Dougie Hamilton

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Flyers defensemen coming up big; Nolan Patrick on the rise

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When it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers’ surge, some of it comes down to the usual suspects. Clearly, the training camp experiment of putting Sean Couturier at center with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek has been a smash success.

The NHL is funny in this regard, though: successful teams might have flaws, but most of them also boast some variety. More and more, this seems like a league where you need star power and versatility.

This season’s seen the big names rebound to old form, yet it’s exciting for Philly to see that Couturier isn’t the only guy who’s gone from “underrated gem” to a legitimate difference-maker.

Two Flyers defensemen have really delivered, in particular this season, and they’re names that are no surprise to hardcore hockey fans: Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are both coming along as planned, if not ahead of schedule.

It’s also not surprising that they’re providing excellent value in very different ways, although in at least one way they converge: scoring goals. As of this writing, there are only 13 NHL defensemen who have scored at least 10 goals in 2017-18, and the Flyers boast two of them.

(Fascinatingly, they aren’t the only teams that boast two defensemen at 10+. The Predators [P.K. Subban and Roman Josi] and Flames [Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton] also reach that mark, and the Sharks are close, as Brent Burns is there while Marc-Edouard Vlasic has scored nine.)

Again, they’ve arrived at this point in different ways.

“Ghost Bear” is just a blistering scorer. In just 58 games, he’s already at 50 points on the season, one of only three NHL defensemen to eclipse that mark so far.

Provorov’s 11 goals and 29 points are nothing to sneeze at, but he’s checking a few more boxes from an all-around standpoint. Provorov is averaging exactly three more minutes per game (24:24 to 21:24) to Gostisbehere, and those are sometimes challenging minutes; Provorov leads Flyers defensemen with an average of 2:43 shorthanded time on ice per game versus an average of three seconds per night for “Ghost Bear.”

This isn’t meant to disparage Gostisbehere, but rather to show that the Flyers boast a power-play phenom and an all-around, more defensive-minded stud on defense. Really, as you can see via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, Gostisbehere and Provorov are basically off the charts in every category.

(Wow.)

With Provorov only being 21 and Gostisbehere hitting his prime at 24, it’s the sort of duo that’s the envy of most of the league. Tantalizingly, it’s not just about the future, as the present is already very bright.

***

One other note: the Flyers are also seeing some signs that Nolan Patrick is coming into his own.

The prominent rookie has been lost in the shuffle due to a slow start (not to mention more injury issues), but now he’s really starting to heat up. In 40 games before the All-Star Break, Patrick only managed nine points. He now has nine points in the 13 games since, including an ongoing five-game point streak, which included a goal in today’s 5-3 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Tidily enough, Patrick’s point streak matches the Flyers’ five-game winning streak.

With injuries to Wayne Simmonds and goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers are going to need other players to support the likes of Voracek, Couturier, and Giroux. Gostisbehere and Provorov have been doing just that, and it’s looking like Patrick will be a key cog, as well.

Such developments make you wonder if Ron Hextall might decide to add even more to an improving supporting cast with the trade deadline rapidly approaching on Monday …

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames extend analytics darling Mikael Backlund

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The line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland (Ferland for now?) probably ranks as the Calgary Flames’ most important forward trio. If you spend a little time on Hockey Twitter, you’ll probably come across someone gushing about “The 3M Line,” maybe more than the bigger guns.

(Aside: I really tried to get a Campbell’s Soup-inspired nickname for that line, but it never took off. Probably for the greater good?)

With the trade deadline looming, the Flames took a big step toward keeping that line intact, signing underrated center Mikael Backlund to a six-year, $32.1 million contract extension. He’ll go from carrying a $3.575M cap hit in the final year of his current deal to $5.35M from 2018-19 through 2023-24.

This keeps “The 3M Line” together through 2018-19, assuming the team doesn’t want to split them up at some point.

The most infamous member of the trio is the least tenured of the three: Matthew Tkachuk will see his rookie contract expire after 2018-19. Michael Frolik, meanwhile, receives $4.3M per season through 2019-20. Tkachuk isn’t likely to go anywhere, mind you, but his inevitable raise could make it tough to keep all three of those puck-hogging forwards on the same roster that also boasts Gaudreau, Monahan, and pricey blueliners like Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.

Backlund, 28 (soon to be 29 as of March 17), is a solid piece even if you look at his scoring stats alone. The 24th pick of the 2007 NHL Draft is trying to make this his third consecutive 20-goal season, although he’s been limited to 10 in 58 games. (He’s made up the difference with 24 assists.)

