Nikolaj Ehlers

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders
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The Buzzer: Varlamov, Islanders get shutout; McDavid dazzles

Three Stars

1) Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers captain made you forget about his three-assist performance with a spectacular goal of his own in the third period of Edmonton’s 6-4 win against Toronto. McDavid danced around Morgan Rielly and then fooled Michael Hutchinson with a nifty deke. It is always something special to see one of the NHL’s brightest stars finish a sequence by utilizing his creativity and high-end skill.

2) Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

The Islanders needed a win at home after dropping four straight games at Nassau Coliseum. They relied on stellar goaltending and commitment to defense to shut down the high-flying Avalanche and pick up a 1-0 win. Varlamov made 32 saves, including 12 in the third period in his first game against his former team since signing a four-year deal with New York this summer. It was only the second time Colorado was shut out this season.

3) Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Blake Wheeler did the right thing by dishing the puck to Ehlers on a shorthanded 2-on-0 opportunity. Ehlers created a neutral zone turnover due to an active stick, then the Jets captain rewarded him for the extra effort. The Danish winger also added an assist in the Jets’ 3-2 victory over the Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

McDavid is in a world of his own

Carey Price denies Kyle Connor’s point-blank attempt

Blooper of the Night

Derick Brassard made sure Anders Lee didn’t lose his mouthguard during his celebration

Stats of the Night

NHL Scores

Edmonton Oilers 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

Winnipeg Jets 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

New York Islanders 1, Colorado Avalanche 0

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

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

Five most underrated stars heading into 2020

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Like in all sports, the NHL has some players that are both overrated and underrated. Players might fall into either category because of where they play, which players they play with or their personalities both during interviews and on social media.

Today, we don’t want to focus on calling out players for being overrated, so we’ll stick to pointing out who some of the less appreciated superstars are across the league. Keep in mind, these players may be appreciated in their own market, but they could stand to get a little more attention league-wide.

Jonathan Huberdeau – LW – Florida Panthers

Only now is Huberdeau starting to grab major headlines across the league. The 26-year-old probably had one of the quietest 90-plus point seasons you’ll ever see last year (he had 92 in 82 games), and he’s on pace to smash that number at the midway point of this season.

It wasn’t too long ago that teammate Aleksander Barkov would’ve been at the top of this list, but he’s received enough national love that he’s appropriately considered to be one of the premiere two-way centers in the game. Now, it’s Huberdeau’s turn to get some love.

The Panthers forward currently has 17 goals and 55 points in 40 games, which puts him on pace to score 113 points this season. That’s a big number. Will he hit it? Time will tell, but he’s off to an amazing start. As of right now, only five players have more points than Huberdeau. They are: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. That’s it.

In his case, the reason he’s so underrated is probably because of the market he plays in. No disrespect to Florida, but a lot of their players will fly under the radar because it’s not a traditional hockey market.

Mark Scheifele – C – Winnipeg Jets

In terms of their home hockey markets, Huberdeau and Scheifele couldn’t be in more different situations. We’ve touched on Florida already, but Winnipeg is just the opposite. The fans in Winnipeg are loud, passionate and plentiful. Scheifele is likely rated appropriately in Winnipeg, but he seems to fly under-the-radar compared to some of his teammates.

For instance, when you think of the Jets, the first current player that pops into your mind in probably Patrik Laine. They also have Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers. In previous seasons, they’ve also had Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien. So it’s easy to see why Scheifele might not get as much attention as he deserves.

The 26-year-old has been a point-per-game player in each of the last three seasons. This year, he’s on pace to have the best offensive season of his career. He’s already accumulated 19 goals and 46 points in just 41 games. If you project those numbers over 82 contests, you get 38 goals and 92 points. Not too shabby.

Jake Guentzel – LW – Pittsburgh Penguins

Again, this is a situation where the people in Pittsburgh probably realize how good Guentzel has been this season, but there’s still a lot of fans out there that think he’s only a product of Sidney Crosby‘s success.

Before suffering a shoulder injury earlier this week that ended his regular season, Guentzel was lighting it up for the Pens. It took the 25-year-old just 39 games to hit the 20-goal mark and he was also on pace to have the first 90-plus point season of his career. Oh, by the way, he put up a lot of those numbers while Crosby was injured.

How many people realized that he had 40 goals last year? He was on pace to surpass that number, too.

Playing with Crosby has helped pump up other players’ numbers in the past, so it’s easy to understand why some would be skeptical about Guentzel’s abilities without him. The reality is that he’s morphed into a very important player for his team and hopefully he’s able to make a full recovery from his surgery in four-to-six months.

