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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
Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen To Draw Start Vs. Blues
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12/28/2014
News: Kari Lehtonen will be in the crease Saturday versus the Blues, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Kari Lehtonen owns a 10-4-2 record and 1.99 GAA for his career against the Blues, but that can probably be thrown out the window given the netminder's vexing inconsistency this season. He's followed up strong outings with horrible ones with regularity, and with the Stars coming off a three-day holiday break, it's difficult to know what to expect from Lehtonen. It's probably best for fantasy owners to keep the goalie on their bench Saturday if less risky alternatives exist.

Viktor Fasth
Oilers' Fasth To Start Saturday
Viktor Fasth, G, EDM
12/28/2014
News: Viktor Fasth will get the start in goal Saturday against the Flames, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Fantasy players should avoid Viktor Fasth, and any Edmonton netminder, in just about any format at this point, as the team has lost 19 of its last 20 games and the high save totals are likely not enough to make up for the damage caused in the ratio categories. Fasth is an abysmal 2-8-2 on the season, with an equally dreadful 3.29 GAA and .888 save percentage.

Shawn Thornton
Panthers' Thornton Doesn't Skate Saturday
Shawn Thornton, RW, FLA
12/28/2014
News: Shawn Thornton (groin) was unable to practice Saturday, Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.
Analysis: Coach Gerard Gallant said earlier in the week that Shawn Thornton would begin skating after the Christmas break, but that failed to come to fruition Saturday. It will only push back his return date further, making it unlikely that Thornton suits up again until after the New Year.

Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Set To Start Saturday
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
12/28/2014
News: Braden Holtby was the first goaltender off the ice at practice and will receive the goal Saturday against the Penguins, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 27 shots in a losing effort against the Rangers on Tuesday, leaving a sour taste in his mouth before the NHL went on break for the holidays. The three days to rest up should have provided the 25-year-old netminder with some valuable time off, and fantasy owners should expect Holtby to be fresh and ready to go Saturday. Holtby is 15-8-5 on the season with a 2.30 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

Jaden Schwartz
Blues' Schwartz (Foot) Could Skate Soon
Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL
12/28/2014
News: Jaden Schwartz (foot) could resume skating in the next few days.
Analysis: The Blues haven't been able to discern a timetable for Jaden Schwartz's recovery from the broken foot, but coach Ken Hitchcock said one should become available once Schwartz starts skating. Even if that comes to fruition within the next week, Schwartz would probably need to practice for several more days before an activation would be considered.

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnarsson (Concussion) Skates Saturday
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
12/28/2014
News: Carl Gunnarsson (concussion) skated with the team at Saturday's morning session.
Analysis: While Carl Gunnarsson won't suit up for Saturday's game with the Stars, coach Ken Hitchcock noted that the blueliner is now being viewed as day-to-day. Since he's been sidelined since Dec. 6, he may need another full practice or two to get his conditioning up to par, but a return to the lineup at some point next week would seem realistic.

Michael Hutchinson
Jets' Hutchinson To Start Saturday
Michael Hutchinson, G, WPG
12/28/2014
News: Michael Hutchinson will get the start in net Saturday against the Wild, Shane Hnidy of TSN reports.
Analysis: While head coach Paul Maurice claims the decision to start Michael Hutchinson in consecutive games was made weeks ago based on the Jets' schedule arrangement, it may indicate that the Jets have decided to make Hutchinson their featured goaltender, with Ondrej Pavelec taking on a more complementary role going forward. It's still too early to tell for certain, but the fact that this is the first time a Jets goaltender has made back-to-back starts since late-November is certainly telling. Hutchinson leads the league both in GAA (1.67) and save percentage (.944) and boasts an 8-2-2 record.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres Bring Back Grigorenko
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
12/28/2014
News: Mikhail Grigorenko was recalled from AHL Rochester on Saturday, John Vogl of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: The Sabres will only get a few of their injured forwards back in time for Saturday's game against the Islanders, leaving a lineup spot open for Mikhail Grigorenko. The former first-round pick has one point in his previous four games with the Sabres, but did collect three helpers in his most recent game with Rochester.

Brad Richards
Chicago's Richards To Sit Again Saturday
Brad Richards, C, CHI
12/28/2014
News: Brad Richards (upper body) will not play Saturday against the Avalanche, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Brad Richards didn't travel with the team to Colorado, but should start skating on his own back in Chicago at some point over the weekend. Coach Joel Quenneville seemed optimistic that Richards -- who will miss his third straight game -- would be available for Monday's match with Nashville, but he'll first need to partake with the team at morning skate before that materializes.

Michal Rozsival
Blackhawks' Rozsival Out Saturday
Michal Rozsival, D, CHI
12/28/2014
News: Michal Rozsival (lower body) will not play Saturday against the Avalanche, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Michal Rozsival was forced out of Tuesday's game against the Jets with the injury and was unable to take part in Saturday's morning skate, indicating he's still feeling the effects of the injury. Tim Erixon will take his spot on Chicago's third defensive pairing.

 
 
 
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