We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

The Nashville Predators had an enviable stretch of year where they made the playoffs and even advanced to the second round. That run was ended last year, and ended cruelly with a lottery placing. If you’d asked most hockey observers before the season what their best and worst case regular season finishes would be they’d have topped around fourth in the west, and bottomed out at ninth or maybe tenth. A 14th place finish in the conference was literally inconceivable.

Last year has past and all things have some silver lining. The team managed to bafflingly leave the draft with its biggest prize in Seth Jones as three teams bungled their future. Colin Wilson accumulated another 25 games of NHL experience, and Craig Smith added 44 of his own. They added Victor Stalberg after the season. Ann Arbor’s native son Austin Watson got his first season of professional experience including four crucial playoff games for the Predators AHL affiliate, and 2009 second round pick Zach Budish finished his fourth year at University of Minnesota before diving into the AHL and getting immersed in nine regular season games and a half dozen second season contests.

When you come down to it there are two things that need to  happen for the Predators to  hunting in the second round, and perhaps beyond. The first is an offensive upgrade. There is certainly some young talent with upside on the roster, and one or two more who will push for a spot. But none of them are likely to make the impact of a veteran forward, with skill, grit, and something to prove. The second is finding a way to get  Pekka Rinne enough rest to be fresh when the playoffs come without sacrificing too much playoff position by playing an untested backup.

Austin Watson and Zach Budish, even Taylor Beck can come in and dazzle Music City fans from October to May, but is any of them going to satisfactorily fill the leadership void with both Hal Gill and Ryan Suter gone? And while Magnus Hedberg had a very good season in Milwaukee last year that was his first dose of hockey on this side of the pond. Even less experienced in North America is Marek Mazanec who hasn’t even played one game in the AHL, ECHL or CHL in his career.  What’s a playoff hopeful club to do?

Fortunately there are two ready made solutions available. In goal we know that most goalies playing sixty five or more games a season just run out of steam sometime in late April or early May. So a veteran goaltender who doesn’t have to be jollied along and who can pick up 25+ games or so during the season and let Rinne, who may also be headed to the Olympics in Sochi, relax would be ideal. A two time Vezina trophy winner, Jennings Trophy winner, multiple time All Star, and Conn-Smythe winner would count as veteran in anyone’s book right? It just so happens one Tim Thomas who additionally owns a Stanley Cup and spent time in playing in Finland is between gigs. If there’s any goalie in the world who history tells us performs better with his back to the wall and something to prove than Thomas, I don’t know who they are.

At forward the solution is even less risky. The pride of Belarus, Mikhail Grabovski was bought out with reasons that could only make sense to a member of whoever is currently in the Maple Leafs brain trust. A gritty forward who owns a personal single season goal total higher than every Predators forward not named Hornquist, and who has proved  his proven he belongs in someones top six with a tough nosed , two way game that has earned him respect in both his own and rival fan bases.

Given that both men absolutely have something to prove and Grabovski at least has his buyout money firmly in pocket, it is unlikely the total cost of signing the pair would cost north of four million for a year. Thomas and Grabovski would insulte the development of young players, add leadership and on one or two year contracts be as close to risk free as the NHL gets. The upside of each could be quite high. and if they are only average at the deadline they can be flipped for picks or prospects from a team who thinks they will play better in their system.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down checked with an injury, it’s time to look at some of the top rookies again. No doubt he’ll come back and be the only rookie the media and most blogs mention.

Eric Staal currently boasts a stat line of 9-16-25 -23 through 41 games played. The good news for him is that’s he’s just two goals and four assists short of matching his own rookie season. The bad news is well, everything else. Since December tenth he’s added two goals, four assists and dropped down another -5.

