Around the Rink
With the NHL back in full swing following the return of the Olympians from Sochi the race for playoff spots will dominate the next few weeks, but Saturday brought excitement of a different kind with the news that Evegeny Kuznetsov had finally arrived in Washington and inked a two year entry-level contract.
Kuznetsov arguably held the informal title of “best player outside the NHL.” Rotowire’s own Jon Litterine ranked him the #2 prospect in hockey in January, noting “[the] Only thing keeping him from the top spot is my concern he may never come over to play in North America.” Well those concerns are over. Katie Carrera of the Washington Post speculates that Kuznetsov could be in the Capitals lineup as soon as Monday night when they host the Pens. It’s rare for an elite prospect to emerge mid-season, but he will be in your player pool soon, so what can we expect from his this year and what is he worth in the longer term?
In the KHL, the 21 year-old Kuznetsov was an all-star twice and led his team in scoring three times, despite being just 18 when he entered the league. He will face much tougher competition in the NHL, but with his offensive ability he should pick up a fair bit of ice time on a Capitals team that has precious little top-end skill after the Ovechkin-Backstrom line. It will take him a bit of time to pick up the system coach Adam Oates has on the power play, but once he does he should see time there as well. The Caps only have 17 games left to make their playoff push, so expecting more than a handful of points from Kuznetsov is unrealistic, but they need him, so he will play. But, that’s not where his value lies anyway.
By the start of the 2014-15 season, Kuznetsov will have those 17 games under his belt, plus perhaps some playoff games, as well as a full off-season and training camp. In his first full season next year, he should be among the favourites for the Calder trophy. It would be silly to say he could be as good as Nathan MacKinnon (18 year-olds who break records set by Wayne Gretzky aren’t a dime a dozen), but he could perform favrouably compared to countryman Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko had a solid rookie season last year that was cut short by a concussion, but has blossomed this year tallying 19 goals and 18 assists in 59 games and showing a mature physical, if still inconsistent, offensive game.
If that is a level of play he can achieve, Kuznetsov is worth picking up over lots of young players and in keeper leagues over lots of middle of the road veterans.
On to the preview of Sunday’s games...
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Detroit Red Wings (Jimmy Howard) at New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist), 12:30 PM
Boston Bruins (Chad Johnson) at Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo), 5:00 PM
Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford) at Buffalo Sabres (Jhonas Enroth), 7:30 PM
St. Louis Blues (Brian Elliott) at Minnesota Wild (Ilya Bryzgalov), 8:00 PM
Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick) at Edmonton Oilers (Viktor Fasth), 8:00 PM
* = Confirmed
Injury News For Teams Playing Friday
Detroit Red Wings
Dan Cleary, RW - Cleary will miss at least one week due to a knee injury, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports. (3/3/2014)
Stephen Weiss, C - Weiss (sports hernia) has hit a setback in his recovery and is due to receive further tests, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports. (3/3/2014)
Pavel Datsyuk, C - Datsyuk (knee) will be out for the next three weeks, Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News reports. (3/5/2014)
Darren Helm, C - Helm will be out at least another week due to concussion-like symptoms, Ansar Khan of MLive.com reports. (3/7/2014)
Jonas Gustavsson, G - Gustavsson is nursing a sore groin, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports. (3/8/2014)
New York Rangers
Anton Stralman, D - Stralman, who was observed having trouble 'putting weight on his right leg' during Friday's win, doesn't have a serious 'physical/medical issue' reports Andrew Gross of The Bergen Record. (3/8/2014)
Adam McQuaid, D - The Bruins will shut down McQuaid (groin/hip) for the next two-to-three weeks. (3/5/2014)
Marian Hossa, RW - Hossa (upper body) is progressing, but has yet to start skating, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports. (3/5/2014)
Chris Stewart, RW - Stewart (ankle) is out for Friday's game against the Florida Panthers, Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News reports. (3/7/2014)
Torrey Mitchell, C - Mitchell has a foot injury and will not play in Friday's game against the Florida Panthers, Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News reports. (3/7/2014)
