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Blue Line Buzz: Diamond in the rough

by | Rotowire.com
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(All statistics through November 17)

Gem In the Desert?

Erik Karlsson is leading all NHL defensemen in goals through the first quarter of the season with seven. This can be filed under news items that are not news. Second in the league, tied with six goals is Boston's Torey Krug, the man who replaced Zdeno Chara on Boston's power play. The player tied with Krug and six goals? A Phoenix defender not named Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Keith Yandle, but instead … Michael Stone. You can be excused if you didn't have Stone on your roster, but it may be hard to entirely ignore him in deep leagues. While the six goals are nice, Stone has no assists and a modest 24 shots on goal, which is great for leagues that count shooting percentage; two of his goals have come via the man advantage.

Stone is in his second full NHL season and notched five goals last year in the truncated campaign, but a close look at his junior numbers with the Calgary Hitmen show him to be a rather productive scorer, scoring 40 total goals over his last two seasons in the WHL, not to mention a boatload of PIM. In Phoenix, Stone is in the presence of two of the league's top scorers on the blue line, but is capitalizing on his chances. Four of his six goals have come in the last six games, but he's seen limited power-play time, seeing just over 35 seconds per game over the last three. The shooting percentage undoubtedly will correct itself, but Stone is a player worth maintaining an eye on in keeper leagues. The Coyotes have long been rumored to be interested in dealing Yandle given their blue line stable and Yandle's salary, but the presumptive Team USA defender is in the desert for now.

There has also been a David Rundblad sighting in Phoenix, as he notched his first point of the season since being recalled from healthy scratch status. Rundblad was the key piece sent back to Phoenix in 2011's Kyle Turris trade with Ottawa and has been on a permanent shuttle between the AHL, NHL and the press box the last season-plus. It's also worth mentioning that veteran Derek Morris had 10 points through 14 games before missing the last two weeks with a lower body injury, but is nearing a return.

Someone, Anyone

New Jersey isn't the only team with paltry goal-scoring numbers from the back end, as both the Islanders and Colorado each have six goals from its blue liners on the season, the same number as New Jersey. The Islanders are looking for more production from the blue line while Lubomir Visnovsky is out indefinitely with a concussion. While the veteran is out, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have been leading the way from the back end with a total of two goals and 13 points from the duo. Matt Donovan is the upside play of the future on the Island, but Donovan is seeing 1:13 of power play time per game through 17 tilts and has four points on the season with just one helper in the last eight games.

Colorado is getting decent production from former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, with seven points through 19 games, two of which have come on the power play. Johnson has the most upside on the Avalanche blue line until Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott figure out the kinks in their game. After Johnson's modest numbers, Jan Hejda and Andre Benoit are seeing their names on the scoresheet occasionally as well. If only the Avalanche had a player like Kevin Shattenkirk.

Shea Weber is doing what he's used to doing in the Hockey Tonk, with 10 points through 20 games (five goals, five assists). Okay, maybe a little less than what we're used to from the likes of Weber, but the Predators have not been a positive source of blue line points outside of Weber save for rookie Seth Jones and his eight points. Jones is adapting to the NHL game and is eating minutes at a huge clip, averaging 24:04 per game in the first quarter of his first season.

After Jones and Weber is where the numbers start to look more like a New Jersey blue line, as Ryan Ellis has five points through 18 games while Roman Josi is certainly underperforming after his huge contract with three points through 10 games. However, despite that, Josi might be a player you'd want to target as he has all three points in the eight games he's played since returning from an early-season concussion; he notched two assists in Nashville's blowout win over Chicago on Saturday. Josi has been seeing much power-play time since his return, but remember Josi has a tendency to binge on points, as 12 of last season's 18 points were concentrated over a five-game span, leaving a meager six in the other 42 games. He's likely is kicking around on your waiver wire and can be an option in deeper leagues given his potential, just monitor his minutes on the power play vis-à-vis those of Jones.

The Devils nearly doubled the season's amount of goals their defenders scored in Saturday evening's win over Pittsburgh, getting tallies from Andy Greene and Adam Larsson, 2012's fourth overall pick. The Devils had a mere four goals from blue liners through 19 games and added two more to that humongously-big total. Larsson is one of those players still wearing the potential tag after a tenuous spot in the lineup his first two seasons. He just turned 21 years old and seems to be earning more regular playing time under coach Peter DeBoer and has been playing solid hockey since being paired with fellow youngster Eric Gelinas.

