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Cullen: Notes on Alfredsson, Prust, Raymond, Kesler, more

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Scott Cullen
10/18/2013 5:45:13 PM
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Lines are shuffling around the league, giving some new opportunities. Scott Cullen has notes on Brandon Prust, Daniel Alfredsson, Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Jeff Skinner and more.

Before the notes, a link to Friday's chat.

1. Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty will be out for the next three weeks with a hamstring strain, a notable loss for the Habs. Against Columbus Thursday, Brandon Prust moved up to play with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, and Prust played 18:12, his second-highest ice time in 45 games since joining the Canadiens last season.

2. The Detroit Red Wings have already tried Justin Abdelkader and Todd Betuzzi on the right side with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but Thursday night, they gave Daniel Alfredsson a spin in that spot and Alfredsson finished with three assists, giving him nine points in his first eight games with the Red Wings.

Judging by the first two guys tried on that wing, there may have been some thought that Datsyuk and Zetterberg needed a physical player to help carve out space, but Alfredsson has the sense to play with elite players and if he stays productive, it's conceivable he could hold this spot for a while.

3. When the Toronto Maple Leafs extended a pro tryout offer to LW Mason Raymond, it was a no-brainer. Even with declining production, it was puzzling why Raymond hadn't been given a free agent contract somewhere in the league over the summer, so the Leafs got a bit of a rewards with their low-risk investment when he Raymond was still deemed NHL-worthy and signed a one-year, $1-million contract.

Raymond has been slightly better than NHL-worthy for the Leafs, however. He has eight points in eight games and is playing a career-high 18:13 per game, skating on the top line in the last couple games in the absence of injured winger James van Riemsdyk.

Raymond scored a career-high 25 goals and 53 points in 2009-2010, but his production has fallen since. In a related story, he broke his back during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, against Boston, when Bruins D Johnny Boychuk crumpled him into the boards.

This strong start to the season is obviously a positive for Raymond and his shots on goal per game (2.75) is close to his career peak, so his production should have some sustainability, but expectations have to be managed. He's scored more than 40 points once in his career, so approaching that level would have to be considered a success and who knows how Raymond's ice time will sort out once the Leafs get a full complement of forwards. Add van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson and Nikolai Kulemin back into the mix and suddenly there isn't so much ice time to go around.

4. New Vancouver coach John Tortorella hasn't been afraid to shake up the lines, giving Ryan Kesler a regular turn with the Sedins in Thursday's win over Buffalo. Kesler scored a pair of goals and while he only has three goals and no assists through eight games, Kesler does have 31 shots on goal, his 3.88 per game easily a career high.

Mike Santorelli skated between Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen, a spot that would normally be occupied by Kesler, and added a couple of assists, though it was the first time in a week that Santorelli had played less than 20 minutes in a game.

5. Hurricanes LW Jeff Skinner is off to a phenomenal start to the season, one that deserves to be noticed. He has eight points in eight games, averaging a career-high 4.0 shots on goal per game, while playing with checkers Riley Nash and Radek Dvorak at even strength.

Skinner is on the top power play unit, so he's going to get his chances to score, but if he continues to generate shots at even-strength, Skinner is going to get his points, no matter with whom he plays.

6. A couple of No. 1 defencemen have been hurt on hits into the dasher boards in the corner of the defensive zone. Sharks D Dan Boyle was laid out by Blues agitator Maxim Lapierre and now the Sharks have to make do without Boyle while he recovers.

Matt Irwin, Jason Demers and Justin Braun are all candidates to handle more PP time in Boyle's absence.

Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall was flattened by Avalanche LW Cody McLeod, which may leave a bigger hole on the Detroit power play.

Jakub Kindl is the one other Detroit defenceman who has seen significant power play time this year. Maybe Brendan Smith could come out of the press box and offer something with the man advantage, but the Red Wings' other defenders -- Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, Brian Lashoff -- aren't necessarily cut out for the power play QB role.

7. Sticking in Detroit, Jonas Gustavsson has performed at a high level in relief of injured starter Jimmy Howard. It's only three games, compared to 114 games of subpar play prior to this season, but Gustavsson has stopped 102 of 107 shots for a .953 save percentage this season.

