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.

NHL over/under: How many goals will Pastrnak, Neal finish with?

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Entering play on Tuesday night David Pastrnak (Boston) and James Neal (Edmonton) sit on top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard with nine goals each. They have been two of the hottest players in the league to start the season and are in action on Tuesday looking to increase their lead.

Pastrnak’s climb to the top isn’t all that surprising given how good he has been the past few years. He is coming off of his third consecutive 30-goal season and is part of one the league’s top lines alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He scored 38 goals in just 66 games last season, a pace that would have had him pushing the 50-goal mark had he stayed healthy. Including his start this season, he has scored 52 goals in his last 82 regular season games played dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

He is simply one of the best finishers in the league and is just now entering what should be his peak years for offense.

Neal’s early success is a little more surprising.

He has always been a good goal scorer, but was coming off by far his worst season in the league in Calgary, scoring just seven goals in 63 games. He has already blown past that number this season.

With both players pacing the rest of the league so far, let’s try to project what they might be capable of for the entire season.

Let’s start with Pastrnak — As already mentioned, he has a recent track record of being a lethal goal scorer and is surrounded by two elite players in Boston. Their line is driving all of the offense in Boston right now and Pastrnak is at the center of it. He entered the season looking like a lock for at least 35 goals as long as he was able to stay healthy. Nothing he has done so far has shaken that belief. As is the case with most players on a nearly goal-per-game hot streak, he is carrying a shooting percentage well north of 30 percent, a number that is no doubt going to drop as the year goes on. Even the best players don’t shoot above 20 percent (and even that is an outrageously high number for a full year) for a full season, while Pastrnak himself has consistently settled around the 14 percent mark.

So let’s use some simple math here: If Pastrnak maintains his current 3.38 shots per game average (he easily could) and shoots at his normal 14 percent on those shots, that would be an additional 35 goals on top of what he already has this season. That would give him 44 goals, just shy of the pace he was on last year without the injury and that seems like a pretty fair projection.

Can he hit that? Or exceed it? And can he continue to make a run at knocking Alex Ovechkin from his goal scoring throne?

What about Neal? — Everything disappeared for Neal in Calgary last season. His shot volume plummeted, his shooting percentage cratered, he seemed like a player that was just totally out of it and had seen his career wash out. But given his track record there was always a chance he could rebound, and the Oilers are the team that is benefitting from it.

He is back to averaging close to three-and-a-half shots per game (up a full shot from Calgary) and so far is riding the same shooting percentage wave that Pastrnak is in Boston. He also has the added bonus of getting to play on Edmonton’s power play (an area he has always excelled) alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That is going to help a lot, but not so much that he keeps scoring on 30 percent of his shots.

The Oilers have 72 games remaining on their schedule. With his same shot rate and career average shooting percentage that would put Neal on a 35-goal track for this season, a number that the Oilers would have almost certainly signed up for in the preseason when they made the trade.

Can he get there? Or will he exceed it?

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.

Flyers remain one of NHL’s biggest mysteries

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General manager Chuck Fletcher spent his entire offseason overhauling the Philadelphia Flyers organization.

New coaching staff, new players, big trades, a big free agent signing, and everything else the team’s ownership was looking for when it wanted a “bias for action” in its new GM. Even with all of the changes the Flyers remained a gigantic mystery because it wasn’t entirely clear if they were actually any better than before all of the movement started. If anything, it seemed like a perfect representation of everything the Flyers have come to represent over the past decade where they have enough high-end players on the roster to make you want to buy into them, but just enough questions to give you pause in doing so because there were so many “ifs” attached to their success.

If Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere can rebound and take big steps forward as top-pairing defenders.

If Carter Hart can be a star in goal.

If Kevin Hayes is actually worth $7 million per year.

If Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun still have something left in the tank.

Usually the more “ifs” you throw at a team the worse it tends to turn out for them because pro sports is rarely kind enough for every “if” to work out in a team’s favor. Through the first seven games of the season there still isn’t much clarity on what the Flyers are. On Monday night they snapped a four-game losing streak with what was perhaps their best all-around performance of the season, completely demolishing one of the league’s best teams — the Vegas Golden Knights — in a 5-2 win to bring their record to 3-3-1, the type of record you might expect from the type of mediocre team you expect the Flyers to be. Still, there are some early signs that maybe this team has played better than its early record might indicate and that there could be some hope here.

