Just as we all predicted, the Canadiens’ big summer swap with the Golden Knights, the trade that sent Max Pacioretty to Vegas and Tatar, as well as prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick, to Montreal, has been a smashing success for the Habs. No one said otherwise. No one at all.
In all seriousness, though, Tatar has been excellent for the Canadiens through six games. In fact, his three goals and eight points in Montreal puts him one goal shy and one point clear of his production across 28 combined regular and post-season games during his short stint in Vegas. His production also puts him well ahead of Pacioretty, who has contributed only a single goal to the Golden Knights’ offense this season through seven games.
In part to thank for Tatar’s success is that he’s found a nice fit alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, and the line has done some damage for the Canadiens. At 5-on-5, the trio is driving play to the tune of a 64.8 Corsi for percentage, they’re outshooting opponents by a 42-20 margin and winning the scoring chance battle, as well. The result has been six goals for and not a single marker against when the line has been on the ice together at five-a-side. Included in Tatar’s performance, too, was a last-second assist on Gallagher’s game-winning goal Wednesday night, which came on the heels of the 27-year-old winger notching back-to-back three-point nights.
It’s hard to fathom Tatar’s high-scoring ways continue, though.
You see, it’s not that Tatar is going to fall off the map completely and wind up in-and-out of the lineup as a 13th forward. No one is suggesting that. But it feels safe to say that a 400-game sample for a prime-aged player can be awfully telling, and what we’ve seen from Tatar over the past five seasons is a player who tends to settle nicely into the 25-goal, 45-point range on a yearly basis. That’s almost exactly where his averages fall over the past five seasons, too.
Beyond Tatar’s own averages, though, the tendencies of Claude Julien-coached teams would suggest that Montreal isn’t exactly going to be the kind of high-scoring outfit that would be the breeding ground for a career year for the winger. Dating back to the 2002-03 season in Montreal, Julien’s first as an NHL bench boss, his teams have generally been middle of the pack offensively. And given last season’s Canadiens finished third from the bottom in scoring, there’s not all that much reason to believe Montreal is in line to top the charts in goals.
So, a continuation of this kind of point per game-or-better production from Tatar? Incredibly unlikely. That said, he seems a safe bet to land back around his career averages after starting the season on a scoring surge. But he's not alone in raising expectations thanks to his early season performance.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Surely, this will draw the ire of Blackhawks faithful, but hear us out. Like Tatar, Toews’ spot on this list comes with a caveat. While his hot start won’t continue, the Blackhawks captain is absolutely in line to see an improvement over last season’s disappointing 20-goal, 52-point performance, which was the worst offensive season of his big-league career.
However, it seems unlikely that Toews, who is currently clipping along at nearly two points per game, continues to keep pace with the league’s elite scorers and challenges for the Art Ross Trophy. As it stands, Toews is tied for sixth in the NHL in points per game, keeping pace with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. More likely is that Toews, who has consistently floated around the 55-point plateau across the past few seasons, ends up finishing between the 60- and 70-point mark on the campaign.
Consider that Toews is currently scoring at a rate of nearly 5.4 points per 60 minutes, which is more than double what his career average has been to this point. Not only that, his current rate of scoring is more than two points clear of his career-best mark, which came during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign when he scored 3.2 points per 60 minutes. Safe to say he seems ripe for a statistical correction.
Again, none of this is to say Toews isn’t going to have himself one of his best statistical seasons in recent memory. He’s already on pace to blow last season out of the water. But his current performance is head-and-shoulders above where we should expect him to land come season’s end.
Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils
There’s not much you shouldn’t like about the Devils netminder. He’s worked hard to get to this place, he’s battled to earn his spot in the New Jersey crease and, as an added bonus, he’s a fun follow on Twitter, where his post-game emoji recaps are one of the best things going. Again, what’s not to love?
Kinkaid’s performance through the early part of the season definitely has him getting all sorts of love in New Jersey, too. Heck, he’s looking like the second coming of Martin Brodeur with his perfect 4-0-0 start that is paired with a remarkable .961 save percentage, 1.00 goals-against average and two — count ‘em, two — shutouts. Kinkaid is shutting down some quality clubs, too, blanking the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and the high-octane Dallas Stars.
But let’s face facts. Kinkaid, for as great as his start has been, isn’t a netminder that many expect to be in the Vezina Trophy conversation by the time mid-season rolls around. While he’s been near unbeatable through the first four games of the campaign, it’s four games, and Kinkaid is a netminder with a career .912 SP in 110 appearances heading into this season. A more realistic expectation for Kinkaid is that he’ll continue to push Cory Schneider for the starting job in New Jersey, which is exactly what he’s done in each of the past two seasons. Let’s not forget Kinkaid, not Schneider, saw the crease in Games 1 and 2 of the Devils’ first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning last year.
Micheal Ferland, Carolina Hurricanes
Considering he was arguably the least heralded piece in the off-season swap between the Hurricanes and Flames, a deal highlighted by Carolina landing Dougie Hamilton and Noah Hanifin heading Calgary’s way, Ferland has been quite the revelation. With four goals and seven points in seven games, Ferland is tied for the team lead in scoring and on pace to have himself a career year with his new team. But let’s not get wrapped up in his point per game scoring rate quite yet.
True, Ferland is playing on the Hurricanes’ top line. And true, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen might be able to simply bank pucks in off of Ferland as the season goes on if they’re playing anywhere near the level they were during the World Championships earlier this year. But when Ferland played with Calgary’s two supremely talented top liners, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, last season, he was only about a half-point per game player. So, given his performance playing with the Flames’ two brightest stars, it’s hard to fathom his placement with the Hurricanes’ two premier offensive players has suddenly resulted in Ferland’s ability to double his point total.
What would be a better target for Ferland? Think new career bests. Last season, he showed he had what it took to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to turn that into 25 or 30 goals if he can click with Aho and Teravainen. That would be an incredible season for the 26-year-old.
The Entire Team, Ottawa Senators
The way everyone was talking about the Senators ahead of the season, you would have thought they were about to go 0-81-1 — the overtime loss would have been Craig Anderson “stealing” a game — en route to top odds in the draft lottery, but not before they forfeited the top pick to the Colorado Avalanche. So, that Ottawa has a 3-2-1 record in the early going and has been the only team to hand the Toronto Maple Leafs a loss this season has inspired some belief that the Senators might not be all that bad.
That doesn’t seem to be the case, though.
First, the list of Senators playing out of their minds is long — it includes Anderson, Max Lajoie and Chris Tierney, for sure — but what really stands to bring Ottawa back to earth is the long list of injuries. Losing Brady Tkachuk for a month smarts, but it hurts that much more with Marian Gaborik, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, Cody Ceci and Alex Formenton also on the shelf.
Second, the underlying numbers are ug-ly in Ottawa. At 5-on-5, their possession rate is a hair below 42.5 percent and their shots for percentage isn’t much better. In terms of scoring chances, the Senators have 33 fewer for than against at five-a-side. Then, there’s Ottawa’s PDO — combined shooting and save percentage — which is the third-highest in the league thanks to a league-best shooting percentage and a middle of the pack save percentage. One or the other, or both, are going to dip at some point. When that time comes, the Senators are likely to come crashing back to reality.
The Senators are probably better than we all thought they would be. We’ll give them that. But hanging around in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference wild-card race? Don’t bet on it.