The NHL handed out its three star awards for the week of February 7th to 13th: New York Islanders speedster Michael Grabner (first), Buffalo Sabres winger Drew Stafford (second) and Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (third).
Here are summaries of their exemplary seven days, with comments from the league’s press release and our own thoughts.
First star: Grabner
This is the second three stars appearance for Grabner in 2011, as he seems to be heating up since winning the fastest skater competition in the all-star game. He had an impressive eight goals and nine points overall in four games this week. The Islanders managed to win three in four games during that span.
Winner of the ‘Fastest Skater’ competition at the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend in Raleigh two weeks ago, the 23-year-old Villach, Austria native has an active five-game goal streak — the longest by an NHL rookie since Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks scored in five consecutive games in January 2009, and the longest by an Islanders rookie since Patrick Flatley had a six-game streak in November 1984.
Second star: Stafford
Stafford’s success has been one of the surprises of this season. He earned two hat tricks this week alone, giving him the league lead with four in 2010-11.
Stafford scored three goals and posted a +3 rating in a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning Feb. 8 and posted another three-goal, +3 performance in a 7-6 overtime loss to the New York Islanders Feb. 13. Playing in his fifth NHL season, the 25-year-old Milwaukee native leads the Sabres in goals with a career-high 23. He has scored 20 goals, including all four hat tricks, in his past 24 games.
Third star: Bryzgalov
The Russian goalie is making good on a contract year, as he has 23 wins and an impressive 93.8 save percentage on the season. The Coyotes are a serious threat for the Pacific Division crown, largely on the strength of Bryzgalov’s strong work.
Bryzgalov posted a 3-0-0 record, 1.29 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and one shutout as the Coyotes (29-19-9) climbed to sixth place in the Western Conference standings. Bryzgalov stopped 73 of 77 shots last week, beginning with a 26-save performance in posting his fifth shutout of the season, a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Feb. 7.
Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.
Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.
It’s easy to see why.
He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.
“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.
On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.
Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.
From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.
In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.
And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.
During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.
Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.
“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”
Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.
With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.
“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”
An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.
Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.
To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.
The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.
Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.
Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.
While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.
While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.
“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.
Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.