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Blue Line Buzz: Fresh Ink

Jason Chen

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

Three years from now, the Blues will look at the $8.7 million extension to which they just signed Carl Gunnarsson and say to themselves: “Hey, you know what? That was a really, really good deal. We got a lot of value out of it.”

A pretty steady defenseman, he’s seen his role diminish in St. Louis thanks to the presence of two stars in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk as well as the emergence of Colton Parayko. However, reliable two-way guys like Gunnarsson are invaluable on the third pairing when the top guys need to take a break.

Gunnarsson’s cap hit will be just $2.9 million, a $250,000 discount from his previous contract, which was given to him by the Leafs after a lockout-shortened season during which he scored 15 points in 37 games. He’ll never score at that clip again, but with the way defensemen have been valued recently (just look at what Jim Nill gave up for maybe-rental Kris Russell), even if Gunnarsson gets squeezed out or regresses, his contract won’t be hard to move.

The Blues get to hold onto him through the latter part of his prime years, exposing themselves to little risk while retaining a guy who kills penalties and can step in on the power play in a pinch. There are still a few teams that have a rotating cast of tweeners for their third pairing, so there’s also a trade market for guys like Gunnarsson.

At the other end of the spectrum is Nikita Tryamkin, Vancouver’s 2014 third-round pick who just signed a two-year, entry-level contract and is expected to make his NHL debut at some point over the next couple of weeks. The 6-foot-7 Russian is known for his size and mobility, two things that have people comparing him to Zdeno Chara.

A third-round pick from 2014, the 21-year-old was a key player for Yekaterinburg in the KHL and brings a lot of intrigue to a Canucks blue line that isn’t nearly as deep as it once was. Historically, Vancouver’s fared better with Russians than most other teams, and Tryamkin is a signal that the Canucks are willing to dip into that region again after years of neglect.

But we need to pump the brakes a little because expecting Tryamkin to be a Chara is not only unreasonable, it’s based on the idea that both guys are pterodactyls with their giant wingspans. Does Tryamkin have the same heavy slap shot? The same evil stare that can strike fear into the hearts of opponents? Who knows – before Tryamkin plays his first NHL game, everything is pure conjecture at this point.

Tryamkin, wearing No. 88, has been paired with Dan Hamhuis in practice – the veteran’s as stable a partner as you could ask for, but both are left-handed shots. Hamhuis has patrolled the left side for most of his career, which means Tryamkin may be forced to play on his weak side. Though he’s mobile and has been playing professionally in the KHL, the speed and size in the NHL also cannot be underestimated. Tryamkin’s size will be as much of a benefit to him as it is a target for NHL forwards looking to see what the big Russian is made of. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tryamkin struggles in his first game; there are just too many things that are working against him at the moment, and even if he looks merely competent in his debut, that’d be a very encouraging sign.

Good on the Canucks to keep him out of the lineup against Nashville in a nationally-televised game Saturday. The last thing you want is to throw a rookie into the fire on a big stage, especially since he’s probably still jetlagged. In all likelihood, Tryamkin will make his debut on a weekday night in a matchup that allows Willie Desjardins to shield him – Wednesday against the Avs, next Tuesday in Winnipeg or next Thursday in Nashville would be my best guesses.

Last week’s top five performers:

Brent Burns, SJ – It’s getting pretty ridiculous now. Burns led the Sharks with a goal and an assist in an impressive 5-2 win over Washington, perhaps putting a little fear into the hearts of the Ducks and Kings, either of whom could be the Sharks’ first-round opponent. Then again, the Sharks were shut out by the Devils in their previous game. Regardless, that Burns won’t even sniff the Norris Trophy this year is a bit of a travesty.

Torey Krug, BOS – Krug makes his first appearance in this section for the first time this year after rattling off three consecutive games with an assist. A second-half surge has seen the Bruins vault themselves to the top of the division, and there’s been some quiet talk that this team could do some serious damage in the playoffs. Krug’s three goals this year represent a bit of a disappointment, but he should reach 40 points without any problems.

Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI – With three more goals this past week, Gostisbehere’s 15 on the season are the most by a rookie defenseman since Guy Lapointe did it more than 40 years ago. If Artemi Panarin wasn’t having such a productive season, Gostisbehere might’ve been the shoo-in for the Calder Trophy. Nevertheless, if you’ve been reading this column, you’ve been on the Ghost Bear hype train even before his call-up, so brownie points if, like me, you had him all season. The real intrigue lies next season, when we’ll see whether he hits that sophomore wall.

