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Blue Line Buzz: The young and the restless

by | Rotowire.com
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Olli Maatta, Penguins: Pittsburgh seemingly generates talented young defensemen. Simon Despres is still a potential offensive talent in the NHL, plus the Penguins dealt highly-touted prospect Joe Morrow to Dallas last spring for a Brenden Morrow rental and previously developed the mercurial Kris Letang. The team has another budding star in Finnish Olympian Maata, albeit one who is still finding his legs defensively in the NHL. Maata had five points over four games this past week, including a pair of two-point games, most recently notching a goal and an assist in Thursday's win over the Islanders.

What's been impressive about Maata's recent run is that he's putting up these numbers with little to no time on the power play, generally the primary bellwether for production. His stat line is a little deceptive, as it sits at 19 points through 50 games, yet 14 of those points have come in 22 contests since the end of November. Maata is just 19, a player prone to the typical ebbs and flows of production. However, it's worth noting that Paul Martin recently returned to the Pittsburgh lineup, which will surely to eat into Maata's ice time a bit. That said, Maata is a viable commodity in keeper leagues and he's been putting at least two pucks on goal the last two weeks of play. Look for him to continue to record some points, but the Penguins score goals in bunches, so that's more a byproduct of his team context.

Maata is still improving in his own zone, but he's been doing a solid job there, spending most of his time alongside Matt Niskanen. Maata's recent rate of production is hard to ignore. Monitor his ice time and his lineup status, but this kid can play.

Calvin De Haan, Islanders: It's been no secret that the Islanders haven't exactly been able to entice players to join their squad via free agency; in fact they've had to essentially resort to legal action after acquiring Lubomir Visnovsky and Evgeni Nabokov, both of whom refused to play for the team. One was acquired via waivers the other, Visnovsky, through a trade. Visnovsky has missed most of the season with a concussion but has begun skating again, according to published reports, and could return this coming week.

Andrew MacDonald has been putting up surprisingly solid numbers, given his lack of shooting (although he has just one point in the last nine), but De Haan made a name for himself earlier in January with a five-game points streak that saw him notch seven points. His production has fallen off a bit since that run, which ended on January 14, as he has notched a mere assist in five games since, with no points in the last three. While none of De Haan's eight points have come on the power play, he's been solid in secondary statistics such as hits and blocked shots, averaging over two hits per game and recording 47 blocks in 27 contests.

With Visnovsky slated to return, De Haan can likely expect to see the little power-play time that he receives dwindle, while MacDonald and Visnovsky absorb most of it. Visnovsky has three points in eight games this season, but hasn't played since October.

On a slightly related note, if Visnovsky is kicking around in your league on waivers, give him a roll of the dice. He has a track record of producing during his career and could give a scrappy Islanders' team another scoring threat as they, along with every Metropolitan Division team not named Pittsburgh, scrap for a playoff spot.

Eric Gelinas, Devils: Gelinas' name has populated this space with some frequency over the two months, since he's made an impact following his initial AHL call-up. Moreover, he has made the most of his ice time over the last week.

Gelinas is not being deployed at even strength terribly often, but is seeing significant power-play time and his offensive zone start percentage is close to 62-percent. All his numbers are skewed toward the offensive end of the rink, as a few spotty defensive plays during December earned him a brief demotion to AHL Albany and the team resorting to dressing him as a seventh defenseman, using him largely in power play and overtime situations.

Gelinas is a talented player who will need to shore up his own end before being given the freedom to roam the ice and make a potentially huge mistake -- although the Devils already have a player who does that in Marek Zidlicky. Gelinas is poised to challenge double-digit goals, as he sits with six through 40 games and 22 total points; 13 of his points have come on the power play, including four of the goals. He has points in four of the last six games, including three points in this past Tuesday's rout of St. Louis. (It's worth noting that Gelinas' goal was the last goal in a 7-1 victory and one of his assists came on the team's fifth goal).

The Devils have admitted that Gelinas brings an element to the game that is difficult to duplicate, as he can give opposing defenses an extra player to worry about. His ability to jump into the play and contribute offensively is obvious, but on a team like New Jersey, he'll have to make certain to take care of his defensive responsibilities in order to keep seeing those attacking chances.

New Jersey has boasted one of the league's more surprisingly productive blue lines this season after contributing little to the realm of Fantasy defensemen the last few seasons. The trio of Gelinas, Zidlicky and Andy Greene aren't exactly the second coming of Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer, nor are they Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, but they've likely provided owners with respectable value at the end of drafts and on waivers, notably Gelinas and Greene.

Notes

Seth Jones has recorded nine of his season's 19 points since December 23 and likely will be paired with newly-acquired Predator Michael Del Zotto, who makes the move from Manhattan to Nashville following a mid-week trade from the Rangers for Kevin Klein. Del Zotto did not have a consistent season for the Rangers, seemingly coughing up a goal for the opposition for every one he helped produce for his own team, which wasn't much. Despite the perception that Nashville isn't going to score a ton, they have a productive blue line sparked by Shea Weber and his 13 goals. Jones and Ryan Ellis have 35 points between the two of them. Meanwhile, Del Zotto recorded just 11 points in 41 games with the Rangers, seeing himself cycled in and out of the lineup often with a team recently finding its legs on offense.

• If there's any situation that could reform a wayward defensive case like Del Zotto, it exists with Barry Trotz and Nashville, a team built on stifling defense and positional hockey. Del Zotto is only 23 and in the midst of his fifth NHL season, notching his career high during the 2011-12 campaign, with 10 goals and 41 points through 77 games. His presumptive defensive partner in Nashville, Jones, is not one to shy away from jumping up into the play, so it will be interesting to see how Del Zotto adapts his game to the Predators' system. A wait-and-see approach might be best with the player some Rangers' fans dubbed "Del-zaster" over the last season.

