Brock Boeser

NHL Power Rankings: The 10 most impressive players through October

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a break from the team level and dig into some individual performances, specifically the most impressive individual performances through the first month of the 2019-20 season.

This is not to be taken as a ranking of the best overall players in the league right now, but simply a look at whose performance has impressed the most to this point.

Who makes the cut? To the rankings!

1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. If the Bruins score a goal right now it is a good bet that Pastrnak has a direct hand in it. He is just the fourth player since 2006 to score at least 13 goals through his team’s first 13 games (Alex Ovechkin in 2010, Alex Steen in 2014, Nikita Kucherov in 2018 are the others) and enters the week tied for the league lead in goals (with Leon Draisaitl) and owns the lead in total points. He has played two fewer games than every other player in the top-five in scoring.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. A year ago he became just the eighth different player in 20 years to top both the 50-goal and 100-point marks in the same season. If you were expecting some kind of a regression, you are not yet getting it. All he has done so far this season is open up with 13 goals and 26 points in the Oilers’ first 15 games to help carry the team to top of the Pacific Division standings.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. The Bruins have some depth questions but they are great where it matters most — on the top line and in net. Entering play on Monday Rask has appeared in eight games and has yet to have a save percentage lower than .912 in any of them. He has been over .930 in six of them. He has been the single most dominant goalie in the league so far this year.

4. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. After finishing in the top-five of the Norris Trophy voting the past two years he might actually crack the top-three this year if this scoring continues. And while he may cool down a bit there is no reason to believe it will be a huge drop (he did finish with 70 points a year ago). Are we putting him here strictly based on offense? Yeah … sort of. But when you’re a defenseman and are contributing an historically high amount offense to a team that is 11-2-3 that is pretty darn impressive.

5. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks might actually be really good this year, and Pettersson is one of the players driving the bus for them. After winning the Calder Trophy a year ago he has started his sophomore season looking like one of the league’s most valuable players. He has scored at an elite rate and the Canucks have a 60 percent shot attempt share when he is on the ice. That is MVP level stuff.

Correction: We initially wrote that Pettersson started the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, which was a mistake. He has, however, started more shifts in the defensive zone recently than he did earlier in the year.

6. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. I still wouldn’t bet against him when it comes to winning the scoring title this season. He and Draisaitl form the league’s most dominant scoring duo and it is probably going to be up to them to carry the team to the playoffs.

7. Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were crushed by injuries early in the season and Crosby’s line was one of the biggest reasons they were able to keep pace with the other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. He is still one of the five best offensive players in the league and is an outstanding defensive player.

8. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He just turned 34 years old and is still playing like he did when he was 24. Or at least close to it. He has 12 more shots on goal than any other player in the NHL and is on a pace to score 55 goals this season. The best goal scorer of all time continuing to do what he does best.

9. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes. There is an argument to be made he might be the most underrated player in the league. He is currently leading the Hurricanes in scoring, is their top possession player on defense, and plays huge minutes. A No. 1 defender in every way and he counts just $5.75 million against the cap, an absolute steal of a rate.

10. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. Don’t let their current spot in the standings fool you, it is mostly due to having only played 13 games. Their points percentage is fourth best in the Western Conference entering Monday, and the play of their goalies is one of the biggest reasons why. Kuemper has been the best of the two, owning a .942 save percentage (second only to Rask in the entire NHL) through his first nine starts.

Deserving mentions: Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), James Neal (Edmonton Oilers), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Mark Stone (Vegas Golden Knights), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers), Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks)

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.

PHT Face-Off: Sharks bleeding goals; Panthers heating up

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Another Monday morning, another PHT Face-Off setting up the week to come in the NHL. Now that we’re officially in the month of November, we have to start taking some of these on-ice trends a little more seriously. Let’s take a look at what stand outs and what may continue to stand out over the next seven days.