Nick Leddy, NYI – Despite two straight losses, Leddy’s been very good for the Islanders of late, racking up a goal and six assists in his past five games. He needs to score like this more consistently next season, especially if Travis Hamonic is traded for a forward. Leddy has long been thought of as a strong skating defenseman with good offensive instincts, and the lack of a premier power-play quarterback continues to be a sore spot for the Isles. They can make it work without one, but it’d certainly make things go more smoothly if someone could step into that role.

Kevin Shattenkirk, STL – He snapped a 10-game goal drought with two goals against Dallas, and the Blues are now winners of six straight after three straight losses. The Stars have been abysmal in the second half, which is paving the way for the Blues to potentially avoid Chicago and gain home-ice advantage in the playoffs, which could set the table for a long(er) playoff run. If Shattenkirk can prove invaluable to the Blues, as he has recently, management may have to think twice about trading him. I’m among those who don’t believe the Blues’ problem is lack of scoring.

Top five trending up:

Kevin Connauton, ARI – He was quite instrumental in the Coyotes’ past two wins, and he managed to snag a goal and an assist in two games before that. Connauton’s ability to move the puck is underrated, and he’s found a surprisingly effective physical edge to his game in the NHL. One of those rare players who left college for major junior hockey to fast-track his development, he’s finally managed to secure a regular roster spot at 26 years old.

Connor Murphy, ARI – There’s lots of love for the Desert Dogs this week, but to be fair, they have been playing well. Murphy was a first-round pick in 2011 who many believed would be a strong two-way defenseman, but he’s instead become more of a defense-first guy in the pros. The offense is coming along, but perhaps due to Dave Tippett, Murphy’s defense is what’s been keeping him in the lineup. His 15 blocked shots and 13 hits were league highs this past week among defensemen.

Brenden Dillon, SJ – The undrafted former Seattle Thunderbird plays a two-way game with a definite edge and moves quite well for someone who’s 6-foot-4 and north of 220 pounds. His game isn’t as heavy as his size would indicate, but he may be one of the league’s best third-pairing defensemen. Acquired from Dallas last year, Dillon notched two points against Washington on Saturday.

Erik Gudbranson, FLA – He’s overlooked because he doesn’t do anything special, but for a defensive defenseman, he’s sure put up a few apples recently. Over his past three games, Gudbranson has two assists while averaging well over 20 minutes per game. While Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell are the Panthers’ transition guys, Gudbranson locks down the defense with his big frame and physical play. Still, he’s not worth a lot in fantasy outside specialty formats that count hits and blocks.

Alec Martinez, LA – Okay, maybe he gets a free pass because the Kings are so good defensively and Drew Doughty takes the toughest matchups anyway, but you can’t deny how well Martinez has been playing recently. He has an assist in three straight games and played 24 minutes against New Jersey. Steady yet unspectacular like teammate Jake Muzzin, he’s the type of defenseman Darryl Sutter seems to like.

Top five trending down:

Duncan Keith, CHI – The best part about Keith (and many other defensemen who won’t win scoring titles) is that he doesn’t need to rack up points to be effective. With just a goal and an assist in his past four games, Keith won’t scare anybody with his production. Considering his talent and the enormous impact he can have on any given game, he’s never been quite equally effective in fantasy. He’s good, but good doesn’t describe what Keith’s really capable of.

Victor Hedman, TAM – Much like Keith, Hedman doesn’t have to score to make an impact. The Bolts have hit a rough patch with three losses in four games and Hedman has just one assist in his past 10 games, but the team remains in position to win the division title. Hedman is owned in virtually every single league even when his production doesn’t always warrant a fantasy roster spot. It’s dangerous to chase names in fantasy.

Tyson Barrie, COL – He hasn’t scored a goal in six games and has zero points in his past four. In all likelihood, he’ll still reach 50 points this year, but Barrie’s notoriously streaky (as young scorers tend to be) and part of a motley crew that doesn’t defend very well. When things are going good, Barrie is fantastic. But when the Avs are allowing five or six goals a game and losing, he’s kind of a fantasy nightmare.

Sami Vatanen, ANA – It’s just been a season of adversity for the Ducks. After picking up his play and helping the team to a string of wins, Vatanen missed Friday’s game against St. Louis and may miss Monday’s game against New Jersey with an upper-body injury. There’s been no word on how long he’ll be out, but the Ducks will miss him. They’ve lost three straight games.

Dennis Wideman, CGY – He returned to the ice after 19 games, one game shy of serving the full 20 games the NHL handed, but nine more than the arbitrator’s ruling. It’s been a tough month for Wideman, and he’s not trending down because of his poor play – he hasn’t played, period – but because this episode is going to hang over his head for the rest of the season. It’s just a distraction nobody needs.