If you look at his possession metrics, you’ll see that Backlund consistently tilts the ice in his team’s favor, even with heavy-to-drastic defensive usage.

Ultimately, he brings a nice mix of the subtle stuff that might slip under the radar:

With enough scoring punch that he jumps off the charts even when you’re not, well, looking at charts.

Naturally, this is an expensive contract, so there’s some risk involved. Even so, most seem happy with the deal from the Flames’ end:

If you take a look at their salary structure, there’s really a lot to like in Calgary. Now the Flames need to start putting it all together on the ice.

Once that really starts to build momentum, Backlund could be the sort of player who really makes the difference in a tough playoff series. That’s what the Flames are paying him for, really.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT on Fantasy: Power play points, ponderings

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Earlier this week, I pondered Patrick Marleau‘s scoring slump, which a) really struck a nerve with Toronto Maple Leafs fans and b) spotlighted some debatable lineup choices by Mike Babcock.

One thing that sticks out with Toronto is how they handle power-play minutes, and it got me to thinking: what are some other power play tidbits that might be interesting, particularly to fantasy hockey obsessives?

Let’s dive in.

The Maple Leafs are pretty much locked into the third spot in the Atlantic, so Babcock should use the next two months to experiment with different alignments. The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow makes a fascinating argument for why Auston Matthews isn’t used on the top power-play unit, but why not use this as a chance to test a variety of scenarios?

  • Another power-play time decision that makes me scratch my head a bit: Dougie Hamilton only ranking third among Flames defensemen (and eighth overall) with an average of 2:10 per night. Mark Giordano‘s great and T.J. Brodie is quite effective, but I’d probably want Hamilton to be either tops or 1a/1b with one of those two. If that changes, it could make Hamilton that much more effective. He’s fine with 27 points in 53 games, but more reps would open the door for greater fantasy glory.
  • Now, moving onto a sensible factoid: Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 4:20 PPTOI, and he’s making great use of that time.

Ovechkin’s fired a league-leading 83 SOG on the PP, and he’s also missed 33 additional shots. Really, his nine PPG and 20 PPP are almost modest, at least compared to other upper echelon producers. For example: Patrik Laine (52 PP SOG) and Evgeni Malkin (56 PP SOG) lead the league with 13 PPG apiece.

  • The only power play trigger in Ovechkin’s range is Tyler Seguin, who’s fired 72 SOG on the PP, along with 22 misses. Fittingly, he only has nine PPG and 16 PPP. Even if some of Ovechkin’s and Seguin’s shots might be relatively lower-quality than others, you’d think that both forwards could be even more dangerous toward the last two months of the season (if you’re looking into high-level trades).
  • Kudos to Jeff Petry for being one of the most productive defensemen on the PP. He’s likely to cool off a bit (five PPG on 26 PP SOG is a bit much for a blueliner), so just be careful. Nice to see an underrated player get some bounces, though.
  • As long as John Carlson is healthy, he should be a strong bet to be a great fantasy find, and the power play explains some of his value. He’s been a useful volume guy before, and with a lot of money on the line in a contract year, this could be really something. Carlson already has eight goals and 41 points, his second-best output (55 is his peak) with two months remaining.

***

As the fantasy season goes along, sometimes you need to look for granular advantages, and sometimes it’s helpful to note players on cold streaks who have a better chance to turn things around. Power-play time should be one of those things you monitor, especially if you notice a player who’s caught his coach’s eye and is getting better and better chances.

We might revisit this later in the season, possibly taking the monthly (or at least couple month) approach.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Some shrewd draft picks are boosting Bruins

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If the NHL were to recreate the 2014 NHL Draft with the power of hindsight, where would David Pastrnak go? Here’s a bold claim: sooner than 25th overall, when the Boston Bruins selected him.

It’s amusing to realize that the 2017-18 Boston Bruins are a deeper, more dangerous team because of some bright draft picks when you consider how much heat GM Don Sweeney & Co. absorbed after the 2015 draft.

As a reminder, Sweeney set himself up for a pivotal first draft after replacing Peter Chiarelli by lining up picks 13, 14, and 15 in 2015. Ultimately, the Bruins had three consecutive chances to snatch potential 2018 Calder winner Mathew Barzal, and they chose three other players instead. Hockey Twitter enjoyed many laughs at their expense.