Goalies:

  • Richard Bachman has leaped onto the scene. When Lehtonen went out with an injury, and Raycroft simply fell down on the job the Dallas Stars called on Salt Lake City’s Bachman to stand and deliver. He’s now gotten into nine games with a 5-2-0 line, one shutout, .912sv% and 2.76 gaa.
  • Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres has struggled lately (as has the team) with his last win coming back on November 26th. Still his numbers are solid on the season with a .921sv% and 2.49 gaa in 16 starts. Likely the only rookie netminder who will cross twenty five games.
  • Jakob Markstrom of the Florida Panthers appears to play a bit better in the NHL than the AHL, and has been recalled. In six games in the big show so far he’s got a five starts and is 2-3-0. His .928sv% is tops among rookie goalies with five or more games and is better than either Theodore or Clemmensen for the Panthers, his 2.59 gaa is about one fifth of a goal better than his AHL number.

Forwards:

  • Adam Henrique of New Jersey Devils and Windsor Spitfires fame is behind only Nugent-Hopkins in rookie scoring and is tied for the lead in game winning goals for rookies with 3. Currently he’s playing 18:23 a night leading all rookie forwards in TOI/G.
  • Matt Read is one of the other guys tied for game winning goal leads. The Flyers prodigy is also the only rookie forward who has scored both a shorthanded goal and on the powerplay. Is one of just six rookie forwards playing more than two minutes shorthanded per game.
  • Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators leads all rookie forwards in powerplay goals and is third in scoring.
  • Gabriel Landeskog is the only rookie forward who has recorded more than 100 hits, he’s seventh for rookie scoring and second for average TOI/G with respectable numbers for both powerplay and penalty kill minutes.

Defensemen:

  • Rapheal Diaz of the Montreal Canadiens (Now In English!) is quietly putting together a very respectable season in chaos central. at 2-11-13 he’s tied for the scoring lead for rookie defensemen, just three points behind the scoring leader on the blueline in Montreal. The -2 he sports is in comparison to the teams -10 goal differential. His 72 blocked shots leads all rookie defensemen.
  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils has been one of the few constants of this NHL season. Huge minutes, very important to the team and leading rookie defenders in scoring.  He’s also tops in TOI and eats up over two minutes a night of powerplay time.
  • Jared Cowen is probably the most complete rookie defenseman. The Senators blueliner is 3rd in scoring, 2nd in total ice time, 2nd in hits (with more than twice as many as Larsson who is 3rd) is 1st in shorthanded time on ice by more than a little, and is behind only Spezza and Karlsson in TOI for the Senators.

Others to watch:

Defensemen: Slava Voynov, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jake Gardiner

Forwards: Cody Hodgson, Luke Adam

Goalie: Matt Hackett, Mike Murphy, Leland Irving

 

 

With both Thanksgivings behind us, and the holidays, and world juniors coming up, it’s time to take a look at the most exciting rookies again. Eric Staal is this years measuring stick.

Eric Staal:

  • -18, down from last look.
  • 7-12-19
  • averages 21:20 TOI

Rookie Goalies:

  • Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres 8 wins in 14 starts, just under 880 minutes played, .925 sv% 2.32 GAA
  • Thomas Greiss of the San Jose Sharks 4 wins in 7 starts, about 482 minutes .918 sv% 2.37GAA

Defensemen:

  • Marc-Andre Gragnani of the Buffalo Sabres is 2nd in scoring for rookie defensemen, has a +11 on a team whose total goal differential is +3
  • Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes, while playing in just 15 games has not only a positive takeaway to giveaway ratio, but it’s 2 to 1. 10th overall in scoring, 2nd in TOI, solid hit and blocked numbers.
  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils 22:27 of TOI leading all rookies, 1st in rookie defensemen for scoring.
  • Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators, steadily rising ice time has him at 18 73 hits 31 blocked shots, doesn’t turn the puck over much or 7th in scoring rookie defenseman, leads all rookie defensemen in SHTOI,

Forwards:

  • Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils, late to party but making up for it. 3rd in rookie scoring, tops in average ice time with 18 minutes 6-14-20, only rookie to take more than 300 faceoffs so far, playing in all situations.
  • Craig Smith, Nashville Predators, playing in a very defensive system he’s still #2 in rookie scoring despite much less ice time than RNH, even giveaway to takeaway ratio.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers lots of ice time, leads rookies in scoring, tied for 5th in NHL in scoring.