This is a classic case of being underrated because of the superstars around you.

Teuvo Teravainen – C – Carolina Hurricanes

Teravainen is on this list because of the market he’s in. The Hurricanes hit a grand slam when they acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks along with Bryan Bickell. In exchange, all they gave up was second and third-round draft picks.

Since joining the ‘Canes, Teravainen has seen his point totals increase every year and he’s on pace to do that again in 2020. He went from having 42 points in year one to 64 points, 76 points and he’s picked up 40 points in his first 40 contests. His advanced numbers are even more impressive. When he’s on the ice, his team controls 59.94 percent of the shot attempts, 55.51 percent of the expected goals for and 55.05 percent of the high-danger scoring chances.

Understandably, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov will grab more of the headlines because of their scoring ability, but Teravainen is a huge part of Carolina’s success. He’s also averaging a career-high 19:22 of ice time this year.

He has four years remaining on a contract that will pay him $5.4 million per season. That’s a bargain.

Max Pacioretty – LW – Vegas Golden Knights

Pacioretty had some terrific seasons in Montreal despite never playing with an elite center. The 31-year-old managed to put up seasons of 33, 39, 37, 30 and 35 goals while with the Habs, but his last two seasons haven’t lived up to expectations. Now, in his second year with Vegas, he appears to have found his groove.

Now, he’s playing with the best linemates he’s ever had (Paul Stastny and Mark Stone) and his numbers are starting to reflect that he’s comfortable in his second year with the Golden Knights. Pacioretty has picked up 18 goals and 43 points in his first 44 games. That puts him on pace for a career-high 81 points.

As his tenure with the Canadiens came to a close, it was clear that wearing the “C” in hockey-mad Montreal was weighing on him. The fresh start in Vegas has done wonders for his career.

Whether you realized it or not, he was one of the best goal scorers of the last decade.

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.

Jets center Little hospitalized after being struck by puck

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Winnipeg Jets forward Bryan Little remained hospitalized Wednesday, a day after being struck near the ear by a puck.

Little was skating behind the net midway through the third period in a 2-1 home loss to New Jersey when teammate Nikolaj Ehlers fired a rising slap shot from the point. The puck hit Little on his left side and he fell to the ice, putting his head in his hands as blood dripped.

The Jets said Wednesday that Little was taken to St. Boniface Hospital and needed 25-30 stitches to close a cut, then was transferred to the Health Sciences Centre’s neurological unit for further observation.

The team said the 31-year-old center was alert at all times and in good spirits Wednesday morning. Little has two goals and three assists in seven games after sitting out the first nine of the season because of a concussion.

The Buzzer: Starting NHL season on a high note — or falling over

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Three Stars

1. Mika ZibanejadRangers

If there’s a single player whose recent work has been lost in the shuffle of New York’s recent plummet, it’s Zibanejad. It’s still kind of hard to believe that the Senators really traded him for Derick Brassard.

There was a lot of scoring in New York’s home win against Winnipeg, and while Artemi Panarin had a nice debut, Zibanejad led the way, scoring one goal and three assists. He also fired seven shots on goal and even blocked two shots.

This could be a big season for Zibanejad, one that makes it impossible to ignore his brilliance — even if the Rangers experience a lot of peaks and valleys.

Fittingly, a lot of other players had big nights in that slugfest, including Jacob Trouba against his former team. Trouba generated a goal and two assists, managing three SOG and two blocked shots.

2. Nikolaj Ehlers, Jets

Good thing Winnipeg didn’t lose this guy in the offseason, as Ehlers topped a lot of wishlists for other fans dreaming of the Jets making a reckless trade. After all, Ehlers had a tough postseason, and if Kevin Cheveldayoff channeled his inner Peter Chiarelli, that might have inspired an overreaction.

This ended up being a good day for Kevin to take off.

Ehlers produced three assists on Thursday, also shooting with abandon (eight SOG). Impressively, all three of Ehlers assists were of the primary variety. If you prefer, you might instead choose linemate Blake Wheeler, who scored two goals on nine SOG.

There are plenty of other nights worth noting, including those of Mikko Rantanen and Conor Sheary, who managed two goals apiece for their respective teams.

3. Matt DuchenePredators

Quite a debut for Duchene.

