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Cullen: Notes on Jones, Murphy, Hedman, Erat and more

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Scott Cullen
10/21/2013 7:00:56 PM
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The Predators knew they got a good defenceman in the draft, though they might not have known he'd be this good, this quickly. Scott Cullen also has notes on Ryan Murphy, Victor Hedman, Martin Erat, the Blues' top line and more.

1. Predators rookie D Seth Jones, fresh of Saturday night's sweet game-winning goal against Montreal, is eating up minutes on the Nashville blueline, averaging 27:22 per game over the last three games.

19-year-old Jones is now averaging 24:29 per game and that figures to go up, even after Roman Josi returns from his concussion, based on how well Jones has played.

These are the defencemen that played more than 23 minutes per game as a rookie: Tobias Enstrom (24:28 per game, 2007-2008), Drew Doughty (23:50 in 2008-2009), Tyler Myers (23:44 in 2009-2010), Duncan Keith (23:26 in 2005-2006). Doughty is the only one of that quartet to have played in the NHL in the season immediately after getting drafted.

Jones has 20 shots on goal in nine games (2.22 per game), which would put him in pretty heady company among teenage rookie defencemen, the highest shots per game rate for a teeneage rookie defenceman in 30 years.

Of course, this is merely looking at the first nine games of Jones' career and it's not fair to expect everything to just continue at its current pace, but the early indications are about as good as GM David Poile might have expected when Jones unexpectedly dropped into their lap with the fourth pick in the 2013 Draft.

2. Jones isn't the only rookie defenceman making a mark. Hurricanes D Ryan Murphy, the 12th overall pick in 2011 still needs to develop defensively if he's going to play big minutes, but he's a factor on the power play and has five points (two on the power play) in eight games.

3. Lightning D Victor Hedman has been a quality top pair defencemen for most of his four-plus seasons in the league, but he ran into some bad luck Saturday night, taking a minus-5 in a 5-0 loss to Boston.

The funny part of it was that Hedman was that Hedman had the best shot attempt differential (17 for, 10 against) among Tampa defencemen that night. Of the 10 shot attempts for which Hedman was on the ice, the Bruins actually got six shots on net. Five goals on six shots against. Even if Hedman gave up six breakaways (he didn't), that would be bad luck.

4. The Toronto Maple Leafs ran into a strong puck possesion team, the Chicago Blackhawks, Saturday night and while the 3-1 score was entirely respectable, it didn't quite do justice to the territorial domination of the game.

From the wonderful website, www.extraskater.com, looking at 5-on-5 close (within a goal in the first two periods, tied in third/OT) results, Chicago didn't have a skater on the ice for fewer than 58.3% of shot attempts (Niklas Hjalmarsson), while the best Toronto could manage was a trio of players -- James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Paul Ranger -- at 45.5%.

At the extremes, Mike Kostka and Nick Leddy weren't on the ice for a shot attempt against in 5-on-5 close, while Mason Raymond, Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf were on for 16.7%, which means that, for every Leafs shot attempt when those three were on the ice, the Blackhawks attempted five at the Leafs' net.

5. The Capitals spent the first seven games of the season with LW Martin Erat toiling on the fourth line, playing 10 minutes or less in six of the seven games, before shaking up their lines and moving Erat to the second line, with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer for Saturday's win over Columbus, during which Erat had three assists.

Turns out, even spending time on the fourth line, Erat has the best possession numbers among Capitals forwards at even strength.

There's still understandable concern over the resulting line shake-up, and what it means for Mikhail Grabovski, who is now on the third line, but the Capitals obviously needed to make changes considering their lack of success early in the season.

7. There are some teams that load up their best scorers on their top line, or some that want a couple scorers paired with a bruising power forward, but there may not be another number one line quite like what they have in St. Louis, where the Blues' trio of David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie serves as both their shutdown line and as the Blues' top scoring unit.

Backes is a two-time 30-goal scorer who only had six goals in 48 games last season. He's routinely taken on tough assignments and this is the fourth season in which he's averaged more than 19 minutes per game.

Steen has been a strong two-way player for the last couple years, a regular puck-possession beast, even if his scoring numbers haven't taken off. He's a two-time 20-goal scorer who is currently tied for the league lead with seven goals, one more than Backes.

Then there's Oshie, a consistently productive player when he's managed to stay in the lineup. He's missed 82 games in five-plus seasons, but has ranged between 0.63 and 0.68 points per game every year he's been in the league.

Not surprisingly, the on-ice shooting percentage for this line indicates that it's due to face some regression, but they could also be one of the league's better two-way lines this season.

8. Oilers LW Taylor Hall suffered a knee injury on a hit by Senators D Eric Gryba, with Hall returning to Edmonton for tests.

Hall's talent is such that he had eight points in nine games to start the year and that was generally considered a disappointing start. Some of the criticism is warranted. He was averaging a career-high 3.44 shots per game for example, but that's just barely over his shot production of the last two years (3.40) even though Hall is playing about three minutes more per game.

In any case, if Hall is out for any length of time, that will create more room in the Oilers' top six for Nail Yakupov, who was skating with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle Saturday. With injuries mounting among Oilers forwards, the surviving members of the expected scorers -- Yakupov, David Perron, Nugent-Hopkins, Ales Hemsky -- have to take on a lot of responsibility for a team that is just trying to tread water.

