The Chicago Wolves went 5-3 over the past eight games, and they're now third in the AHL's Central Division. As the team has gotten healthy and kept the roster together, though, that isn't good enough. With Tomas Hyka and Stefan Matteau caught in limbo between the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago, other players will have to separate themselves.
T.J. Tynan has had a relatively down week, which is still tremendous. Brandon Pirri is freshly returned from injury. Oscar Dansk has yet to have a truly great performance at the AHL level, especially as he set expectations so high with his brief NHL stint. The Wolves did not get a true earth-shattering performance from anybody in the Knights’ organization this week, at least until the end of this stretch.
Which is why the St. Louis Blues' players have stepped into bigger roles. Wade Megan and Beau Bennett have posted four and 10 points respectively. Both had at least one goal, and seven of Bennett's points have come on the power play. The Wolves' power play is much improved, hitting on 9-of-33 chances in this stretch. That's a 27.3 percent success rate, better than the best team in the NHL.
Unfortunately, the penalty kill has suffered at the same time. They killed just 28-of-35 penalties, an 80 percent success rate, down from 83.6 percent on the season.
Luckily when Pirri did return, he did so with a vengeance, coming back and posting three goals and six points in four games, doing damage on the power play, with two goals and four points on the man advantage.
Keegan Kolesar, back from a stint in the ECHL, also came up big, potting three goals and an assist at even strength in the same time span. Those were his first three goals at the AHL level, and hopefully that's a confidence booster.
His biggest knocks were his confidence and the fact that he stopped shooting. When he does shoot, though, he's a danger to the other team. For reference, Kolesar is tied for the lead in goal scoring through these eight games, and he's only played four. He's going to be lethal given a bit more time.
Lastly, one of the new Wolves' acquisitions has been Zac Leslie, on loan from the Golden Knights. Leslie got a game-winning goal in this stretch against the Cleveland Monsters as well as two assists on the power play. He's an excellent offensive defenseman and has done well in replacing the Blues' Jake Walman, now with the Binghamton Devils.
"I'm an offensively skilled defenseman who's supposed to help the team produce. I think Rocky will look for me to do that here," said Leslie. He's led all defensemen in scoring through this period, which hasn't been bad for defensive scoring, with 12 points.
3. Teemu Pulkkinen
Teemu Pulkkinen finally burst free from the slump that's been containing him and did some damage. He posted three goals and eight points across these six games, and most of those points (5) were collected on the power play. All eight of Pulkkinen's points have been primary through this stretch, and Teemu has developed into a better playmaker, someone who can generate offense no matter who he's grouped with.
"Just playing the game," said Pulkkinen, when asked how he's finding ways to generate offense. "Play the right way, and you will get rewarded like we did tonight. Just play the right way and play on the right side of the puck and sometimes you will get lucky. It's been pretty good lately here at home, we've been playing really well here."
2. T.J. Tynan
Tynan continues to be the scrappy all-situations center for the Wolves that he's built his game around. He continues to find ways to produce on special teams and win board battles. Through this stretch of games, Tynan delivered two goals and nine points. Like I said, a down week...
The most surprising part of this stretch of games for Tynan — he didn't get a primary assist until game five, against Grand Rapids. He delivered two primaries that game, one to Kolesar and one to Pirri. For a guy who's become a huge primary-point-per 60 player, that lack of primary assists was unsettling. Luckily, he stepped up and fixed it, collecting one more since then, helping Kolesar get his first goal along the way.
1. Beau Bennett
For the first time this year, a Blues player found his way to the top of this list. It was only a matter of time, as Bennett has stepped his game up after the winning started on Dec. 9, and who looks like the NHL player he is. Bennett has played games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Blues.
If it wasn't for his injuries, Bennett might still be in the NHL. Unfortunately, he's dealt with injuries a few times this year as well. Still, he's a fantastic playmaker who can help out on the power play and at even strength, and has a nice shot as well. He's not as good without the puck on his stick, but get him in possession and he's got magic.
Through this stretch, Bennett delivered three goals and 10 points, with seven of those points coming on the man advantage. He's the closest thing to a power play specialist the Wolves have. His first point at even strength was the secondary assist to Kolesar. Man, it really does help when you have stars getting you the puck.