January 2, 2016

by steve laidlaw on January 2, 2016

The importance of Gallagher, Spooner filling in for Krejci, World Junior thoughts and more.

The Winter Classic, I hope the folks enjoy the event live because it continues to be a fairly dull and drawn-out affair from a TV standpoint. The whole thing takes far too much time with all the festivities taking place. They can’t even start on time with puck drop coming much later than advertised to the point that it’s insulting. The quality of game is typically bad, usually because of the elements. This year it just seemed like the Bruins didn’t show up. The camera angle is always awful. But it’s hockey on New Year’s Day. What am I gonna’ do, say no?

As mentioned, the Bruins really didn’t show up. Without top forwards David Krejci and Brad Marchand we’ll give them a pass.

Ryan Spooner was the Bruins’ most dangerous forward and he got an assist on their lone goal. That’s three points in two games for Spooner in Krejci’s absence. I was advocating for picking Spooner up before the Bruins lost Krejci, getting bumped up in the lineup is just gravy.

Matt Beleskey scored the lone Bruin goal giving him four goals in the last four games. Looks like a vintage Beleskey hot streak. Be forewarned about how streaky he can be. Those four goals amount to half of his output this season. He’s also a serious injury risk. Beleskey is on pace for about 45 points but likely finishes south of 40 just because of the injuries.

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Just as expected, the return of Brendan Gallagher paid serious dividends for Montreal. Five goals in total with two of them a credit to Gallagher who scored his 10th of the season and added a primary assist on Max Pacioretty’s third period goal that really iced the game when the Bruins were mounting a comeback.

Of course, as we mentioned before, this was a letdown game for the Bruins but this could have been a stinker if not for the play of the Canadiens. I give Gallagher a ton of credit for that. Just a massively important player.

Mike Condon had his best game in over a month turning aside 27 of 28 shots and making some timely saves. Look for him to really get going here.

I keep reading articles talking about giving up on Tomas Plekanec. Stop it. December was death. He scored just one goal and four points in 14 games. I get it. But he just registered two assists to kick 2016 off the right way. He skates with Pacioretty and guess who? Gallagher.

Plekanec’s numbers with Gallagher out: eight points in 17 games.

Plekanec’s numbers with Gallagher in: 22 points in 23 games.

Please keep Plekanec in your lineup. He is about to get hot again. With 30 points in 40 games, I like Plekanec to hit 60 this season.

It wasn’t all positives for the Canadiens as they lost Dale Weise to a wrist injury after a cross-check from Kevan Miller. No word on his status.

Oh and one guy who may not benefit much from the return of Gallagher is Andrei Markov. The Canadiens have been experimenting with a four forward look on their top power-play unit for a little while and that has come at the expense of Markov. He had just four points in 17 games with Gallagher out but it could continue to be quiet.

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Freddie Andersen made his first start in over a week stopping 24 of 25 shots but ultimately lost in the shootout. Back to John Gibson!

Chris Stewart returned to the lineup after four straight healthy scratches and notched a power-play assist skating on the second power-play unit. Stewart hasn’t been particularly good but when he started getting scratched he was the second leading goal-scorer on the Ducks. He was passed by Rickard Rakell and tied by Shawn Horcoff during his time out of the lineup. Six goals is not an impressive total at this point of the season.

Mike Santorelli had perhaps his most impressive statistical game of the season notching a power-play assist and firing off six shots. He also skated 14:10, the third most minutes he has seen this season. Doubtful that this is a jumping off point for Santorelli but it’s worth monitoring if this game thrusts him up the depth chart.

Shea Theodore jumping into the NHL and onto the Ducks’ top power-play unit with Cam Fowler on the shelf is extremely intriguing. Too bad it’s the Ducks’ power play and not that of a strong scoring team.

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Linden Vey notched an assist in just his fifth game of the season. He has shown flashes in the past whenever he has gotten a chance on the top power-play unit. He isn’t there yet but get him back on your radar.

That’s nine straight scoreless games for Alexander Edler. He is in such a great spot as the top offensive defenseman in Vancouver but he has not done nearly enough with the opportunity. Too often he can go silent despite so many minutes with the Sedins. Still a great option in rotisserie leagues though. Edler had four shots, two hits and three blocks, all categories in which he offers tremendous production.

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Looks like a good chance that Ondrej Palat will be in the lineup today. The Triplets are back!

Johnny Boychuk has been placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Brett Pesce has been called up. Was hoping for Ryan Pulock to maybe inject a little more offense into the Islander lineup but no such luck.

More injury news, both Chris VandeVelde and Michael Del Zotto are expected to play against the Kings.

Jeff Carter on the other hand, does not appear to be ready to go.

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There are rumours that David Rundblad could be heading overseas after having been sent to the AHL by the Blackhawks.

