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Cullen: Notes on Yakupov, Lupul, Benoit, Steen and more

Scott Cullen
10/15/2013 2:55:42 PM
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A high-profile benching, Maple Leafs' have finishers on the left, hot starts for Crosby and Ovechkin and lots of line juggling in Scott Cullen's latest NHL blog.

1. Oilers RW Nail Yakupov scratched Saturday night at Toronto and Monday at Washington. Back-to-back healthy scratches for a player that didn't miss a game as a rookie last season.

No one gets a free pass in the NHL and when you're a scorer that isn't scoring (Yakupov had no points in four games to start the year), it's understandable enough that he would come under criticism.

At the same time, his most common linemates were Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu, not exactly proven offensive performers.

The contrast, compared to expectations in the offseason, is that Ales Hemsky is still getting prominent ice time -- Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are his most common linemates -- which leaves Yakupov outside the proverbial top six forwards.

It would seem outrageous for the Oilers to move Yakupov so early in his career, but they've made a bold statement already with back-to-back healthy scratches. The message has been sent and if Yakupov doesn't perform better quickly, it's going to be difficult to watch this play out.

While we're on the subject, here some other notable healthy scratches early in the season: Young defencemen Dougie Hamilton, Adam Larsson, Ryan Ellis, Brendan Smith, Tyson Barrie and Jake Muzzin. Old defencemen Derek Morris and Andrej Meszaros as well as veteran wingers Dustin Penner and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

2. Amid early-season disappointment in Edmonton, rookie C Mark Arcobello (0 G, 5 A, +4, 6 GP) is making a smooth transition to the league. The 25-year-old scored 88 points in 91 (regular season plus playoff) games for Oklahoma City in the AHL last season, which figured to earn him an NHL look.

With Sam Gagner suffering a broken jaw in the preseaon, Arcobello not only made the team, but he's skating in an offensive role, playing mostly with Jordan Eberle and a rotating cast of left wingers. When Gagner returns, there may not be the same kind of room for Arcobello, but he's playing too well to just get shuffled into a depth role.

3. Part of the reason that the Toronto Maple Leafs have defied the advanced stats projections (all of six games into the year) is that they have players who finish at a high percentage. Left wingers Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk have combined to score 10 goals on 47 shots (21.2 SH%).

Lupul has 16 goals on 66 shots over the last two seasons (24.2 SH%), the best finishing rate of anyone with at least 10 goals. Dallas' Alex Chiasson, who has nine goals on 24 shots (37.5 SH%) just missed the cutoff.

Part of the deal with high percentages, however, is that they are difficult to maintain, so it will be interesting to see if Lupul and JvR can maintain a higher shooting percentage over the long haul.

4. Philadelphia is having problems at full strength, but now they are missing Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier for at least a week due to injuries. Tye McGinn was called up from the AHL and immediately inserted onto a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, which is obviously a plum assignment for McGinn, but also a better chance for Voracek to be reunited with Giroux.

5. Detroit shuffled up lines recently, moving Todd Bertuzzi to the right wing with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, dropping Justin Abdelkader to play with Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen on the second line and Daniel Alfredsson to skate with Joakim Andersson and Dan Cleary on the third line.

Alfredsson still gets first unit power play time, so it's not as if the change in role will altogether eliminate his value. On the other hand, it was easy enough to overlook Bertuzzi before, but anyone skating with Datsyuk and Zetterberg deserves consideration.

6. Penguins C Sidney Crosby (5 G, 5 A, +1, 5 GP) is tied for the league lead in scoring with Capitals RW Alex Ovechkin (6 G, 3 A, minus-4, 6 GP), great starts for two of the biggest names in the game. Crosby has better points-per-game production (1.80 to 1.50) and a lower percentage of power play points (44.4% to 66.7%), so he may be more likely to sustain this start.

What's at least a little bit interesting is that both have relatively low on-ice shooting percentages, so they haven't been so outrageously fortunate, at least not at 5-on-5.

7. Lightning LW Alex Killorn (2 G, 4 A, plus-2, 5 GP) has been a quality secondary scoring option for Tampa Bay, ranking fourth among the team's forwards in ice time (17:54 per game), but exercise caution. His possession numbers aren't good and his on-ice shooting percentage (16.0%) is due to regress.

8. Avalanche D Andre Benoit (0 G, 3 A, plus-5, 5 GP) was the big offseason addition to the Colorado blueline and the journeyman with 41 career NHL games to his credit prior to this season has played 21:41 per game, falling just between Jan Hejda (21:47) and Erik Johnson (21:39) for most ice time on the team.

Benoit does have an offensive track record, scoring 80 points in 107 AHL games in the 2012-13 and 2010-2011 seasons combined and he was a productive scorer in his junior days with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, but his early puck possession numbers don't suggest that he should keep getting this much work.

9. Blues LW Alexander Steen (4 G, 4 A, plus-5, 4 GP) has taken well to his spot on the number one line, playing with David Backes and T.J. Oshie on a unit that tends to take on the toughest defensive assignments (zone starts, quality of competition) while also producing offensively.

While their on-ice shooting percentage is unsustainably high, it never would be reasonable to expect Steen to keep scoring at a two-points-per-game pace. What their success should indicate, however, is that the trio could have some offensive value in addition to strong defensive play.

10. Stars RW Rich Peverley, who missed time in training camp due to an irregular heart beat, has replaced Erik Cole on the Stars' top line with LW Jamie Benn and C Tyler Seguin. Good opportunity for a player who had a terrible 2013 season, but has scored as many as 55 points in a season.

11. Ottawa's defensive play has been a disaster thus far, allowing 43.0 shots against per game. Dallas (36.2) and the New York Rangers (35.8) are next highest. LW Clarke MacArthur and C Kyle Turris are the only Senators that have been on for more shots for than against when it comes to 5-on-5 play.

