Reilly Smith

Getty

The Buzzer: Knights stay Golden

1 Comment

Player of the Night: Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

The Senators’ struggles dominated this post about Winnipeg beating them 5-0, but the bigger takeaway might be the reminder that the Jets are indeed for real.

It’s not just the Jets or even Patrik Laine who deserve more attention; their captain Blake Wheeler is long overdue for his moment in the spotlight. The Minnesota native moved to fourth place in NHL scoring with 35 points on the season thanks to a goal and three assists on Sunday.

Wheeler, 31, has been especially hot lately. Even with one pointless night mixed in, Wheeler has produced 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his past four games. Wheeler – Mark Scheifele continues to rise among the NHL’s deadliest duos, with Sunday being a big part of that argument.

Runner up: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

Seguin, meanwhile, isn’t sneaking up on anyone … except the Colorado Avalanche, perhaps?

Either way, I have to admit in looking things over, I thought “Wow, Seguin already has 14 goals now?” That’s after Seguin collected two goals in Dallas’ 7-2 victory against Colorado.

Note that Seguin’s career-high is 37 goals, a mark that he’s reached twice. So far, his 14 goals come in 27 games, a pace that’s slighter better than a tally every two nights. If he can play 82 games and maintain that pace, Seguin could enjoy a career-high and maybe break the 40-goal barrier for the first time in his career.

Considering his talents, it’s almost surprising that it might take this long.

Other top highlights

Not going to fight you if you prefer Seguin’s goals, but here are some other candidates.

Alex Tuch might just find himself a firm place in Vegas, as he scored a slightly prettier goal in regulation than Reilly Smith did to win it for the Golden Knights in OT:

Nathan MacKinnon‘s mixture of anxiety-inducing twitchiness and cool, precise timing + Mikko Rantanen‘s great finish = another beauty:

Factoids of the Night

The Golden Knights have long defied “for an expansion team,” yet it’s still fun to keep tabs on which records they’re tying, breaking, or approaching.

A highly #specificstat regarding Wheeler:

Shenanigans

(OK, the last image wasn’t from Sunday, but you can’t say that you regret seeing it, can you? Oh, sorry, Oilers fans.)

Scores

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1
Jets 5, Senators 0
Stars 7, Avalanche 2
Golden Knights 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

William Karlsson has been the Golden Knights’ best find

Getty
1 Comment

The debut season for the Vegas Golden Knights has been, to this point, an incredible success.

They are off to one of the best starts ever for an NHL expansion team and they have done it while being decimated by injury in goal, already using four different players at the position, including a 19-year-old junior goalie on an emergency recall.

Even with the injuries they still find themselves in playoff contention more than a quarter of the way through the season and have been by far the biggest surprise in the NHL.

The key to their success has been a surprisingly potent attack offensively that currently has them sitting sixth in the NHL in goals scored. We looked earlier this season that the expansion draft rules, along with an amazing trade with the Florida Panthers that netted them Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, gave the Golden Knights more talent than just about any other expansion team in league history.

But for as good as the bigger name players like Marchessault, James Neal and David Perron have been, their best — and perhaps most surprising — find to this point has been forward William Karlsson.

Karlsson’s arrival in Vegas came by way of trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that also netted them a first-round pick, a second-round pick and the contract belonging to David Clarkson. In return, all Vegas had to do was allow Columbus to retain players like forward Josh Anderson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in the expansion draft.

It’s turned out to be an amazing trade for Vegas because it not only received two draft picks (that ended up resulting in Nick Suzuki as well as the 2019 pick) but also the player that is currently their leading scorer and top offensive player.

Entering play on Sunday, Karlsson has already shattered his previous career high goals and is just one point away from matching his career high in that area. Prior to this season he had never scored more than nine goals in a season and never topped 25 points. In his first 25 games this season he is already up to 14 goals and 24 points.

A lot of that offensive success is being driven by a 25 percent shooting percentage that represents a significant spike over his previous career averages and one that is probably not going to be a long-term thing. But it’s not just the goal-scoring that has been huge for the Golden Knights.

He is also driving possession with a 53 percent shot attempts share and is one of just two players (Alex DeBrincat being the other) to play in at least 25 games this season and not commit a single penalty. Even if his shooting percentage takes a dive in the second half of the season (and it almost certainly will because almost nobody maintains a 25 percent shooting percentage) he is still bringing a ton of value with his ability to help control the pace of the game while also completely staying out of the penalty box.

He has always been a talented player that had flashed some potential in the NHL, but he never really had an opportunity to get a significant role to really show what he can do.

He has had that opportunity this season in Vegas centering the top line between Marchessault and Smith and it has resulted in a breakout season on an individual level while also helping to drive one of the biggest surprises in the league on a team level.

Vegas Golden Knights hand out rare lengthy contract

Getty
3 Comments

Early in the Vegas Golden Knights’ ongoing, still-surprising hot start as a franchise, PHT noted one thing that’s unlikely to change this season: motivation.