The process has been good — And by “process” I mean there are strong signs that they are controlling games even if they are not yet turning into wins. They are third in NHL in shots on goal per game, they are allowing the fewest shots on goal, they are the NHL’s best team in both shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential at 5-on-5 (via Natural Stat Trick), and they dictating the pace of almost every game they have played. This is, at the very least, a positive sign because the most important part of scoring goals is generating shots, and the most important of preventing goals is preventing shots. It’s common sense, and if you can keep doing that over a full season the odds are going to be in your favor. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they might be a little unlucky at this point. And not to make too big of an excuse here, but their early schedule was about as brutal as it could have possibly been playing three games, in three different countries, in three different time zones (going from Switzerland, to Philadelphia, to Vancouver for a three-game Western Canadian road trip) across the stretch of one week.

Hart hasn’t been all that good (yet) — This was always the big wild card for this Flyers team. He is supposed to be the savior of the position and the one to finally stabilize the position long-term. His rookie season was extremely promising and expectations were high entering the season. Through his first five starts, he hasn’t yet found his game yet with an .890 save percentage. The fact the Flyers are still 2-2-1 in those games is kind of accomplishment. He can be better, he needs to better, and there is every reason to believe that he will be better. Once that happens, and if the Flyers are still able to play in front of him the way they have, this could be an interesting team.

Some of their top forwards have been unlucky. There are three forwards in the NHL this season that have recorded at least 24 shots on goal and failed to score — two of them (Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk) play for the Flyers. Add Jakob Voracek (two goals on 17 shots) and three of the team’s top offensive players have scored on two of their first 76 shots on goal this season. That is a shooting percentage of just 2.6 percent. All three may be on the wrong side of 30, but none of them have completely fallen off a cliff yet as players and are still capable of producing like first-liners (as they did as recently as a year ago).

Basically, everything that could have gone for the Flyers right now has gone wrong. Their travel schedule has brutal, their starting goalie and arguably their most important player has struggled, and their best forwards have been unable to find the back of the net. Through all of that they have still managed to collect points in four of their first seven games and continue to tread water.

In the end, it still leaves the Flyers right where they were when the season started — a team that has given us plenty of reason to buy into them, yet one that we still don’t fully know anything about with a lot of “ifs” following them around.

Such is life with the Flyers.

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.

Bruins place David Krejci on injured reserve

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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins have placed forward David Krejci on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Krejci has missed the past two games since he was hurt in the first period of a 4-2 win over Anaheim on Oct. 14. He has one assist this season.

General manager Don Sweeney also said Tuesday the team has recalled forward Anders Bjork from Providence on an emergency basis.

Boston (5-1-1) hosts Toronto (5-3-2) Tuesday night.

Space Needle time capsule includes NHL Seattle’s final five name choices

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Seattle NHL’s expansion franchise will have an official name sometime in 2020, but as of Monday the team is down to five choices ahead of their entry to the league for the 2021-22 season.

On Monday, a time capsule that was sealed and won’t be opened until the famed Seattle Space Needle’s 100th birthday included items such as Nirvana records, Twinkies, one share of Amazon stock, and signed baseballs from Seattle Mariners legends.

The stainless steel and aluminum capsule stands over three feet tall and weighs more than 160 pounds. It will hold over 100 items, including one hockey-related inside.

While we’ll know what the NHL Seattle franchise will be called some time next year, come April 21, 2062, when the time capsule is opened, inside will be an envelope featuring the final five options for the team’s nickname. The odds are low, but we may have a long wait to learn what choices were debated before the ownership group landed on something like Emeralds, Sockeyes, Cougars, Kraken, Rainiers, Totems, or something else.

“Every name has a nuance,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told the team’s website in August. “Our job is to think through the nuances. Sometimes the best intended names can mean one thing to one group and another thing to another group. It is important the name reflects the values of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Those who think we are sitting on a predetermined name, nope,” Leiweke added. “We work on this every day. We are right on time with the naming process. We are still on a journey of self-identity but also on a journey to understand not just what we are but what we aren’t. Names that might have made sense a year ago, today don’t make as much sense.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.