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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
Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen To Draw Start Vs. Blues
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12/28/2014
News: Kari Lehtonen will be in the crease Saturday versus the Blues, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Kari Lehtonen owns a 10-4-2 record and 1.99 GAA for his career against the Blues, but that can probably be thrown out the window given the netminder's vexing inconsistency this season. He's followed up strong outings with horrible ones with regularity, and with the Stars coming off a three-day holiday break, it's difficult to know what to expect from Lehtonen. It's probably best for fantasy owners to keep the goalie on their bench Saturday if less risky alternatives exist.

Viktor Fasth
Oilers' Fasth To Start Saturday
Viktor Fasth, G, EDM
12/28/2014
News: Viktor Fasth will get the start in goal Saturday against the Flames, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Fantasy players should avoid Viktor Fasth, and any Edmonton netminder, in just about any format at this point, as the team has lost 19 of its last 20 games and the high save totals are likely not enough to make up for the damage caused in the ratio categories. Fasth is an abysmal 2-8-2 on the season, with an equally dreadful 3.29 GAA and .888 save percentage.

Shawn Thornton
Panthers' Thornton Doesn't Skate Saturday
Shawn Thornton, RW, FLA
12/28/2014
News: Shawn Thornton (groin) was unable to practice Saturday, Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.
Analysis: Coach Gerard Gallant said earlier in the week that Shawn Thornton would begin skating after the Christmas break, but that failed to come to fruition Saturday. It will only push back his return date further, making it unlikely that Thornton suits up again until after the New Year.

Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Set To Start Saturday
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
12/28/2014
News: Braden Holtby was the first goaltender off the ice at practice and will receive the goal Saturday against the Penguins, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 27 shots in a losing effort against the Rangers on Tuesday, leaving a sour taste in his mouth before the NHL went on break for the holidays. The three days to rest up should have provided the 25-year-old netminder with some valuable time off, and fantasy owners should expect Holtby to be fresh and ready to go Saturday. Holtby is 15-8-5 on the season with a 2.30 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

Jaden Schwartz
Blues' Schwartz (Foot) Could Skate Soon
Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL
12/28/2014
News: Jaden Schwartz (foot) could resume skating in the next few days.
Analysis: The Blues haven't been able to discern a timetable for Jaden Schwartz's recovery from the broken foot, but coach Ken Hitchcock said one should become available once Schwartz starts skating. Even if that comes to fruition within the next week, Schwartz would probably need to practice for several more days before an activation would be considered.

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnarsson (Concussion) Skates Saturday
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
12/28/2014
News: Carl Gunnarsson (concussion) skated with the team at Saturday's morning session.
Analysis: While Carl Gunnarsson won't suit up for Saturday's game with the Stars, coach Ken Hitchcock noted that the blueliner is now being viewed as day-to-day. Since he's been sidelined since Dec. 6, he may need another full practice or two to get his conditioning up to par, but a return to the lineup at some point next week would seem realistic.

Michael Hutchinson
Jets' Hutchinson To Start Saturday
Michael Hutchinson, G, WPG
12/28/2014
News: Michael Hutchinson will get the start in net Saturday against the Wild, Shane Hnidy of TSN reports.
Analysis: While head coach Paul Maurice claims the decision to start Michael Hutchinson in consecutive games was made weeks ago based on the Jets' schedule arrangement, it may indicate that the Jets have decided to make Hutchinson their featured goaltender, with Ondrej Pavelec taking on a more complementary role going forward. It's still too early to tell for certain, but the fact that this is the first time a Jets goaltender has made back-to-back starts since late-November is certainly telling. Hutchinson leads the league both in GAA (1.67) and save percentage (.944) and boasts an 8-2-2 record.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres Bring Back Grigorenko
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
12/28/2014
News: Mikhail Grigorenko was recalled from AHL Rochester on Saturday, John Vogl of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: The Sabres will only get a few of their injured forwards back in time for Saturday's game against the Islanders, leaving a lineup spot open for Mikhail Grigorenko. The former first-round pick has one point in his previous four games with the Sabres, but did collect three helpers in his most recent game with Rochester.

Brad Richards
Chicago's Richards To Sit Again Saturday
Brad Richards, C, CHI
12/28/2014
News: Brad Richards (upper body) will not play Saturday against the Avalanche, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Brad Richards didn't travel with the team to Colorado, but should start skating on his own back in Chicago at some point over the weekend. Coach Joel Quenneville seemed optimistic that Richards -- who will miss his third straight game -- would be available for Monday's match with Nashville, but he'll first need to partake with the team at morning skate before that materializes.

Michal Rozsival
Blackhawks' Rozsival Out Saturday
Michal Rozsival, D, CHI
12/28/2014
News: Michal Rozsival (lower body) will not play Saturday against the Avalanche, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Michal Rozsival was forced out of Tuesday's game against the Jets with the injury and was unable to take part in Saturday's morning skate, indicating he's still feeling the effects of the injury. Tim Erixon will take his spot on Chicago's third defensive pairing.

 
 
 
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