Others to watch: Gabriel Landeskog, Luke Adam, Matt Read, Jake Gardiner, Matt Hackett

Every NHL season has its shocks. No matter how well you research, no matter what history says each season is its own mind searing, jumbled, chaotic, riveting orchestra of excitement. The biggest surprises are sometimes whole teams, other times single player and in other cases its a whole division.

5: Goalie madness. Not a single person predicted that the three hottest net minders of the first quarter would be the well traveled Mike Smith, seasoned number two man Brian Elliot and elder statesman Nikolia Khabibulin. None of the three has a save % under .936, with Elliot leading the NHL with a .947% on the equilibrium challenged, already made a coaching change St Louis Blues.

4: QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! The once mighty Ducks of Anaheim are looking more fit for orange sauce than great deeds. They are led in scoring by a guy who was drafted before most of his teammates were allowed to cross the street by themselves. The man drafted by Brian Burke who quipped that this guy was still there at #2 has points in just six games, maybe just maybe if he were less busy reviewing movies he’d stop playing like #2.

3: Unfamiliar Faces. Who would have predicted Erik Karlsson the skinny, smooth skating blue liner from Canada’s capital city team would be tied for the NHL lead in assists? Not Joe Thornton, no Steven Stamkos in sight, just a guy who showed up at the All Star draft last year and no one outside the few that haunted the Senators barn last season had a clue about him. I suspect when he goes this year, he’ll be a bit better known. James Neal, Phil Kessel and Milan Michalek atop the goal scoring chart? Not one or two but fifteen players ahead of Alex Ovechkin in shots taken? Insanity.

2: Black gold in blue and orange. There are some really, high skilled forwards on he Edmonton Oilers. Some of those talented forwards can not only drink (legally) in the US of A, but can even get decent car insurance rates. But anyone one outside the Oilers pay structure who said that on November 20th they’d have scored more than the Detroit Red Wings, and be fifth in the entire NHL in goals against with a 2.26 would have been laughed out of hockey.

1: Occupy Youth failure. With the NHL, and its adjacent medias general love fest for young players it’s more than a bit shocking that some of the newest lights in the constellation aren’t getting more attention. Sure Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and some of the other picks in this years draft got a bunch of attention in the first two weeks of the season. But where’s the love for Craig Smith, Jared Cohen, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Luke Adam, Roman Horak, Adam Henrique and the rest?

Through 18 games the once sensational Eric Staal is still trying to get the engine to turn over. He’s a league worst -17, and his 4-4-8 line has people scratching their heads all over the hockey world.

Goalies:

  • Jacob Markstrom is back in the AHL playing for an offensively disabled team, while Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen  but don’t be surprised to see him back in Sunrise if the Panthers get an offer they can’t refuse for one of the two senior goalies.
  • Jhonas Enroth has the reigns in Buffalo after an unfortunate collision between the nominal number one goalie and an opposing forward. With a stellar .942 sv% and impressive 1.76 gaa, you have to wonder how many games he’ll get this season. If he’s in the #1 role long enough and still playing near this level it becomes a tough call to turn the job back over to a starter who hasn’t performed as well.
  • Thomas Greiss is 3-3-o in starts for the Sharks this season. Like Markstrom, he’s behind not one but two older goalies on the depth chart, and like Enroth he’s outplaying his teammates. his .919 sv% and 2.15 GAA are notable improvements over Niemi’s .903 and 2.74.
  • Ben Scrivens is the latest goalie of the future in Toronto. He’s been better than Gustavasson, with a .904 and 2.92 through five starts and six appearances.

Defensemen

  • Marc-Andre Gragnani leads all rookie defensemen in points, and sits at a +5 on the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Up on his second recall to the LA Kings this season is Slava Voynov, he’s playing over twenty minutes a game, has three points in his first five games, averaging just over 3 minutes a game in PPTOI means he’s likely to see a good number of points.
  • Jared Cohen is on pace for 208 hits and could hit triple digit blocked shots for the Senators, if he can find a few goals along the way the towering 2009 first round pick will make a name for himself.
  • The New Jersey Devil’s Adam Larsson is very quietly having himself a nice freshmen season. While the team has struggled he’s played a solid game with over 23 minutes of ice time each night, he’s second in hits for rookie blueliners, and sixth in scoring.

