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Cullen: Notes on Bernier, Blue Jackets, Gerbe, Silfverberg

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Scott Cullen
10/11/2013 4:44:47 PM
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Jonathan Bernier paying immediate dividends for Toronto, the Blue Jackets' top line is firing, Nathan Gerbe, Anton Khudobin, Jakob Silverberg and more in Scott Cullen's latest blog.

1. When the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired G Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings, the immediate reaction in many circles was, why? While there was little doubt that Bernier was a highly-touted goaltending prospect who was blocked by Jonathan Quick in L.A., James Reimer was coming off a strong season, one in which his .924 save percentage played a big part in the Maple Leafs making the playoffs.

With the Maple Leafs having other needs -- improving their defence and finding a top-line centre among them -- it wasn't easy to reconcile the decision to give up two inexpensive assets (Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens) as well as cap space, in order to acquire another goaltender. That it was Bernier wasn't nearly so much the concern.

Then, as the Maple Leafs' brass talked about having two good goaltenders and competition bringing out the best in them, they also signed Bernier to a two-year contract extension that comes with a cap hit of $2.9-million per season. With Reimer going into the last year of his deal, at $1.8-million, it didn't take a major reach to see a bigger commitment to the new goaltender.

All those misgivings aside, the early returns from Bernier have been sensational. He's stopped 113 of 116 shots in four games, his .974 save percentage leading the league. Of course this is a crazy small sample but, given the investment the Leafs made to acquire Bernier, it's heartening that he's performed well and performing well has lifted him into the lead if there is still a goaltending competition in Toronto.

Playing behind a Toronto team that gives up a lot of shots -- ranking 27th with 34.8 shots against per game -- Bernier could be busy, but if he's going to be play more than 50 games for the Leafs this season, he has a chance to provide value for the Leafs and fantasy owners alike.

2. When the Columbus Blue Jackets broke camp this year, rookie Boone Jenner was slotted on the left side of the top line alongside Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik. That didn't last long, as Jenner was bumped by Cam Atkinson, and now the Blue Jackets have a rather formidable trio at the top of the depth chart.

They have combined for 11 points in three games and all three have strong possession numbers early in the season, with a Corsi percentage of 54% or better. It doesn't guarantee anything, but is at least a positive indication that this line could generate chances.

Gaborik isn't sneaking up on anyone. Even though he's coming off a down season, he's a three-time 40-goal scorer, a known commodity.

Dubinsky was a bit of a fantasy sleeper coming into the year because he is a two-time 20-goal scorer who has also had more than 100 penalty minutes three times. With an opportunity to play big minutes in Columbus, with a scorer like Gaborik, it was feasible to see value in Dubinsky.

Atkinson adds another scorer to the mix. Coming into the year, he had 16 goals and 32 points in 62 career games, but also had 49 goals in 89 AHL games and 61 goals in 81 games over his last two seasons at Boston College. He's small, but Atkinson has shown he can put the puck in the net and looks like he's getting a nice opportunity to do so with some skilled linemates in Columbus.

3. Sticking with small Boston College snipers, Nathan Gerbe is getting a prime opportunity in Carolina, playing more than 18 minutes per game and skating on the second line with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer.

Gerbe was mostly an afterthought in Buffalo, topping out at 31 points in 64 games in 2010-2011 before bottoming out with 10 points in 42 games last year, but has a track record as an offensive performer. He had 94 points in 101 AHL games after scoring 115 points in 84 games over his last two years at Boston College.

Of course it would be easy to dismiss Gerbe's three goals in four games as a small-sample fluke, what makes it attention-worthy is that Gerbe has 21 shots on goal in those four games. His 5.25 shots per game is fifth-best in the league to this point.

This isn't to suggest that Gerbe is a sure thing, but he has the opportunity and pedigree to be a productive offensive player.

4. Now, with Gerbe playing a big role, it's also noteworthy that Jeff Skinner is playing a career-low 15:17 per game. All is not lost with Skinner, however, as he does have five assists and has 14 shots in four games. His 13.7 shots per 60 minutes ranks 15th in the league. (Gerbe ranks second with 17.5.)

With that kind of production, Skinner's role ought to increase and his scoring will follow.

5. One more note on the Hurricanes. G Anton Khudobin has stopped 47 of 50 shots in two starts, prompting some question of whether or not he could supplant Cam Ward as the starter.

