Cullen: Vanek, Hudler, Kunitz going great; injuries pile up

Scott Cullen
2/4/2013 2:33:33 PM
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Vanek has been outrageous, Hudler helps the Flames, Penguins left wingers, a bunch of injuries to cover and more.

Sabres LW Thomas Vanek is on another planet with his production right now, scoring 19 points in eight games, an average of 2.38 points per game. The last time a player finished a season with more points per game, it was 20 years ago, when Mario Lemieux scored 160 points in 60 games for the 1992-1993 Pittsburgh Penguins.

On a line with Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville, Vanek has been scoring on an unsustainable 24.2% of his shots, but there are some factors that favour Vanek remaining productive (if not quite off-the-charts productive).

First, he's playing more. For all the scoring that Vanek has done in Buffalo (230 goals in 547 games entering this season), Vanek hasn't received premier ice time, topping out at 17:21 per game in 2010-2011. So far this year, he's been playing 19:13 per game and, with more ice time, Vanek has sent more shots to the net. With 33 shots in eight games (4.13 per), Vanek is far ahead of his previous high (against, 2010-2011, when he had 238 shots in 80 games, 2.98 per gmae).

It doesn't count as a grand surprise when a four-time 30-goal scorer, and two-time 40-goal scorer, is putting up big offensive numbers but, in this small sample at least, the underlying numbers do indicate that there is reason, beyond random chance, for at least some of the improvement in Vanek's production.

After scoring a career-high 25 goals for the Detroit Red Wings last season, RW Jiri Hudler was signed by the Calgary Flames as a free agent. It didn't seem like a huge loss for Detroit, as Hudler played a career-high 15:40 per game last season and he was largely part of the Red Wings' supporting cast.

In Calgary, there is an opportunity for Hudler to play a more substantial role and he's certainly doing his part in his first three games, putting up two goals and five points, playing 21:19 against Chicago Saturday, his most in a game since March 3, 2009 vs. St. Louis.

Playing with Roman Cervenka and Matt Stajan, Hudler has enjoyed some early luck (his on-ice shooting percentage of 23.53%, per Bedhind The Net, is tops among forwards to play more than one game), but there is plenty of room for Hudler to be a productive asset for the Flames even if he's scoring closer to half of his current per-game rate.

A scoring change resulted in Penguins LW Chris Kunitz finishing Sunday's win over Washington with four goals, giving him seven points in two games over the weekend.

Skating alongside Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis, Kunitz has enjoyed remarkable good fortune, scoring six goals on 15 shots on goal this season, but this weekend's explosion inflates those numbers to an unrealistic level.

Nevertheless, Kunitz is a five-time 20-goal scorer who has proven to be a reliable top-six winger for the Penguins.

Which brings us to the Penguins' latest waiver addition, LW Zach Boychuk. 23-year-old Boychuk was the 14th overall pick in 2008, but hasn't been able to establish his role as a consistent NHLer, putting up seven goals and 18 points in 74 games with Carolina before the Penguins claimed him on waivers.

In his first couple games with Pittsburgh, Boychuk skated with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, which is a great chance for an offensively-minded forward to prove he belongs in the league, but with no points to show for it, Boychuk may not have much longer to show that he's up to the challenge.

While Washington's big names have struggled offensively, newcomer C Mike Ribeiro has tallied ten points in nine games. Ribeiro was this so productive on a line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward that he has been moved to centre Alex Ovechkin and Wojtek Wolski, perhaps in an effort to shake Ovechkin from his early-season doldrums.

Red Wings D Brendan Smith has suffered a shoulder injury that should keep him out 3-4 weeks. With Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White already on the shelf, that means the Red Wings will need more from D Jakub Kindl, who played a career-high 21:29 at Columbus on Saturday.

Blue Jackets D James Wisniewski went into the boards hard against Detroit Sunday and has been diagnosed with a concussion. Fedor Tyutin, already the Blue Jackets' leading scorer with seven points in nine games, figures to be the beneficiary, in terms of power play time, while Wisniewski is out.