The speedy center managed an impressive three assists, thwarted from a fourth thanks to a great stop by Devan Dubnyk. It’s quite possible that Duchene could form a fantastic top line with Mikael Granlund and Filip Forsberg. That trio created a lot of offense, and Nashville looks like it could have a winning balance.

Duchene only generated one SOG and “only” went 10-10 on draws, but it was an impressive performance.

Mikhail Sergachev ranks among the better honorable mentions with three assists of his own.

Highlight of the Night

While Dubnyk’s save might be the most impressive moment of Thursday, it was already covered here, and the Wild still lost to the Predators. So let’s honor a runner-up: sensational Sabres sophomore Rasmus Dahlin burned multiple Penguins for a tremendous goal in Buffalo’s 3-1 win. Dahlin shows the sort of hands you don’t normally see from a defenseman, even a very good one:

Blooper of the Night

The Rangers won a wild game against the Jets 6-4 on Thursday, but Lias Andersson didn’t get off to the greatest start, thanks to a pesky cord:

Factoids

Scores

TBL 5 – FLA 2
NYR 6 – WIN 4
BUF 3 – PIT 1
CAR 4 – MTL 3 (SO)
NSH 5 – MIN 2
BOS 2 – DAL 1
COL 5 – CGY 3
ANA 2 – ARI 1

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Jets’ turbulent offseason capped with injuries to Little, Beaulieu

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Few teams come into the very beginning of the 2019-20 season quite as bruised and bewildered as the Winnipeg Jets.

After a tough end to last season that included a Round 1 exit, the Jets absorbed body blows that were more than just flesh wounds during the offseason. They waved goodbye to some key players from rental Kevin Hayes to defensive mainstays including Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Things were bumpy, to say the least, with Patrik Laine, from ambivalent comments about his future, not-so-kind comments about linemates such as Bryan Little, and finally a very short-term truce with the team via a two-year deal. There was also uncertainty with Kyle Connor until he signed a lengthy pact. If that wasn’t all enough, Dustin Byfuglien is contemplating retirement, and didn’t exactly give the Jets a ton of notice about what’s either a soul-searching sojourn or the end of a truly unique NHL career.

After all the corny (yet inevitable) “day off” jokes that once followed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, one couldn’t blame the executive if he felt both relieved and exhausted as the season merely begins.

Unfortunately, the hits kept coming in the final days of an offseason that rarely felt like time off.

The Jets provided two unfortunate bits of injury news on Tuesday, as the team announced that Little is out indefinitely with a concussion, while defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is IR-bound with an upper-body injury that’s expected to sideline him for about four weeks. Both injuries happened during what ended up being a very costly 4-1 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild.

(This Luke Kunin hit injured Little, and Scott Billeck reports for the Winnipeg Sun that head coach Paul Maurice was understandably unhappy about it.)

All of these injuries, free agent losses, and Byfuglien-sized curveballs create some massive craters in the Jets’ lineup, which is troubling since Winnipeg looked so wobbly at times last season, even with the likes of Trouba in the mix. Money Puck’s month-to-month expected goals chart presented their plummeting play in a dramatic way:

Some of those months were without Byfuglien, but again, with Trouba. Taking Ben Chiarot and Beaulieu out of an already troubled group slices up that defense even more.

Meanwhile, the Little injury stacks the deck against Maurice and the Jets, too.

The team shared line rushes that would include Andrew Copp as a second-line center, with Adam Lowry possibly as the 3C.

That doesn’t inspire the highest level of confidence, although maybe this is a time where Maurice should be more willing to experiment. While this would be out of necessity, you never know when you might find different things that work, possibly giving you a Plan B (to Z!) for when matchups become tougher during playoff skirmishes.

What if Jack Roslovic could thrive in a 2C or 3C role? Is it possible that breaking up Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele could benefit the likes of Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers? Considering his traditionally impressive possession stats, would Mathieu Perreault be worth a look at one of those center spots, too?

It’s possible that none of those alignments would be optimal, but you don’t need to look too hard to see that these aren’t the most optimal times for the Jets.

Again, though, sometimes bigger challenges bring out the best in players. In the past, it might have felt like the Jets had a luxurious surplus of talent, maybe allowing some to believe – consciously or subconsciously – that they could “flip the switch” and turn things around, even with red flags waving.

Under the current circumstances, they’re going to depend on not just Scheifele and Wheeler, but also Laine, Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Connor Hellebuyck. Without pressure, you can’t get diamonds, and so maybe that thought will serve as the Jets’ silver lining.

Because, frankly, there are some uncomfortable forces bearing down on them as the season begins.

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

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.