Ramblings: on a couple of under-the-radar players, plus Karlsson, Kapanen, Kovalchuk and more (Dec 24)
You’ve bought everyone else a Christmas present, now it’s time to take care of YOU. The 10th annual Midseason Guide! It’s up for presale and the release date is Friday, January 11. Pre-order it here and make sure it’s in your Downloads section waiting for you the instant I release it.
One thing that slipped under my radar has been the resurgence of Ryan Murray. Somehow he snuck in 17 points, with 16 at even strength. He’s been playing with Seth Jones lately, but most of his points have come while with Markus Nutivaara. Anyway, his main concern and risk is injury, but if healthy I believe he can continue his 39-point pace. It’s his sixth NHL season and that’s what he’s capable of so I don’t see why he can’t hit it.
Sergei Bobrovsky since December 8: 5-1-1, 1.58 GAA, 0.950 SV% on 199 SA, 2 SO
Ryan Donato has six points in 13 games since being recalled. He’s also ‘usually’ seeing time on the first PP unit and two of his points have come on the power play. More promising is the fact that he has 41 shots in that span – more than three per game despite bottom-six ice time. During his first NHL stint he was barely shooting at all (12 shots in 11 games).
Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen each had eight points Sunday. The big difference that game was the fact that they played with Andrei Svechnikov for the first time. Svechnikov had no points, but two of Aho/TT points came about while on the penalty kill, but I still think this even strength line combo will continue.
The last time two Whalers players had four points in the same game was in 1993 – Geoff Sanderson and the late Zarley Zalapski. The last time Hartford scored two shorthanded goals was in 1992 – Andrew Cassels and Murray Craven. So there’s some older names to throw at you. Nostalgia!
One prospect I hyped up in the Fantasy Prospects Report three summers ago was Jayce Hawryluk. But he ran into injury troubles early on and played somewhat poorly when healthy, even seeing some ECHL time last season, and had since fallen off the radar. However, whatever training he did this past offseason sure worked. He’s been flying, posting 28 points in 25 games for Springfield and adding some of the leadership that he had in junior hockey. The Panthers gave him his first recall a week or so ago and he scored the first two goals of his NHL career Sunday. I’m sticking him back on my radar because even if his upside is limited, this team has a ton of top-six talent and as a complementary winger on one of those scoring lines in the future he would really pay dividends.
With three points Sunday, Dylan Strome is up to nine points in 15 games for Chicago. Coach Jeremy Colliton is ignoring his shortcomings and just letting him play, still with either Patrick Kane or his old buddy Alex DeBrincat.
After a couple of weeks on the sidelines (again), Michal Neuvirth was back in action Sunday – and he was stellar. He gave up two goals on 34 shots and I suspect the net is his over Carter Hart’s. Why put pressure on the youngster? And while Hart’s first two games were great, they were a little over-hyped. In his debut, the team came together before him like no other – and then he was gifted the game’s First Star in what I suspect was a ploy by the home team Flyers to boost his confidence, because he was not the First Star. In the second game, it was different. He played great and stole one from the Predators. In the third game, the adrenalin died off and Columbus fired beach balls past him. While his confidence is high, he needs to start the post-Christmas break in the AHL.
The NHL suspended Erik Karlsson for two games for playing hockey and making a great check. I think they whiffed on this one, but it’s a matter of safety and you can’t hit a guy’s head even if he’s ducking down just a little and not paying attention.
In the first game of his suspension, Sunday, Tim Heed drew into the lineup and he scored. On the power play. Yes, he’s a one-dimensional offensive defenseman, but he’s been underutilized (only three games this year) and if the Sharks traded him to a new team I would be putting him squarely on my radar.
Joe Thornton picked up his 1041st assist Sunday, moving him to 10th on the all-time list.
The Leafs have to figure out a way to keep Kasperi Kapanen, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer and will probably make over $5 million in his next contract if he keeps this up (30-goal, 55-point pace, only 22 years old). He’s not better than William Nylander, but to me he is more versatile and he’s clutch. And those are attributes that the team will need over the next few years as opposed to the attributes that Nylander brings and of which they already have in abundance. If the Leafs trade Kapanen and keep Nylander, they would regret it. Not only would Nylander’s return be better, but I really think they would be better off.
Speaking of Kapanen and Nylander, those two are playing with Auston Matthews now. And they looked great together. And to have them go to the bench and then the Leafs send out Mitch Marner and John Tavares, well, that just isn’t fair.