Stars LW Ray Whitney is out 4-6 weeks with a broken foot, creating an opening in Dallas' top six for Brenden Morrow, who has joined Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr on the top line. Morrow has two shots on goal in nine games this season, so if that doesn't change really soon, someone else will get a look in that spot.

Ducks D Cam Fowler suffered an upper body injury on the weekend. While his absence isn't good for Anaheim, Fowler has ranked fourth among Ducks defencemen in ice time and has only one point in six games. In Fowler's absence, veteran Francois Beauchemin should get more PP time alongside Sheldon Souray.

Bruins LW Brad Marchand hit the boards hard Saturday night and, while he's making progress, isn't assured of playing Wednesday when Boston returns to action. Marchand's absence creates an opening in the top six for Boston, which they scrambled to fill with Chris Bourque and Gregory Campbell Saturday. Though he's a right shot, RW Rich Peverley may be best-suited to joining one of Boston's scoring lines if Marchand is out for any length of time.

Predators RW Martin Erat is out with a lower body injury, a serious loss for a Nashville team already missing Patric Hornqvist, considering they are the only Predators with more than three points in the first eight games. Brandon Yip was the immediate beneficiary, playing 18:42 at San Jose, but there could be room for others to move in because Yip has managed just 10 shots on goal in eight games this season.

Knocked out by Capitals D John Erskine, Flyers RW Wayne Simmonds is out with a concussion, leaving Danny Briere and rookie Tye McGinn to flank Claude Giroux on the Flyers' top line.

Blues G Jaroslav Halak has been put on IR with a strained groin, which should give Brian Elliott a run of consecutive starts until Halak returns.

Jets D Dustin Byfuglien remains sidelined by a lower body injury and Big Buff's absence bodes well for rookie D Paul Postma, who scored three points and played 21:35 at Tampa Bay Friday. Postma had 107 points in 152 AHL games over the last three seasons before landing a spot on the Jets' blueline, so he's capable of putting up points if given the opportunity.

Avalanche D Ryan Wilson is out indefinitely with an ankle injury, which might allow Shane O'Brien a chance to get back into the Avalanche lineup. The Avs are also missing RW David Jones, who is out with a knee injury, which has created an opportunity for John Mitchell to play a more prominent role and Mitchell has four points in the last two games, playing 20:49 Saturday against Edmonton (his most since November, 2009 for Toronto at Carolina) on a line with Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk.

Antti Niemi, G, San Jose (12.4% ownership) - Even if Niemi isn't necessarily considered the type of goaltender to lead his team, he's faring well in the early going, with a 6-0-1 record, 1.80 goals against average and .936 save percentage. Ride him will he's hot.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis (22.4% ownership) - Not quite as popular as teammate Alex Pietrangelo, who is owned in more than 30% of Hockey Challenge leagues this week, Shattenkirk ranks second among defencemen with nine points and his plus-5 rating is tied for 11th among defencemen, with the Rangers' Michael Del Zotto the only other blueliner to have six or more points and a plus-minus of plus-5 or better.

Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit (13.1% ownership) - The workhorse for the Red Wings blueline, especially since he's one of the few to stay healthy, Kronwall is playing more than 25 minutes per game and has seven points in eight games. That the Red Wings have four games this week (vs. Calgary, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Los Angeles) makes them all more appealing this week.

Martin St. Louis, F, Tampa Bay (25.8% ownership) - 14 points in eight games is good enough for more than a quarter of the entries and the Lightning do have four games this week, but it should be noted that all four are on the road and none against Southeast Division opposition.

Thomas Vanek, F, Buffalo (25.4% ownership) - The hottest scorer in hockey ranks fifth in ownership among forwards right now, but that total is increasing.

Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay (68.0% ownership) - The most-owned forward in the Hockey Challenge has seven goals and 16 points in eight games.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Thomas Vanek (Photo: Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)


(Photo: Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
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