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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
Kris Letang
Pens' Letang At 100 Percent In Advance Of Camp
Kris Letang, D, PIT
4:18 PM
News: Kris Letang, who suffered a stroke nearly eight months ago, has been working out without any complications this summer and should be a full participant for the start of training camp, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: In addition to the stroke, Kris Letang was limited to 37 games last season due to a knee injury and an elbow infection. Though he's the ultimate health risk after missing 99 games over the last three seasons, but few blueliners possess as much skill offensively as Letang, who still accumulated 11 goals and 11 assists in limited action in 2013-14. Letang compiled 50 points in his last full season in 2010-11, and that peak could be in reach again if he can avoid any long-term health complications.

Derrick Pouliot
Pens' Pouliot Not Expected To Be Ready For Camp
Derrick Pouliot, D, PIT
4:13 PM
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Tuesday that Derrick Pouliot (shoulder) likely won't be ready for training camp, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Johnston said that Derrick Pouliot, one of the team's top prospects, would likely be able to take part in some skating at the start of camp, but he'll be held out of contact drills until further notice. The former No. 8 overall draft pick accumulated 17 goals and 53 assists over 58 games last season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

Olli Maatta
Pens' Maatta To Receive Update Later In Week
Olli Maatta, D, PIT
4:02 PM
News: Olli Maatta could be cleared for physical contact Wednesday or Thursday, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Olli Maatta was ruled out for four-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery in May, but there seems to be legitimate optimism that he might beat that timetable and be ready to go for the start of training camp. Even if that materializes, expect the Penguins to limit Maatta's involvement in the early going, with the hope of preparing him for a full slate of minutes for the regular-season opener. The 20-year-old flashed a ton of potential as a rookie last season, accruing nine goals and 20 assists over 78 games.

Anthony Mantha
Wings' Mantha Suffers Injury At Prospects Tourney
Anthony Mantha, RW, DET
3:58 PM
News: Anthony Mantha suffered an undisclosed injury during the NHL's tournament for prospects and will not be available for the Red Wings' finale against the Hurricanes, MLive.com's Brendan Savage reports.
Analysis: Red Wings GM Ken Holland didn't offer any specifics on the nature of the injury other than saying Anthony Mantha was "banged up," but it appears he'll still be ready to return to the ice when training camp commences Friday. The 20-year-old was having an outstanding tournament with five points in three games and should be given a chance to win a spot on the Red Wings' 23-man roster in camp, though it's more likely he opens 2014-15 at the AHL level.

Ryane Clowe
Clowe Looks Ready For Devils Camp
Ryane Clowe, LW, NJ
3:52 PM
News: Ryane Clower (concussion) underwent tests for post-concussion syndrome on Tuesday and should be ready for training camp.
Analysis: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said the exams were "very positive" and expects that "everything is on track for him to be at camp." Ryane Clowe sustained several concussions last season while scattering, rather unevenly, 26 points over 43 games and expects to be in the lineup on Opening Day. Clowe will see some top-six minutes while in the lineup, but his inconsistency and propensity for injury do not make him the safest pick.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Succumbs To Ankle Injury
Josh Harding, G, MIN
3:48 PM
News: Josh Harding has been sidelined by an ankle injury, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Josh Harding was set to enter training camp at full health after missing the second half of last season due to a change in his medication for multiple sclerosis, but it appears the snake-bitten goalie has been dealt another setback. The team won't have an update on Harding's expected timetable until he visits with the team's orthopedic surgeon Wednesday, but it's generally believed that he will miss the beginning of training camp, if not longer. Harding was in the midst of a sensational season prior to succumbing to another complication from MS last December, and was thought to be a frontrunner to claim the No. 1 goalie job in camp. If he ends up missing the start of the regular season, either Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom would be called upon to assume starting duties.

Eric Gelinas
Gelinas Signs Before Devils Camp
Eric Gelinas, D, NJ
3:44 PM
News: Eric Gelinas signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $900,000 on Monday and will report to training camp.
Analysis: Getting Eric Gelinas, a restricted free agent, back under contract avoids a holdout by the 23-year old blue liner who snagged 29 points in a scattered 60-game campaign as a rookie one year earlier. The majority of Gelinas's points came before the All-Star break but he also saw himself shuttled between the NHL bench and Albany (AHL) in addition to having his ice time cut severely in some games. He played several games as a 13th forward and some as a seventh defensemen, seeing only power-play time. While Gelinas is under contract, he is, by no means, guaranteed a regular role on the team despite his considerable offensive upside. The team's coaching staff regularly made it known they want Gelinas to improve defensively before giving him a larger role on the team. Monitor his ice time in preseaon games but it's too early to go all-in on Gelinas considering the Devils, despite having an opening, had a tendency to play with his ice time, appearing noncommittal as to whether he would have a regular role on the team last season. Tread carefully.

Daniel Alfredsson
Daniel Alfredsson: Seeing Back Specialists
Daniel Alfredsson, RW, DET
3:05 PM
News: Daniel Alfredsson is visiting with back specialists and is not going to training camp with the Red Wings, Helene St. James of The Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: With Daniel Alfredsson's back ailing, it's looking more and more likely last year may have been his final season. Alfie has said he won't come back unless he's 100 percent, and although he wants to return to Detroit, it remains to be seen whether his body will let him.

Kevin Westgarth
Westgarth To Try Out With Oilers
Kevin Westgarth, RW, CGY
3:04 PM
News: Kevin Westgarth signed a professional tryout with the Oilers and will join the team for training camp, NHL.com's Aaron Vickers reports.
Analysis: Kevin Westgarth is nothing more than a checking-line pugilist, giving him value primarily in leagues that count penalty minutes. He'll first have to impress the Oilers in training camp before he gets the opportunity to reprise his enforcer role.

Danny DeKeyser
Red Wings' DeKeyser Signs Two-Year Deal
Danny DeKeyser, D, DET
2:56 PM
News: Danny DeKeyser singed a two-year, $4.38 million deal with the Red Wings on Tuesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: As expected, the Red Wings finally worked out a deal to bring the 24-year-old back to Detroit following a lengthy standoff. Danny DeKeyser appeared in 65 games for the Wings last season, registering four goals and 19 assists for 23 total points. He also posted a plus-10 rating and 30 penalty minutes.

 
 
 
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