Each Friday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you the Friday Four in his Weekes on the Web blog. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, trends or really four of whatever in the NHL that have caught his eye.
This week I've got indomitable Brent Burns, the explosive Tampa Bay Lightning, the emergence of Seth Griffith and the impressive Anaheim Ducks. Let's get to it:
1. Brent Burns is amazing
This is rare. He is rare. It's almost an impossibility to be able to go from defense to forward to defense and still be as effective and productive as he is.
Burns leads all defenseman in the NHL in points. He was a forward last season. That's amazing.
Defense - SJS
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 13
SOG: 38 | +/-: 0
There are only a few forwards in the League who can play defense consistently. There are only a few defensemen in the League who can play forward. When you look at Burns and Dustin Byfuglien
, it makes who they are as players all the more impressive.
Not only did they change positions in junior, but if you're able to change positions at the NHL level and still be a plus-player, that's almost impossible.
It's hard enough for a forward to play "D" on the power play. I played with Matt Cullen. I played with Brad Richards. I played with guys who are super-skilled and can go to play the point on the power play. But it's another thing to do that 5-on-5 against the opposing team's best players.
Let's put this in context: There are two guys in the world that can do what Burns and Byfuglien have done or are doing in terms of playing either position and being an impact player at either position.
It's all off the charts.
I spoke to Burns a few days ago and I asked him how he accepted the move. He said he accepts it and wants to do whatever he can to help the team, and as good as I feel he's playing, he said he thinks he can get better.
He feels he needs a little more patience in the defensive zone. He feels he needs a little more net-front patience in front of the Sharks' net. He needs to get away from the tendency of making himself available as a breakout option as a forward. He also feels he can improve on his stick and his positioning in the defensive zone.
Burns said the coaching staff and his teammates have been very patient with him in terms of going back and making that transition to "D," but he is an unbelievable story so far. To switch positions and be as good as he has been is beyond unreal.
I also want to mention that he does so many great things for charity on top of this. His charity, Burnzie's Buzzcuts, is fantastic. Burns and a bunch of his teammates are going to shave their heads and their beards for charity on Nov. 3. That's great. Good for him. He's one of the great guys in our game.
2. The explosive Lightning
I was texting Thursday with Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper; he is obviously impressed with how they have played and he knows they're electric. He feels they have more depth offensively and more depth on the blue line, and keep in mind that Victor Hedman is not playing.
Cooper talked about the Lightning's speed and skill. Tyler Johnson has come alive again. Ondrej Palat has been good. Nikita Kucherov has been impressive and is coming off a hat trick. They have a lot more speed and skill, but they also have more depth.
I've mentioned it before, but I can't talk enough about the addition of Anton Stralman and how good a signing that was by Steve Yzerman. Stralman and Jason Garrison have really helped stabilize their group and have given them a lot of looks.
Think about it, when Hedman is healthy, on the power play who are you taking away?
You want to take away Steven Stamkos? Well that's not happening. Nobody can.
You want to take Ryan Callahan away when he's in front of the net? OK, but does it then go to Hedman or Stralman or Garrison? Garrison shoots infrared beams from the point.
Cooper also has Johnson, Palat, Kucherov and, soon enough, Jonathan Drouin. The Lightning have a lot of options at their disposal, and the good thing is all of them are capable of playing the power play. Most of them do. But they can also light you up 5-on-5.
It's really scary now when playing the Lightning. They have tons of speed, tons of pace, and a lot of belief. They have complemented the homegrown players and insulated them with the likes of Stralman, Garrison, and Brian Boyle, who is heating up.
Add to this the fact that Ben Bishop is a Vezina Trophy finalist. One Eastern Conference superstar told me Bishop was the best goalie in the East last season, and that's in a conference with Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask and Carey Price. That's high praise.
The Lightning are for real.
3. Seth Griffith has been impressive for Boston
Griffith is not the biggest guy by any stretch, but he has a lot of compete. He reminds me a lot of Brendan Gallagher, but maybe with more skill. He reminds me a lot of Brad Marchand, actually.
Center - BOS
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 15 | +/-: -1
Coming in as a rookie and being able to play top-line minutes with David Krejci
and Milan Lucic
is not easy because typically you're playing against the other team's top line and top defense pairing if the opposing coach goes best-on-best. If not, you're getting a shutdown pair as your matchup. So there isn't a lot of free room to roam and make plays, but he's having the impact this season that Reilly Smith
had for the Bruins last season.
Griffith was a good Ontario Hockey League player for the London Knights, but he wasn't a guy every scout was drooling over. That's what makes his performance more impressive. He was a fifth-round draft pick. But he's been able to think the game, play the game with pace and read off of Krejci, who has a great hockey IQ. That's impressive. It says a lot to me that Griffith can think the game on that level and produce with those stars.
The Bruins did some real undercover scouting to be able to mine Griffith, who wasn't a name I heard jump out at me when he was in the OHL. Talking to scouts around the OHL, they'd say the same thing: He wasn't a big name, but he's been able to come to the NHL and play this way in that spot. Think about it, that's Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla who he's replacing. They played with Krejci and Lucic. He's filling that hole right now. The way he's playing allows them to not have to, at least not yet, make the trade to get someone to play there.
4. Don't Duck the system
I don't recall ever seeing a Stanley Cup-contending team, a top-tier NHL team, have this much talent in its system that it can get into their lineup.
When the Detroit Red Wings were stacked they had veterans. The Los Angeles Kings worked Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in last season, Jordan Nolan and Dwight King in 2012. But that's two guys every two years.
The Ducks have worked in Devante Smith-Pelley, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson. That's amazing. These types of players usually get their chance to play on a rebuilding team, not a Cup-contending team.
General manager Bob Murray and his whole staff with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League, including Trent Yawney (now an assistant coach in Anaheim), deserve all the credit. Of course coach Bruce Boudreau deserves it too, and the same with Scott Niedermayer, but to have these young prospects come in ready to play and play well, it's crazy and it's been so important to the Ducks.
The Ducks are a great example of what happens when your scouting staff, your development staff and your big team are all in sync and on the same page. It goes a long way.