Duncan Keith returned to Chicago’s lineup on Wednesday night and that resulted in a healthy scratch for Brent Seabrook.

Just as a small aside, it's a wonder what the Blackhawks will do with that Seabrook contract. He basically hasn't been worth his cap hit at any point of his deal and there are still four more years left after this one. It seems the Blackhawks keep trying to reload to win another Cup in their Toews/Kane window and having nearly $7M in dead money on the cap makes it hard to do that. The problem is buying it right now doesn't really do much for them, either. Good luck with all that. 

*

The Red Wings have lent Moritz Seider to Germany and Joe Veleno to Canada for the upcoming World Juniors. That’s a big boost for both nations.

*

Jesper Bratt remained on the top line in New Jersey where he had been once they started scratching Taylor Hall. Something to keep in mind for those desperate in deeper leagues. Just be wary about a lack of peripherals.

*

All hail King Gritty, first of his name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar:

 

 

*

Anaheim has lost Troy Terry until March with a broken bone in his leg. 

The Ducks lost to the Devils 3-1 on Wednesday night and it was the new top line for New Jersey doing most of the damage. Nico Hischier scored, Kyle Palmieri scored, and Jesper Bratt added an assist in the victory. Sami Vatanen also scored, bringing his season total to five goals, the most for him since scoring nine in 2015-16.

MacKenzie Blackwood stopped 26 of 27 shots in the win. Since his first two starts of the year – a back-to-back where he played both ends – he has a .918 save percentage. Not that it’s world-beating but it’s a lot better than it looked early in the year. There’s still something here.

*

The Ducks lost to the Devils 3-1 on Wednesday night and it was the new top line for New Jersey doing most of the damage. Nico Hischier scored, Kyle Palmieri scored, and Jesper Bratt added an assist in the victory. Sami Vatanen also scored, bringing his season total to five goals, the most for him since scoring nine in 2015-16.

MacKenzie Blackwood stopped 26 of 27 shots in the win. Since his first two starts of the year – a back-to-back where he played both ends – he has a .918 save percentage. Not that it’s world-beating but it’s a lot better than it looked early in the year. There’s still something here.

*

Every once in a while, I do a Ramblings on players who are impressing me with their play over a long stretch. I’m not talking a 4-5 game hot streak, but solid, sustained play.

Most of these guys will be rookies, for obvious reasons. Some may be guys who look like different players this year, but most will be first-year players. (I’ll save the pain of reviewing obvious names like Makar or Hughes, as well as players I’ve done dives on recently like Adam Fox.) All could have some fantasy relevance either this year or in the near future.

 

John Marino

Here’s something fun: Marino didn’t start the year in the lineup with the big club, he didn’t register a point through his first 12 games, and he has more points than both Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes. He was averaging just under 17 minutes a game through those first 12 contests, too. In the 20 games since ending his pointless streak, he has 14 points and is playing over 22 minutes a night. It’s pretty impressive stuff for a 22-year old rookie blue liner.

A big concern for the Penguins heading into this year was on the defensive end. They had an oft-injured Kris Letang, a steady Brian Dumoulin, a sometimes-maybe-good-sometimes-maybe-not Justin Schultz, a terrible contract in Jack Johnson, and a bunch of question marks. Marino has been the answer to one of those question marks, particularly defensively. Here’s how the team has fared defensively with him on the ice at 5-on-5 (from Hockey Viz, and the blue parts are where they limit shots compared to league average):

 

 

When you consider that he’s played nearly one-third of his 5-on-5 ice time with Jack Johnson, and has still been able to limit everything from the net-front and slot, it’s quite spectacular.

I think he’s better defensively than he is offensively but Justin Schultz may be gone after this year and there’s no one else in his way for top minutes, aside from the aforementioned, oft-injured Letang. The Penguins got a good one from Harvard, and he and Bryan Rust are big reasons why the Penguins have been able to endure their plethora of injuries.

 

Ethan Bear

For a few years, we’ve been hearing about the depth the Oilers were building on the blue line in the AHL. It was a necessary thing, too, as the team could not afford to keep giving minutes to guys like Matt Benning and Kris Russell.

That depth has started to show through with Ethan Bear’s performance this season. There’s an argument that he’s been the team’s best defenceman at 5-on-5 this year and has certainly transitioned into top-4 minutes seamlessly.

