To say that concussions have been a severe problem in hockey would be to state the obvious. To be fair to the NHL, they have taken steps over the last few years to try and limit the number of headshots in the game and have definitely improved their handling of concussed players both during the game and the recovery process. On top of that, I would be remiss if I didn’t concede that some concussions are simply the result of unfortunate accidents. Claude Giroux is out because a teammate unintentionally hit him in the head.
I’m not a doctor and it would be wrong for me to insinuate I have all the answers, or even any of them. However, I feel I can highlight just how serious a problem concussions have become for the players, the fans, and the NHL in general. The NHL is presently without a team’s worth of players (not including goaltenders) due to concussions or concussion-like symptoms. So I decided to take the time to project what the top four forward lines and top-six blueliners of a team made up of only those players would look like.
It’s no all-star team, but this squad could contend for a Stanley Cup:
Andy McDonald-Sidney Crosby-Claude Giroux
Peter Mueller-Marc Savard-Jeff Skinner
Brian Rolston-Brayden Schenn-Milan Michalek
Guillaume Latendresse-Marcel Goc-Ian Laperriere
Kris Letang-Chris Pronger
Marc Staal-Joni Pitkanen
Steve Staios- Zbynek Michalek
This is just a list of those who were out when I made the squad; this doesn’t even include those who were out with a concussion earlier this season. What’s more, I cut the list to limit it to 12 forwards and six defensemen.
Now, let’s shift our focus to a more positive topic. This year’s batch of rookies is shaping up to be one of the best in years and certainly one of the most fantasy relevant. However, young players can also be inconsistent and their roles on teams are sometimes less secure than those of their veteran counterparts. This week, I’ll be taking a look at some of this year’s rookies to see how they’ve done so far and what we should expect from them for the remainder of the season.
Craig Smith-C-Nashville Predators
If Smith has one thing over many of his fellow Calder Trophy candidates, it’s his experience. He proved himself as the college level before taking the jump to the NHL and he’s closer in age to Bobby Ryan than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Smith’s longest pointless streak was four games and he’s gone only two straight games without registering a point since November 19th. On top of that, Smith’s playing time per game has been increasing on a monthly basis, from 15:11 minutes in October, to 15:45 minutes in November, to 17:55 minutes this month. Smith also has 10 power-play points despite averaging only 2:28 power-play minutes per contest.
He hasn’t just been one of the best rookies so far, he’s one of the safest bets going forward. He should be counted on to maintain his current pace and end up with over 60 points.
Adam Larsson-D-New Jersey Devils
Larsson may have started off the season slowly, but he has a goal and 10 points in his last 15 games. That’s pretty good for any rookie, and if you can trade him to someone else on the strength of those numbers, then do so. The problem with Larsson is that the Devils are no longer using him with the man advantage. He had a mere second of power-play ice time over four games last week. When coach Pete DeBoer originally stripped Larsson of his power-play duties, it sounded like it might be a temporary move, but since then, New Jersey has acquired blueliner Kurtis Foster, who has logged 15:46 minutes of playing time with the man advantage in three games since the trade. The Devils got him for what he could do on the power play, and Foster has already delivered with two assists.
Larsson has managed to get three even strength assists in his last two contests, but the Devils as a team potted 11 goals in that span. He still has a ton of offensive potential and he’s still a great player to hold onto in deep or keeper leagues, but anyone who was riding him while he was hot in a standard league should start looking for other options. One might be Foster, who is still free in the vast majority of fantasy leagues.
Jhonas Enroth-G-Buffalo Sabres
This hasn’t been the year of rookie goaltenders, but Enroth has lived up to the high expectations placed upon him by posting a 2.54 and .918 save percentage in 18 games this season. Enroth was a capable starter in Ryan Miller’s absence, but he’s only made one start since Miller returned on December 3rd. If Miller stays healthy, Enroth should be a remarkable backup behind a workhorse starter. That’s a combination that won’t result in Enroth getting much playing time. He has started in 15 of Buffalo’s first 32 games, but we expect him to start in only 10-15 of their final 50.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-C-Edmonton Oilers
I was going to skip Nugent-Hopkins, seeing as I’ve already addressed him in some of my other columns, but I was worried that if I didn’t address him, people would wonder why. When I talked about him a month ago, I expressed doubt that he’d be able to maintain his point-per-game pace. So, given his continued success, have I changed my tune? No.
Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t given us much reason to be worried this season. He has never gone more than two games without registering a point, he has been getting top-six minutes, and his position with the team has become very secure. There were some concerns going into this season that he wasn’t NHL ready, but his potential was never questioned. All the same, the NHL season is long, especially for someone whose attempting to make the jump straight from the junior level , and we expect him to have at least one prolonged cold streak before the 2011-12 campaign has expired. That’s not to say he’ll collapse – right now he still looks like the best bet to win the Calder Trophy, but I still don’t see him reaching the 80-point mark.
Adam Henrique-C-New Jersey Devils
Since the start of November, Henrique has been able to match or surpass any other rookie in terms of raw production. He has eight goals and 24 points in 23 games, compared to Nugent-Hopkins’ eight goals and 22 points in 21 contests. Henrique has also shown no signs of slowing down, as he’s gotten at least a point in 10 of his last 12 contests. A big part of his success has been the Devils’ decision to put him on the top line with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Unfortunately, his job security is being tested by the return of Travis Zajac, who the Devils have opted to ease into the lineup after returning from a torn Achilles tendon. Further complicating the situation is Patrik Elias, who has been serving as a center and might continue to do so despite Zajac’s return.
If you’ve been riding Henrique since he broke out, we advise you to continue to hold onto him. There are a number of scenarios that could play out, including Zajac being the one that pays for Henrique’s success, or a bigger shakeup of the Devils top two lines so that Henrique ends up staying with one of Parise or Kovalchuk. It’s also possible Henrique will be united with Elias on the second line. There’s certainly reason for concern if Henrique has become a significant part of your team, but it’s too early to panic or make a reactionary move like dumping him or trading him for less than he’s worth.