This week, the Eastern Edge takes a look at a couple of Canadiens who are heating up and two Blue Jackets who are getting increased responsibilities.
Max Pacioretty began this season with only four points in his first dozen matches. In those 12 games, he averaged 3.5 shots per contest. Over his last seven games, he's averaged 5.4 shots per game and more importantly, has eight goals and one helper during that stretch.
The 25-year-old winger seemed set for a career year heading into this season after two consecutive strong campaigns. In 2011-12, he notched a career high 33 goals and 65 points in 79 games while averaging 3.6 shots per game. The following year was the lockout season, where he recorded 39 points in 44 games, a 73 point pace. He averaged 3.7 shots per contest that year. His terrible start this season just didn't add up.
Over his last 10 games, Pacioretty has lined up with David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher for a significant majority of his even-strength shifts. Desharnais has had an absolutely brutal start to this season, registering a single lonely point over his first 19 games. He has eight points in his last seven contests. Yeah, he's back.
One big reason Desharnais continued to get thrown out there was in part due to a four year contract extension he signed last March. This gives a player golden boy status and generally keeps management motivated to let a player play his way out of most any funk they happen to encounter.
Who would have thought that 27 games into the season, Ryan Johansen would be leading the Blue Jackets in both goals and points? The smart money would have been on "Made" Marian Gaborik, but the slick Slovak has been on the shelf since mid-November with a knee injury (a.k.a. the infamous LBI or lower-body injury, thanks NHL).
Some people may have looked at the last two seasons and thought Gaborik might have finally shaken his band-aid boy label. Last year, he played in 47 of 48 games and the year before played all 82 matches on the slate. I guess this year is what we can call a "market correction".
Back to Johansen. The 21-year-old has 10 goals and 19 points in 27 games so far this season, not bad totals considering his most frequent linemates are Nick Foligno and R.J. Umberger. Over his last four games, he has four goals and six points. He also has eight power play points so far this season.
Columbus made Johansen their first pick, fourth overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Things looked even more promising after he recorded nine points in seven World Junior Hockey Championship games during the 2010-11 campaign. That season, he finished his major junior career with 40 goals and 92 points in 63 games. The following season, he made the jump right to the NHL, playing in 67 games with the Blue Jackets, finishing with a nine goal, 21 point rookie campaign.
Last season during the lockout, he garnered his only AHL experience, potting 17 goals and 33 points in 40 games. After the NHL resumed play, his totals weren't all that flattering, when he recorded five goals and 12 points in 40 games.
So now it looks like Johansen is turning the corner as an NHL scorer. Why now you ask? Opportunity is one reason. He is now receiving top power play minutes and averaging 17:53 minutes of overall ice time per game. Last year, he averaged 16:05 minutes and was ninth on the team in average power play ice time. In his rookie season, he played only 12:44 minutes per contest and was 18th on the team in average power play minutes.
You could also say that it takes time to get used to the NHL and that some players mature faster than others. Extended opportunities are generally earned in the NHL and Johansen has taken full advantage of two of the Blue Jackets top six being injured (Nathan Horton is the other). In addition, he is scheduled to become a Restricted Free Agent after this season. Motivation can also play a role.
The next step for Johansen is to add consistency to his game. Of his 27 games this season, he has goose eggs in 16 of them. In the 11 games he has recorded points, six of them have been multi-point efforts. It's been boom or bust so far this season, but that isn't unusual from a young player.
Only time will tell when the team welcomes back Gaborik and Horton from the injured list, whether or not Johansen can sustain his breakout season. He will likely continue to be inconsistent this year and lose some valuable power play time when both of those players make their returns to the line-up.
Jack Johnson has been brutal this season for fantasy owners, especially those leagues that include cap hits or plus/minus. Johnson is still leading the team in overall ice time, but is averaging about three minutes per game less than last year. His power play time has also been trending downward.
A big reason Johnson's man advantage minutes are diminishing (other than his lack of production) is rookie rearguard Ryan Murray. Murray hasn't played less 20 minutes per game over his last six contests, although he only has two points to his name during that period. Over his last 12 games, the rookie has just three points, but the key here is opportunity. Unfortunately for Johnson owners, Murray keeps getting thrown out there right now, but buyer beware, eventually he will have to put up points or Johnson will be back manning the top unit again.
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