There's roughly a month in the NHL regular season. But April will feel like a playoff month with all-divisional games all the time. And like a postseason series, hot goalies can transform the standings.
Let's drop the WaFd Bank Weekly Warmup puck:
Draft Notice: Goalie Edition
In his first draft as Carolina's general manager, Ron Francis selected goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic in the second round. Goalies rarely go much higher than second round in the draft and typically are selected in later rounds.
Now-Kraken GM Francis picking a goalie that high showed a confidence that Nedeljkovic, a Cleveland area native, would develop into an NHLer. It equally revealed the Francis mindset of using some picks to build for future seasons. Goalies typically require several years of development before becoming NHL regulars.
Fast forward to this season, Nedeljkovic is 8-4-2 with .924 save percentage and 2.12 goals against average and was named NHL rookie of the month for March (he had six previous NHL appearances, including four games last season). With starter Petr Mrazek out with an injury, Nedeljkovic has pushed veteran James Riemer for time in the net and is clearly a big reason why Carolina is in three-way contention with Florida and Tampa Bay atop the Central division.
One more nugget for Kraken fans: Nedeljkovic was the lead goalie for the 2019 Charlotte Checkers AHL title for a team in which 80 percent of the goals and assists it scored were notched by players drafted or acquired by Francis and his front office, which included Seattle assistant GM Ricky Olczyk and Seattle director of amateur scouting Robert Kron.
Draft Notice: More on 2014
- Francis made seven selections in that first draft as GM. Five are playing in the NHL:
- Defenseman Hayden Fleury (first round, No. 7 overall) for Carolina, a regular since the 2017-18 season.
- Alex Nedeljkovic (see above, second round, No. 37 overall), also named AHL Goalie of the Year for the 2018-19 season.
- Left wing Warren Foegele (third round, No. 67 overall), drafted as a Canadian high schooler now in his third full season with the Hurricanes.
- Center Lucas Wallmark (fourth round, No. 97 overall), in his third full season, now with Chicago.
- Forward Clark Bishop (fifth round, No. 127 overall), has split time between AHL and NHL; traded to Ottawa in January and now on NHL roster.
Goalies on Streaks
Nashville goalie Juuse Saros has been the heir apparent to teammate and fellow Finnish countryman Pekka Rinne for several seasons. This year was deemed the official handover of the starting job, though with the concentrated schedule, all teams are working tandems.
Saros experienced a uneven start to the season, mirroring the Predators "meh" beginning. But Saros has now allowed two goals or less in 11 of his last dozen starts. By no accident, Nashville has vaulted over Columbus and Chicago to hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central division.
In the month-plus that Toronto starting goalie Frederik Andersen has been with a lower-body injury, Jack Campbell has kept the Maple Leafs postseason express train to the postseason running smoothly and then some. When Campbell returned from his own lingering lower-body injury, it was Andersen's turn to heal up.
Campbell is a perfect 8-0 in eight starts this season, including five wins since March 20. His season stats are impressive: Only one three-goals-against goals (versus Edmonton), two shutouts, an otherworldly .951 save percentage and a 1.35 goals against average.
The 29-year-old might well be living up to the potential the Dallas Stars imagined when drafting the American goalie No. 11 overall in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft. It has been a rugged road, but Campbell playing a key role in hockey-mad Toronto is a happy chapter.
Doing the Divisional Math
While all four division leaders rank among the top six teams in an overall composite NHL standings, the Central division features three or half of those elite six. Going into Monday's games, Florida leads the league with 56 standings points-the first time ever for the franchise (leading lots of media members to nominate Joel Quenneville for coach of the year).
West division leader Colorado, which tops the league in win percentage (one less game than FLA), has 54 points, same as Tampa Bay, the second Central entry, and East leader Washington. Carolina fills out the Central trio with 53 points, tied with North division leader Toronto.
Games to Watch This Week
Monday and Wednesday: Colorado visits Minnesota for a meaningful two-game set. The Avalanche is 8-0-2 in its last 10 games while the Wild have cooled off with a 6-3-1 record. Colorado leads the third-place Wild by six points. This is Minnesota's chance to make up some ground. FYI, Vegas is four points in back of COL.
Friday and Saturday: Los Angeles visits San Jose this weekend. The two future Pacific division rivals will have some decisions to make this week as the NHL Trade Deadline looms next Monday, April 12 at 9 a.m. San Jose is only three points off the West fourth-place playoff spot. Arizona has 41 points while SJS and St. Louis are knotted at 38 points. Does that make the Sharks no longer a seller? The Kings (34 points), meanwhile, have drooped in recent weeks and likely will be looking to move some players.