Giving props to the Flyers surprise leading scorer, the Maple Leafs’ all-star snubs, and other stray thoughts from the first quarter of the season.
If Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Austin Matthews is to play in the NHL All-Star Game this season, he will have to make it as a write-in candidate, even though he was the top pick in the 2016 draft. That’s right, Matthews didn’t make the cut amongst players chosen by the league to be on the ballot. Interestingly enough, Patrick Laine, who was chosen second overall by the Winnipeg Jets, is on the ballot. Fans can choose between 32 players to represent the Atlantic Division including Maple Leafs teammates Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Rielly. There are 120 names on the ballot.
Speaking of Maple Leafs rookies, Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are among the team’s most productive players, but all are minus-3. Toronto has a very impressive rookie corps which includes Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov. But only Brown is a plus player at plus-3.
Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has never produced a 40-goal season, dipped to just 26 goals last season. He salvaged his year with 10 goals in 24 playoff games while helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. This season Kessel had six goal in Pittsburgh’s first 24 games and was on pace for a 21-goal season. To his credit, Kessel was leading the Penguins with 16 assists. Even when he was lighting the lamp, Kessel was always an underrated passer.
Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers has taken his game to the next level. He has always been a solid contributor, but now he is tied for the lead in Flyers scoring with 11 goals and 22 points in 25 games. Simmonds, who is 28 and in his ninth NHL season, scored a career-best 31 goals in 2013-14. He is on pace for 36 goals this season. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, the lanky right winger is one of those players that could have played in any era of the NHL.
Things were looking up in Arizona last season when rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair burst on the scene with impressive seasons. Domi had 18 goals and 52 points in 81 games while Duclair had 20 goals and 44 points in 80 games. For the Coyotes to continue to make progress they need both Domi and Duclair to take their games to the next level. It hasn’t happened thus far and Arizona is tied with the Colorado Avalance for last place. Domi has four goals and 15 points while Duclair has just one goal and four points. Speaking about his own sophomore, Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings GM said once young players gain a measure of success in the NHL, they attract the attention of the opposition who studies their game and comes up with a plan to stop them. It is up to the player, Holland said, to make adjustments in his game to get back to being productive.
Joe Colborne of the Avalanche opened the season scoring a hat trick in the first game of the season, a 6-5 win over the Dallas Stars, and hasn’t scored a goal since. Colborne is not the only underachiever on the struggling Avalanche. Leading scored Nathan MacKinnon has just five goals and 15 points while veteran Jarome Iginla has three goals and five points, each in 21 games. This helps to explain why the Avalanche sits at the bottom of the league. Three years ago Colorado finished third overall and appeared to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Then they slipped to 21st the past two seasons and look like a solid bet to finish 30th this season. Something’s gotta give soon.
Scotty Bowman is one of the most important figures in hockey history. Bowman, 83, has been a part of 14 Stanley Cup champions, has the most coaching victories in NHL history and was appropriately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991. Now Bowman’s son Stan is carving out a Hall of Fame career of his own. Having constructed three Stanley Cup champions in the past seven seasons as GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bowman keeps his team in contention mainly because he has masterfully stick-handled around the challenges of dealing with a salary cap. Time and time again Bowman has been forced to move players from a championship roster and replace them in cost-cutting measures. And yet his Blackhawks remain a Cup contender, challenging the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers for top spot through the first quarter of the season.