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Blue Line Buzz: Early Season Surprises

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.


(all statistics through Saturday, October 12)

Early-Season Surprises

Jason Garrison. Mark Giordano. Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Jonas Brodin. Matt Niskanen.

These five players currently sit in the top 10 of defensemen scoring. Yes, it's early, but this is a bit on the surprising side. Many of these players, if drafted at all, are turning into huge values for owners who gambled on them late.

Also of note is the fact that Derek Morris is 11th in scoring among defenders through Saturday, reliving his glory days from the early 2000's in Calgary for the Desert Dogs. (He added an assist on Phoenix's first goal Sunday, a power-play helper, giving him five points).

Who's going to be there in a few weeks?

Mmmmkay, Mr. Garrison

Garrison already has two goals and six points and appears to be enjoying playing under John Tortorella. Garrison is living on the power play, seeing 3:27 of ice time there per contest, yet has just one point on the man-advantage. Given the frequency with which he fires the puck and his booming slap shot, Garrison likely will see those numbers increase. In Saturday's 4-1 loss to Montreal, the hard-shooting blue liner put 10 shots on goal and sits with an average of four shots per game. Garrison's career season in Florida from 2011-12 saw him finish with 16 goals, numbers he parlayed into his huge five-year contract with the Canucks prior to the lockout in 2012.

Garrison will see an uptick in power-play time the next two games as Vancouver is without Alexander Edler, who still has two games remaining on his three-game suspension.  However, Garrison saw 7:24 on the power play in the Canuck's game against Edmonton while Edler was in the lineup, so Edler's presence shouldn't limit Garrison's opportunities. Garrison is a streaky player but with his propensity to shoot and the opportunities he'll see on a power play with the Sedin twins, there's reason to believe that Garrison will continue producing.

Flame On

The Flames have been the season's biggest surprise. A hodgepodge of journeyman veterans, a 33-year old goaltender owning his first starting gig (Joey MacDonald) and a group of talented, energetic teenagers and twenty-somethings, the Flames are going to give opponents fits. Sean Monahan and Sven Baertschi are going to be fun to watch for years to come.

Leading their power play is the dynamic duo of Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano. The latter of whom sits with six points through five games with half of those points on the man-advantage. Giordano hasn't been a stranger to production in his career, as he would quietly put up a healthy amount of points in southern Alberta. He saw 5:02 of power-play time in last Friday's win over New Jersey, grabbing a power-play goal and assist in that contest; he's playing close to three minutes on the man-advantage per game.

It's true that Giordano isn't blessed with the offensively talented teammates Jason Garrison has, but Giordano is going to be all but guaranteed regular power-play time in Calgary, not the 4:24 Wideman is seeing, but it will be a nice share.

Wideman is playing almost half the game for the Flames, seeing 26:24 through five contests and sits with a steady three points, all of which have come in Calgary's last two games. Wideman has 17 shots on goal through five games and should clock in around 35 points at season's end. The odds are that Calgary's winning ways will correct itself soon, so don't be surprised if there's a dip in production from these two.

Wideman and Giordano may even be kicking around on the waiver wire of shallower leagues. Both can be a value, as someone has to see power-play time on the blue line for Calgary. Those in keeper leagues will want to keep an eye on T.J. Brodie, thought to be one of the league's burgeoning stars on the blue line for the Flames. Brodie is seeing power-play time and playing 24 minutes a night.

Pickles

San Jose is off to a torrid start and Antii Niemi is proving himself to be one of the league's top netminders in the season's early going with five wins and a goals-against average of 1.40 and .939 save percentage. Those numbers are certainly frustrating to owners who took Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick over Niemi. It hasn't hurt that the talented Finn is getting boatloads of goal support from the likes of rookie sensation Tomas Hertl and Jeremiah Johnson's long-lost cousin, Brent Burns (six points and a plus-9). San Jose is positioning to make another run at the Stanley Cup as one of the league's most balanced teams.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is sparking the team's attack from the blue line with five points and an impressive plus-8 through five games. He has two goals on five shots, a pace which is screaming regression to the mean, but he's seeing enough ice time per game that he should see assists occasionally considering the offensive talent who is receiving them. Those running to the waiver wire to pick up Vlasic can feel safe knowing that Pickles won't hurt their plus-minus, but there should be a pause for concern as Vlasic is not shooting the puck and is seeing a scant 21 seconds of power-play time per contest.