• Two points per game for Pastrnak:

Many players in the NHL are off to incredible starts, but Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is the only player in the league that’s averaging more than two points per game this season. Pastrnak has 13 goals and 27 points in 13 games (2.08 PPG). As you’d imagine, he’s been out of this world this year. When he’s on the ice, the Bruins control more than 58 percent of the shot attempts, 68 percent of the goals scored, almost 59 percent of the scoring changes and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances. (all stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Through 13 games, the Bruins’ top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have combined to score 58.7 percent of Boston’s goals (27 of 46). Sure, they’re top heavy, but who cares? That’s flat-out dominance. No matter the match up, the Bruins have have been the better side. They’ve dropped just three games all season (one in regulation) and although they’ll have a busy week, they should continue to find success.

Their hot start is even more impressive when you consider that they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The teams around them in division (Toronto, Tampa Bay) have struggled out of the gate. The Bruins have been all business and they owe a lot of that to their top forward, Pastrnak.

• Ryan Poehling gets his shot: 

On Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens recalled Ryan Poehling from the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Poehling was Montreal’s first-round pick, 25th overall, in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had three strong years at St. Cloud State, he was also named the M.V.P. at the World Junior Hockey Championship for Team USA last year and he made quite an impression in his NHL debut at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

After signing his entry-level contract late in the season, the 20-year-old got to play in his first NHL game on the last day of the regular season. Not only did Poehling suit up against the Toronto Maple Leafs last April, he scored a hat trick in his debut and he added the game-winner in the shootout.

Well, now that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is on injured reserve, Poehling will get a chance to take on another big rival, as the Bruins will pull up to the Bell Center on Tuesday night (you can watch that game on NBCSN, by the way).

We’ll find out if he’s here to stay or if he still needs time to marinate in the minors.

• Panthers coming on strong: 

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov picked up three assists in his first five games of the season. What has he done since then? It took him some time to score his first goal of the season (he did that on Oct. 30), but he’s now scored in back-to-back games and he’s picked up an incredible 14 points in his last nine games.

Teammate Jonathan Huberdeau, who might be the most underrated star in the NHL (he had the quietest 92-point season ever in 2018-19), is also off to a blazing start. He’s scored an impressive nine goals and nine assists in 14 games already this year. Understandably, everyone is talking about the duos of Marchand and Pastrnak in Boston and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, but the Panthers’ top duo is currently 10th and 11th in NHL scoring right now.

The Panthers have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 11 games and they’re not occupying one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. Impressive.

• How about those Vancouver Canucks:

Raise your hand if you thought the Canucks were going to be one of the best teams in the NHL through the first month of the season. What? Nobody?

Well, the Canucks have been getting the job done. They were consistent in October and they’re off to a 1-0-1 start in November. Elias Pettersson is definitely leading the charge for the Canucks, as he’s accumulated 20 points in 14 games in his second season, but his supporting cast has been strong too.

Brock Boeser (16 points in 14 games) and J.T. Miller (15 points in 14 games) have also carried their weight. Bo Horvat is right below that point-per-game clip, while Alex Edler has managed to stay healthy so far (he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game). And rookie Quinn Hughes is sidelined with an injury now, but he’s also up to 10 points in just 13 games. Even goaltender Jacob Markstrom has done a nice job between the pipes.

Let’s see if they can keep this going.

• Sharks can’t keep puck out of net: 

The San Jose Sharks probably aren’t happy with the amount of goals they’ve scored this season, but keeping the puck out of the net is a major issue for them, too.

The Sharks, who are 4-10-1, have surrendered 56 goals in 15 games. The only teams that have given up more goals than them are Los Angeles and Detroit, who have both given up 57. Yeah, that’s bad. Everyone expected the Kings and Wings to be bad, but no one thought the Sharks would be this brutal.

As you’d imagine, they’re bleeding high-danger chances so far. According to Natural Stat Trick, their 138 high-danger chances against is tied for second with Washington. Only the Winnipeg Jets have surrendered more of those. Also, no team has given up more goals from high-danger chances than San Jose (25).

Erik Karlsson doesn’t look right, Marc-Edouard Vlasic hasn’t been very good and a lot of the older players look, well, old.

There’s still time for them to get this turned around, but at a certain point you are what your record says you are.

What’s coming up this week

• Islanders look to push their winning streak to 10 games vs. Ottawa, Tue. Nov. 5, 7 p.m. ET.

• The defending Stanley Cup champion champion St. Louis Blues go head-to-head against Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, Wed. Nov. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET.

