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Blue Line Buzz: New Kids On The Line

Jason Chen

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

Maybe it’s just me, but injuries seem to have really piled up this year. A handful of teams are dressing skeletons of their normal rosters, including Montreal and Vancouver, two teams that had slightly better chances than their Canadian peers to make the playoffs. According to ManGamesLost.com, Toronto and Edmonton have also suffered, though even at full strength it’s hard to say if they would’ve been competitive.

Part of it could be the speed, pace and physicality of games these days, but no team should expect to have the same 23 guys in October and May. January and February have traditionally been the months when teams get hit hardest with injuries, but maybe because these injuries have built up over time to the point where they can’t be ignored (you can play hurt, but you can’t play injured), they’re stretching into late March.

The upside is that there will be plenty of call-ups, including a few interesting names this past week. Here’s the rundown, with players ranked in decreasing order of fantasy value:

Stephen Johns, DAL – He secured a two-year extension after scoring his first career NHL goal, but truth be told, the second-round pick from 2010 always had top-four potential. Johns was a four-year standout at Notre Dame and easily the best player on this list, and he could provide value for fantasy owners looking for under-the-radar help.

Trevor Carrick, CAR – One of four hockey-playing brothers (Sam plays for the Leafs), he also probably has the most upside. He’ll probably end up being one of those defensemen who’s better in the offensive end than the defensive end, but he packs some intriguing potential. Carrick has 69 points in his past 135 AHL games.

Tyler Wotherspoon, CGY – A standout with the powerhouse WHL Portland Winterhawks, Wotherspoon typifies the new-age defenseman: He’s big, he’s mobile and he can move the puck. The problem: He has just six assists in 45 games with AHL Stockton and zero points in nine games with the Flames this season.

Vojtech Mozik, NJ – A righty with good size and four-year veteran of the Czech professional league, his first season in North America has actually been quite impressive despite a modest 14 points in 49 games with AHL Albany. The Devils just seem to be able to develop defenseman (Adam Larsson aside, maybe), and Mozik may carve out a small little career with them.

Darren Dietz, MON – A fifth-round pick out of the WHL, where he cleared 40 points and 100 penalty minutes in his final two years of major junior, the 22-year-old has the potential to be a regular next year, but long-term may just be a borderline top-four defenseman.

John Ramage, CLM – The 25-year-old just appeared in his second NHL game and at this point will likely be a career minor league tweener. He’s not particularly big, and he neither moves nor scores well enough to secure a regular role.

Joel Hanley, MON – He’s an undrafted UMass-Amherst grad who worked hard in the AHL over the past two seasons to get his first taste of the NHL. Hanley has moderate upside, but is likely a No. 6 defenseman at best.

One last word: Keep your heads up, kids.




Last week’s top five performers:

Brent Burns, SJ – With an assist Sunday against Arizona, Burns set a new franchise record for points by a defenseman with 65, besting Sandis Ozolinsh’s 1994 mark. I can see why Team Canada opted to pass on him – he’s not considered elite in his own end and doesn’t have extensive experience internationally – but he’s done so much damage with his offense, sometimes simply by keeping the puck in the offensive zone for long periods of time, that it’s a shame he likely won’t get a Norris Trophy nomination.

Trevor Daley, PIT – He had three points in Sunday’s statement game against the Caps, and with his goal the night before against in-state rival Philadelphia, Daley was easily one of the week’s best. The surging Pens have allowed two goals or fewer in each of their past four games, and if they want to go on a deep playoff run, that defense – especially beyond Kris Letang – has to hold.

Kevin Klein, NYR – He scored both of the Rangers’ goals in a 2-1 win against Anaheim, the highlight of a three-game point streak that was snapped Saturday. The Rangers would’ve gone 0-3 on their California road trip without him, again raising questions about just how good this team is. The surging Pens have now caught up to them, and the two teams are now tied at 88 points with 37 regulation and overtime wins each.

Dougie Hamilton, CGY – He had two three-assist games this past week (the first two of his career) and 10 penalty minutes against the Avs, making him a top performer in most formats. The Flames have won three of their past four games thanks to Hamilton, but their goaltending and defense remain frustrating at times. However, Mark Giordano remains a bright spot.

