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Posted - 01/07/2014 :  11:26:29  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
The Isles Kyle Okposo has been on quite the tear of late. Over his last eight games, he has 13 points. He is on pace to finish with 30 goals and 80 points, smashing his previous career highs of 24 and 52 respectively. In that 52 point season, Okposo led the team's forward's in power play ice time (PPTOI).

It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that ice time, particularly on the first unit power play is the key to success here. The question is, can he maintain that pace? His shooting percentage is currently lower than when he recorded his 24 goal season and Okposo's linemates are John Tavares and Thomas Vanek. He will very likely fall off the point per game pace, but should still threaten 30 goals and 70 points.

Most of us know without looking at the stats sheet that Rick Nash is not having a great season thus far, but who would be your next candidate to lead the Rangers in scoring? Derek Stepan or maybe Brad Richards? Nope, it's none of the above. After starting the season with only one point in nine games, Mats Zuccarello has figuratively exploded (because literally would be too messy), notching 29 points over his last 33 games. Over that stretch, he has eight multi-point efforts. The pint-sized Norwegian has been dynamite on the power play, recording 10 assists and 13 points. With Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh all locks on the top power play unit, there are five forwards vying for the two remaining slots. I still don't trust that Zuccarello will continue his offensive ways and if he goes cold for a stretch and gets taken off that top power play unit, his numbers will suffer greatly.

To me, it doesn't really matter who Jason Spezza lines up with, as long as he's out there on the top power play unit, he's going to get his points. The 30-year-old's fantasy value is definitely at a new low. Still, he has 30 points in 39 games this year and assuming he doesn't miss any more time to injury (please stop laughing), he is on pace for 60 points. Don't forget this guy is a point-per-game talent and is less than a year removed from back surgery. Cut the guy some slack, buy low and hope that he doesn't miss many more games to injury.

After Scott Hartnell went 0 for October (nine games), he knew he had to do something drastic, so he cut his infamous locks ironically the day before Halloween. He took the next two games to mourn the loss and then he started scoring again, recording eight points in the remaining 13 games in November. This season, Hartnell has been playing at even-strength mostly with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. A bit of a departure from the last couple of seasons where he lined up primarily beside Claude Giroux. Hartnell has a seven game point streak on the go and while he will not hit for the 37 goals and 67 points he had only two seasons ago, but should be good for 20 goals and 50 points.

Pittsburgh's Kris Letang has struggled to put up points this year after missing nine games to the dreaded lower body injury and another 10 games to the equally frightening upper body injury. He may be having trouble finding his rhythm this season, but he's still averaging almost 25 minutes of ice time per game, including nearly four minutes a game on that tantalizing Pens power play. Don't lose faith, this is a guy who prior to this year has scored 130 points in 168 games over the last three NHL seasons, a 63 point clip per 82 games played. Pittsburgh has no doubts about Letang's talent after signing him to an eight year contract extension last July. He'll be back scoring at a 60 point pace soon enough.

As much as I want to talk about Valtteri Filppula or Ondrej Palat, the guy we are going to cover today is Tyler Johnson. Everyone should already know about Filppula and while Palat is playing well, he's not getting much love with the man advantage, limiting his points potential this year. If I were to tell you at the beginning of the season that Tyler Johnson would have as many points as Steven Stamkos at the 42 game mark, you would have thought I was crazy. Obviously, no one could have forecasted that Stamkos would be seriously injured given that over his five NHL seasons, he had only missed two games. Johnson is taking advantage of the Stamkos injury, lining up beside fellow munchkin, Martin St. Louis. Without Stamkos in the mix, Johnson is receiving the fifth most power play time on the team. Last season, Johnson led the AHL in scoring and was named MVP. He has points in five of his last six games and is on pace to record 20 goals and 45 points. Buyer beware though, once Stamkos returns to the line-up, Johnson's role is sure to diminish.

The much maligned Dion Phaneuf is the next stop on our tour of the Eastern Conference. Phaneuf averages nearly three minutes more per game than the next Leaf and plays big minutes on both the power play and penalty kill units. Expectations were set pretty high after he jumped straight from junior to the NHL and recorded seasons of 49, 50, 60 and 47 points to start his career. Toronto traded for him in his fifth year and he finished with a combined 32 points. He followed that up with 30, 44 and 28 (48 pro-rated) points. Phaneuf started this season with promise by scoring seven points in his first 13 affairs, but only had three points over the next 15 games. He has five points in his last six contests and when all is said and done, should end up with nearly 40 points and over 100 penalty minutes. Is he worth $7-million a season? Ask yourself how much a team desperate for a top four defenseman, like say, oh Edmonton, would pay on the open market for a player of Phaneuf's ilk?

And finally, we'll finish with another defenseman that many love to hate on. Not too long ago, Mike Green strung together seasons of 56, 73 and 76 points. Unfortunately, since then he has had trouble staying healthy. Last year, he recorded 12 goals and 26 points in 35 games. If we pro-rate that pace over 82 games, that would be 28 goals and 61 points. This year, Green has 21 points in 39 games, a 42 point pace and he has missed only three games so far this season. He is firmly entrenched on a lethal Caps power play that is ranked second in the NHL.

Written by Russ Miller of www.dobberhockey.com

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