Cullen: What to Make of Wednesday's Four Hat Tricks

Scott Cullen

12/16/2010 1:56:46 PM

Wednesday night was an unusual night in the NHL, as four players recorded hat tricks. A look at each of the four players and what to expect from them this season:

Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver: Already one of the league's premier checkers, Kesler broke through for a career-high 75 points last season, showing that he's more than just an aggravating matchup for the top offensive players.

Last night's hat trick gives Kesler 15 goals in 29 games, well ahead of the pace to surpass his career high of 26 goals, set in 2008-2009.

Kesler's offensive emergence has been evident on the power play, especially, going from 18 points on the PP in 2008-2009, to 26 last season.  This year, Kesler has six goals and 11 points with the man advantage (on pace for 17 PP goals and 31 power play points).

Since Alex Burrows, who normally plays wing with the Sedins, doesn't see much (if any) power play time, Kesler gets first-unit minutes on a Canucks power play that is one of two in the league to average at least a goal per game with the man advantage.

Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit: You should totally pick up Nicklas Lidstrom, because he's obviously available in zero leagues. Lidstrom's first career hat trick, plus an assist, lifted him to 26 points in 30 games this season - on pace for 71 points, which would be his highest season total since his career-high 80 in 2005-2006.

The Red Wings are scoring 3.37 goals per game this season, up from last year's disappointing 2.79 per game, so even at 41, Lidstrom can be expected to remain a productive scoring defenceman.

While Lidstrom is enjoying a renaissance in terms of offensive production, he's merely a plus-5 -- on pace for plus-14, which would be his lowest since 2001-2002. Such is life when you set standards as high as Lidstrom has.

Drew Stafford, RW, Buffalo: It seems like forever ago that I was first taken with the 25-year-old'd potential and he's largely been a disappointment to this point in his career -- showing enough to raise expectations, like scoring a career-high 20 goals and 45 points in 2008-2009, but then regressing the next season.

Though Stafford has missed 15 games this season with a shoulder injury, there is the possibility that he's finally figured things out and is going to be a capable scoring winger.

Last year, he scored at an unsustainably-low shooting percentage (7.7%), so a bounceback season is fair to expect. At the same time, Stafford seems unlikely to continue scoring on 15.4% of his shots, so he may not maintain his pace of one goal every two games (eight in 16 for the season). 

Even so, if Stafford manages 20 goals in a season in which he's missed at least 15 games, then that's a (long-awaited) step forward.

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Colorado: Coming off a career-best 23-goal and 51-point season with the Capitals last season, the 26-year-old winger should have been poised for another big offensive year, but it didn't work in Washington this year.

At least part of the reason it didn't work is that the Capitals tried to get Fleischmann to fill their second-line centre role and that didn't play to his strengths.

Since the move to Colorado, Fleischmann has spent the majority of his time on the left wing of Matt Duchene's line, and results have followed; last night's trick gives Fleischmann five goals and ten points in his first seven games with the Avalanche.

With an opportunity to skate with a quality playmaking centre, Fleischmann should have a chance to challenge last year's totals.

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