December 8, 2015

by steve laidlaw on December 8, 2015

Vrbata hat-trick proves he still has relevance, Loui Eriksson stays hot, sticking with Eichel and more.

Hat-trick for Radim Vrbata! There’s the depth scoring the Canucks have desperately needed. This ends a four-game scoreless drought. Obviously there is no buying low after a hatty but I point out that I have maintained Vrbata’s relevance.

60 points? No. Not without skating with the Sedins full time. But 25-30 goals and 50 points? Definitely. He still skates on the top power-play unit so there are scoring chances to be had. Every time I watch the Canucks Vrbata is getting chances. Admittedly, I am not watching every game but the point stands.

Vrbata is ninth in the league in shots with 97, tied with Patrick Kane and has finally seen his shooting percentage climb to 9.0%, which is just about his career average. Vrbata is on pace for 27 goals and 45 points but he will pick it up a little more yet.

Our old friend Thomas Drance looks at some of the tough decisions the Canucks may be facing should they continue to fade.

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Every time I think about dropping Jack Eichel in my one-year leagues I make sure to watch him play and I am reminded that he is awesome. His situation kind of stinks especially with some of the veteran wing options not really working out as planned (looking at you, Matt Moulson.) But if you believe in the notion of a young team improving as the season wears on under a new head coach then you can envision Eichel having a big second-half run. Something akin to Steven Stamkos’ rookie season where he started dreadfully slow and finished with 32 points in his final 39 games.

A big part of the Stamkos rookie struggles was a minutes thing and that’s not the case with Eichel who is skating almost 19 minutes a night but I like the principle and am sticking with it.

Maybe that is all delusion and the only Sabre centerman really worth owning is Ryan O’Reilly who is on a five-game scoring streak.

By the way, Moulson skated a season low 11:07 last night and has been relegated to the third line. Hopefully he is rotting on an opponents’ roster.

Here’s a neat look at how Evander Kane is hitting his stride with the Sabres following their win the other night against Detroit.

Kane’s relentless forecheck in Nashville allowed him to set up Ryan O’Reilly for an empty-net goal. His physicality got under the skin of Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, leading to a successful power play that got the Sabres back in the game. Kane’s speed forced the Red Wings into an overtime penalty that gave Buffalo a chance to win it.

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Battle of the backups in Boston between Carter Hutton and Jonas Gustavsson. Poor Gustavsson was stuck playing behind what was clearly a tired Bruins team and suffered the loss stopping 30 of the 33 shots sent his way but I would defy any goalie to stop the ones that went in.

For instance, Roman Josi went all Bobby Orr for his second goal of the night. Josi also fought Brad Marchand, which should endear him to all. His ability to rush the puck is what makes him the best defenseman on the Predators. Yeah, even better than Shea Weber, who had two assists.

I talked more about the Weber-Josi situation on Sunday so I won’t pile on.

Viktor Arvidsson, a depth prospect I have trumpeted before had himself a great night. He scored the game-winner and fired six shots. Great stat-line right there. This was his second straight game with a goal, which is a great way to avoid getting sent back down.

Arvidsson has proven he can score at the AHL level so there isn’t much more for him to learn there. Just needs to bring the energy consistently. He has a little Brendan Gallagher in him as a diminutive righty-hander who can pile up the shots. He shows flashes of the same dogged play as well but I haven’t seen it with the same relentless consistency. That’s the next step.

Short-term, Arvidsson’s upside is limited because he simply isn’t skating enough minutes averaging 12 minutes a night while stuck behind James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson on the wing depth chart.

There might be room for Arvidsson to gain real relevance if the Preds had real center depth so he wasn’t stuck lining up with Cody Hodgson. It would also help if they didn’t roll with two defensemen on both power-play units, which has him seeing no power-play time. Those are fantasy owner problems, however. Arvidsson is making for a perfectly reasonable depth winger for Nashville.

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Jimmy Hayes, Dennis Seidenberg and Colin Miller were all scratched again for the Bruins. I did see some stuff about Miller being nicked up but it appears that Hayes and Seidenberg were both healthy scratches. They might have used their rested legs last night. It will be interesting to see how Hayes responds. Definitely seems like the kind of player who comes back from a scratch with a little hot streak.