• NHL Global Series continues with Tampa Bay and Buffalo on Friday (2 p.m. ET) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET) in Stockholm, Sweden.

• 2018 Stanley Cup Final rematch: Golden Knights at Capitals, Sat. Nov. 9, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Bruins vs. Canadiens, Tue. Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Tue. Nov. 5, 10 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Sabres from Stockholm, Sweden, Fri. Nov. 8, 2 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Red Wings vs. Rangers, Wed. Nov. 6, 8 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

 

It’s early, but the Canucks might be really good

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The Jim Benning era in Vancouver has been an easy one to criticize because, quite frankly, none of it has made much sense.

They have never been truly terrible, they have never really been good, and every offseason seems to focus on adding more and more depth players on long-term contracts in free agency in an effort to maintain some level of consistent mediocrity instead of actually building a championship contending organization.

This is how it has all looked from a distance, anyway. And maybe all of that criticism has been justified (and will continue to be justified in the future) but we have to at least acknowledge something about the 2019-20 Canucks — they might actually turn out to be pretty good.

Entering Friday’s game in Anaheim the Canucks are 8-3-1, have earned at least a point in nine of their past 12 games, and are one of the most surprising teams in the league. Even better for Canucks fans is there is plenty of evidence to suggest that all of it is for real. If nothing else things seem to at least be trending in the right direction. 

Skeptics might point to the fact that Vancouver had a strong start last year (9-6-0 through their first 15 games) before falling off a cliff over the next four months, and hey, maybe that happens again. But everything about the way the Canucks were playing last year pointed to that start being a fluke and not something that was going to be sustained. Over their first 15 games they were getting caved in from a shot attempt standpoint, getting badly outscored at 5-on-5, and getting by based on nothing more than luck and good fortune.

This year’s early positive results are being driven by a positive process that at least has the look of something that might be sustainable long-term.

The 5-on-5 numbers through the first month paint a strikingly different (and more optimistic) picture this year. They are the ones pushing the pace of the play, they cut down the number of shot attempts they give up defensively, and as a result their goal differential has experience a massive positive swing.

One thing the Canucks have had going for them is they do have the most important pieces in place, and that is high-end, impact players. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser were rookie of the year contenders the past two years (Pettersson actually won it) and are both off to great starts this season. Their early success should not be a surprise because they are on track to be great players and have excelled from the moment they arrived.

Editor’s note: Need Canucks tickets? Click here

But the real game-changer has been the presence of their newest Calder Trophy contender, defenseman Quinn Hughes.

Hughes was always going to be the X-factor on this team because he has the ability to play a role and be the type of player that can really swing the rebuild in a positive direction. He’s already playing 20 minutes a night, he’s driving possession, and he’s producing offense. The Canucks were lacking that sort of impact player on their defense, and Hughes has stepped right into that role and has yet to look out of place, even as a 20-year-old rookie.

Add the presence of J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat entering what should be his peak years, and some strong goaltending and suddenly the Canucks are starting to look like a team that might be on to something.

The roster still has flaws, and there is still valid reason to question some of the contracts they have signed and made their salary cap situation needlessly complicated, but for the first time in four or five years the arrow finally seems to be pointing in the right direction.

Where they go from here this season remains to be seen, but they have at least given themselves a shot this year and seem to have a chance to build on something.

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.

Roundtable: Hot starts, biggest disappointments

Choosing from the teams off to strong starts in October, which one won’t last?

SEAN: The Canucks may very well wind up in the playoffs come April, but it feels like a matter or time before they slowly slide back into the wild card race and out of contention for the Pacific Division crown. The Lotto Line of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller has been unstoppable; Quinn Hughes is playing himself into the Calder Trophy conversation after one month; and the goaltending duo of Thatcher Demko and Jacob Markstrom has been solid with a combined .932 even strength save percentage. They’re banking important points this early in the season, but their 103 PDO will certainly slide back a touch.

Vancouver’s November schedule could pose some difficulty in keeping up this pace with games against the Avalanche (2), Penguins, Oilers, Blues, Predators (2), and Capitals. If they can reach December and find themselves still in one of the top three spots in the Pacific then that could go a long way toward proving doubters they’re for real.

