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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
Jordan Caron
Caron Signs Two-Way Deal With Blues
Jordan Caron, RW, COL
12:59 AM
News: Jordan Caron signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues on Thursday.
Analysis: Jordan Caron saw time with the Bruins and Avalanche last season, but failed to register a single point in 30 games. The Blues boast an overwhelming stable of talent at forward, so it seems unlikely that he'll be able to claim a roster spot with the team out of training camp. Look for him to head to AHL Chicago to open the 2015-16 campaign.

Robert Bortuzzo
Blues Agree To New Contract With Bortuzzo
Robert Bortuzzo, D, STL
12:56 AM
News: Robert Bortuzzo agreed to a two-year, $2.1 million contract with the Blues on Thursday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The Blues elected to retain both Robert Bortuzzo and Chris Butler in free agency, likely ensuring that both players will compete for the sixth defenseman spot during training camp. In 51 games spent with the Penguins and Blues last season, Bortuzzo compiled three goals, five assists, and 93 PIM.

Slava Voynov
Kings' Voynov To Spend Three Months In Jail
Slava Voynov, D, LA
12:51 AM
News: Slava Voynov (Achilles) accepted a plea deal Thursday for his domestic assault charges and will spend 90 days in jail and face three years of probation, ESPN.com's Katie Strang reports.
Analysis: Slava Voynov was arrested on charges of domestic violence back in October and suspended indefinitely by the league. The defenseman has yet to be reinstated by the NHL, which will conduct its own investigation before making a ruling on his eligibility. Further complicating matters is that the Kings have instituted their own suspension on Voynov for suffering a torn Achilles tendon in a non-hockey related activity this past spring. His future with the Kings and in the NHL remains up in the air, and it's uncertain when a resolution might be reached.

Tyson Strachan
Strachan Signs Two-Way Deal With Wild
Tyson Strachan, D, BUF
12:43 AM
News: Tyson Strachan signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Wild on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Tyson Strachan was able to stick in the NHL with the Sabres all of last season, but he'll face a much more difficult ascent up the depth chart on a deep Minnesota squad. The 30-year-old didn't help his cause by registering only five points in the 46 games he played with the Sabres in 2014-15, production that doesn't hint at much upside if he's able to earn ice time with the Wild.

Cole Schneider
Sens Sign Schneider To One-Year Deal
Cole Schneider, LW, OTT
12:34 AM
News: Cole Schneider signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Senators on Thursday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old Cole Schneider will more than likely return to AHL Binghamton for the fourth straight season. He recorded 29 goals and 58 points in 69 games for Binghamton in 2014-15.

Cameron Schilling
Hawks Sign Schilling
Cameron Schilling, D, WAS
12:34 AM
News: The Blackhawks signed Cameron Schilling to a two-year, two-way contract Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: Cameron Schilling, who spent the bulk of the 2014-15 season with AHL Hershey, recording three goals and 15 assists in 63 games, will bolster Chicago's depth on defense, but he's off fantasy radar in all but the deepest of formats.

Korbinian Holzer
Ducks Sign Holzer
Korbinian Holzer, D, ANA
12:12 AM
News: The Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a one-year, $750,000 contract on Thursday.
Analysis: Korbinian Holzer, who the Ducks acquired this past March in a trade with Toronto, saw action in 34 NHL games last season (all with the Leafs), recording six assists and 25 PIM in the process. He'll continue to provide the Anaheim blue line with depth this coming season.

Brandon Halverson
Halverson Inks Entry-Level Contract With Rangers
Brandon Halverson, G, NYR
12:11 AM
News: Brandon Halverson signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on Thursday.
Analysis: Brandon Halverson sits at 19 years of age and is a budding prospect who'll stick with the junior club this coming season, as he's not yet AHL eligible. He's likely several years away from reaching the NHL, making him a consideration only in dynasty leagues.

Will O'Neill
O'Neill Signs With Penguins
Will O'Neill, D, WPG
12:02 AM
News: Will O'Neill signed a two-way contract with the Penguins for the 2015-16 season.
Analysis: Will O'Neill spent last season with AHL St. John's in the Jets organization, where he compiled 48 points after 72 outings. Without any NHL appearances to his credit throughout his career thus far, he'll likely spend the majority of the upcoming season in the AHL yet again.

Kyle Brodziak
Brodziak Signs With Blues
Kyle Brodziak, C, MIN
7/2/2015
News: Kyle Brodziak agreed to a one-year contract with the Blues on Thursday.
Analysis: Kyle Brodziak spent the last six seasons with the Minnesota Wild, but the 31-year old will now head to the Blues. During the 2014-15 season, Brodziak finished with nine goals and 11 assists while playing in 73 games. His fantasy value was limited to just those in deeper fantasy leagues during that span, so we'll have to wait and see if a fresh start in St. Louis is enough to improve his value.

 
 
 
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