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Blue Line Buzz: Devils you should know

by | Rotowire.com
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The Devil You Need To Know

New Jersey has not been a bastion of reliability for offensive defensemen the last seven seasons. Basically, since Brian Rafalski left, the Devils have had just a handful of memorable seasons from offensive defenders, thanks to Paul Martin and Andy Greene. On Thursday, the Devils received a glimpse at another defender who could have an impact offensively in Eric Gelinas.

Gelinas scored New Jersey's second goal in Thursday's shootout loss to Vancouver and assisted on one of New Jersey's goals in Saturday's comeback win over Boston. Both points came on the power play. Gelinas was sent back to Albany (AHL) on Sunday to make room for Bryce Salvador's return to the team, as Salvador had been away from the team due to a death in his family.

Gelinas was one of only two defensemen on the team's roster who didn't need to go through waivers to be sent down and the prevailing wisdom is that the Devils are making room for him on their roster, as noted by The Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti. Gelinas has offensive upside and is not shy about shooting the puck, as he was leading Albany in shots on goal prior to his being called up with 20 in five games. In his two contests with the Devils, Gelinas averaged 3:05 on the power play, second only to Marek Zidlicky among New Jersey defensemen. It would behoove the Devils to make a roster spot for this young man, but this is the organization that gave Ryane Clowe $4.75 million per season for the next five years. While the Devils may be foolish at times, they recognize the impact Gelinas can make; he's since been recalled and will remain with the Devils.

Gelinas should be a target in deeper leagues but remember that rookie defenders are prone to have dips in their production. Also of note with the Devils is the fact that Zidlicky is tied for the team's scoring lead with Jaromir Jagr. Zidlicky has a goal and eight assists, with four of those points coming on the power play. Use him at your own risk.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a few weeks to wake up, but the Desert Dog is howling after this past weekend's matinee performance against Edmonton. The 23-year old blueliner is rewarding owners who likely got him at a relative value this year. Enjoy it now, as OEL is likely to be one of the top blue liners drafted next season after the freakishly elite such as P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson. Ekman-Larsson notched a power-play goal, the game-winner Saturday, and had two primary assists, one of which was also on the power play. Larsson sits third in the defensemen scoring race after Saturday's outburst and is seeing 25 minutes a night.

While Ekman-Larsson is doing a bit of what most thought he might do this season, James Wisniewski is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in Columbus, riding a four-game points streak into Tuesday's action. The poster child of the "when healthy" caveat, Wisniewski is standing out on a blue line with several potentially productive players in Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin and the ever frustrating Nikita Nikitin. Wisniewski has nine points on the season; remember he isn't too far removed from a 51-point stat line in 2010-11 between the Islanders and Montreal. His first two years in Columbus have been plagued by injury, but his point-per-game statistics have been encouraging, with 41 points in 78 games since signing as a free agent in the summer of 2011. Wisniewski has six points in the last four contests and is certain to continue to see scoring opportunities with the scrappy Sport Coats.

Unexpectedly, it's David Savard who sits second on the team in defensemen scoring with four points through 11 games, followed by Johnson, Tyutin and Ryan Murray, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. Murray had a productive junior career but missed last season with a shoulder injury. Columbus has always been a surprisingly solid source of secondary defensemen scoring, but Wisniewski, when he's healthy, as he is now, is going to be a boon for owners. Those in keeper leagues will obviously want to keep Murray on their radars, as he's seen a spike in his power play time the last week, including 5:59 in a game against Toronto last week.

He's Back

Kris Letang has returned from his unfortunately timed knee injury and is back roaming the ice for Pittsburgh, a team still on top of the horribly named Metropolitan Divison despite losing three straight games last week. We know what a healthy Letang is capable of doing; a player who had 38 points in 35 contests during last season's lockout-shortened campaign and a man who was on pace for close to 70 points one season earlier after he was laid low by a questionable hit courtesy of Montreal's Max Pacioretty. Letang grabbed a goal in Saturday's loss to Toronto and can be expected to be a player worth the high pick most spent on him.

In Letang's stead, Matt Niskanen filled in solidly for owners who snagged the veteran American blue liner, but his time on the power play is dwindling with Letang's return. Niskanen saw just 45 seconds in Saturday's loss to Toronto to Letang's 3:59 and he played 2:51 to the 8:14 Letang saw in Friday's loss to the Islanders. This trend likely will continue for Niskanen, who can still be useful in deeper leagues which reward plus-minus.

Budding Bud

Cody Franson sits with nine helpers in 12 contests for the Leafs. Franson's numbers are more impressive when you throw out the first five games of the season where he notched a modest two points; he has seven helpers in the last seven games and should benefit from Toronto's dynamic offense.

Snuffed Flame

Mark Giordano was eating ice time for the Flames prior to a lower-body injury the Flames are still being mum about; however, Giordano has been seen in a walking boot as noted by the Calgary Herald. The Flames' versatile defender, owner of nine points through eight games has not played since October 21 and is eligible to come off IR soon, but there is no definite timetable for his return. Now might not be a bad time to try and pry Giordano from a frustrated owner if you can stash the Flame on your roster.

