Max Pacioretty

NHL Power Rankings: Top rookie performances so far

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we keep it on an individual player level and dig into the 10 best rookie performances so far this season.

It has been an interesting rookie class because two of the most anticipated rookies — top-two picks Jack Hughes and Kappo Kaako) have gone through some early growing pains and have not really played their way into the Calder Trophy discussion. That is nothing to be concerned about, either. Not every 18-year-old is going to jump right into the league and make an immediate impact. Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes it takes two. They both still have great futures ahead of them and should be stars (maybe even superstars?) in the NHL.

It has, however, been a great first half for rookie defensemen (four in the top-ten) and a couple of rookie goalies.

Which rookies have stood out the most so far this season?

To the rankings!

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Makar entered the season as one of the Calder Trophy favorites, and he has not only met the high expectations placed upon him, he has probably exceeded them. He is already the best defenseman on one of the NHL’s best and most exciting teams. An exceptional skater, great passer, and a lightning fast release that just looks effortless and unstoppable. He is a one-man highlight reel almost every night.

(See it here, too)

2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. When the 2019-20 season began it was expected that a Hughes would be at the top of the rookie class. And there is. It’s just probably not the one (Jack, the No. 1 overall pick this year) that most thought would be this high on the list. For the third year in a row the Canucks have one of the league’s top-two rookies as Hughes joins their promising core alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

3. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres. One of the few bright spots in yet another massively disappointing season for the Sabres. At 24 he is a little older than your average rookie, but he has been a great fit next to Jack Eichel on the Sabres’ top line when he’s been healthy. As of Monday he still leads all rookies in scoring even though he has not played in close to a month due to injury.

4. John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins acquired Marino from the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in a trade that few people noticed when it was announced. All Marino has done this season is help transform the Penguins’ defense into one of the league’s best. He is already a 20-minute per night player, helps drive possession, has great defensive metrics, and has helped bring back mobility and puck skills to the Penguins’ blue line.

5. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. Stan Bowman has made some questionable trades and decisions over the past few years, but this is one that he knocked out of the park. The Blackhawks acquired Kubalik from the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round draft pick almost exactly one year ago. He was always considered a talented prospect with offensive upside (something the Kings could use!), but he hadn’t shown a willingness to actually sign with the Kings. So they traded him. The Blackhawks were the team that pounced and added some desperately needed scoring depth. He has 21 goals on the season, with 10 of them coming over the past two weeks. Recency bias plays a role here, but he has made a huge jump in the Calder Trophy discussion from where he was even a few weeks ago when he probably was not even on the radar.

6. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. The Capitals’ goalie of the future should probably be getting even more playing time in the present. In his 19 appearances this season he owns a 15-2-1 record with a .927 save percentage and is currently on a run where he has won 10 consecutive decisions. He has not lost a start since Nov. 15 against the Montreal Canadiens. His play is probably making it easier to say goodbye to long-time starter (and long-time top-shelf goalie) Braden Holtby this summer in free agency.

7. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets. Like Kubalik, he is another rookie that has picked up his play very recently. When Blue Jackets starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury, Merzlikins had yet to win a game in the NHL and had a sub-.900 save percentage. It would have been easy to write off the Blue Jackets’ playoff chances at that point. Instead, Merzlikins has helped carry the team into the first Wild Card spot (as of Monday) in the Eastern Conference thanks to an 8-2-0 record, three shutouts,

8. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Not going to lie, I kind of hate putting him this low because I feel like it underrates the season he has had. He has been really good. But, I also think the top-four here are clearly the head of the rookie class. It is also hard to ignore how downright dominant Kubalik and Merzlikins have been recently and the role they have played for their teams. Fox was one of two key additions to the Rangers’ blue line over the summer alongside Jacob Trouba. Trouba has the big name and the massive contract, but there is no denying which player has been the better addition for — it is Fox.

9. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. Necas is very quietly putting together a strong rookie season. He is the fifth-leading scorer on the team and his current scoring pace would put him on track for nearly 20 goals and 50 points with strong possession numbers. Not quite enough to be a Calder Trophy favorite, but that is still a heck of a season for a 21-year-old in his first full NHL season.

10. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens. Suzuki was the key long-term player for the Canadiens in the Max Pacioretty trade, and they are getting their first taste of what he is capable of this season. He is still a bit of a work in progress, but he has improved dramatically over the past couple of months and is currently the fifth-leading scorer among all rookies. Pacioretty is having a career year for the Golden Knights, but Tomas Tatar (the other key player in that trade) having a great year of his own, and Suzuki showing a ton of potential, it is one that — so far — has worked out well for both teams.

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: Marino’s rookie season; Vrana’s even-strength prowess

It’s Monday which means it’s time for the weekly PHT Face-off column. We’ll break down five stats/trends around the NHL ahead of a fresh week of action.

Here we go:

• Wild saved by play at home

No one expected the Minnesota Wild to be a playoff team this year. They’re not currently in a playoff spot, but they’re in the conversation. As of right now, they’re seven points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the final Wild Card spot (Minnesota has two games in hand). Even though that’s a steep hill to climb, it’s not an impossible number for them to overcome.

The Wild have been terrible away from home. They’re 9-14-2 on the road and that’s one of the big reasons why they’re not in a postseason spot this year. Thankfully for them, they’ve had to play just two road games since Dec. 21.

The reason they’re still somewhat alive in the playoff race is because they’ve found a way to accumulate points at the XCel Energy Center, where they have an 11-5-4 record. Only three teams in the NHL have fewer than five regulation losses on home ice (Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia).

“This building has got to be two points for us night in and night out,” forward Eric Staal said after a win at home over the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, per NHL.com. “Divisional game, important points, we’d like to do it in regulation, but it was a good job fighting with it and getting that game tied up and picking up the two points.”

There’s good news and bad news if you’re a fan of the Wild: The bad news, is that the Wild dropped a 4-1 decision at home to Vancouver last night. They’ve now dropped back-to-back games at home. On the bright side, seven of their next eight and 11 of their next 13 games will be at home.

This next stretch will either make or break their season.

• Keep an eye on Marino

John Marino isn’t going to win the Calder Trophy this year, but his rookie season has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Pittsburgh Penguins defender has turned into an incredibly importance piece of the pie. Marino has 22 points in 43 games and he’s averaging 20:24 of ice time per game. Since Dec. 30, he’s played at least 21:51 in all but one game.

The 22-year-old was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Last summer, the Oilers traded him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft choice. At the time, the Edmonton Journal’s headline read: “Edmonton Oilers trade marginal prospect John Marino for a draft pick.” Yikes.

In fairness to the Oilers, Marino wasn’t going to sign with them (they had his rights until August of 2019). Getting something for him is better than nothing. But you can’t help but feel that had they pushed to give Marino a contract a little earlier, they may have been able to get a deal done. We’ll never know for sure.

What we do know, is that the youngster is turning heads in the NHL right now.

• Vrana killing it at even-strength 

Raise your hand if you thought Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was going to be third in even-strength goals at the midway point of the season. Anybody? Thought so.

Vrana has been a terror for opposing teams at even-strength. The 23-year-old is up to 20 goals in 46 games this season. That currently puts him on pace for a career-high 36 goals. Of those 20 goals, only one has come on the power play. The rest have come at even-strength. That puts him in some elite company.

Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews leads the league with 23 even-strength goals. Sabres captain is second with 20, and Bruins winger David Pastrnak has 19. That’s it. Everyone else in the league has fewer even-strength goals than Vrana.

Alex Ovechkin, who is Vrana’s teammate, has scored 17 of his 26 goals at even-strength. He’s second on the team.

We’ll see whether or not he can keep this up, but it’s already impressive enough that he’s been able to put up these kinds of numbers halfway through a season.

• Perron enjoys winning games

Blues forward David Perron was one of the players voted into the 2020 NHL All-Star game by the fans. Perron may not be the biggest name at the event, but it’s hard to argue with the public’s decision to have him at the All-Star festivities.

The 31-year-old is having an amazing season. He’s picked up 20 goals and 46 points in 46 games this season, which puts him six points clear of Ryan O'Reilly for the lead on the team.

“Well-deserved, and we’re all pretty happy for him, for sure,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said of Perron being voted into the All-Star game, per NHL.com. “It’s a nice thing for him, it really is. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. He’s been a real good player for us.”

If you’ve been following the NHL this season, you probably know about the year he’s having. What you might not know about Perron, is that he currently leads the NHL in game-winning goals (he’s scored eight). Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is right behind him (7), but for now the veteran has the edge in that category.

He’s picked up the game-winning tally in two of his team’s last three games, but he hadn’t had one since Nov. 9.

