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Cullen: Panthers rookies, Blues goalies and PP surprises

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Scott Cullen
2/13/2013 5:00:29 PM
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Scott Cullen with notes on the Panthers' future which isn't too far out on the horizon, St. Louis' goaltending woes, Tampa's blossoming defenceman, some power play surprises and more.

FLORIDA'S FUTURE
The Panthers have a pair of rookie forwards getting significant ice time now, RW Jonathan Huberdeau and RW Drew Shore.

Huberdeau, the highly-touted 19-year-old opened with three points on opening night, then was held off the scoresheet for five straight games before turning the tide again and scoring four goals and an assist in the last six games. He sniped a pair against Washington Tuesday night, recording a season-high five shots on goal, playing with Peter Mueller and Drew Shore.

Shore didn't have quite the same fanfare as Huberdeau, the third overall pick in 2011, entering this season, but the 2009 second-round pick was a productive player at Denver University (99 points in 82 games in his last two seasons) before heading to the AHL, where he had a late-season trial last year and scored 30 points in 41 games this season to earn his promotion.

Like his linemates, Shore has good size and skill and seems to be coming into his own. After going scoreless in his first five NHL games, Shore has a goal and three assists in the last five.

There may be some growing pains for rookies on a struggling team, but the Panthers' woes offer opportunity for Shore and Huberdeau to play bigger roles as the season goes along. Right now, there are six Florida forwards averaging more ice time than Huberdeau's 15:34 and Shore sits at a typical third-line 14:07. If the Panthers' veterans aren't more productive, then expect Huberdeau (who already ranks second on the team with eight points) and Shore to get more quality ice time.

TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILS
Lightning D Victor Hedman, who is just 22, has made steady progress through his first three seasons, playing big minutes and taking on tough assignments, even if his point production wasn't so enticing.

However, this year he has more support on the Lightning blueline, which means he doesn't always have to take on the opposition's best forwards and it's helped Hedman contribute more offensively.

While there are unsustainable percentages (19.0 SH%, 14.02 on-ice 5-on-5 SH%, at www.behindthenet.ca) at play, after scoring a pair of goals Tuesday, Hedman has eight points and a plus-10 rating in 12 games, on pace to set a career-high in points, even in a shortened season.

BLUES GOALTENDING
I say this as someone who handcuffed Jaroslav Halak with Brian Elliott in the Experts League draft, expecting big things from the Blues' goaltending tandem after a sensational 2011-2012 season but, man, what a disappointment.

Halak, currently injured, has two shutouts and three wins in five games with a 2.10 goals against average, but he's delivered a couple clunkers too, so his .889 save percentage isn't winning any awards.

No problem, right? The Blues still have Brian Elliott, who led the league with a 1.56 goals against average and .940 save percentage in 38 games last season. Except that Elliott has completely lost his way, allowing 18 goals against in his last four appearances, leaving him with a 3.57 goals against average and .849 save percentage.

Elliott's low point comes at an inopportune time, when the Blues really need him to carry the load while Halak is hurt, but now rookie Jake Allen will make his first NHL start (at Detroit) Wednesday night.

A second-round pick in 2008, Allen had a 2.94 GAA and .903 SV% in 31 GP with Peoria, but has been better in previous AHL seasons (.916 SV% combined in 2010-11 and 2011-12). If he holds his own against the Red Wings, Allen could see more starts.

SENS STOPPER
Traded from Colorado to Ottawa (in exchange for Elliott, coincidentally) in February, 2011, Senators G Craig Anderson has been playing out of his mind, leading the league with a 1.36 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 11 games.

Anderson has done well in some spurts throughout his career -- posting a .939 SV% in 18 games immediately after he was acquired by the Sens, a .933 SV% in 13 career playoff games or even a .928 SV% in 53 games as the backup in Florida -- so it's not like his strong play comes completely out of nowhere, but his career save percentage, after 305 NHL games, is .915, so it's understandable to expect regression to come at some point.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT
The off-season move to Carolina hasn't hurt RW Alexander Semin, who has good numbes (3 G, 7 A, +11, 12 GP) while playing a career-high 21:03 per game, primarily on the 'Canes top line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty.

What's encouraging for Tlusty's production, at least in terms of goal-scoring, is that he's scored on just 7.1% of his shots so far -- his career mark is 13.9% -- so he's not getting rewarded even though he's averaging 3.50 shots on goal per game, his highest average since 2009-2010.

ROYAL V
Prior to this season, the automatic guess for a Kings defenceman that was one point off the team lead in scoring and leading the team in plus-minus would be Drew Doughty.

It turns out, though, that 23-year-old Slava Voynov is the one holding that distinction right now. He's played more than 23 minutes in five of the last six games -- a threshold he crossed twice last season -- and Voynov has six points (2 G, 4 A) in the last seven games.