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Horrific game between Minnesota and Colorado. The game went to overtime and the teams still combined for just 40 shots. 20 apiece each. Blech. Ryan Suter even acknowledged that it was a boring contest.

I will say this, Jason Pominville did not look terrible helping to generate a few chances in a game that had far too few. He is up to four points in the last five games. Also, he has nine points in 15 games since the start of November. Totally arbitrary and completely underwhelming but nine in 15 is a 49-point pace. It’s something. Not sure he has a higher pace in him not skating on the top PP unit any longer.

That’s all I have to say about this game.

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Some excellent news on the injury front: the Sharks have activated Logan Couture off the IR. I’ve made pitches for him in a couple of leagues but to no avail. People believe strongly in Couture, even though he’s never proven to be more than a 65-point guy. Mind you, a consistent 65-point guy is mighty valuable in this climate.

Couture will help push the Sharks’ power play from middle of the pack to the upper echelon. That’s good news for Joe Thornton who has floundered with one point in his last eight games.

What happens to Joel Ward will be interesting. He will lose his spot on the top PP unit but Couture’s arrival could help him sustain a high level of production at even strength. He may not fall off as much as you might expect.

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Interesting tidbit here on Valeri Nichushkin maintaining his spot on the Stars’ top line:

"I thought he did a great job," Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News on Friday. "He just keeps getting better and better. There's no secret. If you keep playing well, you're going to get to play."

I caution against getting too excited because Nichushkin has never proven consistent enough to hang onto that top line spot. You have to figure at some point it all clicks and he never looks back. Getting the timing right is the key. As always, better to be too early than too late.

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Alex Semin has been placed on waivers by the Canadiens. I wonder if there is a team out there willing to give him a shot. Obviously, we will find out by noon today but as I type this up it remains an unknown. You’d figure that he has enough talent that there would be some team with low expectations and a glaring need who would take a chance. Carolina would be perfect, if he hadn’t already washed in and out of there.

The team who might want to take a look is Vancouver. Sure they have Vrbata for depth scoring but not much else. Could Semin give them some punch? Just a thought.

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Adam Gretz looks at five underappreciated players this season including Loui Eriksson who scored last night:

Currently playing in a contract year, Eriksson is experiencing a huge bounceback season and is one of the driving forces behind a surprising offense that is surged to the top of the NHL to help keep a pourous defensive team in the playoff race. While some of that might be the result of some good luck (that 20 percent shooting percentage is almost certain to come down at some point) he has been a great two-way player, while the duo of Eriksson and David Krejci has been particularly strong, outscoring opponents 14-6 during 5-on-5 play while controlling more than 53 percent of the shot attempts.

The shooting percentage is high but more importantly, Eriksson is healthy and getting the big minutes required to be a fantasy producer. He is up to over 20 minutes a night with nearly three coming on the brilliant Bruins power play. He hasn’t skated this high a percentage of his team’s power-play minutes since his days in Dallas. Only 14 forwards in the league are skating more minutes on a per-game basis than Eriksson. He’s back, baby!

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Sounds like the Blues will try Magnus Paajarvi on the top line tomorrow night. Let’s not fall for this one after how the Jori Lehtera experiment didn’t even last a full game. That said, Ken Hitchcock’s quote on the matter is worth relating:

"He's got to look at this as a chance of a lifetime and hopefully he takes advantage of it."

Doesn’t get any more straight-forward than that.

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After adding Manny Malhotra last week, the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate has signed former NHLer Jan Hejda to a tryout. Not much in the way of fantasy relevance but considering the trade market is null and void this is what amounts to transaction news.

If Hejda can get himself up to speed I envision him having a real impact for the Jackets this season. They definitely have use for another defenseman or two.

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A couple of Hurricanes pieces today. First, Sean McIndoe asks if the Hurricanes really are bad. Meanwhile, Elliotte Friedman examines if the situation in Carolina resembles the one in Atlanta prior to the Thrashers being relocated.

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TSN takes an interesting look at what the NHL might look like in 2020.

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Ian Gooding gives us some goalies to start or sit this week.

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Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.