Perron has also scored a goal in four consecutive games.

What’s coming up this week?
• The Battle of New York twice, Rangers vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET and Thu. Jan. 16, 7 p.m. ET
Matthew Tkachuk vs. Brady Tkachuk, Sat. Jan. 18, 4 p.m. ET
Max Pacioretty goes back to Montreal, Sat. Jan. 18, 7 p.m. ET
Artemi Panarin revenge game: Blue Jackets vs. Rangers, Sun. Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Blues, Wed. Jan. 15, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Wild vs. Penguins, Tue. Jan. 14, 7 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Wild, Thu. Jan. 16, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBC
• Bruins vs. Penguins, Sun. Jan. 19, 12:30 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.

Full 2020 NHL All-Star Game rosters with Perron, Oshie, Marner, Hughes added

2020 NHL All-Star Game rosters Marner Oshie Hughes Perron added
Getty

The 2020 NHL All-Star Game rosters are now complete after the four “last men in” were accounted for.

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner became the final addition to the Atlantic Division’s side. David Perron of the St. Louis Blues represents the Central’s last member. Speaking of All-Star Game host St. Louis, it should be a special time for former Blues forward T.J. Oshie. The Washington Capitals forward is the last man in for the Metro. Finally, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes continues his impressive rookie season as the Pacific rep.

Again, it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if Oshie received a warm welcome from Blues fans.

“We all know he wants to go,” Capitals teammate Nicklas Backstrom said of Oshie, via the AP. “Especially it’s his former hometown too, St. Louis. That would be something special for him.”

Fans cast more than 18 million votes, with a maximum of 10 ballots permitted per user. (Somewhere, Rory Fitzpatrick felt a tingle.)

To refresh your memory, the four divisional teams engage in a tournament with three games over two rounds. Defense is even more optional than usual with a 3-on-3 format. St. Louis hosts NHL All-Star Weekend from Jan. 24-25, and you’ll be able to watch the fun on NBCSN.

[Pass or Fail? 2020 NHL All-Star Game jerseys]

Full rosters for 2020 NHL All-Star Game

Check out the full rosters for the four division-based teams. Asterisks denote fan-elected captains.

(Reminder: some players elected to skip the festivities. The NHL found Alex Ovechkin‘s absence especially irritating.)

2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend Rosters

Atlantic Division (All-Star Appearance)

F          *David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd)

G          Tuukka Rask, BOS (2nd)

F          Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)

F          Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)

F          Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)

D          Shea Weber, MTL (7th)

F          Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)

D          Victor Hedman, TBL (2nd)

G          Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)

F          Mitch Marner, TOR (1st)

F          Auston Matthews, TOR (4th)

Central Division (All-Star Appearance)

F          Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)

F          *Nathan MacKinnon, COL (3rd)

F          Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)

F          Eric Staal, MIN (6th)

D          Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)

F          Ryan O’Reilly, STL (3rd)

G          Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)

F          David Perron, STL (1st)

D          Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)

G          Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)

F          Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)

Metropolitan Division (All-Star Appearance)

D          Dougie Hamilton, CAR (1st)

D          Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)

F          Kyle Palmieri, NJD (2nd)

F          Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)

F          Artemi Panarin, NYR (1st)

F          Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)

G          Tristan Jarry, PIT (1st)

D          Kris Letang, PIT (6th)

D          John Carlson, WSH (2nd)

G          Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)

F          T.J. Oshie, WSH (1st)

Pacific Division (All-Star Appearance)

G          Darcy Kuemper, ARI (1st)

F          Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)

D          Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)

F          *Connor McDavid, EDM (4th)

F          Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)

F          Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)

F          Max Pacioretty, VGK (1st)

F          Tomas Hertl, SJS (1st)

D          Quinn Hughes, VAN (1st)

F          Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)

G          Jacob Markstrom, VAN (1st)

*Fan-elected captain

Fans who enjoy complaining about “snubs” can have it now. Enjoy?

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.

Max Pacioretty, Tomas Hertl added to 2020 NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game
Getty Images

The NHL announced a couple of changes for the Pacific Division roster for the 2020 All-Star Game on Friday afternoon.

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl and Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty have both been added to the game as replacements.

Hertl is replacing San Jose teammate Logan Couture, who will be sidelined several weeks due to an ankle injury.