I have one litmus test for Oilers players: how do they fare with Connor McDavid off the ice? Maybe it’s unfair because there are so many mediocre-to-bad players that it should be hard for most players to shine (except for Leon Draisaitl, supposedly, and I’m going to write on that next week). And, as expected, expected goals for and actual goals for both decline dramatically. However, with Bear on the ice without McDavid, the team is still producing an expected goals rate a bit above league average which, again, considering the quality of the rest of the Oilers roster, is nothing short of a miracle. The expected goal share is about break-even, and if the team can break even with McDavid off the ice, that’s a win.

Watching Oilers games, the one thing that always sticks out to me is Bear’s poise. It seems like there’s no panic to his game. That’s something I covet because NHLers should be able to make the easy plays, or the plays with no pressure. It’s making the plays with a guy in your face that matter, and just by my observations, Bear can do that. He’s the type of player that can help create something good out of what should be a negative situation, and those types of players are valuable.

Where he ends up on the depth chart is in the hands of the hockey gods and I’m dubious he becomes the top-pair-PP-quarterback-25-minutes-a-night guy Oilers fans are hoping any one of their prospects can morph into. But I do think he’s a legitimate top-4 guy who will be able to play at both ends of the ice, and that’s something this team desperately needs.    

 

Kirby Dach

There have been some surprises at the draft in recent years. The Habs reaching at three for Jesperi Kotkaniemi was a surprise, team needs be damned. The Red Wings grabbing Moritz Seider at six in the 2019 draft was not expected, either. In that same draft, the Blackhawks grabbed Kirby Dach third overall. Not that it was a huge reach – he was third by CSS in North America – but leaving a defenceman like Bowen Byram on the board when the Blackhawks have *gestures broadly* this as their blue line was certainly a surprise.

I hate using this comparison for two players, but last year I said that Kotkaniemi reminded me of a young Eric Staal. When I watch Dach play hockey, he does as well. But like I said, I don’t want to use that same comparison, so I’ll say Dach reminds me of Jordan Staal. Good? Good.

He reminds me of the Staal brothers not because he’s a tall centre, but the way he moves around the ice, particularly in the offensive zone. He can use his edges, like a super-sized water bug, even if he’s not a great skater at the moment. He also gets to the net almost at will, another Staal hallmark. (Ugh, Staal-mark was right there.) At the least, he looks to be solid defensively very early in his career, and a good two-way centre is something this team desperately needs.

Projecting his future production is not something I’m ready to do at the moment. I mean, just look at the two Staal brothers: Eric has six 30-goal seasons and eight 70-point seasons while Jordan has never reached 30 goals and has never posted more than 50 points. And Jordan has been a very good real-world centre! It’s just we don’t get bonus points for being good defensively in fantasy hockey (at least not directly). What I will say is that he looks every bit the part of a top-6 centre in a couple years, and that’s pretty big for the Blackhawks.

 

Ilya Mikheyev

I’m always wary when teams bring over players from the KHL. Once in a while you get Artemi Panarin, but often you end up with Jiri Sekac, Anton Belov, or Petri Kontiola. Now, we can debate why certain players failed (new country, new league, new language, lack of support from the franchise etc.) but there just isn’t a lengthy track record of success. Mikheyev certainly looks like an exception.

Two things stick out to me: his skating and shooting. The skating has helped him be a good penalty killer and the shooting has helped on the offensive end. For a rookie from the KHL, that’s about as much as can be asked from Mikheyev.

There’s a clear path to fantasy success here as there are two open wing spots in the top-6. There’s been a rotating cast including Kasperi Kapanen, Trevor Moore, Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, and so on, but they haven’t given Mikheyev an extended look outside of when injuries hit hard. That tells me a couple things:

  • They trust the Russian to help carry the third line, which is why he’s remained there. They don’t need him to help carry their top-6 lines, but the other wingers mentioned aren’t capable of doing what he can down the lineup.
  • It’s a matter of time before the top-6 winger wheel stops spinning and lands on Mikheyev’s number.

Mikheyev looks like a real steal for the Leafs. It’ll be interesting to see what his contract demands will be if he can put up 15 goals and 45 points while getting almost no top-6 or top PP exposure, but doing an admirable job on the penalty kill.