9. Islanders D Lubomir Visnovsky is sidelined with a concussion, suffered on a hit by Carolina's Radek Dvorak. While Andrew MacDonald ranks next highest in power play time on ice for Islanders defencemen, rookie Matt Donovan may get an expanded role (or at least a spot in the lineup) with Visnovsky out.

10. Jets rookie D Jacob Trouba was carted off on a stretcher after he fell awkwardly into the boards trying to deliver a hit. With Trouba out, there could be more time available to Grant Clitsome, but it's tough for a team to lose a defenceman that had been playing more than 23 minutes per game though the first seven games of the season.

11. Sharks C Joe Pavelski is centering San Jose's third line, but it's not hurting his point production at all, as the 29-year-old has 12 points in eight games. Half of Pavelski's points have come on the power play, where he plays on the first unit with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and, usually, Dan Boyle.

At even strength, Pavelski's line, with rookie winger Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels isn't as strong as the Sharks' top two units, but still better than break even.

12. The Winnipeg Jets are looking for answers up front and have recent scratched winger Devin Setoguchi and Eric Tangradi. Both have solid puck possession stats, but it's easy to scratch Tangradi, he's a big winger who has 10 points in 88 career games. Setoguchi, on the other hand, has scored at least 0.25 goals per game (a 20-goal pace over a full season) every year he's been in the league.

13. Canucks D Jason Garrison was a revelation for the Florida Panthers in 2011-2012, when he blasted 16 goals, including nine on the power play, on his way to a career-high 33 points.

Garrison's first season in Vancouver wasn't earth-shattering (8 G, 8 A, +18, 48 GP) offensively, but he's ramping up offensively this season, with two goals and nine points in 10 games. The most encouraing factor for Garrison is that he has launched 31 shots in 10 games, his 3.10 shots per game average much better than his previous career high (2.18, set in 2011-2012).

13. While the Los Angeles Kings continue to rotate wingers on the left side with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and while Tyler Toffoli toils in the American Hockey League, Daniel Carcillo is getting another shot with his former Philadelphia Flyers teammates.

There was a time when Carcillo had a little offensive potential, scoring 13 and 12 goals in two seasons, but his 22 points in 114 games since the start of 2011-2012 don't offer a lot of encouragement for future production.

14. The weekend brought about some strong goaltending performances from guys who have been putting in their time in the minors.

Predators G Carter Hutton stopped 38 of 39 shots against the Winnipeg Jets for his first NHL win. Hutton is 27 and not likely to see a lot of playing time behind Pekka Rinne, but it will mean a lot to Nashville if they can get a reliable dozen or so starts from Rinne's backup.

Blue Jackets G Curtis McElhinney played 28 games for Anaheim and Ottawa in 2010-2011, but had only played two NHL games since, prior to stopping 37 of 38 shots for a win against Vancouver on Sunday. The Blue Jackets are obviously leaning heavily on starter Sergei Bobrovsky, but it won't hurt them if McElhinney, who had a .923 save percentage in the AHL last year, can give them steady play in the backup spot.

FIRST NHL GAMES
Nikita Zadorov, D, Buffalo - 6-foot-5 defenceman was the 16th overall pick in the 2013 Draft and was injured at the end of training camp, prompting expectations that he would be returned to London of the Ontario Hockey League once healthy. Well, he got into his first NHL game, and fared pretty well in 11 minutes of ice time. Given where this Sabres season is heading, it still makes sense for Zadorov to return to junior hockey, but he's a nice asset for the Sabres to have in the system.

Jack Campbell, G, Dallas - The 11th pick in the 2010 Draft, Campbell was so highly-regarded coming out of the U.S. Under-18 Development Program, but he's had a hard time performing with any consistency as he tries to climb the ladder. His save percentage in two OHL seasons was .890. In 53 AHL games, it's been better (.907), but nothing to suggest that he's ready for regular NHL action. Campbell is still just 21, so there is time for him to develop, but it would go a long way for his career if this was to be a breakout season in the American League. His NHL debut, which included allowing six goals on 47 shots against Anaheim, was busy, but forgettable.

Fredrik Andersen, G, Anaheim - Releiving Jonas Hiller against Dallas, Andersen stopped all 24 shots he faced as the Ducks turned a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 win. Initially drafted by Carolina in the seventh round in 2010, Andersen went back into the draft and was picked in the third round by Anaheim in 2012. The 24-year-old had a 2.19 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 47 AHL games last season then stopped 68 of 70 shots in his first two appearances this year. With Viktor Fasth nursing a lower body injury, Andersen was summoned to the Ducks.

CHIRPING
"With him and Burnsie, they just forecheck so hard, so I really haven't seen him play too much defence all year. I think we've only been playing in the offensive zone, to be honest with you." - Sharks C Joe Thornton, on linemates Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns

"We really got a special player in Seth Jones. We saw what he can do. He played big minutes tonight, scored the winning goal. He's earning his own stripes." - Predators coach Barry Trotz

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.

Seth Jones (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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