PP TIME
Perusing power play ice time can be an interesting exercise, seeing which players are getting opportunities -- either rewarded by the coaching staff or pressed into action with few other viable options.

In any case, here are some players whose per-game power play ice time caught my attention:

Chris Bourque, LW, Boston (2:29) - A point-per-game scorer in the AHL, Bourque is getting his first taste of NHL action since 2009-2010 and, even though he's struggled (1 G, 1 A, -3, 10 GP), there has still been time for him on the second power play unit.

Jussi Jokinen, C, Carolina (2:50) - Not getting as much ice time as previous years in Carolina and didn't record a point in his first nine games, but scored his first goal Tuesday.

Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado(3:35) - Has only played four games, but his role could be expanding significantly with Erik Johnson sidelined indefinitely.

Matt Hunwick, D, Colorado (2:28) - In previous seasons, Hunwick has had to scrape and battle just for a spot in the lineup, but when he has played for Colorado this year, he's played 21:27 per game.

Ryan Johansen, C, Columbus (3:11) - The fourth overall pick in 2010 has been relatively protected in his usage and was getting significant power play time before the Blue Jackets decided to send him back to the AHL after he managed two assists in ten games.

Brenden Morrow, LW, Dallas (2:35) - Had two assists, and two shots on goal, in the first nine games of the season, but now that Ray Whitney is out with a broken foot, Morrow has squeezed back into Dallas' top six and his ice time has shot up. He's also put up three points in the last four games, but Tuesday's season-high three shots on goal still leaves him with seven in 13 games.

Dan Cleary, LW, Detroit (2:59) - Despite playing 16:33, including nearly three minutes on the PP, per game, Cleary has one goal and no assists through a dozen games. How long before prospects like Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist get that time?

Charlie Coyle, RW, Minnesota (3:00) - Called up after scoring 24 points in 44 AHL games, Coyle has been getting first-unit power play time, which speaks to confidence in Coyle, but also an indictment of Dany Heatley, a big forward who would be expected to score from in front of the net on the power play.

Brad Boyes, RW, N.Y. Islanders (4:21) - Coming off a season in which he scored a career-low 23 points for Buffalo, Boyes is getting a nice opportunity with the Islanders, playing on the No. 1 power play unit. His average ice time (18:19) is the second-highest of his career.

J.T. Miller, C, N.Y. Ranges (2:38) - Called up from the AHL, after scoring 20 points in 37 games, the 19-year-old scored a pair of goals in his second NHL game and while he's not expected to be a big scorer, certainly not right away, it is notable that Miller gets more PP time than LW Chris Kreider (1:15) and LW Carl Hagelin (1:06).

Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa (1:11) - The 22-year-old rookie scored 54 points in 49 Swedish Elite League games last season and was leading Binghamton of the AHL with 29 points in 34 games when the NHL season started. While Silfverberg did get to start on Jason Spezza's wing, his role with the man advantage has been decidedly limited.

Tye McGinn, LW, Philadelphia (2:30) - Rookie power forward has goals in back-to-back games and is getting quality ice time, skating with Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek last game.

Mikkel Boedker, LW, Phoenix (3:28) - One of my preferred breakout candidates coming into the season, who has eight points in 13 games, Boedker leads Coyotes forwards in ice time and is one second behind Radim Vrbata for power play time among forwards.

Scott Gomez, C, San Jose (2:56) - Effectively picked up off the scrap heap, Gomez gets more power play time per game than other established Sharks like Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe, but still has just two assists in nine games.

Alex Steen, C, St. Louis (3:04) - Getting a chance to shine offensively, Steen leads all Blues in power play time and has 11 points in 12 games.

Mike Kostka, D, Toronto (4:27) - Was scoring a point-per-game in the AHL before making the Leafs out of training camp but, after recording assists in the first three games of the season, Kostka has one assist in the last 10.

Tyler Bozak, C, Toronto (4:17) - Playing a career-high 20:46 per game, Bozak has nine points in 13 games, more than half of which have come with the man advantage.

Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto (3:05) - It's no surprise that a young, skilled forward like Kadri would get significant power play time. What stands out is that Kadri and Bozak have both eclipsed Mikhail Grabovski, who is playing 2:11 per game on the PP.

Matt Frattin, RW, Toronto (1:17) - Toronto's second-leading goal-scorer has seven goals and 10 points in 10 games, but none of that production has come on the power play.

Jordan Schroeder, C, Vancouver (3:48) - Scored 19 points in 30 AHL games before getting promoted and had one point in his first six games, but has three points in the last four games and ranks third -- behind the Sedins -- among Canucks forwards in per game power play time.

Alex Burrows, RW, Vancouver (3:22) - Notable because last year's 2:08 per game was a career-high, Burrows was making his mark without the Sedins early in the year, though he seems to be re-connecting with the brothers.

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.

Jonathan Huberdeau (Photo: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
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