Vlasic notched 36 points in the 2008-09 campaign, but has been unable to duplicate that type of offensive success in the years since. He managed seven points in 48 contests during the lockout-shortened season one year ago. Vlasic can have value in deeper leagues as a source of plus-minus production, but those expecting regular offensive numbers from him will want to temper their expectations. Dan Boyle is still guiding the Sharks' power play while Jason Demers and the young Matt Irwin are seeing the other half of San Jose's man-advantage time.

Feeling Minnesota

It might sound odd to be talking about a Minnesota defender not named Ryan Suter, but the (almost) $100 million man is off to a steady start with three assists through five games while essentially living on the ice, logging 28:45 per game. Suter's production is what owners can expect from the consistent veteran, but the Wild are breaking in one of their up-and-coming stars in 20-year old Jonas Brodin.

Brodin is playing almost 25 minutes a night and has an impressive five points through five games. The two points he has on the man-advantage are the same number he had through all 45 games played last season. This kid has long been rumored to be an elite talent and he's beginning to show it. Despite his two tallies, Brodin has just five shots on goal but it's the 2:29 of ice time on the power play that he's seeing which should keep the scoring opportunities coming.

Brodin should have received more consideration for the Calder Trophy last season, the award given annually to the player judged to be league's top rookie. Brodin is going to be a talent for quite some time in this league and couple that ice time with the likes of Suter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and budding stars Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, and Brodin could be a steal this season for owners. Those in keeper leagues will want to get their hands on Brodin quickly. The point-per-game pace will fall off, but expect Brodin to challenge 35 points this year.

Throw In

Known as the throw-in from the now infamous James Neal-Alex Goligoski trade, Matt Niskanen has had some decent stretches of production in his brief tenure with the Penguins. The veteran has five points and a plus-7 rating through five contests with one point on the man-advantage.

Niskanen's value at this point of the season is more situational than the other players on this list as the primary reason he is seeing 2:05 of power-play time per game is the fact that Kris Letang remains sidelined with a knee injury. The dynamic and utterly talented Letang has been practicing, but there is no word on whether he'll be back in the lineup this week. While Letang is out, expect Niskanen to keep seeing man-advantage time with the Pens' elite set of forwards. Niskanen should be an option in deeper leagues even after Letang returns, but his production is tied to the health of his teammates.

Other players to consider at this early juncture of the season:

Andrej Sekera, Carolina. Sekera has three points through five games (not including Sunday's afternoon tilt with Phoenix). He arrived in Carolina when the Sabres sent him there for Jamie McBain and has been seeing his share of power-play time, especially with Joni Pitkanen out for the season. Sekera is sharing time with fellow budding blue liner Justin Faulk and could be a decent waiver pickup in deeper leagues.

Brenden Dillon, Dallas: Owner of three points through four games, Dillon is seeing just nine seconds per-game on the power play, but this kid has value in leagues which count secondary categories such as hits and blocked shots.

Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey: Unfortunately, New Jersey doesn't have a better option offensively on the blue line than Zidlicky. A player prone to turn the puck over regularly and commit the glaring mistake in his own zone, Zidlicky is also second on the winless Devils in scoring, with four points through five games. All his points are assists and he's seeing plenty of power-play time, although the Devils have just one goal on 10 opportunities in the young season. Use Zidlicky if you're in a deeper league and need some support, but don't expect much consistency from the Czech veteran.

Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg: After his opening night stat line, Trouba has struggled, failing to register a point in four games with a minus-4 rating over that stretch. He has the talent to bounce back but remember the Winnipeg blue line is crowded.

Bonus Video Clip: There should be many more of these to come, but Seth Jones scored his first NHL goal on Saturday, blasting a slap shot past Evegeni Nabokov in Saturday's win over the Islanders. Meanwhile, Jones' teammate, Ryan Ellis, had a goal and an assist in the win.

Question of the week: Which team is more of a surprise: Calgary or Colorado?

Questions, comments and suggestions for future articles are welcomed, contact Blue Line Buzz.