Maybe it was a rough start, but Sweeney’s decisions have been looking a lot brighter lately.

One could consider Pastrnak a parting gift from Chiarelli, although Sweeney was likely a part of that (and many other Bruins decisions) as a longtime member of the front office, including serving as an assistant GM.

So far, Jake DeBrusk is the only player of those three mid-first-rounders to play in the NHL, scoring 26 points in 46 games. The 2015 draft hasn’t been a total bust, however, as they spotted promising defenseman Brandon Carlo with the 37th pick.

Pastrnak isn’t the only 2014 pick who’s been helping out this season. Danton Heinen (fourth round, pick 116) is ranked fourth in team scoring with 35 points in 46 games, while Anders Bjork (fifth round, 146) has shown flashes of brilliance as well.

You wouldn’t expect to see too many immediate dividends from 2016 and 2017, but then again, few defensemen show as much promise as rookies as Charlie McAvoy has. The blueliner has been a quick study, and could really stand as a steal at the 14th pick.

When you consider the early returns on moving from Claude Julien to Bruce Cassidy, the big picture with Sweeney in control – and the transition from Chiarelli, considering that fruitful 2014 draft – is looking brighter by the day.

Getting the likes of Pastrnak and McAvoy in recent drafts goes a long way in easing the pain of trading away young talent such as Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin. Just like that, a team that seemed to have fringe potential now must be taken very seriously as the playoffs approach.

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that neither Brad Marchand (71st in 2006) nor Patrice Bergeron (45th in 2003) were first-round picks?

Either way, the Bruins show how much of a boost you can get from hitting picks out of the park, even when you don’t dominate or even participate in the lottery.

Now, the next question is: how will these drafts look even further down the line?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Flames

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Expectations were high for the Calgary Flames entering this season.

They have a promising young core of talent centered around Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton, then spent a bunch of money to bring in Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith over the summer. Hamonic, along with Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie seemed to give them one of the better defensive units in the NHL (at least as far as the top-four is concerned) and Smith was expected to solidify a goaltending position that had been a pretty big sore spot the past couple of years.

When we last checked in with our power rankings two weeks ago the Flames were looking like one of the bigger disappointments in the league. They were on the outside of the playoff picture and looking like they were running out of time to make a big move in the standings.

But a six-game winning streak can change a lot.

Entering the week the Flames find themselves in the No. 2 spot in the Pacific Division and have built a four-point cushion over the first non-playoff teams in the West. One of those teams (San Jose) still has four games in hand on them, but the Flames are finally starting to resemble the team they were expected to be over the summer. They are 9-2-1 in their past 11 games.

Gaudreau is blossoming into a superstar while Smith has been on a roll in net over the past few weeks.

They made one of the biggest jumps in this week’s rankings.

Here is a look at where everyone else falls this week.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Losing Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks is going to hurt in the short-term, but the Lightning have their bye week for the first week of that timetable and have given themselves a huge cushion in the standings. They have the offense and goaltender to withstand that loss for a couple of weeks.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Yes. Somehow Vegas gets included in the elites now, too. I only saw somehow because this story is still insane. An expansion team. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender more than halfway through the season. Madness. Entering Monday the Golden Knights are 14-1-2 in their previous 17 games, a stretch that includes games against Anaheim, Nashville (twice), Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, St. Louis and Washington. They are going to get a big test here with a four-game road trip including games against Nashville and Tampa Bay.

The Rest Of The Best

3. Washington Capitals — After losing a lot this offseason it was supposed to be a step back this season. That step back still has them on pace for 109 points and another Metropolitan Division title. As the NHL standings sit today, their reward for that would be a first-round matchup against … the Pittsburgh Penguins.

4. Boston Bruins — Given the offseason seasons for Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser it is going to be tough for him to get a lot of attention in the Calder Trophy race, but Charlie McAvoy has been just as impactful as both. If not more impactful.

5. Nashville Predators — P.K. Subban should be one of the leaders in the clubhouse for the Norris Trophy at this point. His defensive play right now is laughably underrated.

6. Winnipeg Jets — It is really impressive how much offensive talent the Jets have, and how much of it is still young. Kyle Connor is scoring at a 30-goal pace over 82 games as a 20-year-old rookie and nobody even really mentions him much. If the goaltending can hold it together they will be a fascinating team to watch.

7. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick has at times been a little overrated in his career, but his performance this season has matched the reputation he has built. It’s almost as if he’s been a little underrated this year.

