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Blue Line Buzz: OEL's Goals MIA

Jason Chen

Consistently fires muffins. Blue Line Buzz on Mondays, Daily Puck and DFS on Sundays.

Entering the second month of the season, rookie Colton Parayko remains at the top of the list in scoring among defensemen, sitting 10th with 10 points in 14 games. Fresh out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko has started his NHL career with a bang, making the team out of camp and emerging as one of the top blueliners on a Blues team that already boasted one of the league’s best defensive units.

Even though defense is the toughest position for a player to learn in the NHL, it hasn’t been immune to the massive youth movement in the league. Look no further than the top of the list, where 23-year-old John Klingberg is currently the scoring leader.

Note that Vancouver rookie Ben Hutton and Boston rookie Colin Miller have also asserted themselves in the league, as both currently sit in the top 30 in scoring. Hutton’s play has slipped a little, perhaps due to fatigue and the burden of a bigger role, while Miller is still trying to carve out some ice time and figure out how he can be even more dangerous on offense.

It’s important to bear in mind that it’s very difficult for rookies to be consistent, and what Aaron Ekblad accomplished last year was extraordinary. So even if Parayko, Hutton and Miller have provided some value for fantasy owners quick on the wire, the season is far from over and more options will emerge as the season goes along. Darnell Nurse, for example, has provided the Oilers with a bit of a spark on defense and already plays a significant role.

To stay ahead of the curve, keep an eye on defensemen performing well in the AHL, who will get the first call-up should a spot open. A few names to keep an eye on include Ryan Pulock of the Islanders and the Penguins’ Derrick Pouliot, both first-round picks known for their offensive abilities, as well as Tampa’s Anthony DeAngelo and the Ducks’ Brandon Montour. If the Flyers continue lacking offense from their defenseman, they may look at calling up Shayne Gostisbehere, and if the Blackhawks end up completely losing faith in David Rundblad and Michal Rozsival, they can always roll the dice with Ville Pokka.

Quick notes:

- The Avs demoted Nikita Zadorov after he scored just two points in 11 games. Patrick Roy seems to have a good feel for QMJHL players, but Zadorov and fellow Russian prospect Mikhail Grigorenko haven’t fared much better with him than with Ted Nolan.

- Mike Green returned to the lineup and notched an assist, but needs to do it on a consistent basis. The Wings are counting on him to move the puck, and perhaps the imminent return of Pavel Datsyuk (ankle) will help.

- Duncan Keith skated for the first time after undergoing surgery, but remains weeks away with no return date set.

- The Blue Jackets terminated minor league defenseman Austin Madaisky’s contract, and he will play in Germany instead. The former fifth-round pick was taken one round ahead of Dalton Prout and never played for Columbus.

Last week’s top five performers:

Tyson Barrie, COL – Six of Barrie’s eight points on the season have come over his past four games, including back-to-back contests in which he logged more than 25 minutes. Sometimes Barrie gets overlooked because the Avs’ defense is very suspect, but he ought to be considered one of the league’s elite scoring defenseman.

Brent Burns, SJ – The Sharks have won just three of their past eight, but they sure can’t blame Burns. He has four points in his past four games, and the Sharks are 3-0 in games when Burns has scored. The veteran logs a lot of minutes and provides good peripheral stats, which makes him one of the best defensemen available; he certainly should be discussed in the same tier as Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban. He’s logged over 31 minutes twice this year.

Drew Doughty, LA – The Kings’ winning streak was snapped by Chicago, then they lost to Columbus in the same week, but both games were close, and Los Angeles currently sits atop the Pacific Division with 18 points. Doughty just scored his first goal of the season Saturday, but still has nine points in 14 games this season.

Colton Parayko, STL – After a 3-0 loss to the Kings, Parayko responded with two assists in a comeback win against division-rival Chicago in the second half of a back-to-back, then added a goal in a 4-0 win over division-rival Nashville. Parayko, Joel Edmundson and the Blues’ current wave of talent, including Robby Fabbri and Ty Rattie, could help the team reach new heights.

Brent Seabrook, CHI – He scored an assist in Sunday’s win over Edmonton to bust Chicago out of a two-game slump, and now Seabrook has a point in eight of his past nine games. He’s a model of consistency for the team even when things aren’t exactly right. It’s too early to have any serious discussions about awards, but Seabrook has to be in the mix for the half-season Norris.

