Ramblings: The Top 10 Net-Front Men (Dec 22)

by steve laidlaw on December 22, 2016

Ranking the top 10 net-front men, Burakovsky returns with a vengeance, Letestu hot and more.

After sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch Andre Burakovsky came back with a vengeance, scoring a goal, an assist and firing five SOG. He skated just 12:32 on the third line but you have to like the aggressiveness in shooting the puck. He opened the season being more aggressive in shooting but that trailed off before getting benched.

Obviously, Burakovsky won’t have much fantasy relevance skating on the third line but he is capable of scoring in bunches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem there is enough room for both Justin Williams and Burakovsky to be fantasy relevant and recently it has been Williams skating the bigger minutes.

There were some questions about John Carlson’s availability due to illness but he played and notched an assist. He has seven points in the last nine games as his season is turning the corner. He is now on pace for 40 points, but could easily push for 50 once again.

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been held off the board in back-to-back games but this shouldn’t be a sign that he’s falling off again. Rather, it’s another opportunity to make a pitch in a trade.

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This is a great topic. Wayne Simmonds is easily the premiere net-front man in the league. Here are my rankings:

1. Wayne Simmonds

2. Joe Pavelski

These two are tied for second in power-play goals with 50 since 2013-14 behind only Alexander Ovechkin. Simmonds’ is just a pure eclipse in front but also has great hands, meanwhile Pavelski is a ludicrous tipper of pucks. Read what Ryan Kesler had to say on Pavelski’s tip skills in this great piece discussing how he shuts down the opposition’s best:

And Pavelski is a guy you've got to tie his stick up, he gets his stick on everything.

3. Ryan Kesler

It took Randy Carlyle being hired for Kesler to see consistent top PP time and now that he is seeing those minutes Kesler is tied for second in the league in power-play goals.

4. Patric Hornqvist

5. David Backes

6. Troy Brouwer

The Blues have struggled to find a consistent net-front man on their power play since losing Backes and Brouwer this summer. Of course, with Vladimir Tarasenko finding another gear it hasn’t mattered. The Blues still boast the league’s ninth best power play at 21.5%.

7. Nick Foligno

2015-16 was disastrous for Foligno as his scoring tanked. He failed to score a single power-play goal after scoring 11 the previous season. The Blue Jackets’ power play is the league’s best and Foligno already has five goals with the man-advantage.

8. Patrick Eaves

On a team with so much high-end skill, it is Eaves who is tasked with doing the dirty work. His willingness to go to the dirty areas is why we consistently see him skating on Dallas’ top line and top power play unit. It is worth asking if Eaves has the durability to play the role as he has consistently missed double-digit games. This has been his healthiest season yet, and a good reason why he has been fantasy relevant for extended time.

9. Artem Anisimov

This is strictly about his play this season. Many of his goals have been tap-ins off of the brilliant passing of Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin like he does on the Hawks-gasm a couple of weeks back:

Getting into space in front is a skill and he appears to have mastered it.

10. Anders Lee

Who makes your list?

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Mark Letestu has proven to be an excellent pickup. He was a stat stuffer last night scoring a goal and adding two assists, plus he fought Martin Hanzal once the game got out of hand late. Letestu has three goals and seven points in the last five games.

Why would I scoop up a fourth-liner in multiple leagues? For one, the schedule. The Oilers were one of only a few teams skating Monday/Wednesday/Friday this week. Another reason is that Letestu is riding high on the Oilers’ top power play unit.

I would imagine Jordan Eberle reclaims his spot on the top unit at some point, or perhaps the Oilers acquire a big right-handed shot to fill that void (Jarome Iginla, anyone?) But for now, Letestu is doing great.

For what it’s worth, I don’t really want the Oilers to go out and get Iginla. Sure, he can still snipe but he has the mobility of a traffic cone. Sorry to say but Iginla has entered the Vinny Lecavalier/Dany Heatley zone. Someone will surely overpay to acquire him at the deadline. I am hoping it is not my favourite team.

It should be mentioned that Eberle was back skating with Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic at even strength. No points for him in 15 minutes of action.

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Great stuff in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:

20. By the way, Doan (and several of his teammates) were really selling Mike Smith during the team’s trip to Toronto.

“Please talk about what a great year he’s having,” one said. “It’s like we’re wasting a tremendous performance.”

It’s true, Smith has been fantastic. It’s been four years since he played at this level, alternating between average and below average. A couple of years ago he looked dead in the water with a .904 save percentage, winning just 14 games and losing an incredible 42 in regulation.

The problem is, no matter how well Smith is playing, the Coyotes can’t score so he is still rocking a losing record. I want to imagine Smith on a team with a chance at winning but goalie trades are next to impossible and he is 34 years old with two years remaining after this one on a big money deal with a no-trade clause. I can’t imagine a deal getting done with all those hurdles.

So all you can hope for is that Smith can keep doing his Cory Schneider impersonation and win 25 games. Of course, he got banged on by the Oilers last night but that shouldn’t take away from how good he has been. He has been the only Coyote to show up on many nights.

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And by Cory Schneider impersonation I, of course, mean Schneider pre- this season. You’ve got to bench him until the Devils (and he) get better. I wonder if New Jersey’s a candidate for a coach firing. For what it’s worth, GM Ray Shero backed his coach, John Hynes.

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Eddie Lack is back for the Hurricanes, which means Michael Leighton has been sent down. I never thought that Cam Ward would find the fountain of youth but he looks irreplaceable for the Hurricanes. Meanwhile, the Eddie Lack we saw in Vancouver in doesn’t seem to exist any longer. I am running out of hope that he will even be an average backup.

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Ben Bishop is out for 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury. This is where all the Andrei Vasilevskiy owners get to hold a party. Hold your horses. Vasilevskiy was good in relief on Tuesday but hasn’t made a quality start since November 23rd.

The schedule isn’t exactly favourable for the Lightning either. They play 13 games in the next four weeks, including five sets of back-to-backs. Vasilevskiy is either getting run through the ringer for a team struggling defensively or he’s only starting eight or nine of the games that Bishop is out for and that assumes Bishop misses the full four weeks.

I also don’t see the scenario that allows Vasilevskiy to plant his flag as the undisputed #1 over the next few weeks. If he goes on a hot run and gets Tampa Bay back into a playoff spot then they won’t be as desperate to run with only one guy in net. They’ll keep both guys fresh with 36 games (basically half the season) still remaining on the schedule.

If Vasilevskiy doesn’t go on a hot run then Tampa Bay is probably still on the outside looking in but he won’t have done enough to earn the right to run with all the starts and keep Bishop glued to the bench. It’s a great short-term opportunity but I don’t see this as the moment when Vasilevskiy takes over. Were this injury later in the season, I could see it.

Kirsters Gudlevskis has been recalled to play as the backup but he hasn’t been that good in the AHL so we might see Vasilevskiy stretched with all these back-to-backs.

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Oliver Bjorkstrand has been recalled on an emergency basis. We’ll see if he gets in. During his last cup of coffee Bjorkstrand didn’t do much in a small role but Tortorella hasn’t been shy about using him in an offensive role. Could be a good opportunity if Cam Atkinson is held out.

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Check out Cam Robinson’s latest prospect ramblings, which touches on some players to watch for at the World Juniors. I just have not had the time to do a deep dive on the World Juniors and likely won’t until the tournament has already started so unfortunately, I won’t be providing a primer this season.

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My latest for Puck Daddy looks at the most generous teams in terms of allowing power play goals, as well as the stingiest.

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Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.