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Cullen: Notes on Gerbe, Maroon, Colborne, Bournival and more

Scott Cullen
10/29/2013 4:29:54 PM
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A lot of lesser known players are getting quality opportunities. Nathan Gerbe, Patrick Maroon, Joe Colborne, Tomas Tatar, Michael Bournival and more are covered in Scott Cullen's latest blog.

1. One of the best lines in the league last season was the Carolina Hurricanes' trio of Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. This season hasn't started so well, particularly for Tlusty, who scored 23 goals and 38 points in 48 games last season, but has just two goals and three points in the first dozen games this season.

Tlusty has been bumped from that line in favour of Nathan Gerbe, the mighty mite winger who is one of the best stories of this young NHL season. After scoring 29 goals and 72 points in 188 games with the Buffalo Sabres, Gerbe had a two-way deal with the Hurricanes and earned a spot with the NHL club in camp.

Not only did he secure a regular spot in the lineup, but he's played a significant role, a career-high 18:37 per game, while scoring four goals and seven points in a dozen games.

More impressively, Gerbe has generated 3.42 shots on goal per game, the same as San Jose's Logan Couture, and an indication that Gerbe's offensive contributions aren't merely a matter of good fortune. In fact, with an on-ice shooting percentage of 3.4%, it's easy to argue that Gerbe has been relatively unlucky offensively and should have a few more points given the chances created.

There's nothing to say that Gerbe won't get pulled from the Staal-Semin pairing, but the former Boston College star is getting an opportunity, and ice time, unlike anything he has received in the NHL.

2. Injuries (Dustin Penner, Saku Koivu, Jakob Silfverberg, Matt Beleskey) continue to thin out the lines for the Anaheim Ducks, but they have also provided an opportunity for Patrick Maroon to skate with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Ducks' top line.

Maroon is a 25-year-old power forward who has had some minor league success, scoring 118 AHL goals in five-plus seasons, but had just three points in 15 NHL games coming into the season. He's held his own in the possession game and is taking to his new surroundings well, putting up four points and a plus-6 rating in the last five games.

Given his limited track record, it's early to buy-in on Maroon totally, but he's getting an opportunity and if he makes the most of it, he could earn a regular spot in the lineup.

3. It seems like forever ago that Flames C Joe Colborne was drafted 16th overall by the Boston Bruins and, in some ways, the last five years might feel like an eternity to Colborne, who has been traded twice and is just getting a chance to play a regular role in the NHL after scoring 125 points in 211 AHL games.

Colborne had six points in 16 games over the last three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but when training camp neared an end and the Leafs didn't want to risk sending Colborne down to the AHL, knowing that he would likely be claimed on waivers, they got what they could in trade, a conditional fourth-round pick from the Flames.

With former Leafs GM Brian Burke now the President in Calgary, it's not a surprise that Colborne is getting a chance to play. At the same time, it's not like he was giften an opportunity, playing under nine minutes in four of his first five games with the Flames.

The ice time has picked up a bit, as has Colborne's production (1 G, 1 A, plus-4 in last 3 GP). He played a season-high 15:18 against Washington Saturday, skating on a line with LW T.J. Galiardi and RW Mike Cammalleri. It may not last or Colborne may just be the guy who has nine points in 26 career NHL games.

4. After starting the year on the Stars' number one line, and then moving down the depth chart, Erik Cole has rejoined Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. It worked in Buffalo, which might not be the best measuring stick, as Cole has two assists and played a season-high 20:17.

If Cole is going to maintain such a spot on the depth chart, though, he has to generate more shots on goal. Right now, he's averaging 1.64 shots per game, which is ever-so-slightly better than the 1.61 per game he had in Dallas last season after he was acquired from Montreal. When he scored 35 goals for Montreal, in 2011-2012, Cole averaged 2.94 shots on goal per game, so that's a rather precipitous drop in a short amount of time for the soon-to-be 35-year-old winger.

Interestingly, Cole replaced Rich Peverley on the No. 1 line, but Peverley has better possession numbers, with a lower percentage of offensive zone starts than Cole this season. If neither Cole nor Peverley can settle into the role, there may eventually be an opportunity for rookie Valeri Nichushkin, who has been playing more (16:18 ATOI in last three games) recently.

5. While Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has bemoaned his club's lack of offensive production, I've taken up the cause of rookie C Brandon Pirri, who had three points in his first three games of the season, despite playing fewer than 10 minutes in each of them.

Pirri had two points in seven NHL games over the last three seasons while he primarily plied his trade in the AHL, developing to the point that he put up 75 points in 76 games last season.

Pirri got more of an opportunity Tuesday, centering Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, picking up a pair of assists in a 5-1 Blackhawks win.

While it was a positive step, there are still reasons to have modest expectations for Pirri. One, he likely wouldn't have even had that opportunity if not for an injury to veteran C Michal Handzus, who has played a lot of second-line centre for the Blackhawks since he was picked up from San Jose for a fourth-round pick last season.

The other concern is that Pirri is at the bottom end of the possession metrics for Blackhawks forwards. He's not far behind Handzus, but Pirri needs to improve his all-around play (or simply benefit from injury) if he's going to get an extended look in the role that seems totally suited to his skills.

6. Detroit has been forced to juggle their lines, trying to elicit offensive production from those not named Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk or Daniel Alfredsson.

One of the beneficiaries has been winger Tomas Tatar, who joined a line with Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. While Tatar doesn't have any points in four games this season. The 22-year-old hasn't been sent to the AHL because he requires waivers and would never clear after he scored 39 goals and 70 points in 85 (regular season plus playoff) games last season.

Tatar played a career-high 15:11 for the Wings against the Rangers Saturday, more than he had played in his previous 30 NHL games, and he's been solid enough in his limited playing time this year. There's offensive upside with Tatar, but he'll have to get some consistent playing time before it's fair to place expectations on him.

