Young Stars Taking Over NHL
Not counting the rookies, more on them later, the NHL has seen a recent influx of elite young talent that have helped the NHL make a strong comeback following the lockout.
Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars are both under 25 and are tied atop the NHL leaderboards in points with 20. 19-year-old Connor McDavid is right behind them with 19 points for the Edmonton Oilers. Alex Galchenyuk is leading the league leading Montreal Canadiens in points at the ripe young age of 22.
Other youngsters like J.T. Miller (New York Rangers). David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins), Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Alexander Wennberg (Columbus Blue Jackets), among others, have begun their assault on the NHL and plan on dominating for years to come.
No Real Leader For The MVP… Yet
At this point in the season last year, it was pretty clear that Patrick Kane was the leader to win the MVP award, but over a month into the season, nobody has managed to separate themselves from the pack. As previously mentioned, Mark Scheifele, Tyler Seguin and Connor McDavid are leading the NHL in points.
The dynamic line of Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov has combined for 51 points to this point in the season for the Chicago Blackhawks. Steven Stamkos is also off to a strong start down in Tampa, with eight goals and nine assists in 15 games. And even though he’s only played nine games, Sidney Crosby deserves to be mentioned, with 13 points. Crosby has only been held without a point in one game this season.
As far as goaltenders are concerned, Carey Price is off to a historic start, becoming the first goalie to win his first ten games. Price is 10-0 with a 1.40 GAA and a .957 save percentage, along with two shutouts. I know I ragged on Tuukka a little bit two weeks ago, but he’s stayed hot, and was named as one of the Three Stars of the Week throughout the entire NHL for his work last week. Rask is 10-1 with a 1.54 GAA, and a .945 save percentage and is tied for the league lead in shutouts with Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild, who is just 6-4, but has a 1.65 GAA and is stopping 94% of the shots he sees. Those three goalies have separated themselves early, with Jimmy Howard not too far behind.
Is This Finally The Canadiens Year?
The thought of Montreal even getting close to the Stanley Cup makes me want to throw up all over the library I’m currently writing this in. The Habs haven’t won the Cup since 1993, and the 23 years since that victory is their longest drought in franchise history, but could that change this season?
They’re off to a 13-2-1 start, with most of that credit going to the previously mentioned Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk. The Shea Weber deal has changed the locker room and adding a much-needed toughness to this speedy group. Weber leads all defensemen in in goals with seven, and has 13 points. His 16 +/- is an absurd number to this point in the season.
Also, after swinging and missing Alexander Semin last year, they seem to have struck gold with the addition of Alexander Radulov, who has 14 points. Max Pacioretty is hasn’t been finding twine all that often after posting three straight 30 goal seasons, but has been moving the puck well with nine assists.
The Canadiens were on a similar roll to begin last year, but then Carey Price suffered a knee injury and was lost for the season, and the Habs’ season was lost. If he can stay healthy, the drought could be washed away.
Auston Matthews Isn’t A Lock For Rookie Of The Year
Everyone jumped on the Auston Matthews bandwagon and proclaimed him as the second coming of hockey Jesus after his four goal opening act. Even I had him as a lock to win the Calder Trophy. Since that opening night explosion, he’s scored just twice in 14 games. 12 points (six assists) in 15 games is still solid production from a rookie, but William Nylander and Mitch Marner have been more consistent.
The early leader for the Calder Trophy has to be Patrik Laine. The Finnish right-winger leads the entire NHL in goals with 11, and has two hat tricks to his credit already. Zach Werenski has established himself as one of the better offensive defensemen in the league already with 12 points in the 13 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The New York Rangers have three rookies in the top 10 in rookie scoring, led by Harvard product Jimmy Vesey. Carolina Hurricanes rookie Sebastian Aho finally got his first NHL goal in his last game against the Capitals, but has shown good puck moving skills. Travis Konecny has cooled off a bit in November, but still has ten points in 16 games despite playing less than 16 minutes per game.
Is Edmonton Legit?
There have been a couple of teams that seems to skip the “being average for a few years and then being championship contenders” stage of the rebuild. The Oilers are looking to be the next to jump from being down in the dumps to being a Stanley Cup contender. I hate doing this just 16 games into the season, but somebody has to, right?
They have lost three straight, but to teams that have plenty of star power. The Penguins might be the most talented team in the league, while Dallas has underperformed but is still as dangerous as anyone. The Rangers have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, and have a future Hall of Famer in net in Henrik Lundqvist. The unexpected depth of the Rangers has made them one of the early favorites for the Stanley Cup.
As for Edmonton, they are led by a host of uber talented young players who are still learning the ins-and-outs of the NHL. Connor McDavid is off to a hot start and is making an early case for MVP. Patrick Maroon surprisingly leads this team in goals with six.
The offseason acquisitions of Milan Lucic, Kris Russell and Adam Larsson have paid off big time, even if the Larsson trade turns out to be more favorable to the Devils. They have stepped in and provided invaluable veteran leadership and toughness to a team that has been too young and too soft for too long. After ranking 4th worst in goals allowed per game, the Oilers have jumped up to 16th in the NHL. The penalty kill has also improved drastically, jumping up to 4th in the NHL after having the 18th best unit last season.
Assuming Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom can live up to their draft day potential, a backline of Nurse, Klefbom, Larsson, Russell, Eric Gryba and Andrej Sekera could develop into a solid unit by years end.
Despite the slow starts of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers still have an offense that ranks 11th in the NHL in goals.
It is obviously still too early to tell whether the Oilers can keep this up for a full 82 games and how the youngsters will play in their first taste of the postseason, and in a tough Pacific Division, it will be difficult to keep up this pace.
Cover Photo via Habs Hockey Magazine