12. Hurricanes LW Jiri Tlusty (0 G, 0 A, minus-3, 6 GP), who had a breakout season alongside Eric Staal and Alexander Semin last season, is off to a slow start this year, with horrific possession numbers underlying the lack of overall production. That's cause for concern, because it could get him bumped from that spot.

13. Anaheim has been leaning on rookie defencemen. Hampus Lindholm (0 G, 2 A, +6, 3 GP) and Sami Vatanen ( G, 1 A, plus-3, 5 GP) are both playing more than 19 minutes per game.

14. Odds would have been pretty high coming into the season that, at any point, Oilers C Boyd Gordon would be the team's leading goal-scorer. On a team with lauded young scoring forwards, Gordon leads with four goals in six games and, with injuries down the middle, has seen enough time with scoring wingers.

At the same time, Gordon has never scored more than eight goals in a season and his 1.50 shots per game is merely near the best of his career, so he's much more likely to have regression hit and hit hard rather than have a dramatic offensive breakthrough in a season during which he turns 30-years-old.

15. Wild D Jonas Brodin was praised heavily in his rookie season, for handling tough assignments alongside Ryan Suter and playing like a seasoned vet. He also scored 11 points in 45 games, which didn't plant the seed for big offensive numbers.

His start to this season, however, includes two goals and five points, with a plus-3 rating in six games, while playing a couple minutes more per game, upt to 25:11. He's had some good fortune, relative to his defensive teammates, but it's also fair to say that, with as much as he plays, that Brodin could score enough in his sophomore season to have fantasy value.

16. The revolving door at left wing on the Anaheim Ducks' top line has opened for Patrick Maroon, the latest to get a shot with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Marron has two goals and four points in 20 career NHL games, but he's a power forward who has 79 goals and 172 points (with 327 penalty minutes) in 196 AHL games over the last three seasons.

17. In an attempt to shake up their forward lines, the Boston Bruins have flipped Reilly Smith and Brad Marchand, taking Marchand off the wing with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson. Marchand's ice time (15:36 per game) is also at its lowest level since 2010-2011.

18. Edmonton's woes aren't only attributable to goaltending, but there's no denying that Devan Dubnyk (5.43 GAA, .829 SV% in 4 GP) has struggled early and that will prompt change if it doesn't turn around dramatically. Jason LaBarbera is a veteran backup, who has played more than 40 games once in his career, so if Dubnyk isn't the answer, the Oilers will likely have to find an external solution.

19. Minnesota has given Nino Niederreiter a chance to play with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu on the top line. After being buried in the minors last season, Niederreiter has three points, and a minus-2 rating, in six games so far this season. That's not terribly exciting on its own, but with first line minutes, El Nino could be much more interesting.

20. The line shake-up in New Jersey has seen Dainius Zubrus joining Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. Zubrus and Jagr aren't winning a lot of races at this point in their respective careers, but both have such great size that they should be able to control the puck once they get it.

21. Trying to get Mike Ribeiro (0G, 3 A, minus-2, 6 GP) going, the Coyotes have been playing him on the wing with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata.

22. Injuries to James Neal and then Beau Bennett have opened the door for Chuck Kobasew to join Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen on Pittsburgh's second line.

23. The Jets have moved LW Evander Kane (3 G, 2 A, plus-3, 6 GP) to the top line in place of Andrew Ladd with C Bryan Little and RW Blake Wheeler. Kane has 30 shots on goal in six games, including 15 in the last two games, so he's doing what he needs to in order to have a big offensive season. Ladd also has three goals, but only 10 shots on goal; his 1.67 shots per game is his lowest rate since 2005-2006 when he was a rookie, and he's been getting eaten up, possession-wise, at even strength.

24. One player getting hard minutes, in terms of defensive zone starts, is Montreal RW Daniel Briere (35.7% O-Zone starts). Expectations had to be limited coming into the year, given his drop in production last year, but if Briere isn't getting a favourable tilt towards the offensive zone, it's hard to imagine he's going to be productive.

25. Gord Miller tweeted this Tuesday, setting off the latest advanced stats debate online. My position on advanced stats is probably known well enough by now, and I may get into it more tomorrow (when I don't have NHL Power Rankings to write) but, at the very least, I appreciated this comment by Arpon Basu, of LNH.com.

FIRST NHL GAMES
Michael Raffl, LW, Philadelphia - The injuries to Hartnell and Lecavalier which prompted the recall of McGinn, also brought up Raffl, the 24-year-old who was signed as a free agent out of Sweden's Allsvenskan league (one below the Elite League), where he had 46 points in 49 games with Leksands last season. Raffl had three points in two AHL games to get recalled and skated on a line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds in his debut.

Luke Glendening, C, Detroit - An undrafted forward who wasn't a big scorer at the University of Michigan, putting up 70 points in 165 games over four years, Glendening played in both the ECHL and AHL last season, kicking his game up a notch in Grand Rapids' run to the Calder Cup last year, scoring 16 points in 21 playoff games.

He opened the season with two points and a plus-3 rating in two AHL games before he pulled ahead of Cory Emmerton for Detroit's fourth-line centre spot, where he played between Drew Miller and Jordin Tootoo.

Nate Schmidt, D, Washington - An offensive defenceman who scored 73 points in 82 games for the University of Minnesota over the past two seasons, Schmidt was signed as a free agent last spring and finished the year in Hershey, adding six points in 13 (regular season plus playoff) games in the AHL.

Schmidt has paired with Steve Oleksy and the early returns have been positive when it comes to puck possession.

CHIRPING

"We're not very good. We need to go back to square one and find something to hang our hat on. Right now the only thing we have is goaltenders, and we make them work too hard." - Senators coach Paul MacLean

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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