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Cullen: Notes on Chiasson, Hudler, Kessel and Scheifele

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Scott Cullen
10/25/2013 6:35:13 PM
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Alex Chiasson's hot start, a scorching Flame, production from Phil Kessel, goaltending concerns in Carolina and Nashville, the fate of Alex Goligoski, a logjam at forward in Detroit and more in Scott Cullen's latest blog.

1. Stars rookie RW Alex Chiasson scored a pair of goals Thursday night, giving him 11 goals in 16 career games. 11 goals on 46 shots gives him a 23.9 shooting percentage, best among all players with at least 10 goals since the start of last season.

While there is every possibility that Chiasson isn't going to keep finishing at this rate, there is reason to hold high expectations for his scoring potential. Through nine games, he has 33 shots, 3.67 per game is tied for 19th with teammate Jamie Benn and Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson.

Going back to 2011-2012, the last 82-game season, there were 11 players that averaged at least 3.50 shots per game, and all of them scored at least 30 goals. Maybe this prediction wasn't so for off the mark.

2. Flames RW Jiri Hudler had his nine-game season-opening point streak snapped Thursday, playing a season-low 16:20 in a 5-1 loss to Dallas.

Hudler, along with rookies Sean Monahan and Sven Baertschi, is enjoying some serious puck luck, so regression is on its way, but there is some reason to be optimistic that Hudler can have a productive offensive year, not least of all being that he's playing 20:59 per game, far more than any other season in his career.

Hudler had a career-high 57 points with the Red Wings in 2008-2009, when he played just 13:39 per game, so it's not so outrageous to think that even when the bounces aren't going his way that Hudler can push for something north of 50 points this season.

3. Through the first nine games of the Toronto Maple Leafs' season, despite their winning ways, there was some level of disappointment because Phil Kessel had only scored two goals. Then, Kessel tallied a hat trick (in a season-low 16:53 of ice time) against Anaheim, giving him five in 10 games, and everything was all right.

Kessel is playing a career-high 20:40 per game and averaging 4.0 shots on goal per game, the second-best rate of his career, so there is little reason to panic when the puck isn't going in. As the goal-scorers say, as long as they're getting the chances...

4. After allowing 19 goals on 111 shots (.829 SV%) in his first four games of the season, Oilers G Devan Dubnyk was considered in some circles to be unworthy of NHL play, then he stopped 101 of 108 shots (.935 SV%) in the next three games to indicate that perhaps it was too soon to write him off.

Based on the 139 NHL games he played prior to this season, during which he posted a .913 save percentage, Dubnyk is a viable starting goaltender -- one that could be upgraded but, as a 27-year-old who has been a starter for less than two seasons, one that could still improve on his performance.

The question seems to be whether the win-now motive of the Oilers will allow them to be reasonably patient with a goaltender that has started slowly.

Judging goaltenders at the best of times is tricky business, let alone when dealing with such small samples.

Consider that Niklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqist, Jonathan Quick, Mike Smith and Robeto Luongo are among the goaltenders to have save percentages under .910 this season. That doesn't mean that Dubnyk (or any of those listed) are sure to turn their games around, but it suggests that it's too soon to write off goaltenders that have a track record of performing at a higher level.

5. Nashville's goaltending situation becomes more precarious with word that Pekka Rinne is out for at least four weeks after undergoing hip surgery.

Carter Hutton, the 27-year-old who stepped into the backup job this season, has been stellar in limited work, stopping 93 of 97 shots (.959 SV%) in three appearances, but he has a .911 save percentage in 120 AHL games, so that's probably a better gauge of his ability.

Enter Magnus Hellberg, the 22-year-old that the Predators drafted in the second round in 2011. He has a .923 save percentage in 42 AHL games and has been recalled. With Hutton playing well, there may not be any urgency to rush Hellberg into the lineup but, if Hutton falters, the opportunity could be there for Hellberg to earn significant playing time over the next month.

6. Carolinas's goaltending is a murky mess in its own right. Starter Cam Ward is out 3-4 weeks with a lower body injury and backup Anton Khudobin is already out with his own lower body injury.

That leaves Justin Peters, who has an .897 save percentage in 48 career NHL games, as the starter. The situation isn't necessarily so dire. It's not great that Peters might have to start the next handful of games, but Khudobin may be ready by the end of next week.

The long-term issue to watch is if Khudobin (who has a .932 SV% in 24 career NHL games) manages to string together a good number of starts before Ward is ready to return, how the split will be going forward. Ward has played 60 or more games five times in his career, so he's used to dominating the crease, but it may not be that way this season.

7. Wild D Jonas Brodin suffered a fractured cheekbone after taking a puck to the face. With Brodin out of the lineup, Jared Spurgeon has moved in alongside Ryan Suter on Minnesota's top defence pair.

