Letang hurt, Tarasenko finds another gear, what to make of Brad Hunt and more.
The Ducks made some intriguing changes to their lethal top power play unit, putting Rickard Rakell in Corey Perry’s spot and Shea Theodore in Sami Vatanen’s. Both Perry and Vatanen were fine and skated on the second power play unit. The Ducks went 0/3 with the man-advantage so we may not see these changes stick.
Two more points for Rakell, though obviously none came on the PP. Rakell’s upside would spike by five points if he could stick on that top unit for the rest of the season but I wouldn’t count on it. Look for him to finish in the 55-60 -point range.
Vatanen notched an assist giving him 13 points on the season. Eight of those have come on the PP. If he’s on the second unit, we can start thinking about dropping Vatanen entirely.
Look at the passing by the Blackhawks:
Good grief. These guys are silly.
As crazy as it is that a quarter of Artem Anisimov’s shots have gone in, you understand why on plays like this. And it’s not like Anisimov is some shmuck. He’s always been a high percentage shooter because of his ability to go to the dirty areas. Now he is getting consistent time as the Blackhawks’ net-front man. A 30-goal/65-point season looks to be in the cards.
I rarely mention Artemi Panarin because his excellence was established last season and the genius that he and Patrick Kane put on display nightly is so palpable but with six points in the last three games, Panarin is back among the top-10 in league scoring. He’ll linger there all season.
The Anders Lee yo-yo continues. He was on the top line and scored a goal. I can only assume that this means he’ll be back on the fourth line. Either way, he is on quite the hot streak with eight goals and 10 points in the past 11 games and makes for an excellent short-term pickup. I scooped him up because of the Islanders’ Thursday/Friday/Sunday schedule to close this week.
The upside for Lee is probably 40-45 points, which isn’t bad considering his slow start. Scoring in that range would mean around 30 points the rest of the way.
Andrew Ladd also scored a goal, and fired six SOG. He’s still being used in a secondary role so don’t jump back on board just yet. I’d rather roll with Lee than Ladd.
Eakin takes Lundqvist out of the game pic.twitter.com/7dDIpK3QfC— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 16, 2016
I’ve long maintained that if goalies want to play the puck, they should be eligible to be hit. That said, the hit by Eakin wouldn’t be clean on anyone. Not sure what Eakin was thinking but he’ll be getting a suspension for that hit.
Lundqvist would return to the game and blanked the Stars. You can all breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, because Antti Raanta was in goal for a few minutes, Lundqvist does not officially get a shutout, which is somewhat disappointing.
Rick Nash was also back for the Rangers and scored a shorthanded game-winner after a gaff by Jamie Benn. Nash is probably only a 50-55 -point guy but he can still pile up goals at a high rate. He has 116 goals in 276 games as a Ranger. That’s a 34-goal pace per 82 games.
Jiri Hudler has one point in three games since returning to the lineup and hasn’t skated more than 15 minutes in any of those games. He is skating on Jason Spezza’s wing so we will finally see if these two can make some magic. I don’t have high expectations for Hudler but if he scored around 30 points the rest of the way, I would be satisfied.
It sounds like Julius Honka may be ready to return to the lineup. The Stars are carrying nine defensemen and will need to find a forward replacement for Eakin, assuming he misses some time. Something will have to give but I think Honka has done enough to stick around a little longer.
Brad Hunt now has a point in each of his four games with the Blues. Not bad. I watched him a few times with the Oilers last season and wasn’t overly impressed but the fit in St. Louis is a cleaner, since they have the horses to use him in an insulated role. Watch him setup Vladimir Tarasenko for a chance in front:
Brad Hunt setting up some chances. Note the play by Fabbri as well. pic.twitter.com/GhEeP9w4FH— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) December 16, 2016
My gut tells me to put Hunt into the TJ Brennan class of AHL studs who just aren’t quite good enough for the NHL but the NHL game is shifting. Brennan has also proven a tremendous liability who piles up penalties at every level. Hunt has avoided penalties as a professional.
The bottom line is that he is skating less than 14 minutes per game, while filling in for an injured Carl Gunnarson. I don’t see him beating out the veteran, even if he is offering an offensive dynamic. It’s not necessarily one that they need considering the options on the roster. Hunt is a short-term play.
It’s also worth pointing out that Hunt has come up at the perfect time as Tarasenko and Robby Fabbri are torching teams. Tarasenko has 10 points in the last five games, of which eight of those have been assists. His playmaking has hit another level, which makes him a much more dynamic weapon and fantasy option. He’s moving from an Ovechkin Jr. into genuine superstar territory with his passing skills. Now we are looking at a 40-goal guy who might also setup another 40+ goals. I wasn’t sure he’d find this next gear but 31 games in he appears to have. He sits all alone in second in league scoring with 37 points.
The way that Tarasenko and Nikita Kucherov are busting out is changing the dynamics of the RW position. Before the season, I had Patrick Kane and Joe Pavelski all alone as top tier options, followed by Kucherov, Tarasenko, Jakub Voracek, Perry and Blake Wheeler in the second tier. Kucherov and Tarasenko have butted into tier one. You could argue that Voracek has as well.
Over the holidays I am going to have to revisit my tiered rankings. I think that would be a fun exercise for all.
Last thought on Hunt. His presence has pushed Alex Steen into a secondary role in terms of power play usage. Steen has just one point in four games since Hunt hit the lineup.