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Player News
Ryan Wilson
Flames Ink Wilson To PTO
Ryan Wilson, D, COL
2:53 PM
News: Ryan Wilson signed a professional tryout offer with the Flames on Thursday, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Wilson was limited to just three games as a member of the Avalanche last season, as he suffered a shoulder injury in late October that would ultimately require surgery. Prior to the injury, the 28-year-old wasn't expected to be a major part of the Avs' plans on the blue line, and he'll have an even more difficult time trying to carve out a role in Calgary's defensive corps, which may be the deepest in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom (Hip) "Not In A Rush" To Play
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
1:57 PM
News: Nicklas Backstrom (hip) skated during informal workouts Thursday morning, but is "not in a rush" to return to action, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom began skating in August following hip surgery during the offseason, and while he hasn't experienced any setbacks, he doesn't appear to have a specific target date in mind for his return. "I'm not going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing," the 27-year-old pivot remarked, "I'm not going to play on 90 percent. We'll see how it goes. We don't know yet." The uncertainty surrounding Backstrom's return has lowered his standing somewhat in fantasy rankings. While the situation should be monitored closely, Backstrom should provide some serious value if he can get up to speed quickly on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and newcomer T.J. Oshie, as he has been one of the more productive playmakers and power-play performers over the last several seasons. Don't sleep on him too long in your draft if he continues to progress according to plan.

Joe Pavelski
Pavelski Expected To Be Named Sharks' Next Captain
Joe Pavelski, C, SJ
1:01 PM
News: Joe Pavelski is expected to be named the Sharks' next captain, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: Captaincy has been a delicate issue in San Jose over the last year, as former coach Todd McLellan stripped longtime leader Joe Thornton of those honors heading into 2014-15, straining the relationship between the star center and team brass. While Thornton is still around, it's clear that the 31-year-old Joe Pavelski is now the face of the franchise, after ranking fourth in the NHL in goals over the last four seasons with 161. Pavelski figures to pace the Sharks in scoring once again during the upcoming campaign, while taking on more of a leadership role in the locker room.

Keith Ballard
Ex-Wild D-Man Ballard Leaning Toward Retirement
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9:55 AM
News: Keith Ballard (concussion) confirmed last week that he's leaning toward retirement, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard is still experiencing concussion symptoms from the head injury he suffered Dec. 9 of last season, and it sounds like he's leaning toward hanging up his skates rather than risking permanent health issues. The 32-year-old had previously experienced several concussions during his NHL career, likely leaving many teams disinterested in Ballard's services even if he opts to keep playing.

Andrew Copp
Jets' Copp To Challenge For NHL Job
Andrew Copp, C, WPG
9:47 AM
News: Andrew Copp is expected to compete for the Jets' fourth-line center duties during training camp, Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Andrew Copp, who finished up his sophomore season at the University of Michigan last spring before turning pro, made his NHL debut for the Jets in their final regular season game in 2015-16, when the team was just trying to rest its regulars in advance of the playoffs. The 2013 fourth-round pick went unused during the Jets' first-round series exit, but the size he presents (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) along with the strong leadership and decision-making he demonstrated during his time at Michigan could make him the Jets' best internal option to pivot the checking line. Holdovers Anthony Peluso and Matt Halischuk likely represent Copp's top competition for that role.

Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom, Blackhawks Agree On One-Year Deal
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
9/2/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom waited several months before agreeing to his qualifying offer, but he's at least in the fold to compete for a spot in the Blackhawks' crowded bottom-six ranks. The forward recorded no goals and three assists in 38 games with the parent club last season, so a return trip to AHL Rockford could be in the works to open 2015-16.

Tom Sestito
Penguins Sign Sestito To PTO
Tom Sestito, LW, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Tom Sestito signed a professional tryout contract last week with the Penguins, Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com reports.
Analysis: As a tough guy who gobbles up penalty minutes, Tom Sestito doesn't seem to mesh well with coach Mike Johnston's vision of rolling out four lines with scoring ability. Don't expect him to crack the Penguins' 23-man roster out of training camp, barring a litany of injuries.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Healthy Heading Into Camp
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Evgeni Malkin is healthy heading into training camp, NHL.com reports. "[Malkin] was injured before the playoffs last year; he's in skating already," Johnston said.
Analysis: The Penguins are expected to tinker with their top-six ranks in training camp after adding Phil Kessel to the mix in the offseason, but it's expected that Kessel will play on the top line with Sidney Crosby, while Evgeni Malkin centers a line of Patric Hornqvist and a yet-to-be-determined left winger. Regardless of which player among David Perron, Chris Kunitz, and rookie Sergei Plotnikov ultimately settles next to Malkin, staying healthy is more essential to the star center's fantasy production than anything else. Malkin has missed 103 regular-season contests over the last six years.

Peter Budaj
Kings Ink Budaj To Tryout Offer
Peter Budaj, G, LA
9/2/2015
News: Peter Budaj has signed with the Kings on a professional tryout contract, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Peter Budaj struggled while seeing limited ice time with AHL St. John's in the Winnipeg organization last season, going 0-9-6 with a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage. The 33-year-old clearly seems to be on the downswing of his career, but as a veteran with 296 NHL appearances on his ledger, he could provide insurance in goal for the Kings at the minor-league level.

Markus Soberg
Jackets' Soberg Out 4-6 Weeks
Markus Soberg, RW, CLB
9/2/2015
News: Markus Soberg (groin) will miss the next four-to-six weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair a sports hernia, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: A sixth-round pick by the Blue Jackets in 2013, Markus Soberg was hampered by an abdominal injury throughout much of last season, ending up with 13 goals and 17 assists in 61 games for OHL Windsor. It's unclear whether he would've been able to make the jump to Columbus this season even if healthy, but the surgery will certainly delay his progress to North American hockey.

 
 
 
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