Zach Bogosian, BUF – He notched an assist in consecutive games and people laughed it off as a fluke, but then scored a goal in two straight games afterwards (including a game with eight shots on goal!) and kind of shut everyone up. But then Bogosian posted a minus-3 rating the following game in a 4-1 loss to rival Toronto on national TV – though it was the second half of a back-to-back – and the world seemed right again.

Top five trending up:

Martin Marincin, TOR – Mike Babcock likes this guy, so we should too. He’s certainly easier to like now because he has a goal and two assists in his past three games, but in reality, Marincin’s a pretty safe (i.e., boring) two-way defenseman who’s still trying to find his way in the NHL. The Leafs have won four of their past six and he’s played at least 23 minutes in each of those wins. He’s also plus-6 with 11 blocked shots this past week.

Brian Dumoulin, PIT – He finished a league-best plus-8 among defenseman this past week, although that feat may have been a little more impressive if the Pens weren’t also on a six-game winning streak. After a series of personnel mistake on defense, Jim Rutherford, who drafted Dumoulin in 2009 with Carolina, has found a potential No. 3 guy behind Letang and Olli Maatta. They’re now three-quarters of the way from filling out a pretty good top-four group.

Paul Martin, SJ – He’s been playing steady, under-the-radar defense for the Sharks all season, and with an assist in three straight games, the veteran will likely top the 20-point mark. Those numbers aren’t really worthy of note for fantasy players, but the 35-year-old is proving he can still play, making him a potentially sneaky pick for playoff pools. He has 40 points in 85 career NHL playoff games, including 10 assists in his past 18.

Michael Stone, ARI – He didn’t find the score sheet due to back-to-back shutout losses, but prior to that, Stone had two straight two-point games, putting him at 33 points on the season. He’s physical and blocks a ton of shots, which makes him very valuable going forward. Those peripheral stats can be easier to make up ground in than the scoring categories.

Luke Schenn, LA – He’s been playing well for the Kings since moving from Philadelphia, once again proving that Darryl Sutter can do things that other coaches cannot. Schenn has four assists in his past four games and remains a physical force, including eight hits in a 5-0 rout of Chicago and 10 blocked shots this past week. He’s a guy you get for peripherals, but will likely rack them up at a much higher pace than Stone.

Top five trending down:

Dustin Byfuglien, WPG – The Jets don’t have much to play for with a playoff spot out of reach and a few key players out of the lineup, but a minus-5 rating over a three-game stretch just won’t cut it. Byfuglien battled the flu before the Jets went on a three-game slide, and it’s been three weeks since Big Buff last scored a goal.

Keith Yandle, NYR – He’s been in and out of the doghouse for fantasy owners this year, and after a five-game point streak, Yandle’s now on a three-game drought with a minus-4 rating. The team is currently struggling as well, and Yandle has seen his ice time drop from about 20 to the high teens. He’s a feast-or-famine type of power-play quarterback who doesn’t score as much on the man advantage as you’d think he would.

Aaron Ekblad, FLA – His shining statistic is his 14 goals, but for a team with quite a few scorers, Ekblad disappointingly hasn’t racked up the assists, which is why he’s not considered a premier point producer like a Letang or Erik Karlsson despite his lofty status and excellent play. Still, he hasn’t scored in five games and has the Rangers, Bruins and Lightning coming up.

Torey Krug, BOS – He’s stuck at three goals for the season, and part of it might be because he doesn’t have a heavy slap shot, just a rather effective wrist shot. The Bruins have lost four of their past five and have three goals in their past three games. It’s been ages since Krug scored a goal.

Matt Niskanen, WAS – He was one of the few players who showed up against Pittsburgh, playing 28 minutes and finishing with a plus-1 rating. But Niskanen also has just one assist in his past six games and John Carlson (lower body) is expected to return Friday, which means the veteran’s role will diminish. He’s been fantastic for the Caps this season, but is a second-fiddle player.