Each Friday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his 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.
A flashy and fun rookie to watch in Calgary, a team that I now know is definitely on the rise, the Eastern Conference's new power team and an old favorite who is again the star of the show -- it's all in my Friday Four blog.
Here we go:
1. 'Johnny Hockey'
Johnny Gaudreau is unbelievable.
This is not a trend or just a hot streak, he's the real deal. He's the real deal. Obviously he was last year at Boston College, but when you consider his path and you consider that he's playing in the Western Conference it is just amazing what he's able to do.
Left Wing - CGY
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 37
SOG: 99 | +/-: 12
He's playing against some of the best defensemen in the NHL such as Drew Doughty
, Shea Weber
and Roman Josi
, Duncan Keith
and Brent Seabrook
, but he's still galloping out there. He's playing against some of the best forwards in the League too, but it's no problem for him.
This isn't a trend because he's willing to go to the net and he's willing to pay the price to make plays. He's absolutely fearless. He has not only a hunger to get there, but he has the uncanny ability to manipulate defenders by getting inside them and on their backside of their hips.
I spoke to someone in the Calgary Flames organization and they said right from the beginning they thought he was going to be special, but they didn't know at what point it would translate. They believed early he would be special, but they didn't know how long it would take.
My goodness, it's definitely translated; he's the real deal.
And I just love how Gaudreau was at All-Star Weekend, going along with the stuff with Jakub Voracek during the Skills Competition. He's a bright, engaging guy, and I'm a huge fan. I'm all in on him.
2. Columbus is on the rise
I knew that the Columbus Blue Jackets had some good pieces in place and that they were a team on the rise, but after being there for All-Star Weekend it crystalized for me. I could see why as an organization they are trending in the right direction, for why making the playoffs last season doesn't have to be a one-hit wonder.
Yes we know they've been besieged by injuries this season, but being around Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen, and talking to Sergei Bobrovsky, it's obvious that they have a good foundation to have sustained success there. The organization is set up well. They have great fan support. I feel like they're deserving of a lot more credit than they're getting and I want to be one of the first ones to give them that credit.
They've been crushed with injuries, but all things being equal, you can see the maturation of this team. I could see it this weekend, particularly with Foligno and Johansen. They're impressive to watch. They both particularly struck a chord with me this past weekend.
And I'm a big Bobrovsky fan. His maturity and focus is excellent. He has one of the best work ethics in the League and unquestionably the best work ethic on the team. I spoke to one of their equipment guys and he told me that Bobrovsky is the first guy there in the morning, in the gym before everybody, on the ice before everybody, and then stays on the ice longer than everybody.
If you take into account all the things they have going on with the players and everyone around them it's not surprising that the Blue Jackets are trending in the right direction as a franchise. They're further along than I originally thought.
3. Power on the Island
We can't ignore the New York Islanders. You better not ignore the New York Islanders.
There is a coach of an upper-level Eastern Conference team that I spoke to recently who told me that he feels the Islanders are the best team right now in the Eastern Conference. I find it hard to disagree.
Obviously the Kyle Okposo injury hurts, because I'm a big fan of his and what he brings to the table and the chemistry he has with John Tavares, but in the bigger picture there is so much to like, starting with No. 91.
From Tavares you go to Okposo. From Okposo I go to the additions the Islanders made in the offseason with Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Jaroslav Halak. This guy, in the game against the New York Rangers the other day, he was just awesome. Halak was deserving of being an all-star.
They're deeper on the back end, though not as deep as I think they could be. But they have four lines they can roll and that's one of the things that is great about them. If you work back from Tavares' line to their fourth line, that's one of the best energy lines in the League right now. Every time Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck are on the ice they are making something happen. I mean every single time.
It could be a forecheck, a hit, a puck recovery and a chance, those players are making it happen. It could be a fight, a backcheck, an extended cycle with opportunities, they're making it happen. They do a lot of things well and they do it on a shift-by-shift basis. I have to give Jack Capuano and Doug Weight credit for playing them and letting them improve and letting them know that they matter, that they're not just going out there for a fight or a big hit but they're going out there because they can make plays.
You need to roll four lines if you want to win. When have you seen a full-size Kit Kat bar that doesn't have four? You have to have four. It takes four. You want to go deep you need four lines. They have it right now.
And you know what, Islanders fans are rejuvenated and I like it; it's great to see. In a bigger context it's great to see the NHL with good teams in New York. That would be one heck of a Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Islanders and Rangers. That would be great for our game.
4. Ovi being Ovi again
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 45
SOG: 230 | +/-: 12
Alex Ovechkin is dominating again, both on and off the ice. Man is this great to see.
Ovechkin was a star at All-Star Weekend for all he did for the show and the community. He starred at the Fantasy Draft and it was great to see him donate the car to the special hockey program in Washington. He did everything the NHL could have hoped he would do and more.
One of the great things about Ovechkin is when he's on he gives a lot of himself for the game. That's something that I think needs to be respected a lot more than it already is.
Not only that, he's playing great. He's been awesome. He has 13 goals in his past 13 games. The way he shot the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday was incredible, but notice that he's not going out of his way to find it. He's letting it come to him. He's playing within the flow of the game, within the rhythm of their team, and it's working for him.
He's hungry, he's all about the hunt, but he doesn't do it at the expense of how they play. That says a lot about him.