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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
Ondrej Pavelec
Goaltender Rotation Will Continue In Winnipeg
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
12:44 PM
News: Head coach Paul Maurice has stressed that the Jets' goalie rotation between Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson will continue after the NHL's three-day holiday break, Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Ondrej Pavelec will continue to split starts with Hutchinson for the time being. However, Pavelec has struggled as of late, losing three of his last four games while giving up at least three goals in each of those losses. Meanwhile, Hutchinson has gone 8-2-2 this season while posting a league-leading 1.67 GAA as well as a league-leading .944 save percentage. If Pavelec continues to struggle, and Hutchinson continues to dominate, Pavelec may find himself on Winnipeg's bench more often than he finds himself starting in net moving forward.

Michael Hutchinson
Goaltender Rotation To Continue In Winnipeg
Michael Hutchinson, G, WPG
12:09 PM
News: Head coach Paul Maurice has made it clear that the Jets' goalie rotation between Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec will continue after the NHL's three-day holiday break, Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Michael Hutchinson's fantasy owners don't have to worry about Pavelec getting the majority of starts in net for the Jets moving forward, as Maurice has clearly indicated that Hutchinson and Pavelec have both performed well enough this season to warrant an even split in playing time. In fact, Maurice may ultimately be forced to give Hutchinson the majority of starts in net in the second half of the season, as he bests Pavelec in both major goaltending statistical categories. Hutchinson boasts a 1.67 GAA and a .944 save percentage, while Pavelec has posted slightly less impressive figures, with a 2.34 GAA and a .913 save percentage. If Pavelec struggles in a few key games down the stretch, Hutchinson may suddenly find himself as the primary goaltender for the Jets. Hutchinson has been phenomenal this season, and fantasy owners lucky enough to own him can plug him into their lineups with confidence each and every time he starts.

Tuukka Rask
Bruins' Rask Unlikely To Play Saturday
Tuukka Rask, G, BOS
11:15 AM
News: Niklas Svedberg was the first goalie off the ice at Saturday's morning skate, indicating Tuukka Rask will not receive the start later in the evening against the Blue Jackets, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reports.
Analysis: Coach Claude Julien has leaned heavily on Tuukka Rask in December, so he'll allow the netminder to get a little bit of an extended rest here on the heels of the Bruins' three-day break for Christmas. Svedberg hasn't officially been confirmed as the starter for Saturday's game just yet, but Rask's fantasy owners should prepare to have another option ready in goal in any case.

Tom Wilson
Caps' Wilson Returns To Lineup Saturday
Tom Wilson, RW, WAS
11:13 AM
News: Tom Wilson will return to the lineup when the Capitals visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Tom Wilson was scratched for Washington's previous game and had been benched for long stretches of play in the contests immediately prior. Wilson is expected to return alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line, so if he can find his scoring touch again, the former Plymouth Whaler will be worth owning across fantasy formats. Needless to say, he may be on a short leash with Trotz after posting only four assists in 10 games during the month of December. Lucky for Wilson, no one has outplayed him for the coveted spot alongside Washington's superstars, so the door remains open for the former 16th overall pick.

Niklas Svedberg
Bruins' Svedberg Expected To Start Saturday
Niklas Svedberg, G, BOS
11:12 AM
News: Niklas Svedberg is expected to be in the crease for Saturday's match with the Blue Jackets, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reports.
Analysis: Niklas Svedberg stopped 21 of 24 shots in a shootout victory over the Blue Jackets last month, so it appears coach Claude Julien will stick with him in the rematch in the hope of similar results. The Blue Jackets aren't exactly a fearsome matchup to begin with, but he'll catch even more of a break with their top netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky, unavailable with an illness. The unimpressive Curtis McElhinney will instead get the nod for Columbus, creating a strong opportunity for the Bruins to provide plenty of goal support for Svedberg.

Martin Havlat
Devils' Havlat Ruled Out For Saturday
Martin Havlat, RW, NJ
11:01 AM
News: Martin Havlat (illness) will not play Saturday against the Rangers, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Martin Havlat received a bit of good news when his tests for the mumps virus came back negative, but he's still not quite back to 100 percent after battling a nasty flu. He was at least able to skate Saturday morning, which bodes well for his chances of being available for the Devils' next game Monday versus Pittsburgh.

Tim Sestito
Devils Recall Sestito From Minors
Tim Sestito, C, NJ
10:57 AM
News: Tim Sestito was recalled from AHL Albany on Saturday, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: The Devils will be without yet another forward (Michael Ryder) on account of the mumps, so Tim Sestito will join the play in Saturday's contest as a member of the fourth line. Fortunately for the Devils, Patrik Elias (mumps) and Martin Havlat (flu) look to be nearing the finish line in their recovery from illness, which could make Sestito's stay with the parent club a relatively short one.

Scott Clemmensen
Devils' Clemmensen Diagnosed With Mumps
Scott Clemmensen, G, NJ
10:53 AM
News: Scott Clemmensen was diagnosed with the mumps Saturday, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: The Devils have been one of the NHL hit hard by the mumps this season, but until Scott Clemmensen's diagnosis, the organization's AHL affiliate in Albany hasn't had any players come down with the virus. However, because the mumps can lay dormant for a number of weeks before taking effect, it's likely Clemmensen acquired the virus during his stint with the parent club early in December. In any event, he'll be isolated from the AHL squad until further notice to prevent further spreading of the disease.

Michael Ryder
Ryder The Latest Devil With The Mumps
Michael Ryder, RW, NJ
10:48 AM
News: Michael Ryder was diagnosed with the mumps Saturday, NHL.com's Shawn Roarke reports.
Analysis: Michael Ryder will be isolated from the team until his symptoms subside. The virus appears to be spreading rapidly through the team, as Adam Larsson, Patrik Elias, Scott Clemmenson, and Travis Zajac have all dealt with or currently have the mumps. Most players who have succumbed to the mumps have missed about a week of action, so expect a similar timetable to be in store for Ryder.

Robin Lehner
Sens' Lehner Feeling ill, But Set To Back Up
Robin Lehner, G, OTT
10:42 AM
News: Robin Lehner was absent from Saturday's morning skate due to an illness but is still expected to back up Craig Anderson in the Senators' game later in the evening against the Red Wings, Brent Wallace of TSN reports.
Analysis: Ottawa hasn't recalled a goalie from the minors on an emergency basis, so there doesn't seem to be anything to be concerned about regarding Robin Lehner's illness. With Anderson playing well in each of his last three starts, Lehner likely wasn't a serious candidate to get the nod Saturday even if he had been fully healthy during the morning skate.

 
 
 
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