Ramblings: Rakell continues to sizzle, Kadri nets his 30th.
The Islanders lost Ryan Strome to an upper-body injury last night. Strome isn’t particularly relevant. He has just two points in the last 10 games. But he does skate top power play minutes. With Strome out, Andrew Ladd got onto the top unit, netting the game winner, his 20th goal of the season.
Strome is nearing a crossroads. After bursting out with 50 points as a sophomore he has taken steps backward. He has been unable to click with John Tavares and he’s barely making a dent with the minutes he gets on the PP. The Islanders have younger, more exciting options already on the team or coming shortly: notably Josh Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal.
Now, Strome is only 23, completing his fourth full season in the NHL. Josh Bailey finally emerging this season as a 27-year-old is a great example of how long this can take. Ladd is another guy who took a lot of time and both of those guys, like Strome were lottery picks. So Strome is not a lost cause, but we might be waiting a while. I’m ready to move on to fresher options.
Bailey, by the way, has gone six straight games without a point. His ice time and Tavares exposure is still there so this is just an ill-timed run of poor luck.
Anthony Beauvillier has six points in the last six games. Some of this is the Ho-Sang effect although the Islanders’ lines have been all over the place.
The news on Henrik Lundqvist keeps getting more and more positive:
Antti Raanta has lost four of the last five. I hope that the Rangers aren’t rushing Lundqvist back but from the sounds of it, they aren’t. He’s been practicing all week. If they were rushing him back, I’d imagine he would have played one of the last two nights.
Just when I’d abandoned hope, Rick Nash has scored goals in back-to-back games. He’s up to 20 on the year. He’s only two years removed from scoring 40 in a season but has pretty clearly entered a different phase of his career.
Nash’s per-60 numbers are still solid but they’ve slipped from the elite level he was at a couple of years ago. His minutes are also down to help reduce his physical burden and yet he’s still battling injuries. He is still averaging about three SOG per game, but that’s way down from the near four he was averaging a couple of years ago.
At this stage, Nash should be relying on PP production to buoy his fantasy value but he hasn’t scored more than 12 PPP in a season since leaving Columbus. He’s got a year left on his deal but you wonder if the Rangers move on sooner. I suspect it would take a new team that can figure out how to get more from him on the man-advantage to get Nash’s fantasy value back up.
Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner have gone ice cold. Hayes has five points in the last 18 games, while Grabner has four in the last 14 and missed a few games with injury. I imagine that by now you’ve either dropped them or bit the dust.
Welcome to the 30-goal club, Nazem Kadri! It feel like he’s having the offensive impact that he should have had last season if he hadn’t shot 6.5%. Better late than never, I suppose. Kadri now fits the statistical profile of multi-category studs like Ryan Kesler. He plays a similar role on the ice too. This is a guy to take with a top-50 pick in leagues that score SOG along with Hits and/or PIM.
William Nylander has points in nine straight games, continuing his torrid post-All-Star run.
Every point that Jake Gardiner nets pushes his career high to greater heights. He’s up to 36 on the year after a pair of assists to end a four-game slide. Seems very likely he’ll hit 40 before the season is out.
Roman Polak gets 5 and a game for an awful hit from behind on Oliver Bjorkstrand. pic.twitter.com/dGguudC3eL— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 23, 2017
Polak will receive a hearing for this one. I didn’t think the hit was that bad, though definitely a penalty, but the result always seems to play a role in these things. Anyhow, Polak isn’t relevant but for the deepest of leagues.
The Leafs’ ability to kill off the five-minute penalty is an indictment of the current state of the once lethal Columbus power play. Which leads us to…
…Alexander Wennberg returned to the Columbus lineup after a game off but remains a dud. He has just one point in the last 10 games. I’d have been able to dump him by now if not for that damned Guentzel injury.
With Bjorkstrand out, Sam Gagner moved back onto the top PP unit, a spot he had lost in the past couple of weeks. Gagner wound up skating 17:42 last night, a season high.
Scott Hartnell was a healthy scratch for the Blue Jackets but he hasn’t scored a goal in over two months.
Seth Jones went on a nice run of scoring around the All-Star break but has just four points in the last 13 games.
Connor McDavid extended his lead in the scoring race with a three-point night including this beauty:
Mark Letestu scored a late power-play goal. He’s got two of those in the past three games and has 10 PP scores on the year. He doesn’t do enough at 5-on-5 to remain relevant but every now and again he gets on flashes like this while the Oiler PP is running hot.
