PHT Power Rankings: Most surprising scorers in 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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You never know which player is going to emerge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a difference-maker.

It is not always the superstars.

While you certainly need your best players to shine if you are going to be the team lifting the Stanley Cup, it is not always going to about them when it comes to reaching that point. Sometimes they get shut down as the stars on either side cancel each other out in a best-of-seven series. When that happens it is going to come down to which team’s depth players can make an impact and get hot for a few weeks.

Sometimes you need someone else to emerge as a surprising source of offense.

That is the direction we are headed in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at some of the most surprising scorers in this postseason.

Are some of these runs unsustainable and the result of a short-term spike in shooting percentage? You bet they are! And there is nothing wrong with that, because every team that ends up winning a championship has one or two of these players get hot at the right time. Luck? Clutch? Call it whatever you want, but it is a necessary ingredient to win.

Also just want to point this out at the beginning: The only team to not have a player mentioned in this week’s Power Rankings is the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is not meant to be a slight or an omission, it is just that they do not really have anyone at this point that qualifies as a “surprise” point producer. The players driving their offense right now are the exact players you expect to be driving it: Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski. Their stars are playing like stars. So far, they really have not needed a depth player to shine.

With that said, let’s go on to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. In his first 71 games during the regular season Foegele scored just seven goals for the Hurricanes. That’s it. Seven. In the 15 games that have followed (six regular season games, nine playoff games) he has scored eight goals, including five in the playoffs to lead the team. He also leads all NHL players this postseason with five even-strength goals. He continued his late-season surge on Sunday when he scored the game-tying goal early in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 2-1 come-from-behind win and was a constant source of offense in their Round 1 upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The Hurricanes have been hammered by injuries in these playoffs but just keep finding ways to win, and the emergence of Foegele (even if it is the result of a 33 percent shooting percentage right now) is a big reason why.

2. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Prior to his trade to Boston at the deadline, Coyle was having a really down year for the Minnesota Wild and things didn’t get much better for him after being sent to the Bruins. In his first 21 games with his new team he managed just two goals and was looking to be a bit of a disappointment as a deadline acquisition. Not anymore. Late season additions like Coyle are usually measured by what they do in the postseason, and through the first two games of Round 2 he is leading the team in goals (five) and is second in total points (seven). Some of those goals have been massive ones, including the overtime winner in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets after tying the game late in regulation, and an early goal in Game 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs that set the tone for them to even that series.

3. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars. When you play the Stars you know you are going to have to shut down their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. And as expected, all three have been great so far in the playoffs. What has made the Stars such a dangerous team now is the emergence of a second scoring line that has helped balance their lineup and take some of the pressure off of their top trio. It is there that we find Hintz, a 22-year-old rookie, that has caught fire over the past five games and enters Game 3 of their series against the St. Louis Blues just one point back of Benn for the team lead in scoring with seven points. He and Mats Zuccarello have been tremendous together and were dominant in the Stars’ Game 2 win in St. Louis.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. They may not be a lot of household names, but the Hurricanes’ defense is one of the best units in the NHL from top to bottom. They are all young, they are all signed long-term, and they are all really good when it comes to limiting shots and chances against their goalies. Slavin is one of the best all-around players out of that group, but his best asset has probably always been his ability to shut teams down. He is still helping to do that in the playoffs, but has also been a surprising point producer having already recorded 10 assists (tops in the NHL this postseason) in his first nine games. Seven of those assists have come during 5-on-5 play, an area where no other player in the NHL has more than five this postseason.

5. Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche. Nieto scored just four goals in 64 regular season games for the Avalanche. He already has three goals (to go with two assists) in seven postseason games. What is even more astonishing is that two of those goals this postseason are shorthanded goals. For his career, he had just four shorthanded goals (total) in 402 regular season games. He also scored a huge goal on Sunday night to help the Avalanche even their series with the San Jose Sharks.

6. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. A sixth-round pick by the Sharks in 2014, Labanc has shown steady improvement all three years he has been in the NHL and has really made an impact in the playoffs. He had four points as part of their insane Game 7 rally against the Vegas Golden Knights, and then scored an absolute beauty of a goal in Game 1 against the Avalanche to help the Sharks jump out to an early season lead.

7. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has been a really good player in St. Louis for a few years now, and you can usually pencil him in for 25 goals and 50 points at the start of every season and he won’t let you down. This season was the exception, mainly due to the fact he was hammered by a 6 percent shooting percentage that was significantly below his career average. That is how he makes the cut as a “surprising” scorer this postseason. Eventually, though, regression to the mean kicks in and some of those bounces he wasn’t getting during the regular season will start going his way. That has happened in the playoffs where he has already scored five goals for the Blues (after scoring just 11 in 69 regular season games). That includes a stretch where he scored four consecutive Blues goals to finish off the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, scoring a late-game-winning goal in Game 5, and then scoring all three goals in their series-clinching Game 6 win.

8. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. The only reason he is eighth is because, well, he has traditionally been a really good top-six winger. He is not some young player that came out of nowhere with a hot streak, or a role player that just happened to go on a goal-scoring run at the right time. But like Schwartz in St. Louis, he did have a bit of a down regular season for the Islanders so that makes his resurgence here in the postseason at least a little bit of a surprise. So far he has at least one point in five of the Islanders’ first six games, and scored at least one goal in each of their four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with all of those goals being game-changers.

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.

Hughes has potential to take Devils to next level

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Given all the changes in New Jersey this offseason, there’s no shortage of x-factors heading into the 2019-20 campaign.

One could argue, for instance, that P.K. Subban‘s arrival on the blue line is the biggest change of the offseason. I would disagree and a team that gave up as many goals as the Devils did could use a boost on the backend to take the pressure off their goaltending situation, which is suspect at best heading into the season.

But, in this scribe’s opinion, it’s the arrival of Jack Hughes who has the potential to make the biggest difference.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | Under Pressure]

The Devils need offense, plain and simple. Getting by on a leading point-producer who had just 50 points isn’t going to cut it in the NHL these days.

And while a healthy Taylor Hall will make a big difference as well, we know how big the gap can be between himself and the rest of the scoring on the team (see: 2017-18 season.)

With the potential for a breakout season for Nico Hischier — and one not limited by injuries — the addition of P.K. Subban to the power play and Nikita Gusev and Hughes to the forward contingent, the Devils should be miles ahead of their 25th-ranking in goals-for from last season.

And the expectation is Hughes will play a big role in that. He could start the season as the team’s second-line center and depending on usage, could easily hit the 20-goal mark, if not more.

“Jack’s play will determine to us what he can handle and how much,” coach John Hynes told NHL.com. “We’re not going to put pressure on him and we’re not going to put limits on him right away. We continue to put young players in situations they can handle while also challenging them in the right ways where they can have success but also see how they respond outside their comfort zone.”

Hughes does everything so well. His vision, speed and knack for scoring are all welcome additions to the Devils who sorely need more in each of those areas.

The key will be to find him the right linemates in training camp and let some chemistry develop. If it does, an 80-point season may take shape providing he’s healthy.

And, perhaps, a Calder Trophy for his efforts.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hischier set to face pressures of contract year

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

The guys at the Spitting Chiclets podcast did an excellent interview last week with Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

Why are we talking about MacKinnon on Devils Day at PHT? Just keep reading.

MacKinnon spoke about his sophomore season being a tough one with just 14 goals after winning the Calder Trophy a year before.

It took him two more seasons before he’d flip a switch in his head, one that would take him from a mid-50-point guy to the near-100-point player he’s been for the past two seasons.

MacKinnon said he was starting to feel like he was a bust after being taken first overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | X-factor]

Now, I’m not saying that Hischier feels the same way. Both are different players. But both are first-overall picks with a tremendous amount of expectations levied upon them, ones that will last throughout their respective careers.

So if MacKinnon was battling mental demons, one could come to the conclusion that Hischier may do so at some point as well.

Hischier dealt with injury in his second year, much like MacKinnon, and was limited to 17 goals and 47 points — down from the 20 goals and 52 points in his rookie season. That said, his points per game rose in his second campaign even if the overall number didn’t.

And none of this is to say that Hischier has been a bust at all. He’s far from that and an excellent two-way center who, now given some tools around him, a great candidate to have a breakout season.

But the pressure is, nevertheless, going to be there for the Swiss kid. There’s a lot of money waiting on the table for him next offseason when his entry-level deal comes to a close.

Hischier remains a massive piece for the Devils moving forward.

The team now has him and Jack Hughes as their 1-2 punch down the spine of the team, a better defense with the addition of P.K. Subban and a greater supporting cast with Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds.

And while the point totals may not jump off the page, the fact is the Devils outscore opponents and create more high-danger scoring chances when Hischier is on the ice.

Hischier is far from being labeled a bust, much like MacKinnon was.

The pressure is on, however, as he enters a season where a big impact could lead to a bigger contract next summer.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Will Taylor Hall re-sign long-term?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Let’s ponder three questions for the 2019-20 Devils:

1. Has all the offseason work enticed Taylor Hall to re-sign?

In early June, a report from The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta suggested that Hall had no interest in re-signing with the club.