Nick Holden has been one of the Avalanche's more productive players over the last 10 days, with five points in the last four games. Holden had played a modest seven NHL games prior to this season with the Blue Jackets, spending most of his professional time in the AHL. Holden's recent numbers are buoyed by a three-point effort against Nashville last Saturday. Holden grabbed 60 points once during his junior career in the WHL, but last week's numbers have come from seemingly nowhere. The Avs, despite their utter depth of young, talented forwards, have not been highly productive from the blue line. The odds of Holden continuing this trend are slim, but if he continues to see decent ice time with a spot on the man-advantage, give him a look in very deep leagues.

• Goon Point Updates: Tampa Bay's Radko Gudas remains the league's preeminent enforcer, for lack of a better term, leading all defensemen in penalty minutes with 96 and he has racked up 170 hits, second only to Toronto's Cody Franson, who seemingly is credited with hits at home for stepping on the ice. Gudas has a solid 15 points and a plus-7 rating (solid for a player not known for scoring, that is). On the opposite end of the continent, Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa is putting up similar numbers in terms of points (16) and penalty minutes (89) with 94 hits. (We'll chalk that up to a less zealous home scorer at Rogers Centre than the one at the ACC).

Question of the Week: What defenders moved at the deadline will be the most valuable? What does your team need (both team you follow and Fantasy roster).

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Player News
Rich Peverley
Stars' Peverley Decides To Retire
Rich Peverley, C, DAL
12:07 AM
News: Rich Peverley has decided to hang up his skates and call it a career.
Analysis: It's an unfortunate end to the 33-year-old center's career, as he suffered a cardiac incident March 10, and hasn't been able to play since. He spent time with four different teams throughout his career, and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning 2011 Boston Bruins. He finishes his playing career with 241 points (84 goals, 157 assists) in 442 games, but isn't finished with hockey altogether. He will now join the Stars' staff as the Player Development Coordinator.

Niklas Backstrom
Wild's Backstrom Waiting For Clearance
Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN
9/4/2015
News: Niklas Backstrom (elbow) was scheduled to visit team doctors this week with the hope of receiving clearance for the start of training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Niklas Backstrom required surgery over the summer to address a lingering elbow injury, and there remains some concern that he may not have healed enough to this point to take the ice when the season begins in October. In reality, it would probably be in the Wild's best interest for Backstrom to open the season on long-term injured reserve, as he's currently the No. 3 goalie on the depth chart behind Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper and carries a $3.4 million cap hit for 2015-16. Stashing Backstrom on long-term IR would allow the Wild to save a roster spot and avoid the financial hit of waiving him, as he would then be unavailable for at least the team's first 10 games.

Anton Zlobin
Pens' Zlobin Healthy Entering Camp
Anton Zlobin, RW, PIT
9/4/2015
News: Anton Zlobin (shoulder) is looking forward to entering training camp healthy after undergoing two shoulder surgeries in three years, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Anton Zlobin, a sixth-round pick in 2012, scored 40 goals in the QMJHL but has played just 61 games since turning pro due to injury. While his speed and size (5-11, 205 pounds) don't stand out, he has reputation for scoring big goals -- he scored six goals (three game-winners) in 15 AHL playoff contests. The 22-year-old Russian will be looking to make an impression this fall, most likely in the AHL, as he's playing for a new contract.

Daniel Cleary
Wings Ink Cleary To One-Year Contract
Daniel Cleary, RW, DET
9/4/2015
News: Daniel Cleary signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings on Friday, Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: The veteran Daniel Cleary didn't see a ton of action with the Red Wings last season, playing just 17 games due to some knee issues. He'll give it another go in 2015-16, however, with perhaps another offseason helping with the knee problem.

Kristers Gudlevskis
Bolts' Gudlevskis In Line To Open Season As Backup
Kristers Gudlevskis, G, TB
9/4/2015
News: With Andrei Vasilevskiy slated to remain off the ice for the next two-to-three months while recovering from a blood clot near his collarbone, Kristers Gudlevskis is expected to serve as the backup goalie behind Ben Bishop.
Analysis: Vasilevskiy's recovery timetable has him on track to sit out until early November at the earliest, paving the way for Kristers Gudlevskis to stick with the Bolts for at least the first month of the season. Coach Jon Cooper showed a willingness to give Bishop more frequent nights off than some of the league's top netminders last season, but that was due in some part to the reliability Vasilevskiy showed in a part-time role. Though Gudlevskis is a quality prospect, it might take a while before he earns the same amount of trust from the coaching staff, which could result in Bishop bearing a heavier workload to open the campaign, at least until Vasilevskiy is healthy enough to return. That said, because of the overall strength of the Bolts' roster, Gudlevskis should be well positioned to come away with the win nearly anytime he's called upon to make a spot start.

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Bolts' Vasilevskiy Undergoes Vascular Surgery
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, TB
9/4/2015
News: Andrei Vasilevskiy had surgery Thursday to remove a blood clot from near his left collarbone and treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and is expected to remain out for two-to-three months.
Analysis: With that timetable, Andrei Vasilevskiy figures to sit out through at least early- or mid-November, and quite possibly longer if his recovery trends toward the longer end of that period of time. Though Ben Bishop is the clear No. 1 goalie between the pipes for Tampa, Vasilevskiy looked to be one of the league's top backup options entering the season, due to both his strong team context and the skills he displayed when he received spots starts in 2014-15. With the 21-year-old sidelined, the Lightning will likely turn to Kristers Gudlevskis when they need to spell Bishop.

Ryan Wilson
Flames Ink Wilson To PTO
Ryan Wilson, D, CGY
9/3/2015
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
9/3/2015
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
9/3/2015
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
9/3/2015
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.

 
 
 
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