Just A Step Below

8. St. Louis Blues — The Blues need more from Jake Allen. A lot more. Carter Hutton has been really strong in a backup role this season and it’s probably time to give him a few more starts and ride the hot hand.

9. Calgary Flames — What a difference a couple of weeks can make in a team’s outlook for the season.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Jack Johnson wants a trade, but it is hard to see him bringing much of a return. Not only because every team knows he wants out, but because he is probably best suited as a third-pairing defenseman. There doesn’t seem to be a lot for Columbus to gain here and it’s hard to see Johnson getting more playing time on a team that will give him a better chance to win than Columbus will.

11. New Jersey Devils — They enter the week on a six-game losing streak. Time to panic, or just a small speed bump during  a long season full of peaks and valleys? They are still scoring goals so that is a good sign they can turn things around again.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs — They still have flaws, but it is amazing they are a top-five team in goals scored while getting only 14 goals from William Nylander and Mitch Marnrer and with Auston Matthews missing 10 games. Crazy depth up front.

13. Colorado Avalanche — One of the hottest teams in the NHL at the moment. Six game winning streak and 11-3-1 in their past 15 games. They are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but they are only two points back and have two games in hand on the team they are chasing.

The Middle Ground

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins are really on to something with this Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon line. It has also added a lot more balance to their forward lines. With Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all rolling now the Penguins look like the Penguins again.

15. Dallas Stars — Alexander Radulov isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on track for a career year offensively, is driving possession, and has generally been pretty outstanding for the Stars.

16. San Jose Sharks — Still having a hard time getting a feel for the Sharks. They are not bad, they are not really anything special, they are currently on the outside of the playoff picture … but they also have only played in 41 games and have multiple games in hand on everyone. They are not out of it by any stretch.

17. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal‘s resurgence in Minnesota the past two years has been a pretty stunning development. He looked like he was done toward the end of his time in Carolina.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Sean Couturier is on pace for 47 goals while playing dominant, shutdown defense. The goal scoring might end up being a bit of an outlier in his career (he is not a 19 percent shooter every year) but it is still a remarkable season for him.

19. New York Rangers — They have always been dependent on Henrik Lundqvist but right now they are taking that to an entirely new level. The defensive strategy just seems to be “pray that Lundqvist stops everything.”

20. Chicago Blackhawks — Like the trade for Anthony Duclair. Fresh start on a talented team might be good for him, and the Blackhawks could certainly use another young forward to fly around and create offense. But is the defense good enough to get them in the playoffs, especially with Corey Crawford‘s status still in question?

21. Anaheim Ducks — If they get healthy — and stay healthy — they could still be a team to watch out for in the second half. As of Monday they are two points back of a playoff spot. The challenge will be overcoming the five teams ahead of them at the moment.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Just when it looked like they were ready to make a big move in the East they dropped six out of eight. Still a lot of intriguing talent and the new owner seems like he is fired up and can bring plenty of excitement. There is a core here you can win with.

23. New York Islanders — They might not make the playoffs, they still have to re-sign John Tavares and Josh Bailey, but Mathew Barzal looks dynamite. They fall so low because they are really cold right now and have lost a lot of ground in a short period of time. Still very much in the playoff race, but trending in the wrong direction.

Better Luck Next Season

24. Detroit Red Wings — They enter the week 5-2-0 over their past seven games, trying to show some signs of live. That is good news. The bad news: Even with that nice little run they are still probably out of the playoff race.

25. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov got a much deserved spot on the Atlantic Division All-Star team. A true bright spot for the Panthers and a foundational player to build around for a long, long time.

26. Edmonton Oilers — They won two in a row heading into the bye week but the mountain standing in front of them for a playoff spot is still a massive one.

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t look now but Max Pacioretty is starting to turn it around. He has points in four consecutive games, including three straight with a goal.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It’s still the Brock Boeser show in Vancouver.

29. Ottawa Senators — After scoring at least 15 goals in each of the past four seasons Erik Karlsson has only three goals in 37 games this season. That is by far the worst goal-scoring pace of his NHL career. The only other time it was that low was his rookie season when he only played in 60 games as a 19-year-old.

30. Buffalo Sabres — The big thing worth watching now is where does Evander Kane end up before the trade deadline?

31. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes are on track to be one of the worst teams in recent memory. Only 27 points through 45 games and a minus-55 goal differential.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.