JAMES: The Sabres [1.036] and Canucks [1.031] are marinating in that glorious, glorious PDO right now, and chances are, both will see their hot shooting and goaltending cool down. The question is: how much?

Considering the Canucks’ weak division, and quite a few promising underlying numbers for Vancouver, I think they might be able to squeak into a playoff spot. The Sabres, however, must run through what still figures to be a buzzsaw in the Atlantic — at least if the Lightning and Maple Leafs get their acts together.

So, Buffalo, in particular, falls under “Fool me once …” That said, I can’t totally blame someone who’s being lured in by the gravitational pull of that strong start.

ADAM: The skepticism around Buffalo is legitimate because of the way last year unfolded, but I still think they have a better shot to stick around this year because they are a little deeper and do not seem to be doing it with as much smoke and mirrors as they did early last season. What that means, I don’t know. That is still a brutally tough division and you have to imagine Tampa Bay and Toronto get their acts together. They may not finish high in the standings, but I don’t see a collapse here. The team that I think is still likely to fall off has to be the Oilers, and I hate saying that because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are so amazing. I want to see them on a big stage. But they are literally carrying the offense again, and we have seen this movie before. They are great enough to do it in short bursts to help the team go on some hot streaks, but no two players are great enough to carry a team through an 82-game season unless one of those players is a goalie. There are still just too many flaws on this roster.

JOEY: I’m still skeptical about the Oilers. Yes, they have the high-end talent that most teams can only dream of, but I’m just not sold on the supporting cast. Is James Neal going to keep rolling? Are the other forwards going to do enough scoring to sustain Edmonton’s place in the standings? Can a duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen keep Edmonton in games? I have so many questions for this team it’s not even funny. Look, the Oilers probably won’t finish first in the division, but if they sneak into the playoffs that fan base should be happy with that. I just have a hard time seeing it right now.

SCOTT: The Ducks are 8-6-0 and I am not sure if that qualifies as a ‘hot start’, but I expect them to drop quite a bit the standings. The Flames and Sharks are too talented to remain near the bottom of the division and if they move up, someone has to slide down. Another team to keep an eye on is the Blues. With Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined for an extended period of time, will they be able to generate enough offense to remain competitive in a ferocious Central Division.

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Who is your biggest disappointment — player or team — so far?

SEAN: This could have been noted goon Aleksander Barkov, who has four penalty minutes already after not picking up his second minor last season until March 7… but my choice is the Lightning. Tampa is facing the adversity they noted after-the-fact last season hurt them in Round 1 against the Blue Jackets. A sluggish October that saw them win consecutive games only once, allow two or fewer goals only three times, and allow 3.5 goals (2.7 GPG last season) and three more shots on average per night has led them to a 6-4-2 start.

The challenge is clear for the Lightning: It’s Stanley Cup or bust. We’re going to see who the real Lightning are this season. They cruised for 82 games in 2018-19, and now the teams around them have improved. There wasn’t a lot to remember in October and how they respond will be an indicator of what to expect later in the season.

JAMES: The Sharks are a disaster by just about every measure to begin 2019-20. They’re sinking when it comes to most, if not all, possession stats. About the only thing that’s encouraging is that, unlike the bumbling Bolts, San Jose’s been mostly unlucky. While I fear that their goaltending will only rebound in marginal ways, I don’t expect their offense to remain so toothless.

ADAM: It has to be San Jose. Their commitment to the goalie situation just totally stuns me, but what is even more shocking is the fact the rest of the team seems to have forgotten how to play hockey this season. They are getting completely dominated at even-strength and this team is just far too talented to play like this. No team with Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the blue line, and with the talent they still have at forward (even after losing Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi over the summer) should be playing this poorly. It is stunning.

JOEY: I realized that the Sharks were getting old in a hurry, but I didn’t expect them to have four wins in their first 13 games. The loss of Joe Pavelski has hit both sides pretty hard. Do you think the player and team would like a do-over there? Logan Couture is a fine captain, but he’s already had to call his teammates out a couple of times. Adding Patrick Marleau is a nice touch, but it just isn’t adding up to victories right now. The Sharks should be worried because it looks like their championship window has been slammed shut.

