the last 12 games, including seven of his 10 goals. Green is the only blue liner with double-digit goals not named P.K. Subban. Green had begun to look like a shell of his former self and thus saw his name slip down draft boards

Jonas Brodin, Minnesota: True, Brodin has a modest 10 points through 42 games for the Wild, but this is a budding star on the blue line in the Twin Cities. Turning 19 in July, Brodin deserves the Calder Trophy awarded to the league's top rookie, likely going to Florida's uber power forward, Jonathan Huberdeau. His 10 points didn't have him on the radar of most leagues, but he's a keeper league special. Brodin is expected to start contributing more offensively as he matures, along with fellow budding star Mathew Dumba. It's nice getting to play alongside Ryan Suter as well, just ask Shea Weber.

Next week, it's time to examine the biggest busts of the season with a sneak peek at next fall's draft board.

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Player News
Viktor Arvidsson
Preds' Prospect Arvidsson Hoping To Crack Roster
Viktor Arvidsson, RW, NSH
7/29/2015
News: Viktor Arvidsson could crack the Predators' roster this upcoming season, according to the Tennessean's Adam Vignan.
Analysis: In his first full season in the AHL, Viktor Arvidsson led the Milwaukee Admirals last year with 55 points, and also led the entire league with 272 shots on goal. If Arvidsson can secure himself a roster spot with the Preds, he could flourish under coach Peter Laviolette's uptempo, attacking system and provide the team some scoring depth. In deeper fantasy formats, Arvidsson is one player to keep an eye on.

Oliver Kylington
Flames' Kylington To Play In North America in 2015
Oliver Kylington, D, CGY
7/29/2015
News: Oliver Kylington will play in North America in 2015, Roger Millions of Sportsnet Calgary reports.
Analysis: The defenseman's team in Sweden allowed him to get his path to the NHL started this season, which is good news for both Oliver Kylington and the Flames. Calgary will likely let its second-round pick grow his game in the minors for a while, especially with its current depth on the blue line. Kylington has an abundance of hockey talent, but needs to put it all together to be a standout player.

Dainius Zubrus
Devils Release Veteran Winger Zubrus
Dainius Zubrus, RW, NJ
7/29/2015
News: The Devils terminated Dainius Zubrus' contract Wednesday, making him an unrestricted free agent, Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: Dainius Zubrus had never been much of a top-flight offensive producer in his eight seasons in a Devils uniform, but he saw his scoring output completely fall off a cliff in 2014-15, as he netted just four goals and 10 points across 74 games. With the Devils looking to give some younger players an opportunity in their forward ranks and Zubrus' ice time likely to decline even further in the coming season, the team decided it wasn't worthwhile to keep him around at his $3.1 million cap hit. The 37-year-old could conceivably latch on in a depth role with another club, but no matter where he ultimately lands, an ascension to fantasy relevance probably isn't in the cards.

David Steckel
Ex-Duck Steckel Inks Deal With German Club
David Steckel, C, ANA
7/29/2015
News: David Steckel signed a contract Wednesday with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League.
Analysis: The 33-year-old served as a depth forward for the Ducks at AHL Norfolk last season, producing seven goals and 23 points in 76 games. David Steckel is a veteran of 425 games, but considering his age and his impending move to Europe, we may have seen the last of him in North America.

Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Undergoes Wrist Surgery
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
7/28/2015
News: Brooks Orpik underwent a successful surgery on his wrist on Tuesday.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to resume full workout activities in approximately two weeks, and should be ready to go by the time the puck drops for the Capitals' regular season opener. It sounds as though the veteran defender isn't in danger of missing any time once the season gets underway, but the Capitals should provide an update on his status closer to the start of the regular season. Orpik doesn't offer much in the way of offensive upside, but led all defensemen with 306 hits and ranked fourth with 192 blocked shots.

Sven Baertschi
Baertschi Inks One-Year Deal With Canucks
Sven Baertschi, LW, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Sven Baertschi signed a one-year (one-way), $900,000 contract with the Canucks on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Irfaan Gaffar reports.
Analysis: Sven Baertschi played well with AHL Utica last season, registering 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 51 games with the team. The 22-year old also suited up for 18 regular season games at the NHL level in 2014-15, tallying six points (two goals, four assists) in those contests. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the big club in training camp. If Baertschi is able to lock down a roster spot with the Canucks in training camp, he will likely slot into a bottom-six role with the team.

Sean Couturier
Couturier Signs Six-Year Extension With Flyers
Sean Couturier, C, PHI
7/28/2015
News: Sean Couturier signed a six-year, $26 million contract extension with the Flyers on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports.
Analysis: Sean Couturier hasn't developed into the front-line talent that seemed to be his destiny after he recorded 27 points in 77 games as a 20-year-old, but he's been a steady, two-way player for the Flyers the last two years. He finished with 15 goals and 22 assists while suiting up in all 82 games in 2014-15, and should be back to serve as the team's third-line center once again.

Adam Clendening
Canucks Deal Clendening To Pittsburgh
Adam Clendening, D, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Adam Clendening was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks have agreed to send Adam Clendening, Nick Bonino and a 2016 second-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a conditional third-round pick. Clendening, 22, is coming off a season in which he appeared in 21 total NHL games -- 17 for the Canucks and four for the Blackhawks. The 2011 second-round pick cumulatively tallied one goal and three assists.

Nick Bonino
Canucks Send Bonino To Pittsburgh
Nick Bonino, C, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Nick Bonino was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks will send Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick to the Penguins in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick. Bonino had 15 goals and 24 assists in 75 contests for Vancouver in 2015, and he tallied a goal and a pair of assists in six playoff games. He'll likely be plugged in as the Penguins' third-line center, assuming Sutter's old spot.

Brandon Sutter
Pens Trade Sutter To Canucks
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Brandon Sutter was traded to the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Penguins will send Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick to Vancouver in exchange for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick. Sutter notched 33 points and 14 penalty minutes in 80 games for the Pens last season. In five playoff contests, Sutter recorded a goal and an assist to go with a minus-1 rating. He's expected to center the Canucks' second or third line in 2015-16.

 
 
 
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