Spurgeon has played more than 24 minutes in each of the last three games and has five points in 11 games this season. The undersized defenceman also has the ability to work the power play, scoring 25 of his 55 career points with the man advantage.

8. Looking to mix up their forward lines, the Winnipeg Jets bumped Mark Scheifele up to a spot between Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler and, while it's a good opportunity, it's fair to wonder if the 20-year-old is ready for it. He has three points and 15 shots on goal in 11 games and doesn't have strong puck possession numbers.

It's understandable if the Jets would like the seventh pick in the 2011 Draft to take on a bigger role for them, but that's not how prospect development works.

9. Earlier in the week, Darren Dreger noted that the Detroit Red Wings were exploring trade possibilities, specifically mentioning Jordin Tootoo as one forward that the Wings might be willing to ship out.

Detroit's stockpiling of forwards this past offseason was curious. They have 15 forwards under contract, with two -- Daren Helm and Patrick Eaves -- on long-term IR. Helm is nearing a return to the lineup, which provides some impetus for change, but the Wings also had to demote Gustav Nyquist to the AHL because he didn't require waivers to be sent down. Nyquist has seven points in five AHL games (129 in 127 career AHL games) and is ready for the NHL, but there is logjam in front of him.

They also sent down Cory Emmerton, who has played 125 NHL games, because he was passed by prospect Luke Clendening for the fourth-line centre spot, a role that could be Helm's once he is ready to return.

In addition to moving Tootoo, the Wings probably wouldn't mind finding a taker for Mikael Samuelsson, who has a no-trade clause but is a healthy scratch about half the time. The Wings might need to be willing to eat some money and get Samuelsson's approval in order to move his $3-million salary.

While the Red Wings might like defensive help in exchange, they would also likely be satisfied with draft picks or prospects in exchange for the roster flexibility that a trade would provide. Tootoo is a $1.9-million cap hit through next season, which is pricey for a fourth-liner.

10. With the Dallas Stars clearly unhappy about the play of D Alex Goligoski, it's probably worth considering which teams might be able to use a 28-year-old puck-moving defenceman.

Goligoski has 140 points (in 278 games) since the start of the 2010-2011 season, ranking 21st among defencemen. 61 of those points have come on the power play.

Undeniably, however, he has struggled this season, and has no points and a minus-10 rating in eight games. With three years, at a cap hit of $4.6-million, it won't be easy to move Goligoski (who has limited no-trade protection), particularly at such a low point in his value but some teams might have some interest in an offensive defenceman with Goligoski's track record.

Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, New Jersey, Philadelphia the Rangers and Islanders are among the teams that look like they could use an upgrade from an offensive standpoint on the blueline and might be able to accomodate such a deal. Depending on how much salary the Stars would be willing to take on, there could be more options.

Of course, it's possible that Goligoski will recover from this poor start, but it's not going to be easy road to convince a new coach that his first impression isn't on target.

FIRST NHL GAMES
Tyler Pitlick, RW, Edmonton - The 31st pick in the 2010 Draft, Pitlick has 36 points in 113 career AHL games. He's only 21 and has the size and speed to play a checking role, but the Oilers should have better options available, at least once they get their forwards healthy.

Patrick Holland, RW, Montreal - Acquired from Calgary as part of the Mike Cammalleri-Rene Bourque trade, Holland scored 109 points in his last year of junior, but has 30 points in 73 AHL games thus far in his career. The 21-year-old has played a little over six minutes per game in two games since being recalled to fill-in for the injury-ravaged Canadiens.

Chris Breen, D, Calgary - 6-foot-7 blueliner was undrafted out of the Ontario Hockey League and has spent three-plus seasons in the AHL, putting up 25 points in 203 games, so he's a no-frills player, but he has that size and the team president probably doesn't mind this.

Xavier Ouellet, D, Detroit - A second-round pick in 2011, Ouellet is a skilled puck-moving defenceman in his first pro season after scoring 127 points in 139 (regular season plus playoff) games over his last two junior seasons with Blainville-Boisbriand in the QMJHL. He played more than 17 minutes in his debut, against San Jose, and fared well but, like all Red Wings prospects, there is time to be spent in the AHL.

Freddie Hamilton, RW, San Jose - A fifth-round pick of the Sharks in 2010, and Dougie's older brother, Freddie Hamilton is a grinding forward who has 27 points in 78 AHL games since turning pro last season. He has filled in for Brent Burns on the Sharks' top line for a couple of games, playing 15:35 at Boston Thursday.

Cameron Talbot, G, N.Y. Rangers - With Henrik Lundqvist nursing an injury and Martin Biron suddenly retired, the Rangers turned to 26-year-old Talbot, an undrafted prospect out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville. He had a .918 save percentage in 55 AHL games last season and opened this year with a .924 save percentage in five games before getting the call. He lost his debut, but stopped 25 of 27 shots against the Flyers.

 

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.

Alex Chiasson (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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