Ramblings: Thoughts on Hellebuyck, Garland, Blackwood, Huberdeau, Gourde, Wallmark and more (Dec 30)

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An injury to Alexis Lafreniere does not knock him out of the first overall selection this summer. Kudos to the talking heads for the NHL and the networks for floating the idea. But an NHL GM would be crazy to overlook him. You see this every year:

John Tavares is going to be a star, but watch out for this Matt Duchene kid, a team could surprise and take him.” Um, no.

“Taylor vs. Tyler.” Um, no. Taylor.

“Ovechkin is a generational player, but this other Russian Malkin is also going to be generational and you could see him actually going first overall instead.” Nope.

Auston Matthews but…Patrik Laine!” Yeah…no.

Connor McDavid is an elite player, but watch out for Jack Eichel who could unseat…” No!

It’s a time-honored tradition. Casting doubt on the top overall pick when it’s been established a full year before the draft even happens. And while I appreciate the attempt at fake drama, it never works. The only time there is any drama with those top two picks is when those top two picks are up in the air from the very beginning, such as with Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

Alexis Lafreniere. Period.

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Connor Hellebuyck is in a bit of a tailspin right now. Giving up three goals on 27 shots isn’t that terrible, but dating back to December 10 he is 2-4-1, 3.75 GAA and 0.884 SV% in eight games. I’m not overly worried about him, it’s just a matter of weathering the storm. Unfortunately, in one league I had him in my lineup for the week.

Jaden Schwartz is on fire. With two goals Sunday he now has 11 points in his last six games. The last time he did anything like this was early in the 2017-18 season. He’s still trying to find that other winger to play with he and Brayden Schenn. Sunday it was Ivan Barbashev. But that’s still a work in progress. Schenn and Schwartz seem to be doing just fine with the revolving door linemate. Vladimir Tarasenko is usually the other guy, but as you know he is out for the season.

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Wow, so if you see that John Hayden is getting into the lineup on a given night for the Devils, you may want to take a flier on him if your league counts PIM. For the second time in three games he racked up 17 PIM. The 24-year-old is fighting for his NHL career so if that means stepping up his aggressive game and dropping the gloves, that seems to be what he’s doing.

Nikita Gusev is figuring it out. With another goal Sunday he has eight points in six games. His ice time is eking upwards to around 15 minutes now. He’s still playing with the pluggers Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac, but he’s converting nonetheless. And he’s also cashing in on the PP.

Sami Vatanen had three points for the Devils, all assists. He has six assists during a current four-game points streak. Meanwhile PK Subban continues to struggle, even with over two minutes given to him on the power play.

Mackenzie Blackwood to me is not a great or even a good goaltender. But his number is called, so he’s the guy for an NHL team – and he’s been adequate. Is he the new Martin Jones? He is if he gets a head-scratcher of a massive contract. But for now, his job is not secure and if he ends the season with a lot of wins behind what I think is a pretty good team, but with a SV% that sits at 0.906, then he may be destined to become a backup. His contract is up in the summer and he is an RFA. If I’m his agent I try my best to lock him at $3M for at least a couple of years. Because I think at $3M you get the team to hesitate in bringing in a top UFA, which opens the door for Blackwood to remain a starter and possibly put up better numbers, which in turn gets a huge contract in the future. If he’s signed to $2M or if he’s allowed to head into the summer without a contract, you risk the Devils signing a Robin Lehner or a Braden Holtby or a Jacob Markstrom. And then Blackwood’s fantasy value is toast. It’s a situation to watch.

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Erik Brannstrom only has four points this season but the rookie defenseman has two of them in his last four games heading into Sunday. He was given 2:46 of PP time, his second highest total all season. His bread and butter will be offense, don’t worry. But he’s still only 20, so the payoff could and probably will be several years away.

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Joonas Korpisalo suffered an injury on Sunday. Not during the game. Not during overtime. But in the shootout. It doesn’t look like much, but I think he tweaked his groin. This clip doesn’t show him leaving the game with help. But in the Toews’ goal Korpisalo slides to the left and pulled something. Next Chicago shooter goes in and you’ll notice it is on Elvis Merzlikins.

So Elvis looks to be the guy for the foreseeable future and to be honest I think this is his chance to finally prove himself. Consistent games is what Elvis needs. A good, consistent workload.

The 5-4 Nathan Gerbe is 32 years old. He’s a former Dobber Darling and he actually showed flashes of seeing his true potential during his 20s. But he got hurt a lot, always at inopportune times, and the clock ran out. Now he is on a team with very little forward depth and now the Blue Jackets have key offensive wingers sidelined. So they recalled Gerbe who is having a solid AHL season with 25 points in 30 games. And he’s getting solid minutes. In three games with the big club he has two points, seven SOG and six PIM.

