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.
Young players big and small, an off-the-grid ace and a pair of unsung forwards in Hollywood have caught my eye and deserve some pub. It's all in my Friday Four this week.
1. Big, young forwards
Nick Bjugstad (from Minnesota), Anders Lee (from Minnesota), Kevin Hayes (from Massachusetts).
Those three young forwards have been impressing me. I mean seriously impressing me.
They're big, they're skilled and they're talented. I'm not saying any one of them is like Shanny (Brendan Shanahan, in case you didn't know who I meant) from a toughness, I'm-going-to-fight-you standpoint, but every one of them has the ability to be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL.
Their progression this season, all three of them, has been off-the-charts impressive.
When I think about Bjugstad I think about the goal he scored against the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 12, that top-shelf goal from a difficult angle, shooting from the bottom of the right circle with Jonas Brodin's stick in his way and about a two-inch opening over Devan Dubnyk's left shoulder.
Center - FLA
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 40
SOG: 191 | +/-: -9
What a shot. What a goal. What a player.
When I think about Hayes I think about the goal he scored against the Islanders on Tuesday, the power he had, the skill he showed, the ability to control his big body. Amazing.
Lee has had about three or four of those, so too many to mention here.
I'm really intrigued by the combination of size and skill those players have. Keep an eye on them.
2. And on the other end of the spectrum
Johnny Gaudreau, a.k.a. Johnny Hockey. Tyler Johnson; small but so what?
If you don't believe that these guys are excellent you have a problem. That's like saying it's not hot in Arizona in the summer; it's scorching hot. And Gaudreau and Johnson are all-world, man.
When I watch these guys play they are fearless. And size isn't a factor when you're fearless.
I have watched both of them challenge bigger defensemen repeatedly. They don't have to be big, physical, pounding defenseman, but they obviously all are bigger, and Johnny Hockey and Johnson have gone right at them.
I've seen Gaudreau challenge Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty. This guy is just unafraid.
Johnson is the same way, completely unafraid, challenges guys, doesn't care. He goes to the net to make plays. He goes through the stick and the body. He's undeterred, unafraid. He wins most of the time too.
They're small but they play big. They play way bigger than their actual size. And they're very competitive. Anybody that once thought these players can't or shouldn't be able to play based on size, well, throw that out the window.
3. Off the grid
This one comes a bit out of left field because I know his team is not going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But New Jersey Devils forward Mike Cammalleri would have scored 35 goals this season if he was healthy; he might even be around 40.
Cammalleri always has been a sniper, but it's not just about scoring for him in New Jersey. He's providing nice leadership to that team too, just like he did with Calgary last season.
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 34
SOG: 122 | +/-: 2
The key for Cammalleri is the legs feed the wolf. Because he's not big he has to work really hard to get to spots and he's always been a guy who works hard in the offseason.
He does a lot of track work. He works a lot on quick feet and he needs that because he needs to be able to elude defenders to get to spots first. He's a shooter, not a puck-carrying goal scorer. He beats you to the spot and scores. That's why his legs are more important, because he has to get separation. When he gets that separation he's at his best. He's doing that this season.
He's been an excellent fit in New Jersey.
The Devils were a team on his radar for a while going back years. General manager Lou Lamoriello stepped up, they made it work and so far it has done exactly that. It's working nicely. He's played exceptionally well.
If he was healthy you could have marked him down for 35 with a chance to hit 40.
4. Unsung guys in L.A.
There are two players on the Los Angeles Kings making noise that nobody is talking about right now: Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford.
These guys are not just marginal players, just penalty killers, bangers on the forecheck. It's not smart to limit these guys to that. These guys are good enough to play and I'll give you three examples of how we all should know they are:
Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik.
If you're good enough to play with them, there is no way you should be limited to a fourth-line role.
Give Kings coach Darryl Sutter and his staff credit for recognizing that Nolan and Clifford are playing well. They're playing big, fast and nasty, they can hit you and they can make a play. When you look at what the Kings have done recently, Clifford and Nolan have given them a lot and been a big part of it.
Give Kings general manager Dean Lombardi credit for recognizing it and signing Clifford and Nolan to extensions. They're cap-friendly deals, but they're giving these guys their candy and playing them with some good players.
These are good players. Watch the Kings and watch these guys.
It says a lot about the Kings' management team and coaching staff by rewarding Nolan and Clifford with ice time and contract extensions. They are not marginalizing them and that's good. You can't marginalize players like this and then hope they do well for you in the playoffs.