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Cullen: Notes on Kessel, Kadri, MacKinnon, Vanek and more

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Scott Cullen
2/5/2014 3:40:47 PM
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Notes on Phil Kessel, Nazek Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon, Thomas Vanek, Raphael Diaz and more in Scott Cullen's latest blog.

1. While the Toronto Maple Leafs were on on a nice run, 9-1-1 in their previous 11 games, prior to Tuesday's 4-1 loss in Florida and a couple of their most skilled forwards have been at the forefront of the Maple Leafs' charge.

In the past 13 games, during which he has recorded points in 11, Kessel has 10 goals and 13 assists. He ranks second in the league with 30 goals and fifth with 61 points.

The thing about Kessel's hot streak is that he's not even generating as many shots as he typically does -- 3.39 per game over the past dozen, 3.79 per game for the season -- so he's on a pretty good run with percentages, and currently has the second-best shooting percentage (13.6%) of his career.

While those percentages may be higher than normal, it's hardly unusual for Kessel to score goals. Since the start of the 2008-2009 season, he ranks fifth in the NHL in goals, behind Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry and Patrick Marleau.

Also, not surprisingly, Kessel isn't the only Leafs forward on fire. Nazem Kadri has tallied four goals and 11 assists in the past 10 games, doing good work primarily with Joffrey Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin on the Leafs' second line.

This run has left Kadri with 41 points in 54 games, which is, incidentally, right around the pace of the points projection I had for him in the preseason, when I forecasted 58 points in 76 games.

It also turns out that, on a team with disastrous puck possession numbers, Kessel and Kadri have been two of the best at driving play towards the offensive zone. This is relative, of course, but it turns out that the Leafs' skilled forwards are the ones leading the way.

2. Predators D Shea Weber has gone on a scoring binge, putting up eight goals and 17 assists in the past 26 games.

Percentages are working in Weber's favour, as he is scoring on a career-high 11.3% of his shots, while his 2.46 shots per game is his lowest rate since 2006-2007, but Weber leads defencemen with 15 goals and is tied for fifth among blueliners with 38 points. Weber's 0.70 points per game is a career-best.

Considering that Weber does this while facing the opposition's best lines, night after night, he's forcing his way into Norris Trophy consideration again.

3. January's Rookie of the Month was Tampa Bay Lightning LW Ondrej Palat, who scored 16 points (5 G, 11 A) in 15 games in January.

Palat was a seventh-round pick in 2011, after scoring 96 points in 61 games with Drummondville of the QMJHL as a 19-year-old. It's pretty serious draft value to secure a player who can play top-six forward minutes two seasons later. Following his impressive January, Palat played a career-high 23:00 against Montreal on February 1.

Palat and fellow rookie C Tyler Johnson have been thriving on a line with veteran RW Martin St. Louis, a situation that figures to change soon when Steven Stamkos returns to the lineup, and Palat has been benefitting from strong percentages at both ends of the rink, but even if his role changes, Palat has established that he can be a contributing part of the Tampa Bay attack.

4. Palat may have been the rookie of the month, but the current frontrunner for Rookie of the Year sure appears to be Avalanche C Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall pick in last summer's draft.

MacKinnon was eased into the NHL, playing 14:33 per game in October, scoring a goal and seven points in 11 games, but he's been up over 17 minutes per game since, tallying 19 goals and 16 assists in 45 games since the beginning of November.

MacKinnon's possession numbers still have room to improve, but he's 18-year-old and already emerging as an offensive force.

5. The top scorer for the past two seasons with the Florida Panthers, LW Tomas Fleischmann has fallen on hard time this year. He's gone 20 games without a goal, registering just five assists since he last lit the lamp on December 17.

Fleischmann has been shuffled around the lineup, playing at times with C Nick Bjugstad and one of Jonathan Huberdeau and Scottie Upshall on the wing, though Fleischmann has most recently found himself skating with Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky, not exactly recipe to get his offensive game back.

At 29-years-old and under contract throught next season, at $4.5-million, Fleischmann might be better in a new location, but it's not easy to get a team to take on that salary for a player with five goals in 54 games, even when he's scoring on a career-low 3.8% of his shots.

6. Canadiens C Lars Eller got off to a strong start this season, scoring nine points in the first dozen games, putting to rest any fears of lingering effects after suffering a concussion in last year's playoffs, but he's been crashing since.

Eller has 12 points (5 G, 7 A) in 45 games since and his ice time has steadily decreased. Eller's assist against Calgary Tuesday ended a 15-game scoreless drought, and he played 12:04, his second-lowest ice time of the season.

7. The Los Angeles Kings are having an incredibly difficult time scoring goals, yet made the decision to demote winger Tyler Toffoli to the AHL, even though he was the team's top point producer per minute of play at even strength.

But, necessity being the mother of invention, Toffoli has since been recalled and has found his way to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. Toffoli had two points against Chicago Monday, and Saturday he had a season-high six shots on goal while playing 18:42, his most since opening night.

