This week the Eastern Edge takes a look at a handful of Eastern Conference players who might outperform expectations.
Mikhail Grabovski, Washington
In Washington, Grabovski will be back in a role where offensive production is expected. Last year in Toronto, everything seemed to be stacked against him. He had the seventh most average ice time and sixth most average power play time amongst Leafs forwards. The lack of quality ice time and line-mates really showed in his production; he was on pace for 15 goals and 27 points over a full season.
In the two preceding seasons, Grabovski recorded 23 and 29 goals, and 51 and 58 points respectively. He averaged over two minutes more ice time the season before last and nearly four minutes per game more the year before that. He will be relied upon to provide offense in Washington and will be given quality line-mates and ice time. Add in the motivation factor; he will be very driven to show that the Maple Leafs made a mistake and will be out to prove to the hockey world that they made an error in judgment. Even better, Grabovski is on a one year contract. This situation just reeks of success.
Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh
Many people won’t give The Juice a second thought, but here are some numbers to ponder: 11 points in 33 games with Carolina last year, but 11 points in just 10 games with the Pens. In the three previous seasons, Jokinen recorded campaigns of 46, 52 and 65 points. Those totals shouldn’t be ignored.
During the playoffs, Jokinen lined up beside Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow and ended up with three points in eight games. In Jokinen’s 10 regular season games with Pittsburgh, he averaged nearly 15 minutes of ice time per game, including a healthy 2:38 of mop up duty on the power play. He’s only 30-years-old and should be considered a dark horse to record 50 points this year. Draft for 40 points and if things fall into place, he could be a nice bargain.
Justin Faulk, Carolina
With the season ending injury to Joni Pitkanen, one of either Justin Faulk or Andrej Sekera stands to benefit the most. Ryan Murray could also bloom, but he’s a riskier, albeit sexier choice, which many of you will make. Faulk scored at a 32 point pace last year for the Hurricanes, while averaging a team high 24 minutes of ice time per game. Of those minutes, 2:38 were with the man advantage and 2:59 were short-handed. During the lockout, the 21-year-old recorded 24 points in only 31 AHL games, a 63 point pace. He added six points in 10 World Championship games with Team USA. The season before last, he had 22 points in 66 games in Carolina and recorded eight points in as many World Championship games.
The Ron Hainsey signing will cover some of Faulk’s tough minutes on the PK so that he can be given more offensive responsibilities in Pikanen's absence. Last year, Hainsey averaged 2:57 on the penalty kill while playing top four minutes with Winnipeg. Faulk has another gear offensively that has yet to be fully tapped at the NHL level.
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
Last season was a tough one for Kreider (and his fantasy owners), as he scored a meagre three points in 23 games with the Rangers. Even in the AHL, he only scored 23 points in 48 games, a 39 point pace. Expectations were set pretty high coming into last season after the surprising playoff run the year before, that saw him record seven points in 18 games.
This year, expectations are much lower for the 22-year-old, but there is a huge opportunity for the speedy winger to grab a top six spot on the left side. Time will tell if this is his year, but Kreider has all the physical tools to succeed at the highest level.
Marcus Foligno, Buffalo
Kreider, Foligno is another player who was hyped to have a nice campaign yet failed to live up to those expectations last year. In the season before last, Foligno notched 13 points in 14 NHL games. Last year, he recorded 18 points in 47 NHL games and 27 points in 33 AHL games. He averaged nearly two minutes of ice time less per game, 13:37 – 15:48, but received more power play time per game last season, than the year before, 1:32 - 1:16.
Foligno finished third on the team last year with 108 hits. If the big 22-year-old can rekindle some of the chemistry that he had with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford at the end of the 2011-12 season, he might just take that leap forward many of us thought would happen last year.
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