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Let’s talk World Juniors! One thing worth mentioning is that a bad performance at this tournament doesn’t necessarily mean that a player won’t develop into a star. Conversely, a good performance doesn’t necessarily ensure stardom but when you have certain expectations for a player and they meet or surpass them (one way or the other) than it does help to confirm some things. For instance, a couple of weeks back I mentioned six names to really take a look at in your keeper leagues: Joe Hicketts, Colin White, Christian Dvorak, Sonny Milano, Brayden Point and Vili Saarijarvi. Almost all of those guys have lived up to their billing but let’s take it case by case.

Hicketts – Hasn’t been the world-beater you’d hope for as a returning player and most experienced defenseman the Canadians have. He has had some really good stretches though, particularly showing as Canada’s player of the game in a tough one against Switzerland.

I have had my confidence shaken regarding Hicketts’ upside as a pro. Maybe he isn’t a future power-play quarterback. I do still see pro skills there, however. The puck-moving ability is first and foremost but that Hicketts is willingly physical and can dish it out as good as he can take it bodes well for his pro prospects.

The Red Wings defenseman who really intrigues me, however, is…

Saarijarvi – Also a diminutive puck-mover, Saarijarvi boasts a huge shot and a real shiftiness on the blueline. Watching him you certainly see why folks compare him to countryman Sami Vatanen. He has a cannon of a shot and a real accuracy with it. He is also really clever at making slight movements to change angles and create shooting lanes for himself. You can see a real future as a power-play quarterback.

White – Moving onto the Americans top line to replace disappointing 2016 draft eligible forward Alex Debrincat has allowed White to grab the spotlight. He is just a really talented two-way forward. I don’t know that the upside is huge for White at the next level but he is clearly capable offensively and does all the little things well enough to mesh with anyone.

I’d heard some Dylan Larkin comparisons with regard to White and passed them along here. Those would seem to be comparisons in personality and attitude only as White is not the player that Larkin is. But Larkin is some kind of special with his speed/skating. I’ve no doubt White could make a strong push to crack the Senators’ roster next season, if not this spring come playoff time but I don’t think he’d have anywhere the immediate impact Larkin has had. So file White under the heading: sure pro, questionable upside.

Dvorak/Milano – I had expected Dvorak, Milano and White to shine on the second line for the US but that top line with 2016 draft eligible Austin Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk has come as advertised and really grabbed the spotlight once White was bumped up with them. As such Dvorak and Milano have been a bit overshadowed. They have been really good but you do wonder if this doesn’t flash their future at the next level, as second liners or secondary scorers on teams with real superstars.

Nothing wrong with that fate, mind you. All I am saying is don’t expect an 80-point season from either one at the NHL level without some help.

Point – This is where we have to talk about failing to live up to expectations. Point came into this tournament injured and may still be nursing that injury. I expected him to be the offensive catalyst for a team with a ton of talent but not a whole lot of experience. So far, for whatever reason, Point just hasn’t been that guy. I know better than to write this kid off but I came in expecting Tyler Johnson 2.0. The irony of course is that we may be seeing exactly that in that Point is a talented and creative player struggling through injury.

Now how about some players who weren’t listed?

I won’t touch on the draft eligibles too much because most of you can’t do anything with that information right now. So while Matthews, Tkachuk, Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrick Laine and Alex Nylander have been the most dynamic offensive talents in the tournament we’ll skip over them. Plus, if you don’t know about these guys, well then you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.

We’ll start with Zach Werenski because there are rumblings that he may be looking to turn pro as soon as this tournament ends. That would be something.

The Blue Jackets could certainly use some help on defense though I am not sure an 18-year-old with no pro experience is what the doctor ordered for that team. Consider that by many accounts Noah Hanifin, drafted three spots ahead of Werenski is the better player and while he has grabbed a spot on the Carolina blueline he hasn’t grabbed a huge spot, nor had he been without hiccups. I would bet against Werenski making an impact at the NHL level this season.

This will really rile some of you guys up. Let’s say Werenski does get a crack at the NHL roster in the second half. How do you think things go with John Tortorella the first time he makes a rookie mistake?

I like the prospects of Werenski turning pro, however. The sooner, the better. He could go to the AHL right away, which would be a great training ground. He’d join Milano on the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate.

As for Werenski’s performance at the tournament, he has been exactly as expected. Not explosive but just smooth as hell.

Another prospect who we may see make an impact in the NHL this season is Adrian Kempe. I don’t like him as a standalone offensive talent but Kempe is a big forward with a big shot. Put him in the right spot and there could be fireworks. For instance, we’ve seen how great things have gone for the Kings with Tyler Toffoli skating with Anze Kopitar. We can’t imagine that will continue forever with Darryl Sutter’s proclivities for spreading the offense around but perhaps Kempe gets a shot with Kopitar at some point. That would be electric.

It’s tough to see Kempe breaking in right away. Rookies don’t get too much rope under Sutter.

One prospect who continues to underwhelm is Kasperi Kapanen. I have no doubt that he could be a pro but based on what I have seen I have real questions about his upside as a scorer. Maybe he has been unlucky or there is some development that hasn’t taken place but I see third line written all over this one.

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For more help in your fantasy hockey pool in the second half of the season pick up the Dobber Hockey Mid-Season Guide for $9.99. The Mid-Season Guide will be out January 8th.

You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.