As good as Kapanen’s OT goal was, the Marner/Tavares play the prior shift was amazing (you can see the OT goal by Kapanen in the above highlight starting at 4:04). Would have been goal of the year had Tavares’ shot been three inches lower. I could not find the clip anywhere, and trust me when I say that it’s a shame.
Update: Thanks to kjohnm below, here is the play or at least the tail-end of it…
This is OT. What a lunatic. pic.twitter.com/CsfKDEidNW— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 24, 2018
A couple of things that caught my eye of late, the first of which is Brett Connolly. His two points Saturday give him 22. He’s 26 years old and we’ve long since written him off, but he’s on pace for 52 points now despite just 14 minutes of ice time per game. Both the points pace and ice time are (or would be) career highs. Striker noted under Ian’s Ramblings yesterday that he is 6-3 and “right on schedule”, as Striker has a system which has a breakout year for players after X games, but for bigger players after Y games. Connolly’s breakout, as a bigger player, is happening when it should and is similar to Chris Kreider and Tom Wilson in terms of bigger players and the amount of games played. I endorse Striker’s system as it is similar to my Fourth Year Magic theory, but gets more precise. My fourth-year theory was analyzed and developed in fourth year university – but that was 20 years ago and stats have become more available and precise (obviously). And I’ve always added a couple of years for small players and for power forwards, and his theory again takes that more precisely by assigning it an additional 120 games (correct me if I’m wrong, Striker) and categorizing power forwards as bigger players who are 6-3 or taller. I don’t know what system, if any, he has for smaller players, but I give the Cam Atkinsons, the Hinostrozas and further back the Steve Sullivans and Marty St. Louis-types a couple extra years as well.
Another ‘thing that caught my mind’ is Collin Delia. Corey Crawford’s contract is running out in two seasons and I had earmarked Ivan Nalimov as the guy with the right timing for coming over. Nalimov had a great KHL season last year, he’s big, and he told Chicago brass that he would come over next year. That lines him up perfectly to be a possible backup or AHL apprentice next season, a back or 1B the following year, and then possibly take over after that. The timing works, and for goalie prospects who are decent I always look at the timing. In this case it lined up nicely – just as it lined up a decade ago when I identified a mediocre goalie prospect in Chicago’s system named Corey Crawford. Yes, there were better goalies around, but the timing didn’t fit as nicely as it did for Crawford. So pumped Crawford up in the Fantasy Guide at the time and then drafted him myself. But the situation has changed. Nalimov got off to a decent start, but then broke his wrist and missed almost two months. Then he terminated his contract with his KHL team and signed on with Omsk on a tryout basis. He’s only played one game for them. So I have concerns. But now Collin Delia is having an amazing AHL season and had a great second half there a year ago. And Crawford’s future is a question mark. The latter changes the timeline completely. Instead of looking for a goalie who times it the way I outlined above, I’m suddenly looking for one who is ready now. The only concern with Delia, however, is the upcoming free agent market. Will the Blackhawks sign one of Brian Elliott, Mike Smith, Sergei Bobrovsky, Cam Talbot or Semyon Varlamov? I can’t go all-in on Delia just yet due to that uncertainty, but he has leapfrogged Nalimov in terms of potential keeper league value.
Cam Ward giving up five goals Sunday just sets up Delia for some short-term magic. As long as Ward struggles, Delia will be rushed a little more and I have a hunch he’ll pull through under the pressure. Of course, with Chicago being a weaker team this year, keep expectations limited.
Conor Garland, a 5-10, 165-pound small, skilled player who as I noted above will take extra time to get going, has finally broken out at the AHL level and is now taking advantage of his NHL stint. He has goals in back-to-back games, the first two of his career. I think he’ll finish off the year as an AHL star and will make the team next year – which he’ll have to because starting in 2019-20 he has to clear waivers to be sent down.
Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the lineup now that he’s recovered from his ankle injury. I figured Coach Willie Desjardins didn’t like him, had been rolling his ice time down since taking over and considered him a defensive risk. But Kovalchuk returned Saturday with two goals including the OT winner, and he added an assist Sunday. The ice time is still down and he’s still only second PP unit, so in order to get back to fantasy relevance he’ll have to keep producing despite the lower chances of doing so, and work his way back up to a scoring line. Playing with Brendan Leipsic and Nate Thompson (as he did Sunday) is an insult. I still rate Kovalchuk a ‘sell’ and his getting three points in two games just makes the selling easier.
See you…tomorrow! I’ll be back here for Christmas so when you’re waiting for the family to get their act together and you already have your coat and shoes on – you’ll have something to read.