Forwards

  • Craig Smith is tied for the rookie scoring lead, on a point per minute basis he’s doing quite a bit more than Nugent-Hopkins getting a minute and a half less ice time per game.  Smith is also tied for the Predators scoring lead.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has slowed a bit off the season opening scoring bonanza but has still produced enough to stay at the front of the pack. His plus/minus is two higher than Smiths, and he’s second on the Oilers to that other Ryan forward in scoring.
  • Luke Adam is right behind Nugent-Hopkins and Smith with just one less point. He’s the rookie leader in assists and playing two minutes less per game than Nugent-Hopkins.

Names to watch:

Roman Horak is getting some important minutes on the Calgary Flames, not a lot of them yet, but with both short handed and powerplay time on the clock it’s obvious he’s got the trust of the bench boss. Gabriel Landeskog leads rookie forwards in time on ice, and with 45 hits and 12 blocked shots its obvious he’s not loafing in the neutral zone. Sean Couturier and Matt Read are making solid contributions to a stacked Flyers team. Nate Prosser is eating a lot of minutes for the Wild. Jonathan Blum of the Nashville Predators is on pace for 212 blocked shots, and has shown a scoring touch at lower levels.  Adam Henrique is quickly making himself a household name among Devils fans.

The debate  angst over the 1-3-1 deployed by the Tampa Bay Lightning last night against the Philadelphia Flyers is both amusing and reveals how little attention most people were paying to what the two teams were screaming with their actions.

  • The Tampa Bay Lightning were saying: We’ve spent a week filling our pants at the thought of your offense.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers  were saying: Ah, solid defense? No fair, we wanna take our marbles and go home!

All the hand wringing about trapping and boring hockey are completely worthless and insensible. There are a dozen different styles of hockey, and all of them have managed to hold loyal fans. The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadians, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs all employ different systems and each team has their own fans inside and outside their market. More importantly, a team that can win in a number of ways is much more likely to gain and retain new fans.

Games to watch:

  • The best east meets west showdown should be the Boston Bruins playing host to the Edmonton Oilers. 7pm ET
  • Western Conference purists can rejoice in a LA Kings – Vancouver Canucks matchup.

Two rookies made news last night:

  • Devante Smith-Pelly provided what might have been the only bright spot for the floundering Anaheim Ducks when he got his first NHL goal last night against the Nashville Predators and the 7 Million Dollar Goalie Pekka Rinne.
  • Skating onto the ice with Rinne was the man who after a three point effort would end the night atop the rookie scoring race Craig Smith, certain Canadian broadcasters are rumored to have protested the scoring race change as Smith has the bad grace to be both American and from a non-traditional hockey market.

And finally, the NHL should actually start talking about the All-Star game in the coming weeks. Two guys who deserve to be there who haven’t been, or haven’t been recently have been picked at not so random for general voting for those of you who can’t make up your minds who to fill the ballot with.

  • Teemu Selanne (age 41) who has been carrying the Ducks, and many a fantasy team on his back may not get more than ten or twelve more years in the NHL in which he has a chance to play in the All Star game. For him we’ve already started using the Twitter (and I suppose Chime.in ) tag #SelectSelanne. If you don’t know who he is that’s ok, just type him name into Youtube and sit in awe.
  • The other is a guy who got his first round of major NHL attention for his play by being selected for team Canada at the last Olympics. He was the NHL’s first star this January, and then went on to score the game winning, Stanley Cup clinching goal in game seven. Patrice Bergeron can be cheered on with #PickPatrice.

 

Last year after signing a still debated contract Ilya Kovalchuk got off to a poor start and was the bench mark for rookie performance. This year, I can think of no star more deserving than Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. No one is sure if the tailspin his career is the result of guilt from potentially ending his own brothers career, or the extended confusion caused by not being able to find the other Erik who used to share the ice with him.

