No matter what you think of former Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, be it hockey genius or lucky Cup-winner, he was always extremely careful with his young players. Most poolies found it frustrating last season when Derick Brassard led the Blue Jackets in scoring early on, yet was only seeing 12 or 13 minutes of ice time. And this season when Nikita Filatov scored in a game where he saw just seven minutes of ice time… and was rewarded with six minutes the following game.
Hitchcock is gone now and we are already seeing the difference, led by two other young, but key members of the roster: Steve Mason and Jakub Voracek.
After a brutal run from mid-November to early-January that saw Columbus go 3-14-7, it was clear the team was no longer responding to Hitchcock. Prior to losing to Vancouver Friday night, Columbus had won all three games under interim coach Claude Noel. In those wins, they gave up a total of just one goal and Mason’s rather weak numbers have suddenly taken a turn for the better. The 21-year-old’s save percentage was a dismal .890, but is now up to .897. His goals-against average has improved from 3.28 to 3.08. Both stats, aptly described as “ugly” just more than a week ago, are on the cusp of being somewhat respectable. Give him a couple more games and both numbers will cross the necessary targets (.900 SP and 3.00 GAA).
The other player seeing a big jump in his game is 20-year-old Voracek, who has five points in four games. His ice time is about the same as it was under Hitchcock (hovering around 15 minutes per game) and his linemates remain Raffi Torres and Brassard. So what is it? How about a change in pressure, from lots to little?
Whatever the reason, poolies don’t care. We just care about the end result, which is improved numbers from the skilled youngsters. Here’s a look at how some other young Blue Jackets have responded to Noel:
Brassard – The 22-year-old has three points and is a plus-3. His ice time looks to be up about two minutes per game.
Filatov – He’ll continue to ply his trade in the Kontinental League, but if his team is eliminated from the post-season he is allowed to come back and play in the NHL. The chances of a return this season increased from zero percent to 10 percent when Hitchcock was fired. When it’s all said and done, the 19-year-old’s offensive potential and upside is the highest in the organization. I speak boldly, especially considering the fact Rick Nash is in the organization.
Anton Stralman – The 23-year-old rearguard has three points in two games under Noel (he was held out with an undisclosed, lower-body injury Feb. 10). His ice time actually decreased his first two games under Noel before playing more than 22 minutes Friday, so you may want to be wary…
Meanwhile, over in Dallas, Mike Ribeiro has returned from his throat injury and he’s apparently quite hungry. He has four points in two games already, including a highlight-reel goal Thursday against the Flames. His return has pushed Mike Modano down to about 14 minutes. Modano, pointless in those two games, is probably a guy to drop going forward.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Get the edge in your league - check out the latest scoop every Tuesday and Saturday throughout the season. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.