Pacioretty is going in place of Anahein Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

The league announced on Monday that Silfverberg has been excused from the game due to the imminent birth of his child. This leaves the Ducks with no current representative in the game. Silfverberg will also not have to miss any regular season games because his absence from the All-Star weekend is excused.

Pacioretty was Vegas’ representative in the Last Men In vote, and will now be their only representative in the game. Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named to the initial roster, but has since withdrawn from the game. He was replaced by Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom.

Pacioretty’s bounce back year

This will be Pacioretty’s first ever appearance in an All-Star game, which is kind of surprising given how productive he has been throughout his career. During his peak he was one of the league’s best goal-scorers before going through a bit of a decline the previous two seasons.

This year, though, all of that production is back.

He is in the middle of one of the best offensive seasons of his career and has been one of the best forwards in the NHL. As of Friday he already has 20 goals and 45 total points in the Golden Knights’ first 47 games, while also posting dominant possession numbers. Those numbers have him on a 35-goal, 78-point pace for the season.

Hertl one of Sharks’ few bright spots this season

Hertl will also be appearing in his first ever All-Star Game.

After a slow start that saw him go pointless in his first five games, Hertl has since bounced back and produced at the level the Sharks expected. As of Friday he has 15 goals and 34 total points in 42 games and is one of the few players on the Sharks’ roster that has not been a disappointment this season.

Hertl was also a candidate for the Last Men In vote before being added to the roster.

The NHL All-Star weekend will take place on January 24-25 in St. Louis.

More All-Star Roster Changes

Alex Ovechkin will not play in All-Star Game 
Kris Letang, Tristan Jarry added to All-Star Rosters
Fleury withdraws, Markstrom added

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.

Max Pacioretty on pace for career-best season in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Max Pacioretty is putting on an offensive showcase for the Vegas Golden Knights this season.

The 31-year-old forward leads the team in points (44) and goals scored (19); he ranks second with 25 assists. His career highs are 67 points, 34 assists and 39 goals.

His offensive flow has also meshed with linemate Mark Stone and helped spark the Golden Knights to the top of the Pacific Division after they dropped as low as sixth place earlier this season. Following Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh – in which Pacioretty scored – the Knights are on a 15-7-3 run since Nov. 17 and their 33 points in that span are tied for second in the NHL with the Penguins.

Pacioretty has had a lot to do with that, and he’s certainly played like an All-Star even though he didn’t make the All-Star roster.

The 12-year veteran said the difference between his first two campaigns in Vegas can be traced to the last two summers.

When trade rumors were swirling in 2018, he hung around Montreal the entire summer with one foot out the door while awaiting word on where he might be going. Thus, he didn’t get to follow his usual training regimen. The Canadiens didn’t trade him to the Golden Knights until the second week of September that year, and he was thrust into training camp to get acclimated to his new teammates.

After battling through injuries, he had just 22 goals and 18 assists in 66 games last season.

After the Golden Knights were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, Pacioretty got in his comfort zone and went back to work on his body.

“(Last) summer, I was able to go back to Connecticut and get back with my longtime trainer and I have noticed a big difference on the ice,” Pacioretty said. “Feel more explosive, a lot stronger and I think that’s contributed a lot to my game as well. Going back there this summer was a good feeling once I got on the ice. Obviously, you don’t want to get too stale during the summer.”

Pacioretty said he and his trainer have followed the same program throughout his NHL career, one that revolves around two strength days and two power days, all working toward his on-ice explosiveness. Strength days work on building a good foundation and solid base, while power days include sled work and high-volume lifting – all contributing to the development of power and quickness in his legs.

“Building that foundation with the strength is important and it allows you to build that power later in the summer and that speed once you get on the ice,” Pacioretty said.

Which has been evident all season, as he’s been less physical during scrums, and more concentrated on gathering loose pucks and creating scoring chances for his team. He acknowledged that during his first season with Vegas he was much more physical on the boards, taking unnecessary shots when he could have been aiming for possession first. Now, rather than “just try and crush someone and get the fans into the game,” he’s played efficient hockey nearly every game.

“Right now I’m trying to contribute offensively,” he said. “It’s more important to have the puck than to try to put another guy through the glass.”

His change in style, and the results on the stat sheet, have also had effects in the locker room and rubbed off on his teammates.

“He’s a great leader on and off the ice for us,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland. “He’s playing the way we want him to play. He’s just like everyone else in this locker room. Everyone’s equal in here. It’s just extremely fun to watch him play.”