Fast forward a month, and the team that managed just 74 points in a dismal regular season now had Jack Hughes, the top prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft, P.K. Subban, one of the league’s best defensemen, and were about to embark on adding Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev before August hit.

Ray Shero needed to do something to convince Hall that the Devils were heading in the right direction and perhaps it has worked, although there is still no long-term extension in place for the former Hart Trophy winner.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Hall’s agent, for what it’s worth, says there’s no rush. As does Shero.

And while that may be true, these sort of things only become distractions as the regular season hits in 2019-20. The Devils would certainly need to know by the trade deadline so they could avoid a John Tavares incident.

Two first-overall picks in the past three seasons and a genuine attempt to make the team better has to sit well in Hall’s camp. But there’s always going to be that allure of having the world at his feet with truckloads of money and the ability to chose his destination next summer.

2. What role will Mackenzie Blackwood take on this season? 

Cory Schneider went more than a calendar year without a win and he was horrific to start the season, posting a 0-7-2 record before finally getting that elusive ‘W’ in the middle of February.

From there, he went 6-6-2 with a .927 save percentage down the stretch as he finally looked like the goalie sans the hip issue that had plagued him (and was surgically repaired in May 2018.)

Schneider’s injuries and Keith Kinkaid not being very good allowed the Devils a chance to see what Blackwood could do. And 22-year-old didn’t disappoint, even with the mess in front of him.

In 21 starts he went 10-10-0 with a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.

While Schneider appeared to begin his bounceback from surgery in the last half of the season, Blackwood should see increased time (even if the former is making $6 million a season.) Blackwood appears to be the future in New Jersey and the Devils shouldn’t be married to Schneider being their de facto No. 1.

3. What, if anything, will Shero do the rest of his cap space? 

There’s roughly $8 million still sitting in his kitty, although the team still needs to sign restricted free agent Pavel Zacha.

Evolving Wild’s model has Zacha coming in around the $2 million mark in terms of annual average value, which gives the Devils $6 million-ish to work with they want to strengthen the team further.

Of course, the unrestricted free agent pool has shrunk over the summer, but you wonder if a guy such as Patrick Maroon might make for a good addition in terms of grit and experience.

What about a Ben Hutton on defense to make another improvement on the blue line?

There still may be some bargains out there and the Devils appear to have assembled a team worthy of playoff talk.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

2018-19
31-41-10, 74 pts. (8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Jack Hughes
P.K. Subban
Wayne Simmonds
Nikita Gusev
Connor Carrick
John Hayden

OUT
Kurtis Gabriel
Brian Boyle
Keith Kinkaid
Ben Lovejoy
Kenny Agostino
Stefan Noesen
Drew Stafford
Eric Gryba
Eddie Lack

RE-SIGNED
Will Butcher
Mirco Mueller

2018-19 season review

Season grade: F
Offseason grade: A+

Yes, it appears it can all change that quickly for some teams.

Much like the Florida Panthers, who I wrote about last week, the New Jersey Devils can rest easy knowing that last season is going to feel like a distant memory after the summer Ray Shero and Co. put together.

The Devils were very bad last season, so bad that, for the second time in the past three seasons, they were rewarded (thanks to a bit of luck) with the first-overall pick back in June.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

They came into the draft lottery with the third-best odds but moved up to spots for the honor of selecting Jack Hughes.

They then shook up the hockey world, dropping a massive trade bomb on the second day of the draft as they acquired P.K. Subban to fortify their blue line.

Getting Hughes and Subban in the same weekend helped take the sting off a poor season where they couldn’t score much and couldn’t stop the puck a whole lot at the other end of the ice.

Just two players cracked the 20-goal plateau, only one player hit 50 points and their goaltending was abysmal. It didn’t help that Taylor Hall was limited to just 33 games because of injury and then there were the rumors of his long-term future not being in Newark.

Some of those questions still remain, especially between the pipes, but there’s a reason for optimism after such a big summer.

Aside from Hughes and Subban, the Devils also added some grit in Wayne Simmonds. It’s a one-year ‘prove it’ sort of deal that will keep Simmonds hungry as he goes searching for a longer-term deal next offseason.

And they added a player some consider the best who wasn’t playing in the NHL in Nikita Gusev, a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick who was then signed by the Golden Knights last year and then traded to New Jersey in July.

A lot of good has happened since the Devils played their final regular-season game of 2018-19. They’ve had to keep up in an arms race across the Hudson River as the New York Rangers took Kaapo Kakko right after New Jersey took Hughes and added Artemi Panarin in free agency and signed Jacob Trouba to a long-term deal.

Either way, gone should be the days where the Devils aren’t considered a perennial playoff contender.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck