Blue Line Buzz: Diamond in the rough
There are always a handful of surprises that come out of nowhere, but which are Fantasy gold? Dan Pennucci looks at some possibilities in his latest Blue Line Buzz.
(All statistics through November 17)
Gem In the Desert?
Erik Karlsson is leading all NHL defensemen in goals through the first quarter of the season with seven. This can be filed under news items that are not news. Second in the league, tied with six goals is Boston's Torey Krug, the man who replaced Zdeno Chara on Boston's power play. The player tied with Krug and six goals? A Phoenix defender not named Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Keith Yandle, but instead … Michael Stone. You can be excused if you didn't have Stone on your roster, but it may be hard to entirely ignore him in deep leagues. While the six goals are nice, Stone has no assists and a modest 24 shots on goal, which is great for leagues that count shooting percentage; two of his goals have come via the man advantage.
Stone is in his second full NHL season and notched five goals last year in the truncated campaign, but a close look at his junior numbers with the Calgary Hitmen show him to be a rather productive scorer, scoring 40 total goals over his last two seasons in the WHL, not to mention a boatload of PIM. In Phoenix, Stone is in the presence of two of the league's top scorers on the blue line, but is capitalizing on his chances. Four of his six goals have come in the last six games, but he's seen limited power-play time, seeing just over 35 seconds per game over the last three. The shooting percentage undoubtedly will correct itself, but Stone is a player worth maintaining an eye on in keeper leagues. The Coyotes have long been rumored to be interested in dealing Yandle given their blue line stable and Yandle's salary, but the presumptive Team USA defender is in the desert for now.
There has also been a David Rundblad sighting in Phoenix, as he notched his first point of the season since being recalled from healthy scratch status. Rundblad was the key piece sent back to Phoenix in 2011's Kyle Turris trade with Ottawa and has been on a permanent shuttle between the AHL, NHL and the press box the last season-plus. It's also worth mentioning that veteran Derek Morris had 10 points through 14 games before missing the last two weeks with a lower body injury, but is nearing a return.
New Jersey isn't the only team with paltry goal-scoring numbers from the back end, as both the Islanders and Colorado each have six goals from its blue liners on the season, the same number as New Jersey. The Islanders are looking for more production from the blue line while Lubomir Visnovsky is out indefinitely with a concussion. While the veteran is out, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have been leading the way from the back end with a total of two goals and 13 points from the duo. Matt Donovan is the upside play of the future on the Island, but Donovan is seeing 1:13 of power play time per game through 17 tilts and has four points on the season with just one helper in the last eight games.
Colorado is getting decent production from former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, with seven points through 19 games, two of which have come on the power play. Johnson has the most upside on the Avalanche blue line until Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott figure out the kinks in their game. After Johnson's modest numbers, Jan Hejda and Andre Benoit are seeing their names on the scoresheet occasionally as well. If only the Avalanche had a player like Kevin Shattenkirk.
Shea Weber is doing what he's used to doing in the Hockey Tonk, with 10 points through 20 games (five goals, five assists). Okay, maybe a little less than what we're used to from the likes of Weber, but the Predators have not been a positive source of blue line points outside of Weber save for rookie Seth Jones and his eight points. Jones is adapting to the NHL game and is eating minutes at a huge clip, averaging 24:04 per game in the first quarter of his first season.
After Jones and Weber is where the numbers start to look more like a New Jersey blue line, as Ryan Ellis has five points through 18 games while Roman Josi is certainly underperforming after his huge contract with three points through 10 games. However, despite that, Josi might be a player you'd want to target as he has all three points in the eight games he's played since returning from an early-season concussion; he notched two assists in Nashville's blowout win over Chicago on Saturday. Josi has been seeing much power-play time since his return, but remember Josi has a tendency to binge on points, as 12 of last season's 18 points were concentrated over a five-game span, leaving a meager six in the other 42 games. He's likely is kicking around on your waiver wire and can be an option in deeper leagues given his potential, just monitor his minutes on the power play vis-à-vis those of Jones.
The Devils nearly doubled the season's amount of goals their defenders scored in Saturday evening's win over Pittsburgh, getting tallies from Andy Greene and Adam Larsson, 2012's fourth overall pick. The Devils had a mere four goals from blue liners through 19 games and added two more to that humongously-big total. Larsson is one of those players still wearing the potential tag after a tenuous spot in the lineup his first two seasons. He just turned 21 years old and seems to be earning more regular playing time under coach Peter DeBoer and has been playing solid hockey since being paired with fellow youngster Eric Gelinas.
Larsson has been a player fantasy owners believe will breakout at some point in his early career. He has the talent and a bit of offensive talent to his game, but it's been a question of whether he's been given the chance to show it in New Jersey. Dating back to the latter part of the 2012 season and through New Jersey's run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, Larsson has been in and out of the Devils' lineup, having his play under scrutiny and often being left out in favor of the likes of Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov. Larsson's numbers this season are not attractive, with three points through 17 games and he's has seen little power play time. What's encouraging about Larsson is that he has two points through the last three games and all three of his season's points have come in the last six contests. He doesn't shoot the puck often, just 15 through 17 games, but there is upside with Larsson for those in deep keeper leagues. He did put up 41 points in 37 games his last season in Sweden for Skelleftea.
Larsson has typically just shown flashes of offensive ability, but still has growing to do, not to mention keeping his head up a bit more.
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