Forwards:

  • The Edmonton Oilers once again had the first overall pick in the draft, and he is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While some questioned his ability to make an immediate impact in the NHL, he  is currently leading tied for the lead in rookie scoring.
  • Ask 100 hockey fans who’s tied with RNH for the rookie scoring lead, and you might get a double handful who come up with Luke Adam center for the Buffalo Sabres. Nugent-Hopkins has the better +/-, Adam wins more faceoffs and has achieved his points in significantly less minutes.
  • Right behind them with one less point is Nashville’s second leading scorer Craig Smith. Given the NHL’s lack of a picture to identify him, one can only assume he is Amish, which makes his career choice amazing, and his success highly admirable. Of the top three scorers he is clearly the most physical, and is currently on pace for 82 hits.

Defensemen:

  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils leads all rookies in time on ice with a mind boggling average shift length of 59 seconds. The scoring hasn’t come yet, but with nearly 24 minutes of ice time a night it has to come eventually for last June’s #4 pick and 1st defenseman.
  • Jake Gardiner skated onto the scene in training camp for the Maple Leafs and earned himself a spot on the crowded Toronto blueline. So far the small, slick skating defenseman has five assists on the season, enough for him to lead all rookie defensemen in scoring.
  • The Sabres second entry in the race for rookie recognition is Marc-Andre Gragnani, second in rookie scoring and with the best +/- among all rookie defensemen.

Goaltenders:

  • Sneering at the trend towards ultra-large goaltenders is Buffalo Sabres backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, listed at 5′ 10 he’s still putting up big numbers. Through four games he’s got a 1.29 GAA and .958Sv%.
  • With four starts Jacob Markstrom of the Florida Panthers is already endearing himself to fans and teammates. Slightly larger than Enroth at six and a half feet tall, he leads all rookies in saves and is sporting a2.05 GAA and .944 Sv%
  • Fussen Germany and San Jose Sharks goalie Thomas Greiss is putting up solid numbers for the  perennial regular season favorites. His 1.99 GAA and .928 Sv% are not just solid, but better by a wide margin than starter Antti Niemi’s.

Eric Staal’s numbers heading into today’s action, his line is 3-2-5 -14 through 13 games. The -14 is particularly significant because the next nearest forward is only a -5. Staal is currently averaging 19:58 a game in TOI, Anthony Steward who gets just 7:48 a night also has 3 goals and is a +1.

One of the few annual stories that is always interesting is the race for the Calder trophy. There’s always a high draft pick or two from the summers draft in the mix. A couple guys from the AHL or Europe who made the jump to the big show, and a few 2nd round or later picks who might just steal the show.

Some of the guys to watch this season:

  • Adam Larsson has two nearly insurmountable handicaps in the Calder race, first he’s a defensemen, and second he doesn’t project to be a big goal scorer. On the other hand he’s averaging more time on ice than Lidstrom, Pronger, Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo, Hedman, Vishnovsky and Seabrook.
  • Devante Smith-Pelly hasn’t quite hit his stride yet, but the coaches in Anaheim must like the six even two eleven winger as he’s picked up his first assist and earned more ice time in each of the Ducks three games. With Jason Blake out for a couple months there will be more ice time available.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is either the second coming of Wayne Gretzky and Jesus or not yet ready for the NHL, it just depends on who you ask. The scrawny Burnaby native has four of the five goals for the Oilers this season without a single assist. Unfortunately he’s got a faceoff percentage that’s equal to his age and less than half his shooting percentage.
  • Luke Adam of the Sabres is currently leading all rookies in scoring with solid 3-3-6 +2 line. The 202lb left shot is like Smith-Pelly probably handicapped by not being either a first round pick or in a market the media pays a huge amount of attention too.
  • Gabriel Landeskog is off to a nice start with two goals and an assist as the the Avalanche start the season with some momentum. The likely-former Kitchener Ranger is good at most of the game and skating beside Matt Duchene, another recent high pick.
  • Craig Smith is another player handicapped by market who is off to a good start. The Predators young gun is a fourth round pick in 2009. A product of the USHL, at 22 he’s the oldest of the rookie skaters to separate himself from the pack thus far.

It will be interesting to see if any goalies can insert themselves into the mix this season. I don’t yet see any on the horizon but the NHL is frequently unpredictable.