Workhorse goalies, forwards from last season

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It’s Labor Day, so this seems like an appropriate time to consider hard work in hockey.

Sure, these players are all well-compensated for their efforts, but perhaps this will provide a little thematic entertainment. We took a look at the “hardest working” defensemen in this post, but now let’s consider goalies and forwards.

A few ground rules before you get too angry on your day off:

1. This is based on 2013-14 stats.

2. Quantity generally beats out quality in many cases, so players who logged 70+ games have a much better chance than someone who was injured but faced tough assignments when healthy.

3. By no means is this a comprehensive list and this isn’t meant to judge subjective things like “effort.” It’s mainly based on how a player was deployed. In other words, team styles and coaching in general made a big impact.

Got it? Let’s roll:

Anze Kopitar

At this point, leaving the Los Angeles Kings’ center off any “best forward in hockey” discussion is foolish. SB Nation’s Adam Gretz does a great job summarizing his all-around brilliance:

Since the start of the 2011-12 season with Kopitar on the ice at even-strength, the Kings have attempted 60 percent of the shot attempts (the third best mark in the NHL, behind only Kopitar’s teammate Justin Williams and Bergeron) and scored more than 61 percent of the goals. He’s also averaged more than two minutes of shorthanded ice-time per game over that stretch (tops among Kings forwards) and has 53 power play points.

Sean Couturier

Much like overall shorthanded time leader Braydon Coburn, playing for the league’s most penalized team probably inflates Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier’s PK numbers … but they still tower above other forwards expected to chip in at least some offense (sorry Manny Malhotra). Couturier’s only competition in total penalty killing time among forwards was Jay McClement, but Couturier logged more than four minutes of total ice time per game than the former Toronto Maple Leafs defensive specialist, giving him more all-around duties.

(Flyers fans are justified in smiling at the fact that his cap hit will only be $1.75 million for the next two seasons.)

Tomas Plekanec

It’s tempting to place Patrice Bergeron here being that he’s arguably the best two-way forward in the NHL (with a handful of others making a strong argument). Just look at this chart, which is one way of showing much opposing shooters struggle to score when Bergeron’s on the ice:

So consider that a mention of sorts, but the Boston Bruins probably share the defensive burden better than most (Bergeron averaged just under two minutes of shorthanded time per game, a healthy but not outrageous average). One might look to Boston’s hated rivals in Montreal for a guy who carries a remarkable workload for a quality scorer.

Tomas Plekanec wasn’t all that great at draws, yet he won the most shorthanded faceoffs in the league for a good reason: he was on PK duty a lot. Plekanec averaged 2:57 shorthanded time per game, not all that short of Couturier’s daunting 3:25 average. On top of that, Plekanec began only 38 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, which essentially places him alongside “defensive specialists.”

His offensive output of 20 goals and 43 points looks pretty solid considering all of that heavy lifting.

Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf and other scorers under pressure

While Erik Karlsson carries a staggering amount of offensive responsibilities in Ottawa, there are plenty of forwards who are expected to score on a nightly basis. Sidney Crosby was involved in 42.9 percent of the Pittsburgh Penguins 242 goals while Claude Giroux (36.9 of Philadelphia’s tallies) and Ryan Getzlaf (33 percent of Anaheim Ducks’ 263 goals) weren’t far behind. Getzlaf boasted one of the better alternate Hart arguments when you consider his 2:07 shorthanded time per game combined with his second-best scoring output.

Semyon Varlamov

It’s easy to see why the Colorado Avalanche’s No. 1 goalie pushed Tuukka Rask in the Vezina voting, as Varlamov was crucial to his team’s surprising season.

Varlamov easily topped all goalies in save attempts (2,013) and saves (1,867) as Kari Lehtonen came in distant second with 1,888 attempts and 1,735 saves. Varlamov’s 63 games played wasn’t short of the largest workload, finishing just two contests behind Lehtonen. All things considered, it’s really impressive that Varlamov topped all goalies with 41 wins while generating an impressive .927 save percentage.

(In case you’re wondering, Rask made 1,568 saves with an outstanding .930 save percentage.)

With a nod to Ryan Miller absorbing buckets of shots in Buffalo, it’s hard to make an argument for any goalie’s job being tougher than Varlamov’s last season. Should the Avs be worried about the goaltending equivalent of the NFL running back “Curse of 370,” then?

***

Maybe even more than the defensemen list, omissions are likely here in part for space reasons (Ryan Kesler’s an honorable mention, for one). Feel free to add some names to consider in the comments, then.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”