Larsson has been a player fantasy owners believe will breakout at some point in his early career. He has the talent and a bit of offensive talent to his game, but it's been a question of whether he's been given the chance to show it in New Jersey. Dating back to the latter part of the 2012 season and through New Jersey's run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, Larsson has been in and out of the Devils' lineup, having his play under scrutiny and often being left out in favor of the likes of Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov. Larsson's numbers this season are not attractive, with three points through 17 games and he's has seen little power play time. What's encouraging about Larsson is that he has two points through the last three games and all three of his season's points have come in the last six contests. He doesn't shoot the puck often, just 15 through 17 games, but there is upside with Larsson for those in deep keeper leagues. He did put up 41 points in 37 games his last season in Sweden for Skelleftea.

Larsson has typically just shown flashes of offensive ability, but still has growing to do, not to mention keeping his head up a bit more.

Video clip of the week:

What are the odds that the Maple Leafs will look to sign embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford after this check on Monday following the Toronto City Council stripping him of most of his powers?

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Player News
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, VAN
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, MON
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.

Marcel Goc
Ex-Blues Center Goc Returns To Germany
Marcel Goc, C, STL
9/2/2015
News: Marcel Goc signed a one-year contract Tuesday with Adler Mannheim of the German Ice Hockey League.
Analysis: Marcel Goc will return to his native country after failing to attract NHL interest following a nine-point campaign while skating as a fourth-line player in 74 games for the Penguins and Blues. At 32 years old, Goc's career in North America could very well be over.

Maxim Lapierre
Ex-NHLer Lapierre Signs With Swedish Club
Maxim Lapierre, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Maxim Lapierre signed a one-year contract Tuesday with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: After skating in 80 games with the Blues and Penguins last season while scoring two goals and nine assists, Maxim Lapierre was unable to generate much interest from other teams as a fourth-line option in free agency. Rather than having to enter an NHL training camp on a professional tryout offer, Lapierre determined it was in his best interest to take the guaranteed money overseas in attempt to rebuild value. The 30-year-old's deal with MODO contains an option for a second season, allowing him to return to North America next summer if he so chooses.

Bryce Salvador
Ex-Devil Salvador Announces Retirement
Bryce Salvador, D, NJ
9/2/2015
News: Bryce Salvador (back) announced his retirement Wednesday in an article on The Players' Tribune.
Analysis: Bryce Salvador skated 14 seasons in the NHL, recording 24 goals and 86 assists over 786 games. The 39-year-old spent his final eight years in the league with New Jersey, captaining the team for the last three seasons. Injuries dogged him later in his career, but his leadership and sound positional play from the blue line were attributes that outweighed his lack of offensive contributions. He'll remain in the New Jersey organization as an ambassador for the sport.

Patrick Kane
Image Conscious Hawks Fielding Trade Calls On Kane
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
9/1/2015
News: The Hawks have apparently fielded speculative trade calls about Patrick Kane from more than five different teams, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. There is no indication the Hawks would trade him, but the team is extremely image conscious and there are suggestions they feel "disrespected" by Kane's alleged actions this summer.
Analysis: No charges have been laid in the investigation into an alleged rape of a woman at Patrick Kane's home. The team has largely remained quiet on the issue, but it was already displeased that he used the Hawks' Stanley Cup rally to proclaim he intended to act like a fool again while celebrating the Cup win. Optics matter to the Hawks and the team may be forced to do something to maintain its image. Others have been quick to distance themselves from Kane. He has been quietly removed from the cover of EA Sports NHL '16 video game and his former OHL squad (London Knights) dropped the moniker "Team Kane" from its annual training camp agenda. Camp is only a few weeks away and things could change dramatically for Kane and the Hawks before then.

Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichushkin Says Injury Is Behind Him
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
9/1/2015
News: Valeri Nichushkin missed most of last year after an early-season hip injury, but is expected to be healthy for the start of the season. In an update at the Stars' site he said, "Everything feels so good now. I don't feel pain anymore."
Analysis: The promising young winger played only four games before getting injured, then played just four of the team's final five games after coming back. If healthy, he is expected to get top six minutes this season playing wing for either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza, which should make the big winger a potential fantasy sleeper.

 
 
 
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