In part 2 of this 3 part series, I unveil the second defensive pairing, the third line, and the head coach
Welcome to the sixth edition of my end-of-season Prime Cuts roster. To make this team, a player must have made a significant contribution to his respective NHL team in 2013 (especially relative to expectations). I want to reward players who came out of nowhere to produce, but at the same time I also want to recognize stellar performances from elite talents.
I used advanced stats, regular stats, and the “eye test” (watching games) when forming my analysis and opinions on the below players. I didn’t adhere to a salary cap, but I did my best to fit players into the proper role. You won’t find Erik Karlsson on the third defensive pairing, and you won’t find John Tavares centering line four. To be fair though, both of the defensemen on my "second pairing" were "top pairing" guys on their respective clubs this season. However, neither came into the season with top pairing expectations.
My lineup isn't a perfect "third line winger listed on the third line" kind of thing. At the end of the day, it is still an All-Star team... just a different take on one.
Here are the past five Prime Cuts rosters:
I (tried to) remove my own biases (players I like and dislike) when putting this team together, and the selections are 100% subjective. You may disagree on a player or two, but I hope my explanations provide enough reasoning for the “why” behind each pick.
The head coach:
For the majority of the season, the Senators were without their starting goaltender, their best defenseman, and their best forward. More than any other team in the NHL, Ottawa has relied on these three players for success in previous seasons (particularly Karlsson and Spezza). However, they were somehow able to not only tread water in the Eastern Conference, but they managed to grab the seventh spot and earn a trip to the playoffs.
How were they able to do it? Well, MacLean got total and complete buy-in from everyone on the roster. Grinders, skill players, rookies, veterans. They all knew their respective roles. The Senators won with hard work, great goaltending (from Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop), and timely scoring. Credit is also due to Bryan Murray, who has done a marvelous job at drafting and developing. MacLean put players in the right roles to succeed, and they did just that.
The second defensive pairing:
Brenden Dillon – Jonas Brodin
Dillon and Brodin were two of my three finalists for the Calder this season. Why? Defense is a very difficult position to master as a rookie. Rookie forwards don’t have the same level of responsibility or pressure, as their bad games aren’t as glaring or noticeable.
Brodin stepped in as a rookie and quickly emerged as Minnesota’s second best defenseman. He played top pairing minutes against the opposing stars, and did a fantastic job, too. He doesn’t play a flashy game, but he thinks a step ahead of most players, and his game is devoid of any weaknesses. He was a big reason why Ryan Suter was able to have a Norris-caliber season.
Dillon, signed in 2010 as an undrafted free agent, played almost the entire season on the top pairing in Dallas. Despite playing for a poor defensive club, he was a positive possession player, and he deemed himself worthy of an addition in many fantasy leagues with his multi-category production (blocked shots and hits, with decent offensive totals for a rookie blue liner). His strong season didn’t go unnoticed, as he was recently selected to represent Canada at the 2013 World Championships.
And as a pairing, these two combine great size, mobility, puck-moving, and a bit of snarl (from Dillon) too.
The third line:
Brandon Saad – Nazem Kadri – Brendan Gallagher
This trio combines youth, size, skill, and most of all, tenacity. Saad was a very impressive rookie in Chicago this season, not looking out of place alongside some of the best players in the world. On one hand, he did get to play with good players, which helped his production. But on the other hand, he had more pressure on him to play a complete game compared to rookies on poor clubs. Saad didn’t just need to put up goals and assists, but he had to do his best to prevent them, too.
Kadri has quickly become one of my favourite players in the league. I love how he plays – he combines grit and toughness with a ridiculous skill set. A poor man’s Patrick Kane with how many moves he has in his arsenal. The Leafs didn’t lean on him too heavily this season, but he will force them to in the future (especially if Tyler Bozak leafs this summer as a free agent).
Gallagher is a guy I was lucky enough to track during his WHL career. I knew Montreal made a great pick when they scooped him up a few years ago as a late draft pick, but even I (or the most optimistic Habs fans) couldn’t have predicted that he would have been so effective as a rookie. Gallagher was able to succeed because of how he plays (fearless, almost as if he is magnetized to the opposing goal crease), and how hard he trains (his dad has been the strength coach with the Vancouver Giants for years, and even though he is only 5-8, Brendan is very strong and powerful).
Stay tuned for part three next week - a look at the top defensive pairing, starting goalie, and the top six forwards.