The Man Advantage: Early Season PP Surprises
Hi folks, and welcome to the second installment of this year's Man Advantage series of articles, which are designed to help you stay on top of things in the ever-shifting world of NHL power play squads.
This week, we take a look at a few players who have been surprisingly strong producers out of the gate. In some cases, these guys were not projected to be part of their respective teams' power play units, but are so far seeing more PP minutes than they are used to - and contributing in the points column as well.
Jamie McBain, D, Buffalo: Last season in Carolina, McBain was a spare part at best when it came to PP minutes, clocking in at a paltry 1:20 per game. This year with the Sabres, he's getting solid second line minutes, averaging 2:43 per game, and has a goal and an assist to show for it. McBain's power play abilities have not gone unnoticed by coach Ron Rolston ,either. "He just shoots it and it goes in," Rolston said. "Running [the power play] at the top he's got a lot of poise just holding on to [the puck], making plays that need to be made. His shooting too, he's got the poise to hold it and find the hole to put it through."
Steve Downie, LW, Colorado: First-year coach Patrick Roy has so far been distributing PP time very evenly among his players, with Downie being one of nine guys who are currently averaging between 3:00-3:30 minutes per game. After missing all but two games last year due to a torn ACL, Downie has come back with a vengeance so far this season, with a pair of PP points in four games. Recently, he has usually been playing on the team's first unit alongside Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly. "He's playing hard every shift, every game," Roy said recently. "I'm very happy with him."
Torey Krug, D, Boston: Despite their regular season and playoff success over the past few seasons, one area where the Bruins have struggled has been on the power play. However, through the first three games this season the B's were averaging a 20.0% PP success rate. Much of this newfound success has been due to the efforts of the rookie Krug, who has contributed a goal and an assist over that stretch. Krug's arrival on the blue line has prompted coach Claude Julien to put Zdeno Chara down low in front of the opposition's net where he can use his size to better advantage. That leaves Krug to quarterback the first unit from the back end along with David Krejci, who has nothing but praise for the rookie. "I like everything about him," Krejci said. "He's a great player, not only on the power play, but 5-on-5 he's doing a great job. He's great on breakouts. He's just so shifty and quick. I love everything about him. He looks like he's been in the league a long time. Every decision is the right decision. He shoots the puck when he has to, he passes the puck when he has to and it's just fun to play with him."
Nathan Gerbe, C, Carolina: Gerbe, signed with the 'Canes as a free agent in July following five less-than-impressive seasons with Buffalo. However, he's helped Carolina get off to a 2-2-2 start by scoring three goals in those six games, including a PP marker in the season-opener against Detroit. He's currently averaging 2:48 minutes per game on the second unit with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. After his game-winning (albeit non-PP) goal Oct. 10 against Washington, coach Kirk Muller said, "[Gerbe]'s doing a lot of things well without the puck. He competes and he works and he's really worked for his goals so far. It was a huge one tonight."
Filip Forsberg, RW, Nashville: The rookie Forsberg, acquired at the end of last season from Washington, had an excellent preseason but suffered a lower-body injury and missed the Preds' first two games. In his first game back (Oct. 8 against Minnesota), he scored his first NHL regular season goal – on the power play, no less – to help the Preds beat the Wild 3-2 that night. Through three games, he's averaging 2:22 of ice time playing on the second line with the likes of Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand, Shea Weber and fellow rookie Seth Jones. A mediocre offensive team at best, the Preds will be counting on Forsberg for some goal production this year. "He's got those magic hands," coach Barry Trotz said. "He's slippery in tight spaces, and I think as he keeps growing as a player you're going to see some of those qualities come out. He doesn't seem to be intimidated by a whole heck of a lot."
Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg: Another rookie in my list this week, Scheifele was selected by the Jets in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. After getting just a taste of NHL action over the past two seasons (11 games combined), it looks like Scheifele is here to stay. He's currently averaging 3:12 in PP minutes playing the second unit with Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi, and scored his first PP goal of the season in the Jets' season-opening win over the Oilers. For any fantasy poolies concerned he might get sent back to junior, Jets coach Claude Noel said recently he would be "stunned" if that were to happen. "You watch him, he has high hockey intellect and I've said that all along," Noel said. "He is clever and his teammates realize it. He's smart. I'll be stunned [if he gets sent back down]."