Cory Schneider won’t stink all season but the defense in front him might. Considering he is locked in the league’s toughest division, I am starting to lose confidence in getting elite play out of him. You can’t drop him but suddenly being cautious about who you play him against has become a factor.
Both Beau Bennett and PA Parenteau were healthy scratches last night. Parenteau recently had a three-game scoring streak but has been more cold than hot for over a month now. He is starting to fall out of favour and makes for obvious trade bait if the Devils keep sliding out of the playoff picture. Of course, Parenteau was on waivers to start the season so it is doubtful that the Devils would get a strong return.
Nino Niederreiter has 10 points in his last 10 games. When he is on, he is a force to be reckoned with:
Niederreiter beasting on Ellis. pic.twitter.com/dHTXPKyrRy— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) December 16, 2016
For whatever reason Niederreiter is still skating just 14:40 per game, with merely second unit PP time. On a lot of teams, he might be breaking out in the prime years of his career but on a team with Minnesota’s depth, he is caught in the numbers game.
I wonder about the early progression of Andrew Ladd when I think about Niederreiter. He might have to land on a bad team before he gets used in a top role. Niederreiter is a restricted free agent this summer and is arbitration eligible. He is going to command a lot to stick around. I wonder if he isn’t a cap casualty.
A lot may depend on if the Wild lose Jonas Brodin (or another big contract) in the expansion draft. Brodin’s contract isn’t even that large but the Wild currently have $12 million in projected cap space for next season with Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula to re-sign.
Pekka Rinne has allowed three goals or more in seven straight starts. The Predators are scoring enough to help him win a decent number of those games but the bottom line is that he hasn’t had a quality start in the month of December. The Predators are playing such a risky brand that Rinne has to be special and at this stage he can’t be special every night.
It took a trip to Winnipeg to face the Jets and the league’s third worst penalty kill but the Panthers finally exploded on the power play going 3/3 with the man-advantage. Because they did it against the lowly Jets we should take this with a grain of salt. In fact, the five power-play goals the Panthers have scored since Tom Rowe took over have all come against bottom-five penalty kills. The good news is the get the Sabres and the second worst PK in the league on Tuesday.
Anthony DeAngelo has two points in four games since being recalled. I think we can all agree he shouldn’t be demoted again.
Some folks are disappointed with the season Oliver Ekman-Larsson is having. They drafted him for elite production and he has been merely decent. It should be noted that last season was an outlier in terms of point production. Most seasons he has produced right around the 40-45 range. Without much in the way of scoring from his teammates OEL hasn’t been getting the assists necessary to drive past the 50-point plateau. It’s tough to see where that scoring will come from.
What’s really concerning is that his shot volume is down nearly a full shot per game. Obviously, he can still sling it, as evidenced by his goal last night, but with teams taking him away his shot, he has become less valuable to fantasy owners. At merely two SOG per game, OEL is suddenly ordinary. He is still good so we aren’t talking about someone you should drop but kicking the tires on trades would make a lot of sense. I would proposition the Letang owner right now.
Kris Letang has a lower-body injury, out a few weeks, per Mike Sullivan.— Sam Werner (@SWernerPG) December 15, 2016
As we discussed yesterday, Justin Schultz could hit it big with Letang’s next injury. I didn’t think it would come so soon but here we are. Schultz is sizzling and in line for a bigger role. It may not work out that he is promoted to the top PP unit, so we’ll have to monitor things.
Trevor Daley should also be an interesting waiver wire addition since he has the inside track on the top PP minutes.
Of course, it should be noted that Letang is vastly important. The Penguins lead the league in scoring at 3.53 goals per game, a big reason why Schultz has been productive as a third pairing defenseman. Expecting them to continue at this pace minus their #1 guy would be foolish. Stretching their depth defensemen into tougher roles could cause everyone’s scoring to stumble as the ice starts to tilt in the wrong direction.
It is also worth mentioning that the Penguins are one of three teams with an early bye week. Their’s stretches from January 1-7. I would assume Letang returns after their bye week. So he’ll miss two weeks of games and then another week he would have had off anyhow. Could be worse.
By the way, (ahem) here’s a list of all the NHL bye weeks. Time to start planning accordingly.
Meier is a former lottery pick who has performed well in his first pro season with nine goals and 15 points in 17 AHL games. This is especially impressive as he has bounced back quickly after a bought of mono hindered his training camp chances. He is a top prospect and should be treated as such in keeper leagues. Where he fits in one-year leagues remains to be seen. Read more on Meier here.
Rob Vollman presents some intriguing numbers from the 2016 calendar year:
19 — Power-play goals allowed by the Carolina Hurricanes, out of 196 shorthanded situations, for a League-leading 90.3 penalty-killing percentage. No other team allowed fewer than 34 power-play goals, or had a power-play percentage above 85.7 percent.
If you are looking for some assurance before diving in with Cam Ward, here’s a good start.
In case you were wondering if there might be some NHLers playing in the upcoming World Juniors, they won’t be for Canada:
Team CAN "officially" not getting any NHL players. @HockeyCanada contacted NHL teams today, got formal rejections from ARI, NYI, TOR, PHI.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 15, 2016
I plan on doing some World Junior content at some point but haven’t done much of a deep dive.
Good stuff in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:
I am both excited and terrified by that comparison.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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