Khudobin does have a .934 save percentage in 23 career NHL games, so that is enticing, but he also has a .912 save percentage in 156 career AHL games, and had a .912 save percentage in the KHL during the lockout last year. Those numbers suggest that the .934 NHL mark isn't going to last.

At the same time, Ward had a .917 save percentage from 2008-2009 through 2012-2013, which ranked ninth among goaltenders with at least 150 NHL games. To give up on Ward after a few games into this season would be a very quick hook.

Khudobin can close the gap and the longer he plays well and Ward plays poorly, the scales will change but, right now, it's hard to envision Ward getting bumped aside for a guy who is just two years younger yet has played 410 fewer NHL games.

6. Lightning C Steven Stamkos connected for a hat trick against Florida (that probably won't be the last time someone goes for three against the Panthers this year), his first three goals of the season.

Since the start of the 2009-2010 season, Stamkos has 188 goals, 31 more than Alex Ovechkin, who ranks second and 57 more than Patrick Marleau, who ranks third.

Stamkos and Martin St. Louis skated with Ryan Malone at even strength against the Panthers. Always worth paying attention to who rides shotgun on that line.

7. With Tim Thomas nursing a groin injury, Jacob Markstrom has a chance to reclaim the net in Florida, and he stopped all 25 shots he faced in relief of Thomas on Tuesday, but allowing 18 goals on 24 shots against Tampa Bay isn't going to re-kindle a goalie competition.

8. Much was made of the Red Wings' decision to add veteran free agents Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss in the offseason, with the idea that they could form the nucleus of the second line, along with veteran winger Johan Franzen.

It's early, but the returns haven't been great, as the trio combined to go minus-10 against Phoenix Thursday and they have combined for a total of four points in four games.

9. Ducks RW Jakob Silfverberg arrived in SoCal with a bit of pressure, as the centrepiece of a deal that saw Bobby Ryan go to Ottawa, but he's doing his part, scoring four goals and five points in his first four games with the Ducks.

Silfverberg has 16 shots on goal (4.0 per game) and is skating with Mathieu Perreault and Teemu Selanne on the Ducks' second line. Those may not be ideal linemates for continued production, but Silfverberg is going to have offensive potential that makes him interesting.

10. In Vancouver's 4-1 loss to San Jose Thursday, no Canucks skater played more than...Mike Santorelli. The journeyman forward skated a career-high 23:42 against the Sharks and has been spending the bulk of his time in the high-rent district on the wing with the Sedin Twins.

Santorelli, who scored a career-best 20 goals and 41 points in 82 games for Florida in 2010-2011, has four goals in five games this season. He's scored 176 points in 214 career AHL games (59 points in 208 NHL games entering this season), so Santorelli isn't altogether unfamiliar with what he needs to do in the offensive zone.

Anyone playing with the Sedins -- from Anson Carter to Trent Klatt to Taylor Pyatt to Alex Burrows and all fill-ins in between -- has some appeal, but it's too soon to get excited about Santorelli. See if he's still doing this in a week or two weeks, if he's not bumped by Zack Kassian or Burrows, and then we'll have a better idea if Santorelli can score consistently at the NHL level.

FIRST NHL GAMES
David Broll, LW, Toronto - A sixth-round pick of the Leafs in 2011, Broll is a burly winger who had 54 points in 67 games with Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) last season. He's a banger, but not a thug and got a nice opportunity to skate on a line with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri in his debut.

Josh Leivo, RW, Toronto - Taken in the third round by the Leafs in 2011, Leivo is a more skilled forward, who scored 73 points in 63 OHL Games last season. He played with Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond in his first game.

CHIRPING
"We never start with the puck. We chased pretty much the whole night and never created very much through the neutral zone." - Jets coach Claude Noel, after Winnipeg registered 15 shots on goal in a loss to Minnesota.

"I sometimes pinch myself and wonder if I need to check his birth certificate, the poise he is showing for an 18-year-old kid. He is having fun, he is bringing passion, he is bringing excitement and he's learning. He is a pretty special kid." - Flames coach Bob Hartley, on rookie C Sean Monahan.

"Tough training camp, tough start ot the year. Probably could have done more work this summer." - Darryl Sutter on Kings D Slava Voynov.

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 Bernier (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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