NHL players are already generally a motivated lot, but when you put financial futures on the line, you’ll often see a surge in results. Take a look at the Golden Knights’ Cap Friendly page and you’ll see a ton of players with one or two years remaining on their current contracts. Greed can be good, at least in the short term, for a sports team’s fortunes.

While the franchise would likely draw the most attention for high-scoring, pending UFAs like James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault, there’s a particularly noticeable glut of defensemen on one-year deals.

That group got a little smaller on Wednesday, as the Golden Knights announced a four-year, $10 million extension for former Kings blueliner Brayden McNabb.

From here, it seems like a fairly benign move.

It’s worth noting that the move draws at least a little bit of mockery on Hockey Twitter.

McNabb, 26, is averaging 19:30 TOI per night through his first 20 regular-season games with the Golden Knights. Peeking at his Hockey Reference page’s quick possession stats, it’s interesting to note an unusual disparity in his Corsi Relative (-.5) versus Fenwick Relative (+3.6) rates compared to his teammates.

It turns out that he’s been blocking buckets of shots so far this season, leading the Golden Knights in that category. Fenwick is a Corsi-like measure except with blocked shots removed from the equation, so perhaps some of a person’s view of McNabb comes down to subtle preferences.

(He’s tied for 12th overall in the NHL in blocked shots, despite missing a few games, by the way.)

Really, if the Golden Knights’ rationale is “well, this makes Gerard Gallant happy,” then it seems like a reasonable move.

Beyond McNabb, Vegas only has Nate Schmidt and Brad Hunt under contracts beyond this season, and both of their deals expire after 2018-19. If you want to be cute about it, you could call McNabb “the defenseman of the future” in Vegas, at least right now.

Discounting David Clarkson‘s dead cap money (which expires after 2019-20), the Golden Knights also have these forwards and goalies locked up for at least two seasons, ignoring players in their farm system for the sake of simplicity:

Forwards

Goalies

You can look at that list a number of ways, including from two very different perspectives. Optimists will note how clean that cap is, with few deals threatening “albatross” status (beyond Clarkson’s, which the Golden Knights are essentially laundering for a fee). On the other hand, anxious types will worry about all the potential mistakes that could be made, including letting the wrong players go and/or retaining players who are playing over their heads.

Overall, this is another reminder that GM George McPhee has generally done a great job of accumulating assets while avoiding the sort of attachments that can submarine a franchise. Even if McNabb ends up being a bland bottom-pairing guy, this deal really isn’t that bad; the term would be the main issue if he really flops.

Of course, this is a mere appetizer for future decisions. Will GMGM ultimately keep or sell guys like Neal, Marchessault, David Perron, and William Karlsson? Finding out those answers should be almost as fun as observing this Cinderella story in action.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Panthers’ lethal top line lost their Dadonov

Getty
2 Comments

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is thankful that his vision guides the franchise once again, but the results for his renovation have often been pretty unappealing so far in 2017-18.

That said, the Panthers’ top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgenii Dadonov has been electric, with Dadonov’s return to the NHL being a smash success. Even with some slow production for Dadonov in his past few games, he’s been outstanding by metrics both fancy and simple, including generating 18 points in 22 games. Dadonov’s addition/return sure seems to be the no-brainer highlight of an otherwise polarizing (if not just flat-out poor) summer.

Unfortunately, a shoulder injury really spoils the fun for “Dad,” however, as he’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. That news comes from a variety of reports, including Panthers play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein.

Dadonov probably suffered his shoulder injury thanks to this hit by Cody Franson of the Chicago Blackhawks:

Early on, it looks like the dynamic duo of Barkov and Huberdeau will see Denis Malgin as their new winger. Malgin, 20, was recently recalled from the AHL; he scored 10 points in 47 games last season and was unable to generate a goal or an assist in five regular-season contests in 2017-18, though he was receiving less than 10 minutes of ice time per night.

Dadonov, Barkov, and Huberdeau were essentially attached at the hip at even-strength so far this season, so if there’s a drop-off with Malgin/assorted other forwards, it will be that much easier to see how much of a difference Dadonov makes.

The Panthers are taking on the Devils in New Jersey tonight. Florida’s currently ranked second-to-last in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with 18 points (8-12-2). On paper, losing Dadonov will only exacerbate this team’s issues, and it must sting to see Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith stand as such strong contributors for the Vegas Golden Knights.

(Marchessault was named the NHL’s first star of the week. Ouch.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Golden Knights

Getty
17 Comments

So let’s talk about the Vegas Golden Knights for a little bit.

At this point they are no longer just a fun story at the start of the season. They might actually be a legitimately good hockey team that is getting better.

They enter the week riding their second five-game winning streak of the season and what makes this one so impressive is the fact they are starting to carry the play in games. It is not just a matter of of them winning games with some percentage based success. During their current winning streak the Golden Knights have attempted 54 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts in its games and has outshot every single team during the streak by a a 180-120 margin. That includes two absolutely dominating performances against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

What makes all of this even more astonishing is the fact they are still doing it with their third, fourth and fifth string goalies.

