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Blue Line Buzz: Pleasant Surprises

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.

With the season coming to a close this week, there are just a handful of compelling playoff races to be had in the final eight days. The two wild card spots in the East will be fought out between Detroit and Columbus with the Devils and Toronto nipping at their heels. Toronto entered play on Saturday just one point out of the postseason even after losing eight straight games in regulation before a win this past Tuesday over Calgary. The Devils have not played nearly consistently enough to deserve a spot in the postseason, as evidenced by their nine-round shootout loss to Buffalo, also this past Tuesday. The Devils are 0-for-11 in shootouts this season with a “success” rate of 3-for-39. (Two of those conversions came in Tuesday's loss as they entered the game 1-for-30. Seriously, 1-for-30.)

In the West, the top six slots are decided save for home ice in the Central Division series between Chicago and Colorado and the Pacific Division title between Anaheim and San Jose. The loser of that race has the great fortune of going up against the Kings in the Pacific Division's opening round. Minnesota has enough of a grip on the first wild card spot while Phoenix and Dallas duke it out for the eighth spot.

With most teams having just a handful of games remaining, we've received enough of a sample set to judge the season and players who've made a significant impact, both positively and negatively.

Pleasant Surprises

Andrej Sekera, Carolina- After a 29-point season for Buffalo three years earlier, Sekera was shipped to Carolina for Jamie McBain this past summer, as both teams swapped their potentially productive offensive defenders. One squad ended up getting a better return on their investment than the other as Sekera proved to be the Waiver Wire steal of the season for the enigmatic Hurricanes. Through 74 games, Sekera boasts 11 goals and 33 points with a plus-4 on a spotty defensive team.  He's been a productive player on the power play as well with 15 points. When Carolina decides to play well offensively, Sekera has been a clear beneficiary of their top-heavy talent. Jeff Skiner, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin have been maddening to own this past season considering their streakiness, but it's a good group to receive Sekera's passes.  Up until several weeks ago, Sekera had been rather consistent in his production, not going more than a few games without point before notching just three in a recent 10-game stretch. The fun part will be figuring out where to draft Sekera next season. Double-digit goal blue liners who can challenge 50 points are always valuable, but does his situation in Carolina devalue him? Can he produce at this level again? He'll be worth a look in the third tier of defenders come next fall's drafts, maybe as a top-25 or 30 player. Just don't overpay for this season's numbers.

Mark Giordano, Calgary- Those in the know, knew how solid of a player Giordano had been in Calgary the past several seasons, as the Flames don't exactly send hockey pool managers into fits of happiness on draft day. Giordano's name had been thrown around in the discussions for Team Canada before a broken ankle cost him two months of play. Giordano has an impressive 45 points through just 60 games, easily one of the better point-per-game producers this season. His 43-point campaign from 2010-11 put him on the radar, but he followed that up with some disappointing efforts, notably the 15 points in 47 contests one season ago. Giordano was a value for those who gambled on him late or on waivers, but he's been rather quiet of late with just two points in the last seven, leaving him with 43 points through the season's other 53 games. His name will be called earlier in drafts next season and he seems a reliable bet to see the bulk of scoring chances on the Flames' blue line. He's a talented player worth even more in leagues that reward average-time-on-ice, as he is logging over 25 minutes a game.

James Wisniewski, Columbus-After two injury-plagued campaigns in Columbus, Wisniewski is showing the type of ability that allowed him to grab 51 points over 75 games between the Islanders and Canadiens in 2010-11. He managed to play in just 78 of a possible 130 games the last two years, posting 41 points in that span. After Friday's loss to Chicago, Wisniewski has a solid 47 points through 70 contests for the pesky Blue Jackets, numbers that aren't surprising when he manages to stay healthy. He's the team's top option on the blue line and has more than half of his 47 points on the power play, 26. He's definitely a good option for next season after the elite and second-tier players have been snatched up, but the penchant he has for injury is a concern with which you'll have to gamble. Wisniewski will have to share some points with Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray, but the former will be a safe bet for production next season.

Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh- Just remember that Alex Goligoski fetched Pittsburgh Matt Niskanen and some winger named James Neal several seasons ago. Niskanen's production this season, 10-32-42, plus-33, was borne more out of opportunity as the Penguins dealt with injuries to Kris Letang and Paul Martin. Niskanen has capitalized on the extra scoring opportunities he has seen with the elite set of forwards Pittsburgh possesses, cracking double-digit goals for the first time in his career with a third of his points through Friday coming on the power play. It's important to note that Niskanen likely wouldn't have been as productive if Martin and Letang were injured this season, something that you'll have to remember come next fall's drafts, as his time with the top power-play unit will be limited with the presence of those two. Regardless, Niskanen has been a steal this season in deeper leagues and his plus-33 rating is a boon for owners in leagues that count secondary statistics.

Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers- The numbers McDonagh has put up this season were going to come eventually for the Minnesota native. They just came a bit sooner for a player who had 12 career goals in three seasons before snagging 14 through 77 contests this year. He's enjoyed playing under coach Alain Vigneault, as evidenced by his production and he established himself as one of the league's better young two-way defenders during his time with Team USA in Sochi. McDonagh could cost the most next season out of this group as these numbers should be expected to be duplicated in the years to come, those who snagged him at a cheap price in keeper leagues will have a valuable chip for years to come. Fun fact: McDonagh was traded from Montreal to New York for Scott Gomez; the verdict may still be out on that trade.

Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey- A maddeningly frustrating player to own, Zidlicky has been sneakily productive, doing his best to binge on points for several games before disappearing for a stretch. He has 39 points through 76 tilts and a strong finish could see him match one of his better seasons, not the 49 he snagged in his rookie year, but close. He's still a liability defensively, but he can make a great outlet pass to spring forwards and his skill set is needed on the ice despite mistakes. His challenging of 40 points again seemed a ways off this season, but he has provided some comfort owners who had to put up with him.

Alex Goligoski, Dallas- You have to give Pittsburgh credit for cashing in on Goligoski when they did, grabbing Neal and Niskanen. It took several seasons for Goligoski to acclimate himself in Big D, although he did grab 27 points in 47 contests during the truncated campaign last winter. Niskanen sits this season with 38 games through 75 games, giving owners who gambled on him solid secondary production. If you want to quibble, seven of his 38 points came in two games, most recently putting up four assists in the Stars' win over Nashville. Goligoski is worth a look in deep leagues next season in the later rounds, or a waiver pick up in shallower pools should he cash in on scoring chances with the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

Video Clip of the Week

The Oilers haven't had much to cheer about this season and there have been rumors that Sam Gagner will find himself in another sweater come the fall. Edmonton stole a valuable point from Phoenix on Friday thanks to this nifty shootout move to beat the Coyotes:

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