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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
Carey Price
Montreal's Price To Begin Skating In August
Carey Price, G, MON
5:03 PM
News: Carey Price (knee) won't begin skating until mid-August, the Tri-City Herald reports.
Analysis: Carey Price injured his knee in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals and was knocked out of the playoffs, but he did not need surgery. The knee has healed enough for him to play in a charity golf event, but we won't know if the knee is in hockey shape until August.

Andy Greene
Devils, Greene Agree On Long-Term Deal
Andy Greene, D, NJ
1:22 PM
News: Andy Greene and the Devils reached an agreement on a long-term contract Wednesday, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: The team hasn't specified the exact length of the contract, but it sounds like the 32-year-old Andy Greene could be locked in with the Devils for the rest of his career. He's entrenched himself as the team's top defenseman over the past two seasons, leading the unit in ice time while registering eight goals and 24 assists in 2013-14.

Dwight King
King Re-Signs with Kings
Dwight King, LW, LA
10:02 AM
News: Dwight King signed a three-year, $5.85 million deal to remain with the Kings on Wednesday, LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: The two sides completed the deal just in time to avoid a salary arbitration hearing that was set for Friday. Coming off of his best NHL season in which he played 77 games, Dwight King was productive cog in the machine for the Stanley Cup champs. He netted 15 goals along with 30 points, and had an overall rating of plus-16 when he was on the ice.

Matt Halischuk
Halischuk Signs With Jets
Matt Halischuk, RW, WPG
8:08 AM
News: Matt Halischuk has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets worth $725,000, the Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Matt Halischuk thus returns to the Jets, on the heels of his first season with the team, in which the winger recorded a modest total of 10 points (including five goals) in 46 contests.

Nail Yakupov
Oilers' Yakupov Back To Full Strength
Nail Yakupov, RW, EDM
7/29/2014
News: Nail Yakupov (foot) is skating and fully healthy, the Oilers' official site reports.
Analysis: Nail Yakupov was injured back in February when he took a slap shot from teammate Justin Schultz off his foot. If the season started now, he'd be ready to go -- now it's just a matter of him bouncing back from last year's brutal campaign.

Jake Gardiner
Leafs, Gardiner Ink Five-Year Pact
Jake Gardiner, D, TOR
7/29/2014
News: Jake Gardiner signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract extension with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Jake Gardiner, 24, asserted himself as a long-term building block for the Leafs on defense last season with his second 30-point campaign, contributing 10 goals, 21 assists, 108 hits and 87 blocks over 80 games. With Carl Gunnarsson shipped to St. Louis in the offseason, Gardiner appears poised to claim a spot next to Dion Phaneuf on the team's top defensive pairing, though fellow ascendant youngster Morgan Rielly will provide some heat.

Chad LaRose
LaRose Signs AHL Contract With Hurricanes
Chad LaRose, RW, CAR
7/29/2014
News: Chad LaRose agreed to a contract with AHL Charlotte on Tuesday, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The 32-year-old will try to parlay the AHL contract into a comeback with the Hurricanes at the NHL level, after he sat out the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign. Chad LaRose appeared in 35 games for the Hurricanes two seasons ago, logging four points and a minus-8 rating.

Matt Fraser
Bruins' Fraser Should Be Ready For Training Camp
Matt Fraser, LW, BOS
7/29/2014
News: Matt Fraser, who underwent surgery on his right foot a week after the 2013-14 season concluded, is slated to start skating in early August, ESPN Boston reports.
Analysis: The report adds that the winger -- who is coming off a season in which he recorded 20 goals and 30 points in 44 AHL contests with Providence, along with two goals in 14 NHL contests -- expects to be 100 percent for the start of training camp in September. The 24-year-old is in line to make a run at a roster spot with the Bruins, given that the team needs to fill a couple of spots up front after bidding adieu to veterans Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton this offseason.

Peter Mueller
Blues Sign Mueller
Peter Mueller, RW, FLA
7/29/2014
News: Peter Mueller has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford reports.
Analysis: Peter Mueller spent last season in Switzerland, scoring 24 goals and 46 points for Kloten of the Swiss A-League. Although he carries concussion concerns, Mueller is a skilled winger who will provide the Blues with a solid depth option up front.

Justin Fontaine
Wild's Fontaine Agrees To Contract
Justin Fontaine, RW, MIN
7/29/2014
News: Justin Fontaine has agreed to a two-year contract to remain with the Wild, the Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Justin Fontaine played 66 games during his rookie season for the Wild last season, finishing the campaign with 13 goals and 21 points, including a hat trick in January. He'll continue his development with Minnesota and likely see more playing time in the upcoming season.

 
 
 
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