Letestu is like an uber version of Sam Gagner, as a fourth-liner/PP specialist because he also kills penalties and wins faceoffs at a decent rate. You wouldn’t think to put Letestu in this mould because he isn’t flashy but he’s got the righty shot and can hit a decent one-timer. That’s good enough to fit him on a power play with the excellence of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s a strangely efficient use of a roster spot as well.
The flip side is that Letestu grabbing this top unit role leaves their $6M sniper without a job. I’m talking about Jordan Eberle who has been snake-bitten all season. You wonder if Letestu ever takes over that top PP spot if Eberle gets a few more bounces. Now, if Eberle could consistently hit a one-timer this wouldn’t be an issue so some of this is beyond luck.
All told, Eberle could still squeeze out a 50-point season with a hot finish. He’s got 42 with nine games left. Bet the under.
Patrick Eaves has goals in back-to-back games, and probably should have had a couple last night. The Eaves-Getzlaf-Rakell line continues to cause teams issues but Eaves hasn’t really taken advantage. He has six points in 11 games since joining the Ducks, which is merely okay.
Rickard Rakell, on the other hand, has been going crazy with 10 goals in his last 12 games, including this gem:
The hands on Rakell! pic.twitter.com/ww7Lm8oa8S— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) March 23, 2017
Good grief! He worked Kris Russell like a clump of dough.
Hampus Lindholm picked up three points last night, ending an eight-game drought. He is so talented and shows just enough flashes to keep fantasy players intrigued but I wonder if Lindholm is ever going to emerge as a reliable fantasy option. Last season was his lowest-scoring as a pro but arguably provided the biggest tease as he set career highs in goals (10) and SOG (149). Even in a secondary role, with double-digit goals and the right bounces a defenseman can net 40 points. Instead, Lindholm has gone backwards after missing the first month of the season negotiating a new contract.
Even if you suspect that the Ducks will move on from Cam Fowler, they still have Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour ready to step into a top offensive role so no guarantees that Lindholm emerges next season. A full training camp will help but I’ll be letting other folks take the risk on his breakout.
As expected, Rasmus Ristolainen will have a hearing tomorrow for the hit on Jake Guentzel. What an unfortunate turn of events that will cost us two fantasy relevant players. Guentzel was a huge pick up for teams in the fantasy playoffs and Ristolainen has been good all season. Now, you may as well drop both.
Guentzel might return and the Penguins have three games remaining this week so it could be worth holding out for but I made the move to drop him in my league that doesn’t have IR+. No room for patience at this point.
Ristolainen may not get much in the way of suspension. His hit was more reckless than malicious but even if he gets one game that means he is done for the week and the Sabres have only three games next week. So I’d probably drop Ristolainen instead of carrying the deadweight.
As always, some juicy nuggets in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:
20. Interesting to hear some of the younger Blackhawks — Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz — discuss what they’ve learned this year. All three said they were surprised/impressed by how confident the veterans are. “No matter what the situation, they think we are going to win,” Hartman said. “We could be down two goals with five minutes left, and they believe we’re going to do it.” Practises? “Fast-paced,” he replied. “But you better make hard passes.”
Schmaltz smiled when Hartman said that. “You’re going to hear it from (coach Joel Quenneville) if you don’t. ‘Hard! Hard!’”
Kero added one more detail: “You better be able to make hard passes… and receive them.”
In talking to those players, you can tell they realize quickly a lot is expected. Age/inexperience is not an acceptable excuse for sloppiness.
Early in the year the Blackhawks’ underlying metrics looked pretty mediocre and they were getting by largely due to the excellent goaltending of Corey Crawford and Scott Darling. They’ve since turned it around, getting increasing contributions from the youngsters filling out their lineup.
This is a trend we should watch for in future seasons. Obviously, the core in Chicago won’t remain effective forever. Brent Seabrook is already showing signs of decline at 31. But they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. Their ability to identify and develop young players is a big part of how they’ve sustained their relevance.
In particular, the Blackhawks’ offense was reinvigorated when Schmaltz was called back from the AHL, helping them find some depth scoring. This was also around when Marcus Kruger got back from injury and there’s no questioning the vital role he plays as their top defensive center opening up Jonathan Toews to play more of an offensive role.
The Blackhawks have had their fair share of whiffs over the years, including on first-round picks but they are always in need of young players to fill holes so this is a team that is prospect friendly.
Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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