8.The Ottawa Senators have shaken up their scoring lines, moving Cory Conacher to the wing with Jason Spezza and dropping Bobby Ryan to play with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur. For his part, Spezza is coming off back-to-back three-point games and, considering I noted how he was getting eaten up possession-wise early in the year, it's at least positive that he's putting up points. Those possession stats can still get better.

What may be more intriguing is what comes from the second line, where Turris and MacArthur have already been posting top-drawer possession stats, so Ryan adds some finishing skill to that line.

10. As the Edmonton Oilers were going through some concern over their goaltending, given Devan Dubnyk's slow start, the rumour mill hit overdrive and prompted a question from TSN radio host Dave Naylor to TSN Insider Darren Dreger about whether the Oilers would consider a Nail Yakupov-for-James Reimer deal.

Dreger's response stunned me because, as much as James Reimer doesn't need to be moved out at the earliest possible opportunity, if he would bring the Maple Leafs a 20-year-old who was the first overall pick less than a year-and-a-half ago, I couldn't imagine the justification for passing it up. He's not proven? Yakupov is more proven than Leafs D Morgan Rielly and I'm sure that the Leafs would deal Reimer before surrendering Rielly.

The other part of any Oilers goaltender trade talk is that many of the names mentioned -- Reimer, Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth -- aren't necessarily an upgrade on the guy they already have. Certainly not a significant enough upgrade to sacrifice a potential game-breaking goal-scorer. In any case, Dubnyk stopped 37 of 40 shots against the Islanders Thursday, so he may not be the Oilers' only concern.

11. 25-year-old Oilers rookie C Mark Arcobello has stepped into Edmonton's lineup and made an immediate impact, with eight assists in eight games, playing more than 21 minutes in each of the last two games.

The question, when trying to assess Arcobello's contributions going forward, is where he will fit on the depth chart once Sam Gagner returns from his broken jaw. If the Oilers are already having trouble finding room for scorers in their top six, how will they sort out the lineup to keep Arcobello in a productive spot?

12. It's always worth watching who the Islanders are playing with John Tavares. Lately, it's been RW Kyle Okposo and LW Michael Grabner, leaving Matt Moulson to skate with Peter Regin and Cal Clutterbuck. If that's Moulson's destiny this season, then he'll be hard-pressed to have a fourth 30-goal season.

13. Wild G Josh Harding has been outstanding (1.15 GAA, .946 SV%, 6 GP), seeing more action with Niklas Backstrom injured. Backstrom played too much last season, getting into 42 of 48 games, so if Harding is a strong option, that could balance the playing time scales somewhat. If Harding could handle 30-plus starts at a high level, well, that would improve Minnesota's playoff chances.

14. The Bruins have demoted Brad Marchand to the third line, moving Reilly Smith into a spot on the wing with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson. Smith has three points in the last three games, including the game-winning goal in the final minute, as he played a season-high 14:56 against the Florida Panthers Thursday night.

15. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was lamenting Chicago's lack of offence after a 3-2 shootout loss to St. Louis Thursday. My humble suggestion: how about playing C Brandon Pirri more than 9:34? Pirri scored his first NHL goal against the Blues and has 78 points in 79 AHL games since the start of last season. He's due for a legitimate look in a scoring role.

CHIRPING
"I wasn't expecting us to get 40 on net tonight, but what we do so well is even though we don't get the most amount of shots, we capitalize on our chances and that was the case." - Maple Leafs G James Reimer, after Toronto beat Minnesota 4-1, despite being outshot 37-14.

"It's just disgusting to see that type of play in hockey, when a player that probably shouldn't even be in this league is taking out one of the best players in the world." - Sharks C Logan Couture, after Blues RW Maxim Lapierre knocked out Sharks D Dan Boyle.

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

"It's great to know I have the record but tonight wasn't our best effort. The wheels have really fallen off for us as these losses have piled up." - Oilers LW Taylor Hall, who scored two goals in eight seconds, on Edmonton's loss to the New York Islanders.

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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