Heading into the final week of October, we’ve started to get a sense of what teams and players are going to produce this season. Soon, the “still too early” claims will begin to die down and real excitement – or real panic – will begin. So, with more than 10 percent of the campaign in the books, it’s time to start breaking down each team’s strengths and weaknesses and the storylines surrounding them.
From hot streaks to hot messes, here’s a look at one player from each franchise that has been a surprise:
Forward Maxime Comtois had a hot start to his pro career last season, registering seven points in 10 games before returning to major junior. Unfortunately, while he has had opportunities, he has just two points so far and was sent down to the AHL for a game.
Always a pure goal-scorer, Conor Garland‘s five goals in 10 games leads the Coyotes, a team that desperately needs as much offense as they can get after finishing last season without even a single 20-goal scorer. Garland has cemented his role as a full-time NHLer.
We’ll cheat here, and give this award to every forward not playing on the top line. After David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, no other forward has more than three points just yet. Brett Ritchie, though, has two goals and three points – not bad considering he had just six points in 53 games with Dallas last season.
Goaltender Carter Hutton has been spectacular in Buffalo this season, starting the season with some of the best numbers of his career. But Linus Ullmark is quickly catching up. If the goaltending holds up, the Sabres are serious playoff contenders.
Flames fans were excited to see what Rasmus Andersson could do this season, and it’s clear he’s capable of playing any role the team asks of him. He seems to click with Mark Giordano on the top pairing, but the team is electing to give him opportunities to play all over the ice.
For the number of big-name forwards the Hurricanes possess, not many people would have pegged defenseman Dougie Hamilton to have a team-leading 12 points in the first 11 games. His six goals lead all NHL defensemen.
With just two points in his first eight outings, captain Jonathan Toews has been invisible following a career-best 81 points in 2018-19. Something has to give soon.
The Avs are very top-heavy, but depth forward Matt Calvert has already scored three goals and seven points in his first 10 games despite averaging 12:30 a game.
Columbus Blue Jackets
His stats aren’t particularly pretty, but goaltender Joonas Korpisalo has a 5-3-1 record. He’s getting the job done and easily outplaying his former teammate Sergei Bobrovsky in Florida.
Defenseman Taylor Fedun has looked great with Jamie Oleksiak. The pairing’s expected goals-against per 60 minutes sits at 1.49 heading into weekend action, the fifth-best ranking in the league. Fedun’s four assists have been a nice bonus, too.
Detroit Red Wings
Mike Green‘s game has been on the decline, but with just one point in his first 11 games despite averaging 21:33 per game, the once-dominant two-way defenseman has had a brutal start to the season.
Few players have as surprising as James Neal, who quickly surpassed last season’s seven-goal output with nine in just 11 games this season. Only three of them have come at even strength, but he’s showing why he’s notched 20 goals in all but one season of his career.
Versatile forward Denis Malgin has had a quiet NHL career up to now, but with seven points in eight games, he’s finally establishing himself as a productive big-leaguer.
Los Angeles Kings
At one point this season, Sean Walker was the NHL’s top possession defenseman with a 71.22 Corsi for percentage. The undrafted, undersized blueliner has been great through 10 games, scoring two goals and five points.
Minnesota’s slow start was to be expected, but did anyone think Brad Hunt would be leading the Wild in scoring after 10 games? His four goals and six points tops last season’s 29-game output. Could this be the year where he finally sticks up in the NHL full-time?
Some in Montreal have called for Jonathan Drouin to be moved, particularly after he struggled down the stretch for the Habs last season. The left winger had eight points in his first eight games and added another two Saturday night against Toronto. He’s found the special sauce that made him effective in the past.
It’s nice to see Kyle Turris finding his game once again after a terrible 2018-19 campaign. With seven points in his first 10 games, he’s set to blow last season’s 23-point output out of the water.
New Jersey Devils
After three rough seasons, Pavel Zacha is off to a hot start with five points in his first eight games. It’s about time the former junior hockey standout finds his groove after rumors of the Devils moving on surfaced this summer.
New York Islanders
Defenseman Devon Toews showed signs of real potential as a rookie last season, and with seven points in his first 10 games, he’s asserting himself as a key piece on the Islanders’ blueline. He’s making a real impact, both on the ice and on the scoresheet.
New York Rangers
Brendan Smith gets the nod here, but not because he’s off to a great start. It’s a surprise that the Rangers’ experiment, which has seen them place the mediocre defenseman on the wing, hasn’t come to an end yet.
Tied for first in Senators scoring, winger Connor Brown has been a delight in his first 10 games. His previous best is 36 points with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016-17 and he’s already on pace to blast past that in his newfound top-six role in the Canadian capital.
Given the slow starts experienced by Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers have been fortunate to receive scoring from winger Oskar Lindblom. His five goals are tied for the team lead in Philadelphia and he’s earned a spot on the second line alongside Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny.
He didn’t even make the team out of training camp, but Sam Lafferty exploded with five points in a two-game stretch shortly after getting called up. He hasn’t found the scoresheet since Oct. 13 and his ice time has dipped, though, so it’s a question of whether he’s done enough to warrant a spot once the team returns to full strength.
San Jose Sharks
Who knew Patrick Marleau would be this good this season? The 40-year-old returned to San Jose to finish off his career and has thus far potted two goals and six points in seven games. He’s outperforming Timo Meier and Joe Thornton at this point.
St. Louis Blues
Sammy Blais, welcome to the top six. He’s earned his role at the top of the line up with the defending Stanley Cup champions after potting five points in his first nine games. That’s one point more than his 32-game output as a rookie last season.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Kevin Shattenkirk wasn’t solid enough defensively to play a key role in the Big Apple last season, but he seems to have figured things out as a second-pairing rearguard in Tampa Bay. With four goals and seven points in nine games, he is tied for fourth in team scoring.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Ilya Mikheyev. Those are the three highest-scoring Leafs forwards right now, and Mikheyev definitely stands out. He’s been given a chance in the top six early and with nine points in his first 12 games, the undrafted free agent has done everything right.
He’s still the backup goaltender, but Thatcher Demko has handled the pressure well when handed the NHL crease. Jakob Markstrom is a UFA this coming summer. Will Demko be ready to take over next season?
Vegas Golden Knights
It might be time to play Tomas Nosek a bit more. His 1.36 expected goals per 60 minutes is second in the NHL among players who have played in at least six games, and while he has played under 10 minutes on a few occasions, he has a respectable three goals in 12 games after scoring just eight in 68 outings last season.
Ilya Samsonov wasn’t even a lock to steal the backup role in Washington, let alone give Braden Holtby a run for his money. With Holtby set to become a UFA this summer, Samsonov’s early play – he has a 4-1 record, .913 save percentage and 2.66 goals-against average – is noteworthy.
Somebody had to man the blueline in Winnipeg, right? Neal Pionk has been solid since arriving from the Rangers in the Jacob Trouba deal, posting seven points in his first 11 games. A 35-point season isn’t out of the question, especially if he continues to play 22-plus minutes per game.
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