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.
Hello, hockey fans! The four things I'm looking at this week include the steady Nashville Predators, two unheralded players in Columbus and Vancouver, and how much fun it has been watching Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin alongside Radim Vrbata:
1. Nashville Predators -- I really like what I'm seeing in Nashville's game. First of all, when you have a healthy Pekka Rinne, a top-five goalie in the League and in the world, that's an advantage. But besides Pekka, who would have thought that Nashville would be a plus-15 in goal differential, tied with the Chicago Blackhawks in that category. That's an incredible increase in their output. They played the way they needed to play in previous seasons based on the personnel they had and what Barry Trotz envisioned. Trotz had the longest-tenured coaching job in all of sports, but it's also how well he coached that team and how well the whole coaching staff developed those players and what they've done through the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League. I don't think there's been a team that's been as consistent with the way they've developed their assets through their minor league program. Now they have a little more offense. Certainly, when you bring in a James Neal you're adding more offense. So when you look at the way they're playing now, they haven't sacrificed how they defend for the ability to attack a little more. They have allowed 37 goals all season, which is second only to the St. Louis Blues and we all know how Blues coach Ken Hitchcock loves to defend.
You look at guys like Eric Nystrom and Matt Cullen; all in all it's been a revelation watching them play. The thing I like is the fact they're going strong, but they're not going with the expense of saving. The Filip Forsberg, Neal and Mike Ribeiro line is as good a line as you'll find in the League right now. Forsberg is a star and Predators general manager David Poile should get a lot of credit because that was one heck of a trade to acquire Forsberg. That trade was beyond a steal.
Another key part to their game is the defense corps. We know Shea Weber is an elite guy and top-five or -eight defenseman in the world, but I also like the guys who complement him. Ryan Ellis is a very smooth, quick player, and is underrated. Ellis hasn't been in the League a very long time but this is a guy who, when they were first spotting him, were using him in certain situations. But he continues to improve. Roman Josi is an excellent defenseman starting to come into his own and is also underrated. If you go through the rest of their back end, you realize they have a very good supporting cast back there. Obviously Seth Jones has the potential to be a superstar in this League. When you watch that defense play, you gain an appreciation for just how good it really is.
2. Nick Bonino in Vancouver -- Bonino has been a nice fit for the Vancouver Canucks. He has 15 points in 19 games and not a lot of people are talking about that, so he's really been doing well. You kind of overlook what he did last year on that Anaheim Ducks team because they had such a good team, but he had a breakout season in 2013-14. Keep in mind this is a player who put up 22 goals and 49 points in 77 games last season for Anaheim. I don't know what was really expected of him from the outside but clearly Canucks GM Jim Benning and the scouts did a great job identifying what he could bring to the table, and that includes his speed. He's come in and has done well with Chris Higgins and Alexandre Burrows on that second line. So when you talk about performance and consistency, going at it nice and steady and having a quiet impact, Bonino fits the bill and he's under the radar right now. I feel Bonino is a good story this season with what he's been able to do.
Center - VAN
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 15
SOG: 41 | +/-: 7
3. The reinvigorated Sedin twins -- I want to stick with the Canucks for a minute and talk a little bit about Daniel and Henrik. The thing with the Sedins this season is the fact they're allowed to play their game. They are not being held back. They probably weren't supported as much as they needed to be last season and, in essence, were told that they were no longer effective cycling the puck, which is something I couldn't understand. Now they're back to averaging a point per game, and with Radim Vrbata complementing that line it's been amazing to watch. You already know that the twins play on their own frequency and the understanding they have of each other is at a whole other level. But for Vrbata to come in there and play the way he can shows the elite level with which he can think the game.
Not just anyone can go out there and play with the Sedin twins, which is why I get annoyed when I hear people say that. Anson Carter was a world-class player when he went to Vancouver and played with the Sedins. You have to think the game well. Burrows was able to think the game well when he was part of that line; you have to be able to read what they are doing all the time with and without the puck. You have to know timing, spacing, playing in motion, interchanging, drop and touch passes … all of those things. That's an advanced hockey university course, so to me it says a lot. Vrbata has been an unbelievable fit so far with the Sedins, as has coach Willie Desjardins. The twins are reinvigorated. Willie allows them to play, encourages them to play, and it's been a breath of fresh air for them. Just look at their production right now.
4. Nick Foligno in Columbus -- Nick Foligno has been excellent. He leads the Blue Jackets in goal scoring, and that's impressive when you consider Ryan Johansen has been having a great season too. But Foligno will fight, he gets in on the forecheck and he's more skilled than people give him credit for. He's a lot more confident offensively and always takes the puck strong to the net. To think, he's only 27 years old, and I don't think people recognize that. The way he's playing right now, I think he can establish a career high in points if he continues on this path. He's been a lot of fun to watch. Nick is a very tough kid and has always played with a lot of jam, is willing to fight for the puck and get to the dirty areas. I give him a lot of credit. It's almost as if he's miscast as a player because he's more skilled and tough than people realize. I really believe that offensively Foligno has taken a major step and deserves some recognition on the Friday Four.
Left Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 18
SOG: 38 | +/-: 3