Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and Connor McDavid sitting in the NHL’s top five in scoring shouldn’t surprise anyone. Same deal with Pekka Rinne, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner who leads the league in goals-against average. But there are a few unexpected names that have been coming up night after night in highlight packages. If you’re looking for players who are performing surprisingly well in 2018-19 – and without just name-dropping the entire Calgary Flames roster – here are five up-and-coming NHLers to consider:
There wasn’t much doubt that the highly regarded Chabot would become a stud on the back end for the Ottawa Senators. What was surprising, however, is how quickly he has been able to do it. ‘HOTSAM BATCHO’ – an anagrammed nickname started by Sens fan Ben Milks, better known on Twitter as @brian5or6, who put the moniker on T-shirts and sold them to raise money for charity – leads the Senators in average ice time by almost two minutes per game. If he continues on the same track, he could be a surprise candidate for the Norris Trophy and in doing so, could become the second-youngest player to win the award since Denis Potvin in 1976. The youngest? A certain former Ottawa Senator by the name of Erik Karlsson. At just 21, Chabot leads all NHL defensemen with 31 points and though Ottawa won’t soon forget No. 65, Chabot is certainly helping to soften the blow.
Marc Bergevin isn’t winning any GM-of-the-year awards, but one deal that’s hard to argue was the acquisition of Domi from Arizona in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk. Domi, who took a two-year bridge deal to prove his worth, has been nothing short of excellent upon arriving in Montreal. It took all of 18 games for Domi to pass his goal totals from each of the past two seasons and he leads the Canadiens in scoring by five points. A Toronto Maple Leafs fan as a kid, Domi isn’t doing any favors for his childhood favourite team or the rest of the division, scoring 11 points in nine games against Atlantic opponents thus far.
The 2012 NHL draft wasn’t anything to write home about, but No. 2 overall pick Ryan Murray may finally be reaching the potential he showed years ago with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. Now in his sixth NHL season, Murray’s plus-12 rating leads all Blue Jackets. It seems as though he is rounding out his offensive side as well – with 13 points in 26 games, he’s vying for the scoring lead among Blue Jackets defensemen. While Morgan Rielly seems to be the defenseman from the 2012 draft who is getting all the attention this year, Murray also deserves some recognition for his performance.
The Calgary Flames have endured years of subpar goaltending since Miikka Kiprusoff’s retirement. Jonas Hiller, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson … it’s been a revolving door. Add in Mike Smith not so much stumbling out of the gate this season but rather falling flat on his face and it seemed like more of the same. Cue Rittich. An uninspiring .904 save percentage last season over 21 games didn’t exactly generate hope for the backup goalie as Calgary’s savior in net, but his 8-2-1 record and .924 save percentage this season may have changed that. ‘Big Save Dave,’ a nickname given by Flames fans, has brought some stability into Calgary’s crease. The five Flames players who are scoring at near point-per-game paces haven’t gone unnoticed, but Rittich deserves kudos for playing a key role in the team’s jump to the top of the Pacific Division.
Last year, expansion-draft giveaways William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Nate Schmidt stole the spotlight. But in Vegas’ not-quite-as remarkable sophomore season, Tuch has been the star. Part of the expansion draft himself, Tuch was the incentive for Vegas GM George McPhee to steer clear of Minnesota’s Matt Dumba and instead select Erik Haula. Last year, Tuch showed signs of the player the Wild had envisioned when they took him 18th overall in the 2014 draft – the star of a video which made rounds on the Internet, where he dangled a goalie into oblivion in a development camp shootout, then celebrated in high-step style – but still fell shy of the 40-point mark. After missing the first eight games this season with a lower-body injury, Tuch has exploded for a point a game, including seven multi-point contests. Leading the Golden Knights in points per game, he’s making that seven-year, $4.75M AAV contract that will kick in next season look pretty darn good.