I love hearing John Tortorella sound off. Brutal honesty. And he’s not wrong here, either.

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With an assist on Sunday, rookie Dominik Kubalik now has eight points in his last 11 games. The torrid shooting rate that we saw in the early goings has certainly slowed, but given his ice time I think a 170-shots forward will be pretty solid for a first-year player. The 24-year-old had 49 shots in the first 19 games and then 30 shots in his next 19 games. It would sit him around 110th among forwards and last year only nine forwards with that many shots on goal failed to reach the 40-point mark. I think it’s a promising start, although given Chicago’s lineup and where the pieces will like fall into place for next year, his upside may hit a ceiling as a second liner.

At this point Robin Lehner is finally running with the starting job for Chicago, getting four of the last five starts (and coming on in relief in the fifth one). He won all four of those games. In fact, Lehner is 5-0-0, 2.51 and 0.927 in his last six games. If the Hawks lean on him like this in the second half then he’s going to get Vezina talk. Of goalies who have played at least 20 games, Lehner sits tied for second in SV% with 0.926 (tied with Ben Bishop, and behind Darcy Kuemper’s 0.929). His QS% (minimum 20 games) has him seventh with 60.9%

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After getting just three points in his first 21 games, Ryan Donato has 10 in his last 16 with his goal Sunday. Getting away from the anchor that is Victor Rask and the other anchor Ryan Hartman sure helps. He clicks better with Kevin Fiala and Sunday the two of them were alongside Joel Eriksson Ek. His ice time is still being held down and he’s not getting much in the way of PP time, so we need to wait for those things before we anoint him as arriving. But his 27 SOG in the last 11 games is very promising. I love heavy shot totals, I think they are great indicators.

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The Bruins rolled with a four forward PP unit and Danton Heinen was the fourth forward. Not Jake DeBrusk, who scored twice. Not Charlie Coyle. But Heinen. He was given five minutes of man-advantage ice time with the best line in the NHL and couldn’t convert. Both of DeBrusk’s goals were scored on the power play with the second unit. Anyway, this speaks to what the team and coach think of Heinen and where they expect his career to head. But a coach only has so much patience. Heinen is pointless in five games and in fact has picked up a point in just two of the last 15 games that he’s played in.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old DeBrusk has six points in his last seven games, with three PPPts.

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Andreas Athanasiou: Quest to Reach Minus-100 (A DobberHockey Feature)

Last week: minus-36

Since: plus-1

Season: minus-35

Pace: minus-76

Oof. The dream is starting to fade quickly thanks to one ‘good’ week.

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Yanni Gourde has 45 points in his last 97 games – or a 38-point pace. At 28 years of age, he’s smack dab in his prime and he still has five-and-a-half seasons on his contract that has an AAV of $5.17M. He signed that sweet deal and mailed it in. I traded his ass for Conor Garland on Sunday in one of my leagues.

Ondrej Palat has played over 43% of his ES shifts with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, but only recently has he started to cash in on this. He has six points in his last five games, though pretty much held off of the top PP unit in favor of Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn (four-forward unit).

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Oh boy this is nuts. Jonathan Huberdeau with another four points on Sunday, bringing him to 53 on the season and he now sits sixth in NHL scoring. He’s slightly ahead of Jack Eichel and slightly behind Nathan MacKinnon. Does he have as much fantasy trade value as those guys? Hell no. Should he? I’m starting to think he should. This isn’t just a hot streak, the guy has been elite for five quarters now. He has 130 points in his last 103 games. MacKinnon has 126 in his last 102. You tell me.

Nick Suzuki is on a five-game points streak, culminating in a three-assists effort Sunday. He has eight points in those five contests. He is doing well on a line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen.

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Conor Garland, mentioned above, has been put on the Taylor Hall line (with Christian Dvorak). As I said one week ago right here in this column, Phil Kessel should be taken off of the line and Garland should be put on it. I am shocked that this happened so quickly, as I had honestly figured it would take weeks. But here we are. And Garland picked up a goal and an assist. That gives him three points and 10 SOG in two games on that line.

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Although Denis Gurianov still fights for ice time (just 10:45 Sunday), he has put together a five-game points streak. He is playing with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski.

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Carolina winger Lucas Wallmark has 10 points in his last 10 games. I noticed this when sifting through some waiver options. I’ve always felt that he was an underrated player, but since he has zero Golden Boy status I feel like he’ll forever be buried on a checking line. He had been putting up some points lately playing with Martin Necas and Ryan Dzingel, but he was taken off that line Saturday and put back on a checking line. He still scored. He’s fighting for respect. Keep an eye on the situation.

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See you Monday.