When Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins joined forces on Edmonton’s top line to start the season, people sensed something special might happen.
And it has.
Tonight, Nugent-Hopkins got his first NHL assist on Hall’s first goal of the year — a PP marker early in the third period of a 3-1 win over Nashville — and with it, the pair got in on a bit of history as well. See, earlier this season T-Hall and RNH became the first back-to-back No. 1 overall picks to play on the same team in over 20 years. Quebec’s Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan were the last.
But with nine combined points in their first four games, the Edmonton youngsters have surpassed the former Nordiques — it took Sundin and Nolan double the amount of games played together (eight) to reach the same total in 1990-91. Yes, the tried and true “nine combined point” plateau. The benchmark by which all greats are measured.
Joking aside, hopefully you get the gist — Nugent-Hopkins and Hall are off to an unprecedented start. Their next big statistical benchmark? Trying to match the overall point totals put up by Sundin and Nolan in 90-91. (NB: The key difference is that Sundin/Nolan broke in at the same time — Sundin spent a year in Sweden before coming to the NHL — whereas Hall and Nugent-Hopkins jumped right to the league after being drafted.)
That season, Sundin had 23G-36A-59PTS while Nolan struggled to 3G-10A-13PTS in just 59 games. Considering Nugent-Hopkins (who is Nolan in this projection) already has five points and Hall (the Sundin) had 42 a year ago, those totals definitely seem within reach.
In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.
“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”
But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.
“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”
Fleury may not have been between the pipes when the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in each of the last two seasons, but he played a crucial part in each victory. On top of playing 38 games during the regular season, he also compiled a 9-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage during the 2017 postseason.
Without Fleury on the roster, the pressure will fall squarely on Matt Murray‘s shoulders. Murray may own two rings, but he has yet to go through the challenges of an 82-game season plus playoffs. New backup Antti Niemi probably won’t be capable of filling in as well as Fleury did.
One of the major reasons the Pens were able to go on two championship runs was because of the depth they had accumulated at center. Any team would love to have one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have both. The Penguins’ depth didn’t stop there. They also had Nick Bonino on their third line and Matt Cullen on their fourth, which is pretty impressive.
Both Bonino and Cullen will play in the Western Conference next year. Finding competent players to play on the third and fourth line isn’t as difficult as getting top line talent, but those two losses will probably hurt them pretty badly.
Bonino had 18 goals and 37 points during the 2016-17 regular season and he added a modest seven points in 21 games during the postseason before being ruled out with a lower-body injury. Last year, he put up less points in the regular season (29), but he had an impressive 18 points in 24 games during the playoffs. He was also capable of playing a solid two-way game.
Cullen, who signed with Minnesota yesterday, also found a way to contribute, despite playing a bottom-six role on such a deep team. The 40-year-old scored 32 and 31 points in his two years with the Penguins and he also added six and nine points during the playoff runs. He also won plenty of key faceoffs and played well without the puck.
Trevor Daley was unable to finish the 2016 playoffs because of an ankle injury, but he also played a vital role during Pittsburgh’s impressive accomplishment. Daley, who is now with the Red Wings, was able to hold down the fort while Kris Letang was out. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season and 19 more in the spring.
Ron Hainsey was a smart, underrated trade deadline acquisition by GM Jim Rutherford. The veteran stepped into the lineup and played 21 minutes per night for his new team. He also chipped in with eight points in 25 games. He got himself a nice contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1st.
Chris Kunitz had been a big contributor for the team, but his production fell off dramatically. After scoring 35 goals during the 2013-14 season, he added 17, 17 and nine during his last three years in Pittsburgh. It became pretty clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level he had been in previous years, so it wasn’t surprising to see him go elsewhere (Tampa Bay) when free agency opened.
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The Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Stanley Cup champions last season.
After a summer of painful (if necessary) losses, the Penguins now aim to become the first NHL team to “three-peat” since the New York Islanders rattled off a dizzying four consecutive championships from 1980-83.
Their additions have been a mix of small (Matt Hunwick) and polarizing (giving up a first-rounder for Ryan Reaves), so overall this team saw some minuses this summer.
That said, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Penguins navigated the choppy waters of the postseason despite plenty of bruises, especially with Kris Letang out for the entire 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. One could argue that a healthy Letang cancels out most of the Penguins’ losses.
(You know, not that this franchise isn’t accustomed to seeing Letang, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin miss significant time almost every year.)
It’s been a remarkable run, as the Penguins have been on fire ever since Mike Sullivan took over. Phil Kessel‘s been a brilliant addition, even with the hot dog jokes and surprising trade rumors.
Matt Murray‘s also been a revelation, although the 2017-18 season presents an intriguing test for a goalie who has enjoyed a Ken Dryden-like start to his career. With “The Flower” out of town, more rests on Murray, a goalie who’s passed all of his tests with flying colors so far, but hasn’t ever carried a franchise netminder’s workload.
There’s a lot to like when it comes to the Penguins next season, who even with some tough losses, retain the vast majority of their key contributors. Will they run out of gas after two championship runs, not to mention some key players getting older? Can they continue to generate great results in a challenging Metropolitan Division?
PHT explores the defending champions’ burning questions today.
Draisaitl on signing with Oilers: ‘We have something really special’
Some would probably grumble but understand if Draisaitl explained his rational by pointing at one of those big checks or at a calculator. Instead, the promising young forward explained that he believes that the Oilers have a bright future, and he wants to be a part of it.
"We have something really special. It's something I wanted to be a part of as long as possible." @Drat_29 on eight-year extension
In case you’re wondering, additional details have surfaced regarding the year-to-year breakdown of Draisaitl’s deal. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie also reports that Draisaitl has a no-movement clause, thus making it that much more likely that he’ll get his wish to stick with the Oilers:
No-move clause for Leon Draisaitl and a no-trade starting July 2022 (10 teams he would agree to go) until the end of the contract. #oilers