SCOTT: In Taylor Hall’s final season before reaching unrestricted free agency, GM Ray Shero made a couple of maneuvers this summer to help bolster his roster. With the additions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Hughes, the Devils hoped to take advantage of a wide-open Metropolitan Division. However, the Devils have failed to protect leads, especially at home and find themselves competing for the top draft pick once again. Coach John Hynes could be the first coach to join the unemployment line if the Devils can’t figure it out on the ice.

QUICK AWARD PICKS AFTER ONE MONTH

HART
SEAN: David Pastrnak
JAMES: David Pastrnak
ADAM: Leon Draisaitl
JOEY: Sidney Crosby
SCOTT: Leon Draisaitl

VEZINA
SEAN: Tuukka Rask
JAMES: Tuukka Rask
ADAM: Tuukka Rask
JOEY: Tuukka Rask
SCOTT: Tuukka Rask

CALDER
SEAN: Quinn Hughes
JAMES: Quinn Hughes
ADAM: Quinn Hughes
JOEY: Cale Makar
SCOTT: Quinn Hughes

NORRIS
SEAN: Roman Josi
JAMES: John Carlson
ADAM: John Carlson
JOEY: John Carlson
SCOTT: John Carlson

————

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.

The Buzzer: Draisaitl takes over league lead in goals, points

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Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. He is doing his best to show that his 50-goal, 100-point season from a year ago was no fluke. With two goals and an assist in the Oilers’ 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night Draisaitl is now tied for the league lead in goals (12, along with Boston’s David Pastrnak) and is in sole possession of the top spot in points with 25. If you like to have fun with early season “on pace for” numbers those put him on track for 70 goals and 145 points over 82 games. Obviously he will slow down at some point, but what a start for the Oilers and their top forwards.

2. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks. An absolutely massive game for the Canucks’ top young players as they crushed the Los Angeles Kings — again — this season. Boeser was the big star on the night with three goals and an assist in the win. He is now up to seven goals and 14 total points this season. Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes give the Canucks quite a trio of young stars to build around, and they all shined on Wednesday.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. With eight minutes to play in regulation the Panthers found themselves trailing by two goals in Colorado. It was at that point that their stars took over. Aleksander Barkov scored his first goal of the season to bring the Panthers to within one, and then Huberdeau tied it with 1:30 to play and the goalie pulled for an extra attacker. As if that was not enough, Huberdeau won it just 29 seconds into overtime to give the Panthers a huge two points. The Panthers have earned at least a point in nine of their past 10 games.

Other notable performances from Wednesday

Highlights of the Night

This shot from Elias Pettersson is a thing of beauty. You can not place the puck in a better spot. A totally unstoppable shot.

Here is Huberdeau’s game-winner for the Panthers.

At least the Devils had this going for them on Wednesday. Kyle Palmieri scored three goals in the loss, with the third goal coming in the final 10 seconds to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Blooper of the Night

It was a tough night for Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta, and nothing illustrated that more than him losing a skate blade and allowing Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber to score an easy goal from the blue line.

Factoids

  • Boeser is the fifth player in Canucks history to record at least three hat tricks before their 23rd birthday. [NHL PR]
  • Anze Kopitar became the fifth player in Kings history to record 900 career regular season points. [NHL PR]
  • Nathan MacKinnon extended his season opening point streak to 12 consecutive games, the fifth player in the past 20 years to accomplish that feat. [NHL PR]
  • Tampa Bay’s come-from-behind win on Wednesday was the 12th multi-goal third period come-from-behind win of the season, the most in NHL history through the first 193 games of the season. [NHL PR]
  • James Neal scored his 11th goal of the season for the Oilers, meaning he and Draisaitl are just the fourth set of teammates in NHL history to each score at least 11 goals in the month of October. They are the first to do it since Mario Lemieux and Kevin Stevens for the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, New Jersey Devils 6 (OT)
Edmonton Oilers 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
St. Louis Blues 2, Minnesota Wild 1
Montreal Canadiens 4, Arizona Coyotes 1
Florida Panthers 4, Colorado Avalanche 3 (OT)
Vancouver Canucks 5, Los Angeles Kings 3

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.