In this week’s Eastern Edge, we take a look at a few underappreciated hot streaks from the Eastern Conference. As always, shoot me a message on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza if there’s anything you want me to cover in one of these articles.

 

Bryan Rust

By now, most of you have probably heard that Bryan Rust has stepped up big time for a Pittsburgh team that’s suffered a lot of injuries. Sure, I knew he was playing well, but I didn’t quite appreciate how well he was playing. With 43 points through 35 contests, Bryan Rust has put up 1.23 points per game this season – only 11 players in the league have outperformed that pace. I’d say he finds himself among some pretty elite company…

 

Rank

Player

GP

G

A

P

P/GP

1

Connor McDavid

49

27

49

76

1.55

2

Leon Draisaitl

49

27

48

75

1.53

3

Nathan MacKinnon

49

30

42

72

1.47

4

Artemi Panarin

47

26

42

68

1.45

5

David Pastrnak

50

37

33

70

1.40

6

Evgeni Malkin

36

15

35

50

1.39

7

Jonathan Huberdeau

48

18

46

64

1.33

8

Brad Marchand

50

21

44

65

1.30

9

Jack Eichel

48

28

34

62

1.29

T10

Patrick Kane

50

24

38

62

1.24

T10

Mitchell Marner

38

13

34

47

1.24

12

Bryan Rust

35

21

22

43

1.23

13

John Carlson

49

13

47

60

1.22

14

Sidney Crosby

21

8

17

25

1.19

15

Auston Matthews

49

34

23

57

1.16

16

Nikita Kucherov

47

22

32

54

1.15

T17

Aleksander Barkov

48

16

37

53

1.10

T17

Jake Guentzel

39

20

23

43

1.10

19

Mika Zibanejad

34

18

19

37

1.09

20

Mark Schiefele

49

23

39

53

1.08

 

Among players that made the list above, Rust is the only one you’d be able to find outside the top-100 in your fantasy draft – if he was even drafted. In all fairness, this wasn’t exactly the most predictable breakout. The 27-year-old forward had been scoring at a 40-point-pace over the past three seasons. With all the offensively-gifted players in Pittsburgh, it was hard to envision Rust taking on a bigger role with the team. However, as we know now, a slew of injuries brought him new opportunity and he’s made the absolute most of it. He’s been on the ice for nearly 20 minutes each night – a huge step up from the 16 minutes he was averaging last year. A chance on the power play has also helped boost his production, he has 12 points with the man advantage over his last 26 games, while averaging three minutes of PPTOI. With Jake Guentzel sidelined for the next few months, I expect Rust to continue thriving as (one of?) Pittsburgh’s best options on the wing.  With that being said, he is scoring on a seemingly unsustainable 19.3-percent of his shots. So while I expect him to remain productive over the final stretch, he might not be able to maintain this same offensive pace.

 

Chris Kreider

Artemi Panarin leads the league in scoring since November 1st, tallying 58 points in 37 games since that date. While Panarin’s production has been well documented, another member of the Rangers hasn’t received much recognition for his offensive output.  Overall, Chris Kreider has posted 31 points in 47 games, which isn’t that impressive. However, 18 of those points came in his last 19 games as he finds himself in the middle of a hot streak. He’s been shooting the puck a lot more during this recent run off success, averaging about three shots per game.

 

Dylan Larkin

I understand if you’re disappointed that Larkin tallied just 35 points through 50 games this season. However, a closer look reveals that he’s posted 13 points in his last 12 contests after managing 22 in his first 38. Larkin scored on just 7.0-percent of his shots during the first half of the campaign, which is considerably lower than the 11.1-percent success rate he posted last year. Based on career numbers, you’d expect him to score on roughly nine to 10-percent of his attempts. While Larkin has been averaging nearly four minutes of power-play time during his current 12-game hot streak, he’s managed just two points with the man advantage. It’s hard to rely on any of the Red Wings for power-play production when Detroit has converted on just 14.4-percent of their opportunities this year. They were much better last season, scoring on 18.1-percent of their chances. It’s strange because if anything, the roster has improved since then. The team’s struggles aren’t limited to the power play, as they’re averaging a league-worst 2.12 goals for per game.

Over the past couple of years, Larkin has managed to register a point on 75-percent of goals scored while he’s on the ice. This season, that number sits way down at 55-percent. Larkin is undoubtedly one of Detroit’s best players, so I expect he’ll factor into the offense more during the second half of the campaign.

 

 

Oliver Bjorkstrand

It’s no longer a secret that Oliver Bjorkstrand is a really valuable fantasy hockey asset – or is it? If you’re an avid reader here at DobberHockey, you know that Bjorkstrand has been endorsed by most of us over the past few months – especially Dobber himself. However, it surprises me that Bjorkstrand is only owned in 21-percent of Yahoo Leagues. Sure, I understand that he’s been sidelined for the past month with a rib injury, so maybe that partially explains his low ownership. However, he was back in the lineup on Sunday and scored two goals in his return, so there’s really no excuse to leave him sitting on your waiver wire anymore. While he started the season with just six points in his first 19 games, he went on to tally 19 points in his next 19 contests. Bjorkstrand is seeing over 17 minutes of ice time per game, marking a huge step up from the 12 and a half minutes he was averaging last year. His role on the power play has also increased as he’s skating with the man advantage for an average of two and a half minutes each night. Bjorkstand is also establishing himself as a high-volume shooter, putting up 3.46 shots per game – only 14 players in the league shoot at a higher rate.

 

Jakub Vrana

Vrana’s production this season is made even more impressive when you take a look at his ice-time and realize he’s scoring at a 67-point pace despite averaging just 15 minutes of action a night. He actually leads the league in goals per 60 minutes and is quickly emerging as one of the league’s most efficient scorers. It’s worth mentioning that Vrana has gradually earned a bigger role with the team through his strong play. As you can see from the table below, his ice time has increased during each quarter of the season. 

 

 

He’s found himself on Washington’s top power-play for a couple of stretches this season. While he has been productive during those stretches, he’ll never be guaranteed a spot on the top unit. Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson have generated favourable results with the man advantage over the past few years and can easily be reunited at any point.  With that being said, Vrana hasn’t been overly reliant on power-play production to boost his offensive output this season, as just eight of his 40 points came on the man advantage. The 23-year-old forward has nine points in his last eight games and should continue to grow into a strong option in fantasy hockey leagues as his role increases over the next few years.