The driving force behind Vegas’ success has clearly been the play of their forwards, with James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, David Perron and William Karlsson all putting up huge numbers.

The Golden Knights are already off to the best start of any expansion team in NHL history, so now we really have to start asking if this team is a legitimate threat to make the playoffs.

Recent history suggests they just might be.

As of Monday they have 31 points in their first 22 games. Over the past five seasons there have been 23 teams that had a similar start. Twenty-one of those teams went on to make the playoffs.

Early on Vegas’ success seemed to be more of an unsustainable, percentage driven run of good luck producing unexpected results.

Now the process is starting to match the results.

We have them among the elites in this week’s edition of the power rankings, as well as new teams at the top and bottom of the rankings.

The best of the best

1. St. Louis Blues — We have a new team in the top spot, and it is still incredible what this team has accomplished this season given the injury situation it has dealt with at times.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still a terrifying team, but it was only a matter of time until they hit a little bit of a cold snap. That has happened this past week with two regulation losses in a row. The first time all season that has happened.

3. New Jersey Devils — Simply one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season and it is a lot of young players (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher) making a big impact. Taylor Hall is also having what could be a career year.

4. Vegas Golden Knights — If the Devils are one of the biggest surprises, then Vegas is most definitely the biggest surprise.

5. Nashville Predators — Kyle Turris has already made a huge impact since his arrival in Nashville. With that center depth this is going to be a fierce team to contend with.

The second tier

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are not scoring goals at the same pace they did a season ago but Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he is putting together yet another Vezina Trophy caliber season in net.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Connor Hellebuyck has been quite a pleasant surprise this season. His play in net is a big reason the Jets have climbed to the top of the standings.

8. New York Islanders — Goaltending could be a concern, but this is an offense that is clicking on all cylinders right now. For as great as John Tavares has been the team’s leading scorer as of Monday is … Josh Bailey.

9. New York Rangers — The overall record is not great but since starting the season 2-6-2 the Rangers have won 11 of their past 14 games including four in a row entering the week.

10. Washington Capitals — They may not win the Presidents’ Trophy for a third consecutive season but this is still a dangerous team. Alex Ovechkin is currently on pace for close to 60 goals this season.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — They tend to run really hot and cold, which is probably what should be expected of a young team with a ton of talent but still a couple of weaknesses that need to be addressed.

The middle ground

12. San Jose Sharks — The duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has been tremendous in net this season and has helped the Sharks become one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

13. Los Angeles Kings — After an incredible start the Kings have won just two of their past nine games and are back to having trouble finding the back of the net. This looks familiar.

14. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau has taken the leap from “good young player” to “one of the most dominant offensive players in the NHL.”

15. Chicago Blackhawks — More than a quarter of the way through the season and I am still not sure what to make of the Blackhawks. Sometimes they look like a contender again. Sometimes they look like the top-heavy team that lacks depth on paper.

16. Boston Bruins — When they are healthy they can be an extremely dangerous team. Still need a little more depth. But the top of the lineup is strong.

17. Carolina Hurricanes — Teuvo Teravainen is starting to put it together. This has the makings of a breakout season for him.

18. Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser has been everything the Canucks have needed in a young player. Currently leading all NHL rookies (and the Canucks as a team) in scoring.

19. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is proving that last season’s bounce back year in Minnesota was not a fluke.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins — Great showing against Tampa Bay, but still a team that has a lot of holes that need to be addressed before it can make another Stanley Cup run.

21. Dallas Stars — They won the offseason again, but the results still are not what they should be on the ice given all of the roster movement and preseason hype.

22. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries, particularly to centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, have absolutely devastated this team’s ability to score goals.

23. Ottawa Senators — Okay maybe we had them a little too high in recent editions of the power rankings. They enter the week with six losses in a row and have won just eight of their first 22 games. This is starting to become a concern.

24. Montreal Canadiens — Just when it looked like Montreal was starting to turn it around they go and drop six of their next eight games.

25. Detroit Red Wings — They have probably overachieved a bit to this point and it is kind of amazing they open the week in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Still, their points percentage is 24th in the NHL. This is not a good team.

26. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having a breakout season for the Avalanche, while Mikko Rantonen and Alexander Kerfoot look like they can be players to maybe build around. It is not much, but it is a little progress.

The Basement

27. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid‘s defense has been called into question. Why is it that when a team underachieves or fails to meet expectations the blame always shifts to the best players and not, say, the management team that put together a flawed roster around the game’s best player?

28. Philadelphia Flyers — With wins in just three of their past 15 games it is a big fall in the rankings for the Flyers. They enter Monday on a seven-game losing streak.

29. Florida Panthers — This team could really use a couple of forwards like Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith at the moment.

30. Arizona Coyotes — With wins in four of their past six games the Coyotes are able to finally climb out of the bottom spot in the power rankings. This team was never as bad as its early record indicated. How good is it? Still a mystery. But it was never that bad.

31. Buffalo Sabres — Such a disappointing situation. This team should be so much better than it is at this point and it only seems to be taking steps backwards.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.