By splitting up Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings left Datsyuk to play with Alfredsson and Todd Bertuzzi. With those forwards comprising the top two lines, the obvious player to fall out is Stephen Weiss, a free agent signing in the summer who has been having a really hard time in his first dozen games with the Wings, scoring two goals and posting a minus-5 rating.

7. There seems to be some dissatisfaction with the play of Kings LW Dustin Brown, who has two goals and five points in a dozen games, and he's recently been replaced on the top line by LW Dwight King.

A 6-foot-4 winger who has four goals on the season, after a hat trick against Phoenix last Thursday, is getting a chance to play with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, two players that are both consistent in their offensive production, but also in their domination of puck possession. King doesn't figure to have the skill to keep pace with them on a long-term basis, but it's an interesting opportunity for as long as he gets to play with the big boys.

8. Injuries have hit the Montreal Canadiens' forward lines hard, but it has opened up an opportunity for rookie winger Michael Bournival, who has been spending recent games skating with veteran C Tomas Plekanec and RW Brian Gionta.

Bournival hasn't looked out place in the least, putting up strong possession numbers along with two goals and six points, with a plus-4 rating, in nine games.

Once Max Pacioretty, Danny Briere, Brandon Prust and others make their way back to the Canadiens' lineup, Bournival may not be in such a prime spot, but as long as he remains productive, he's going to make it more difficult to send him back to the American Hockey League.

9. There hasn't been a ton of stability on the Minnesota Wild top line, with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu going through Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter before their latest right winger, rookie Justin Fontaine.

A 25-year-old who played collegiately at Minnesota-Duluth, Fontaine wassn't drafted, but had 152 points in 124 games over his last three college seasons, and had 111 points in 137 AHL games in his first two pro seasons.

Fontaine has three goals and a plus-5 rating in 13 games this year, but two of those goals have come in the last four games and he's also played more than 16 minutes in two of the last four games (he's played under 14 in the other 11).

Like others on this list, Fontaine is not necessarily positioned to stick in his current role, but it's worth seeing what he can do with the chance he's being given.

10. Goals haven't been easy to come by in New Jersey and perhaps that shouldn't come as a shock considering that Ilya Koalchuk bolted to the KHL in the offseason and their top two centres coming into the year, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, had combined for 36 points in 90 games last season.

Henrique and Zajac both have one goal and four points through 11 games this season, so there is an opportunity for Andrei Loktionov, a player who has shown some skill, with 97 points in 135 AHL games, but hasn't yet been able to make a mark in the NHL. Last year's 12 points in 28 games with the Devils represents a career-high.

Though he only has three points in 10 games this year, Loktionov is getting a shot with veteran Czech wingers Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. If 23-year-old Loktionov is going to prove that he's capable of putting up points in the NHL, those are wingers that should help find his offensive mojo.

11. While the hype was mostly on Vincent Lecavalier when he scored a hat trick while playing right wing with Claude Giroux against the Islanders, it's notable that their left winger was rookie Michael Raffl, the 24-year-old who is making a big jump from the Swedish Allsvenskan (below Elite League) to the NHL.

Raffl got his first NHL point, while playing 9:18, his lowest ice time in five NHL games. While his puck possessions stats are solid enough in limited ice time, it's hard to imagine that Raffl is the best option long-term on that line, what with the likes of Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds toiling as the third line (Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek as second line) wings.

12. While this isn't quite the same line combination as some of the others that I've referenced, it's worth noting that Capitals C Mikhail Grabovski has fared just fine since he was demoted to the third line.

The Capitals finally moved Martin Erat out of a fourth-line role and Erat responded with three assists in his first game on the second line with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. Since then? No points, minus-5 and three shots on goal in four games.

Grabovski, on the other hand, has four points (2 G, 2 A) and is plus-3 in the last four games. Grabovski's goals have come on the power play, but has been productive enough with linemates Jason Chimera and Joel Ward.

FIRST NHL GAMES
Michael Chaput, C, Columbus - Acquired from Philadelphia in the Tom Sestito trade, Chaput played a modest 7:48 against Anaheim, skating on a line with Ryan Craig and Jared Boll. That's not going to provide much opportunity, but teh 21-year-old has 36 points in 79 AHL games and could probably use more time to develop before getting a real shot to stick.

Kevin Connauton, D, Dallas - Picked up from Vancouver in the Derek Roy deal last season, Connauton has played three full seasons in the AHL and has to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL, so he's been biding his time in Big D and played 16:05 at Calgary, playing mostly with veteran Sergei Gonchar.

Jayson Megna, RW, Pittsburgh - A 23-year-old winger who was signed as a free agent in 2012 out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Megna had 12 points in 56 AHL games as a rookie pro, but started this year better, putting up five points in six games before getting recalled due to injuries taking James Neal, Beau Bennett and Chuck Kobasew out of the Penguins' lineup. Megna had a goal and an assist in his second game and has a chance to stick around with all those players out of the lineup.

Darren Archibald, LW, Vancouver - A physical 23-year-old winger, Archibald wasn't drafted and worked his way up through the ECHL to the AHL, where he had 22 points in 55 games last season. He's not playing much, but Archibald and Jeremy Welsh are giving the Canucks some size on the fourth line.

CHIRPING
"The season's going on." - Kings coach Darryl Sutter, after Kings LW Dustin Brown responded to a question about his low hit totals by saying that he gets more physical as the season goes on.

"You can be a fun team, but if you're going to just go out there and give away chances and give away four or five goals a night, then you might be entertaining but you won't be winning," - Coyotes coach Dave Tippett isn't thrilled with the way his team is winning.

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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