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Blue Line Buzz: The Young and Restless

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

(All statistics through Friday, January 24)

Young and Restless

Olli Maata, Penguins - Pittsburgh seemingly generates talented young defensemen. Simon Despres is still a potential offensive talent in the NHL, plus the Penguins dealt highly-touted prospect Joe Morrow to Dallas last spring for a Brenden Morrow rental and previously developed the mercurial Kris Letang. The team has another budding star in Finnish Olympian Maata, albeit one who is still finding his legs defensively in the NHL. Maata had five points over four games this past week, including a pair of two-point games, most recently notching a goal and an assist in Thursday’s win over the Islanders.

What’s been impressive about Maata’s recent run is that he’s putting up these numbers with little to no time on the power play, generally the primary bellwether for production. His stat line is a little deceptive, as it sits at 19 points through 50 games, yet 14 of those points have come in 22 contests since the end of November. Maata is just 19, a player prone to the typical ebbs and flows of production. However, it’s worth noting that Paul Martin recently returned to the Pittsburgh lineup, which will surely to eat into Maata’s ice time a bit. That said, Maata is a viable commodity in keeper leagues and he’s been putting at least two pucks on goal the last two weeks of play. Look for him to continue to record some points, but the Penguins score goals in bunches, so that's more a byproduct of his team context.

Maata is still improving in his own zone, but he’s been doing a solid job there, spending most of his time alongside Matt Niskanen. Maata’s recent rate of production is hard to ignore. Monitor his ice time and his lineup status, but this kid can play.

Calvin de Haan, Islanders- It’s been no secret that the Islanders haven’t exactly been able to entice players to join their squad via free agency; in fact they’ve had to essentially resort to legal action after acquiring Lubomir Visnovsky and Evgeni Nabokov, both of whom refused to play for the team. One was acquired via waivers the other, Visnovsky, through a trade. Visnovsky has missed most of the season with a concussion but has begun skating again, according to published reports , and could return this coming week.

Andrew MacDonald has been putting up surprisingly solid numbers, given his lack of shooting (although he has just one point in the last nine), but de Haan made a name for himself earlier in January with a five-game points streak that saw him notch seven points. His production has fallen off a bit since that run, which ended on January 14, as he has notched a mere assist in five games since, with no points in the last three. While none of de Haan’s eight points have come on the power play, he’s been solid in secondary statistics such as hits and blocked shots, averaging over two hits per game and recording 47 blocks in 27 contests.

With Visnovsky slated to return, de Haan can likely expect to see the little power-play time that he receives dwindle, while MacDonald and Visnovsky absorb most of it. Visnovsky has three points in eight games this season, but hasn’t played since October.

On a slightly related note, if Visnovsky is kicking around in your league on waivers, give him a roll of the dice. He has a track record of producing during his career and could give a scrappy Islanders’ team another scoring threat as they, along with every Metropolitan Division team not named Pittsburgh, scrap for a playoff spot.

Eric Gelinas, New Jersey- Gelinas’ name has populated this space with some frequency over the two months, since he’s made an impact following his initial AHL call-up. Moreover, he has made the most of his ice time over the last week.

Gelinas is not being deployed at even strength terribly often, but is seeing significant power-play time and his offensive zone start percentage is close to 62-percent. All his numbers are skewed toward the offensive end of the rink, as a few spotty defensive plays during December earned him a brief demotion to AHL Albany and the team resorting to dressing him as a seventh defenseman, using him largely in power play and overtime situations.

Gelinas is a talented player who will need to shore up his own end before being given the freedom to roam the ice and make a potentially huge mistake -- although the Devils already have a player who does that in Marek Zidlicky. Gelinas is poised to challenge double-digit goals, as he sits with six through 40 games and 22 total points; 13 of his points have come on the power play, including four of the goals. He has points in four of the last six games, including three points in this past Tuesday’s rout of St. Louis. (It’s worth noting that Gelinas’ goal was the last goal in a 7-1 victory and one of his assists came on the team’s fifth goal).

The Devils have admitted that Gelinas brings an element to the game that is difficult to duplicate, as he can give opposing defenses an extra player to worry about. His ability to jump into the play and contribute offensively is obvious, but on a team like New Jersey, he’ll have to make certain to take care of his defensive responsibilities in order to keep seeing those attacking chances.

New Jersey has boasted one of the league’s more surprisingly productive blue lines this season after contributing little to the realm of fantasy defensemen the last few seasons. The trio of Gelinas, Zidlicky and Andy Greene aren’t exactly the second coming of Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer, nor are they Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, but they’ve likely provided owners with respectable value at the end of drafts and on waivers, notably Gelinas and Greene.


- Seth Jones has recorded nine of his season’s 19 points since December 23 and likely will be paired with newly-acquired Predator Michael Del Zotto, who makes the move from Manhattan to Nashville following a mid-week trade from the Rangers for Kevin Klein. Del Zotto did not have a consistent season for the Rangers, seemingly coughing up a goal for the opposition for every one he helped produce for his own team, which wasn’t much. Despite the perception that Nashville isn’t going to score a ton, they have a productive blue line sparked by Shea Weber and his 13 goals. Jones and Ryan Ellis have 35 points between the two of them. Meanwhile, Del Zotto recorded just 11 points in 41 games with the Rangers, seeing himself cycled in and out of the lineup often with a team recently finding its legs on offense.

If there’s any situation that could reform a wayward defensive case like Del Zotto, it exists with Barry Trotz and Nashville, a team built on stifling defense and positional hockey. Del Zotto is only 23 and in the midst of his fifth NHL season, notching his career high during the 2011-12 campaign, with 10 goals and 41 points through 77 games. His presumptive defensive partner in Nashville, Jones, is not one to shy away from jumping up into the play, so it will be interesting to see how Del Zotto adapts his game to the Predators’ system. A wait-and-see approach might be best with the player some Rangers’ fans dubbed “Del-zaster” over the last season.

- 26 year-old blue liner Nick Holden has been one of the Colorado Avalanche’s more productive players over the last 10 days, with five points in the last four games. Holden had played a modest seven NHL games prior to this season with the Blue Jackets, spending most of his professional time in the AHL. Holden’s recent numbers are buoyed by a three-point effort against Nashville last Saturday. Holden grabbed 60 points once during his junior career in the WHL, but last week’s numbers have come from seemingly nowhere. The Avs, despite their utter depth of young, talented forwards, have not been highly productive from the blue line. The odds of Holden continuing this trend are slim, but if he continues to see decent ice time with a spot on the man-advantage, give him a look in very deep leagues.

- Goon Point Updates - Tampa Bay’s Radko Gudas remains the league’s preeminent enforcer, for lack of a better term, leading all defensemen in penalty minutes with 96 and he has racked up 170 hits, second only to Toronto’s Cody Franson, who seemingly is credited with hits at home for stepping on the ice. Gudas has a solid 15 points and a plus-7 rating (solid for a player not known for scoring, that is). On the opposite end of the continent, Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa is putting up similar numbers in terms of points (16) and penalty minutes (89) with 94 hits. (We’ll chalk that up to a less zealous home scorer at Rogers Centre than the one at the ACC).

Question of the Week: What defenders moved at the deadline will be the most valuable? What does your team need (both team you follow and fantasy roster).