Ville Leino has three goals and 10 points in 28 games this season. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
The free agent signing I singled out as the best bet to be a bust was Ville Leino of the Sabres and so far it’s looking bang on. Buffalo is a team flush with talented, small forwards, many of whom are on the cusp of taking that next step, so adding a player in his prime with similar attributes for big money would only dampen the development of some of the youngsters. With a salary such as Leino’s (this year he is making $6 million), the player has to play on the first line. But in this case, it was shoving a square peg into a round hole – it hasn’t worked.
But there’s hope.
On the top line, Leino played with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford for much of the first 20-odd games. It seemed like a recipe for success, given the likelihood Roy would lead the team in scoring and Stafford’s breakout 31-goal campaign last year. But the result was a disaster. In fact, not only did Leino post points at a Hal Gill-like pace, but his presence on the line brought down the production of the other two guys. Stafford had five points in his first 11 games and Roy had four in that span. Leino managed just three.
Leino also saw some time with Tyler Ennis and Brad Boyes with similar results. The problem with strictly lining him up with skilled guys is this: Leino is a soft player (recent uncharacteristic suspension aside) and a setup man. He needs a big, strong player on his line, as well as a goal scorer. Roy, Ennis and Boyes are fine candidates for one spot, but the other spot needs to be taken by a power forward. Stafford wasn’t a bad option, but he’s no Scott Hartnell.
If you recall a year ago, Leino flourished on a line with Daniel Briere and Hartnell in Philadelphia. In fact, he played more than 62 percent of his shifts with those two, but my theory is that it was Hartnell’s presence that made the line work. The hardnosed, perennial 100-PIM player with 30-goal hands did all the dirty work. Stafford just doesn’t match that.
But do you know who does? Rookie Zack Kassian. He’s similar to Hartnell in size, grit, determination and talent. In fact, he has the potential to score more than Hartnell. Since Kassian was put on the line, as well as another rookie with size in Luke Adam, Leino has posted five points in six games.
As long as Patrick Kaleta, Boyes and Paul Gaustad are sidelined, Kassian will remain with the big club. And as long as that happens, Leino is a good bet to continue producing.
Jiri Hudler is finally on a roll and all it took was a sweet job on Henrik Zetterberg’s line just when Big Z hit his stride. After scoring seven points in 17 games, Hudler has 11 in his past 10 and brought himself up to an overall pace that would see him notch 54 points. That would be the second most of his NHL career. Hudler, 27, has been plagued with inconsistency and had a difficult time re-adapting to the league last year after a season in the Kontinental League. Remember last season he had 31 points in his last 43 games, which is a pace similar to his current one.
Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds was recently placed on a line with Briere and Matt Read (again with those line combos, eh?). The result has been impressive. He has five points in his past four games to go with a plus-4 rating. In the right environment, Simmonds can be (and has been) a multi-category stud - and this line looks like the right environment.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.