It's one thing for a contender to want a young player to round out his game or play more soundly, but Toffoli has strong possession stats, strong enough that the Kings need to see whether he can be part of the solution to their goal-scoring woes.

8. Last season, Blues RW Chris Stewart was his team's leading scorer, with 36 points in 48 games. This year, he's playing 14:37 per game, his lowest since his rookie season, and finding his name in trade rumours.

The Blues have terrific depth and the emergence of younger scorers Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko could make it easier to part with a player who, even with relatively poor possession stats this season, ranks 35th with 104 goals scored since 2009-2010.

9. Islanders LW Thomas Vanek has made it clear that he intends to test the free agent market on July 1, which assures that he will be traded before the deadline, potentially even before the Olympic Break if the right deal comes along.

Any team could use a scoring winger with Vanek's credentials, but his salary could complicate matters somewhat for teams that are pushing up against the salary cap.

Dealing for Vanek is complicated because he intends to test the free agent market July 1, which is entirely fine, but there has long been suspicion that his preferred destination could be Minnesota, which could make him nothing more than a rental (which is also fine) for whichever team acquires him this season. While the Islanders might want a lot, having surrendered Matt Moulson a first and second-round pick to get Vanek, it may be a lot to expect three assets of similar value for the last quarter of the season plus playoffs.

Here are some teams that might be able to provide a package that will suit the Islanders as they attempt to replenish the franchise's talent base.

Pittsburgh - With all due respect to Brian Gibbons or, potentially, a healthy Beau Bennett, the Penguins could use a top-tier winger to play with Sidney Crosby. The Penguins have some prospect depth on the blueline, with D Simon Despres, D Derrick Pouliot, RW Jayson Megna some potentially moveable parts. The bigger challenge for Pittsburgh could be finding a way to fit Vanek under the salary cap.

Los Angeles - If any team needs scoring help, the Kings would fit and putting Vanek on the wing with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter would be interesting. Presuming that the Kings wouldn't be inclined to move Toffoli for a rental, then prospects like Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson and Derek Forbort could be part of the package.

Anaheim - The Ducks have had plenty of success as is, but Vanek would be an upgrade to the left wing spot on the number one line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a spot that has seen Dustin Penner, Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri, Matt Beleskey and Jakob Silfverberg rotate through this season. The Ducks have plenty of prospects, including some of the aforementioned young forwards along wiht C Rickard Rakell, RW Emerson Etem and LW Devante Smith-Pelly, a couple of which could form the nucleus for a Vanek deal.

Minnesota - There is some presumption that the Wild would be Vanek's eventual landing spot, the question is whether or not the Wild would be prepared to offer prospects to acquire Vanek now when they might have the inside track to get him on July 1. It would also be easier to make that move once winger Dany Heatley's $7.5-million comes off the cap.

Montreal - Goal-scoring, and general puck possession, has been an issue for the Canadiens and there would certainly be room to include Vanek on Montreal's top line. Some combination of picks and prospects including forwards Sven Andrighetto, Tim Bozon, Mike McCarron, Louis LeBlanc and Christian Thomas could get discussions started.

Ottawa - There has been plenty of talk of the Senators adding scoring help for Jason Spezza, and while they don't appear to be inclined to add salary, maybe taking a rental like Vanek (or Matt Moulson or Mike Cammalleri) would be feasible. The Senators have all sorts of options, from relatively inexperienced NHLers like Colin Greening and Patrick Wiercioch, to wing prospects Shane Prince, Matt Puempel and Andre Petersson.

10. The Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks made a deal this week, with the Canadiens sending D Raphael Diaz to the Canucks for fourth-line LW Dale Wiese.

While Diaz isn't a dominant defender, he's a capable puck-mover who has averaged nearly 20 minutes per game in 129 career NHL games (he played 25:26 in his Canucks' debut at Boston).

With the Canucks missing Kevin Bieksa, Chris Tanev and Dan Hamhuis due to injuries, Diaz fills an immediate hole but, long-term, can be a useful third-pair defenceman who can play the power play. He'll be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

Weise is a fourth-line winger who will be a restricted free agent in the summer. He has 26 points and 185 penalty minutes in 163 career games and has been consistently beaten in terms of puck possession. Basically, he's a fourth-line forward who is as replaceable as most other fourth line forwards.

FIRST NHL GAMES

Greg McKegg, C, Toronto - A third-round pick in 2010, McKegg had started to pick up offensively, scoring 16 points in 15 games prior to his call-up, but he only saw 4:$3 in his NHL debut before getting returned to the AHL.

Simon Moser, C, Nashville - 24-year-old Swiss forward had 25 points in 40 AHL games and played more than 10 minutes, alongside Colin Wilson and Taylor Beck, in his NHL debut.

Colton Sissons, C, Nashville - A second-round pick in 2012, Sissons had 16 goals and 28 points in 42 AHL games to earn his promotion, and has spent most of his first three games skating with Paul Gaustad and Rich Clune, contributing one assist while playing under nine minutes a game.

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.

Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel (Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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