Alexander Sulzer, D - Sulzer (lower body) was hurt in Friday's game and will be out for one to two weeks, reports Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News. (3/7/2014)
Zemgus Girgensons, C - Girgensons (lower body), who was hurt in Thursday's win over Tampa Bay, will not play Friday, reports Paul Hamilton from WGR 550. (3/7/2014)
St. Louis Blues
Jordan Leopold, D - Coach Ken Hitchcock said Leopold (ankle) is be out for another 10-14 days, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports. (3/4/2014) Vladimir Sobotka, C - Sobotka (knee) joined the Blues for their optional practice Wednesday, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports. (3/5/2014)
Niklas Backstrom, G - GM Chuck Fletcher said Backstrom (abdominal soreness) will require surgery and is likely out for the season, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. (3/4/2014)
Jeff Petry, D - Petry left the game Thursday due to a back injury, according to the Edmonton Sun's Rob Tychkowski. (3/6/2014)
Anton Belov, D - Belov (oblique) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. (3/4/2014)
Johan Franzen, RW, DET – Missing the Olympics was a huge blow to Franzen, who tried valiantly, but in vain to make it back from a concussion in time for the tournament. He seems to be taking it out on the league now – “The Mule” has a whopping 11 points in five games since the Wings got back on the ice after Sochi, including a hat trick and a four point night. He is as hot as a player can get right now and should be in every lineup until he cools off.
Robin Regehr, D, LA – It’s kind of incredible to think that Regehr was once an Olympic defenseman for Canada and these days is a bit of an afterthought in L.A. He has never been a big scoring guy, but the journeyman is still capable of hot stretches like the one he’s been on since the break where he has accumulated a goal and assist with 10 shots and a plus-6 rating in five games. In plus/minus leagues, in particular, keep track of some of the lesser Kings as they gear up for another Cup run and they try to find a new offensive gear with the addition of Marian Gaborik.
Darcy Kuemper, G, MIN – At the trade deadline, Minnesota picked up veteran tender Ilya Bryzgalov, which some people took as a sign that Kuemper's time between the pipes for the Wild was coming to a close. It’s likely more a sign that Minnesota can’t count on either Nicklas Backstrom or Josh Harding to be back this year, as Kuemper has been melting the crease of late with his play. Going back to February 4 Keumper has won six straight starts and hasn’t let in more than two goals in any of them. Since the Olympic break he has stopped 69 of 72 shots against him (going into play Saturday) and posted a shutout. The short version of things is that Bryzgalov may not be the goalie to own in Minnesota even if his arrival means Kuemper grabs a breather a bit more often.
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM – There isn’t much that Hall doesn’t do well. He’s already among the top left-wingers in the NHL and this season his 59 points in 57 games rank him second at his position. Going back to February 1, however, his pace is off as he only five points in eight games. While three of those points have some since the NHL returned following the Olympic break, keep an eye on Hall as the grind of another failed season for the Oilers may wear on the youngster.
Ryan Suter, D, MIN – Suter played very well during the Olympic tournament, but he’s been cold since returning to the Wild. He has one assist, is minus-1, and has taken nine shots in the three games he’s played since coming back from Sochi. Suter has had a decent year with 34 points through 62 games and will end up around the 40 point mark his owners expect, but he needs to pick his game up to shake of the silver medal blues.
Jimmy Howard, G, DET – Howard’s results since returning from the Olympics haven’t been great – a three and four goal game in the three outings since. His results all year have been inconsistent leading to a 2.64 goals against average and .912 save percentage, which isn’t good enough for Detroit or his fantasy owners.
Markus Granlund, C, CAL – Granlund made his debut last week and is one of the Flames more promising youngsters. With the Flames once again on the outside of the playoff picture looking in Granlund is likely to see a fair shot at playing time. He has two goals and an assist in five games with all three points coming in his current three game streak. What makes Granlund more interesting is what he did prior to being called up – he scored 23 goals and 44 points in 50 games for the Flames AHL affiliate in Abbotsford. The second round pick could provide a boost down the stretch and may prove to be a good keeper for 2014.