Top five trending up:

Kevin Connauton, CLB – After sitting out six games, Connauton drew back into the lineup in place of Fedor Tyutin, and seems to have earned back his spot on the Jackets’ blue line. Playing defense for John Tortorella is hard because he demands so much, but Connauton’s appeared in five straight games and collected three assists over that span.

Colin Miller, BOS – Miller had his six-game point streak snapped Sunday against the Islanders, but the 23-year-old is showing the offensive potential that made him such a dangerous threat for AHL Manchester last season. Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk may have left, but Miller and Torey Krug make sure the Boston defense can still move the puck up the ice.

Damon Severson, NJ – Over their past six games, the Devils have lost twice when Severson plays more than 20 minutes and won four times when he plays between 14 and 17 minutes. Maybe Severson’s still getting up to speed after missing time last year, and maybe it’s because he’s gotten leapfrogged on the depth chart, but either way, it seems like the Devils have figured out how much to play Severson each night to get the best out of him. He has three assists in his last four games.

Darnell Nurse, EDM – Since getting called up, Nurse has scored three points in six games, playing more than 20 minutes three times. He’s getting the minutes because the Oilers can use his speed on the back end, but also because their defense is mighty thin, and they’re actually lucky that Nurse can step in and start producing right away. He’s not going to turn Edmonton’s fortunes around singlehandedly, but Nurse has got tremendous upside and should still be available on a lot of waiver wires.

Morgan Rielly, TOR – He’s the type of defenseman you can build around, and Rielly’s 10 points and minus-3 rating are pretty impressive relative to the team’s performance so far. It’s a good bet that by the end of the season, Rielly will be firmly entrenched as the Leafs’ No. 1 defenseman, moving them on from the Dion Phaneuf era. He’s available in most leagues and could be an underrated source of offense.

Top five trending down:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI – He continues to be the lynchpin of the Arizona defense – he did, after all, play 33:46 against the Rangers – but Ekman-Larsson’s lack of production is slightly concerning, as he has just one goal on the season. Excitement around the team’s prospects has been somewhat diminished by the fact that the Coyotes have lost three of their last four games. OEL might find it tough to score 20 goals again this year.

Aaron Ekblad, FLA – Last year’s top rookie was expected to take another step forward this year, but has seen his ice time get cut back and has gone without a point in the Panthers’ five-game losing streak. The future franchise defenseman hasn’t really lived up to expectations so far this season, as lofty as they are, and fantasy owners who took a chance on him the draft may have to cut him loose.

Jacob Trouba, WPG – There’s really nothing wrong with Trouba’s play other than the curious lack of production. Despite playing over 20 minutes each night, Trouba has just two assists on the season. The Jets have a very deep defense, and Trouba has to compete with Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien for scoring opportunities. So far, it looks like Paul Maurice is content with using Trouba in defensive situations. In fantasy, that’s like a death knell.

David Rundblad, CHI – The former first-round pick sat for the fifth straight game Sunday against Edmonton, and he’s quickly running out of opportunities. He couldn’t capitalize during an early season injury to Michal Rozsival, and he still continues to sit despite the team losing Duncan Keith. Joel Quenneville just doesn’t have any confidence in him, and it’s fair to say that Rundblad is likely headed to Europe after the season after failing to live up to expectations in the NHL.

Michael Del Zotto, PHI – He was re-signed after a 32-point campaign last year, but has produced squat this season, scoring just one assist so far this season to go with a minus-8 rating. Del Zotto’s one of the reasons the Flyers have fared poorly this season, just recently snapping a six-game losing streak Saturday.

This week’s top five picks:

Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Kris Russell, CGY – The Flames play four games this week, albeit all on the road. A busy week gives them plenty of opportunities to score, and against trigger-happy teams such as Tampa Bay and Washington, Russell is going to block a lot of shots.

Keith Yandle, NYR – Other than a stingy St. Louis defense, Yandle could be in line for a lot of points with dates against Carolina and Toronto. He has eight points this season, and the Rangers are on a five-game winning streak.

Drew Doughty, LA – One of the league’s hottest defensemen will stay in California all week with dates against the Coyotes, Islanders and Oilers; the Kings have a good chance to sweep the week.

Dustin Byfuglien, WPG – He’s hard to stop in general, it’s difficult to see how the Wild, Stars and Predators can contain him this week. The Jets have won just once over their past four games but continue to play well.

Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF – Coming off a two-goal game against Vancouver, is “Risto” finally ready to string together a point streak? With road dates against the Bolts and Panthers before coming home against San Jose, it’ll be difficult to rack up points, but he’s talented enough to do it. Call this pick a bold prediction.