This week the Eastern Edge looks at half a dozen defensive gems and determines if they are quality diamonds or cubic zirconia trying to trick fantasy owners into paying too much
Many people thought that when Kris Letang came back, Matt Niskanen's time on that beautiful Pens top power play unit would come to an end and that his points would dry up. You can include yours truly in the above assessment. In Letang's last 10 games, before sitting out more yet again, he recorded seven points. Over the same 10 game stretch, Niskanen had 10 points, even though Letang's presence pushed Niskanen to the second power play unit.
Heading into last night's contests, Niskanen had 15 points in his last 15 games played. During that period, he has been held off the scorecard only four times, although three have come in the last four games. Still, he was on pace to play all 82 games and record a career high 47 points. He appears to be playing with the coach's confidence and can move the puck well enough to not require top power play minutes to put up points.
Last year, Letang scored 54 points in only 50 combined games, including both regular season and playoffs. It's easy to see why people are high on this guy, but he's missed 22 games and counting so far this season, sat out of 13 of 48 games last year and missed 31 contests the year before that.
Diamond Don's Appraisal:
Letang - The Hope Diamond; big cachet, but spends more time in the vault than in play.
Niskanen - A smaller, yet attractive diamond (VVS1); an expert can detect flaws only when put under the microscope.
The Blue Jackets gruesome twosome of Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski have been getting the lion's share of power play ice time on the blueline in Columbus. One of my favourite hockey player's to cheer for is JJ, for many reasons of which I will not delve completely into here. The guy just has a passion for the game that I respect. Many people focus on the fact that he is often on the wrong side of the plus/minus statistic, and while his defensive game could be a little tighter, the fan in me just wants him to play his riverboat gambler style that makes watching the game that much more exciting.
Johnson is having a poor fantasy season by most standards and is on pace for only 29 points. He has eclipsed the 35-point mark three times, not including last year's 35 point pace (19 points in 44 games). The BJ's top minute muncher has nine points in his last 11 games after starting the season with only 11 points in his first 44 matches. He could very likely finish with 35 points for the fourth time in his career.
Wisniewski had 13 points in 14 January contests, but that followed two points in seven December games. Overall this year, he has 34 points in 49 games and even though he has missed only seven games so far, is on pace to finish with 52 points. Last year, he missed 18 of the 48 scheduled games and the year before that, played in only 48 of 82 contests. The Wiz is usually productive in the games he plays in, but he sits out far too many games to be relied upon.
Diamond Don's Appraisal:
Johnson - A decently sized, but poorly finished diamond in need of some polishing.
Wisniewski - Nicely cut middleweight diamond, but has a faint yellow colour (K).
Christian Ehrhoff parlayed back-to-back seasons of 44 and 50 points into a 10-year, $40-million dollar deal in the summer of 2011. To his credit, in the three seasons since signing the big deal in Buffalo, Ehrhoff has scored at a 39 point pace. He started this season with only seven points in his first 27 games, but since December, has come on strong, recording 17 points in has last 26 contests. Ehrhoff receives the most overall ice time and power play minutes on the team. There should be no doubt that he can maintain his recent pace for the rest of the season. The 31-year-old may have seven more years remaining on that deal, but at least his cap hit is a mere $4-million per annum Sabres fans.
Diamond Don's Appraisal: Very slight inclusions (VS2) devalue this soon to be heirloom piece only a little.
Sandwiched between John Tavares and Matt Duchene, Victor Hedman is finally living up to his lofty second overall selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. It's taken Hedman five seasons to get to where he is now, but he is on pace to finish the year with 56 points in 75 games. His previous high was 26 points set back in 2010-11. Hedman has been smoking hot of late, recording 10 points in his last five matches. He has been given top power play minutes over those games and his confidence is finally showing up on the scoreboard. Expect more of the same over the next 10 seasons. Congratulations if you bought low, because now that his true value has been revealed, good luck paying less than market value for this fantasy gem.
Diamond Don's Appraisal: Specimens of this size and clarity (Internally Flawless) are very rare.
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