RotoWire Partners

Blue Line Buzz: D-Men of the Week

Jason Chen

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

It’s too bad that Zach Werenski will likely finish a distant third in Calder Trophy voting this season, or perhaps even lower if Mitch Marner, Matt Tkachuk and Sebastian Aho go on a wild scoring run, because what he’s accomplished this season is astounding.

With an assist Friday against Buffalo, Werenski set a new Columbus record for points by a rookie with 40, surpassing Rick Nash’s record which stood for almost 15 years. It can’t be stated enough how much harder it is to play defense in the NHL, especially as a rookie even for someone as gifted as Werenski. In the modern era, only two other rookie defensemen have been able to register at least 40 points while averaging over 20 minutes before their 20th birthday: Tyler Myers and Cam Fowler. With all due respect to Brent Burns, he will have multiple seasons and chances to score 30 goals, but you’re only a rookie once in your career.

It’s no fluke, either, with a team-high 53.3 percent Corsi rating and a 100.7 PDO rating that suggests luck has very little to do with his performance this season. True, the Jackets can shield Werenski by using Jack Johnson and David Savard for defensive zone situations, but Seth Jones receives the same kind of treatment and nobody is discounting his talent or ability. In any other year, Werenski would be a shoo-in, but the league is bursting with talent like never before and there’s always a tendency to gravitate towards those who make the highlight reel.

Congratulations are also in order for Detroit’s Robbie Russo and St. Louis’ Jordan Schmaltz for making their NHL debuts this past week. A fourth-round pick by the Islanders who signed with Detroit as a free agent, Russo is an offensive defenseman who was a point-per-game player as a senior with Notre Dame, and in two seasons with AHL Grand Rapids has scored 70 points in 127 games. He’s going to be a fixture on Detroit’s blue line if all goes according to plan as Ken Holland revamps his blue line on the fly. Like younger brother Nick, Schmaltz is a North Dakota alum and a former first-round pick, but as a defenseman took a little longer to get to the NHL, playing 113 games with AHL Chicago before making his debut. As a right-hand shot, Schmaltz’s emergence made Kevin Shattenkirk all the more expendable; he doesn’t have the same kind of offensive upside, but Colton Parayko has already assumed most of the duties, and Schmaltz will almost assuredly be part of the opening night roster next season.

Studs of the Week:

Erik Karlsson, Senators
– He’s scored three goals and five assists during the Sens’ six-game winning streak, giving him 63 points this season to become just the 19th defenseman in NHL history to score at least 60 points five times. Ray Bourque is the record holder at 15, but Karlsson is just 26 years old on a list that includes 14 Hall of Famers. That’s some good company.

Justin Schultz, Penguins – Kris who? Schultz scored a goal in three straight games to kick start the Penguins’ five-game winning streak, and with 46 points and a plus-29 rating this season, he’s surely been the MVP of their blue line.

Dougie Hamilton, Flames – He registered an assist on all three Flames goals in their 3-0 win against Winnipeg, their second straight shutout victory. Glen Gulutzan was full of praise, revealing how Hamilton played through some pain due to a cut on the back of his leg. Between Calgary’s big three defenseman of Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano, it has been kind of surprising to see Hamilton emerge as their top offensive producer, and he’s on pace for his first 50-point season at just 23 years old.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Sabres – It’s been a little painful to see Ristolainen languish in Buffalo because he’ll string together point streaks and 30-minute games but still finish with a minus rating almost every night. He was a minus-5 against Philadelphia but notched two assists against Columbus, helping the Sabres come from behind to win 5-3 and snap their four-game losing streak. The Sabres have four road games ahead, including a tour through California, so expect some good and bad. Ristolainen finished this past week with a total of four points, 11 shots, 11 hits and a minus-2 rating.

Ryan McDonagh, Rangers – Oh captain, my captain! McDonagh’s two goals were more than what Detroit could muster in a 4-1 win Sunday, capping off a four-game week with just one loss (against Carolina) their third game in four nights. He’s one of the most underrated defenseman in the league and in fantasy due to his consistency, and the Rangers will certainly need him to calm things down with Henrik Lundqvist (lower body) out for a couple of weeks.

Duds of the Week:

Brent Burns, Sharks
– Another week, another goose egg. Burns fired nine shots on goal this past week but remains stuck at goal No. 27, and hasn’t scored since Feb. 18. He continues to produce, but Karlsson has grabbed all the headlines this week and is gaining some steam for the Norris Trophy.

John Klingberg, Stars – Klingberg was invisible when the Stars needed him most, held without a point in two straight games with the Stars scoring a total of three goals. The Stars aren’t eliminated from the playoff race, but they’re certainly not gunning for it, and three of their next four games are against teams in playoff position.

Aaron Ekblad, Panthers – Ekblad played just 7:34 on Saturday against the Lightning before being forced to leave due to a concussion, his second this season after being held out of the World Cup. This is not good news for Ekblad or the Panthers, who are quickly falling out of the playoff race. With 22 points and a minus-22 rating, Ekblad’s been having a tough season without Brian Campbell by his side, but should remain the franchise cornerstone.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Capitals – He’s been suspended two games for charging Kevin Gravel, but otherwise has acclimated himself nicely with four assists in six games with his new team. The suspension just comes at a bad time with Minnesota and Nashville coming up, two teams that could realistically extend the Caps’ losing streak, which now stands at four games.

Recommended Pickup:

Nick Leddy, Islanders
– You may have heard that the Islanders have been climbing up the standings with Doug Weight as their head coach, and Leddy was one of the players he challenged to carry the team. Over the past six games, Leddy has scored two goals and three assists. Given the significant role he plays on a team that also has John Tavares and a slew of prospects that can break games wide open, it’s perplexing how Leddy is only owned in half of Yahoo leagues.

The Big Board:

^ = stock rising
˅ = stock dropping
* = league leader

1Brent Burns, SJS27*432536264*6111424:55:00
2Erik Karlsson, OTT1350*11221815818126:36:00
3Victor Hedman, TBL13451431356910624:14:00
4Dustin Byfuglien, WPG103509921316711027:22*
5Dougie Hamilton, CGY1034652192628219:35
6Shea Weber, MTL1523143615912614225:14:00
7Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF ^538-72916817414927:00:00
8Justin Schultz, PIT12342924119519219:41
9Duncan Keith, CHI541133615912614225:48:00
10Kevin Shattenkirk, WSH1135-1247128787819:52
11Torey Krug, BOS638-733175456421:59
12Zach Werenski, CBJ ^9321714168357421:09
13Ryan McDonagh, NYR ^53319351287314024:22:00
14Roman Josi, NSH1129-218176469825:12:00
15Drew Doughty, LAK˅8297361501159127:17:00
16Ryan Suter, MIN˅82733*26132667827:01:00
17John Klingberg, DAL1129030111369623:29
18Matt Niskanen, WSH43119261271148322:18
19Mark Giordano, CGY ^102018461256615323:53
20P.K. Subban, NSH826-544119658524:25:00