If you have not already noticed, the Columbus Blue Jackets are sitting pretty at 8-3-2 in this young season. And it would have been really hard to miss the heroics of goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who has already posted five shutouts. But the play of a particular whipping boy may have slipped by even the keenest observer.
That player is- wait for it- Nikolai Zherdev. The much maligned forward looks like a completely new player this season. His work ethic has improved tenfold; he is playing hard at both ends of the ice, and has started throwing some pretty big hits too. Pretty surprising considering this is the same guy that was tossed around in countless trade rumors last season (to the Oilers for Joffrey Lupul, for example), and even this off-season, as many Jacket followers were tired of his antics.
Hitchcock tried him at center in training camp, but Zherdev had not played there since back in junior, and did not look comfortable. However, Hitchcock must have gotten through to the talented Russian, as he has looked dominant for the majority of the Jackets games this season. Nine points in 13 games may not look like much, but it is his on ice play that has been phenomenal. Try and watch a Jackets game soon, and see what I am talking about. It looks like Zherdev may have finally arrived.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on this week:
Patrick Sharp – Chicago: Sharp has blazing speed and will produce if given some offensive minutes. His maximum upside is only 50-55 points, but he is a solid option for deeper fantasy leagues. He is also a threat on the penalty kill, and his two shorthanded goals last game can attest to that.
Alexander Radulov – Nashville: After a slow start, it looks like Radulov is starting to heat up. He will be given ample offensive minutes to produce, especially with Steve Sullivan looking more and more like he is done for the season.
Johan Franzen – Detroit: Franzen is coming back from an injury and will be given second line minutes right off the bat. He is a solid 45-55 point guy so grab him if you need some offensive help.