Bryan Bickell

Five great NHL performances sneaking under the radar this season

On Friday we looked at five players having slow starts this season and are no doubt looking for a fresh start with the new year.

Now we want to look at some players on the other end of the spectrum.

Players that have enjoyed great starts and are not really getting much attention for it.

1. Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes acquisition of Teravainen is one of the great steals of the decade.

All it cost was a couple of draft picks and the ability to take Bryan Bickell’s contract off Chicago’s hands.

In the years since, Teravainen has become one of the most important core players on one of the league’s best up-and-coming teams. Sebastian Aho is the superstar and Andrei Svechnikov makes the highlights, but Teravainen is the one helping drive the bus to success.

He scores at a top-line rate, is one of the best possession drivers among all NHL forwards, and is one of the most overlooked, impactful players in the league. How good is he at dictating the pace of play? When he is on the ice at 5-on-5, the Hurricanes give up just 46 total shot attempts per 60 minutes and controlling more than 60 percent of the total attempts. Both are best in the league.

You know who could really use a 25-year-old top-line forward signed to a cap-friendly deal for the next five years? The Blackhawks.

2. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks raised a lot of eyebrows over the summer when they traded a future first-round pick to Tampa Bay for Miller. He is a fine player, but did not seem to be enough to move the needle much in their rebuild. And given where there the team has finished in the standings the past few years there is always the possibility that draft pick could be very high.

But so far Miller has been a perfect fit for the Canucks and is putting together a career year.

Entering play on Friday he is on track to shatter all of his career highs offensively with underlying numbers that place him among the league’s elite forwards. His shot-attempt and expected goal differentials are both in the top-10 league wide.

He spends a significant chunk of his ice-time playing on a line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, and that certainly helps his cause, but there’s a lot to be said for being able to establish a chemistry with top-line players and take advantage of your minutes. Miller is doing exactly that.

3. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

At his peak Pacioretty was one of the most dangerous goal scoring forwards and one of the biggest salary cap steals in the league, and I don’t know that Montreal ever fully appreciated what they had with him. When they traded him to Vegas before the 2018-19 season they did so at a time where his career seemed to be heading toward its downward decline. But he is showing this season that he still has some elite hockey left, even after turning 31 in November.

He is in the middle of one of the most productive seasons of his career and is currently on pace for his first 30-goal season in three years. He is also producing at a near point-per-game clip, has the highest shot rate of his career, and is leading the Golden Knights — a top contender in the Western Conference — in every meaningful offensive category.

4. Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers

Provorov’s restricted free agent situation this past summer was one of the most intriguing ones in the league. The Flyers have used him like a top-pairing defender, but he has not always performed like one. Despite that, they still committed to him with a six-year, $40.5 million contract.

If he performs like the Flyers hope he can and expect him to perform, it’s a steal.

If he does not, it becomes a problem.

So far this season the former situation has played out. He’s been great for a Flyers team that has exceeded expectations and is hanging around in a wildly competitive division.

He is excelling offensively and has been the Flyers’ top performing defensive defenseman across the board.

5. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators

Duclair is only 24 years old. He has top-six talent and was at one time a highly regarded prospect and the centerpiece of the trade that sent Keith Yandle from Arizona to New York. He has played more than 320 games at the NHL level and for his career has averaged a 20-goal pace per 82 games. And despite all of that, he is still playing for his fifth different organization in six years.

A lot of teams missed here (one badly) and right now Ottawa is benefitting from it.

Duclair is one of the bright spots in what is yet another dismal season of Senators hockey and with 20 goals in 36 games has already matched his career high and is on pace for 45 goals this season. The only players with more goals entering play on Friday are David Pastrnak, Jack Eichel, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Sebastian Aho, and Leon Draisaitl.

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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.

Under Pressure: Stan Bowman

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Stan Bowman knew there’d be much change to his hockey club this summer and, as a result, much work to be done.

Wonder if he thought there’d be this much, though.

To recap…

Out: Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Antti Raanta, Kimmo Timonen.

In: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin, Artemi Panarin, Viktor Tikhonov.

And Bowman isn’t even done yet.

According to war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks are nearly $400K over the $71.4 million salary cap, with the likes of ace penalty killer Marcus Kruger and fellow depth checker Joakim Nordstrom still requiring new deals. Kruger’s said he’s willing to sit and wait for an extension and Bowman suggested he’d like to get it signed before training camp, which means the ‘Hawks will have to shed some bucks within the next three weeks or so.

So, how will they do it?

Bryan Bickell, he of the $4 million average annual cap hit — and multiple healthy scratches during the playoffs — has been bandied about as potential trade bait. The club could also try and do something with Kris Versteeg ($2.2M cap hit).

Or maybe Bowman makes a move he doesn’t want to make.

That was the situation earlier this summer with Saad, when the ‘Hawks were forced to move their promising young power forward to Columbus because the dollars didn’t make sense. Remember, Bowman was at one point very adamant he’d get a deal done with Saad — vowing to keep him in Chicago “for years to come” — only to later realize it wasn’t going to work within the budget.

Bowman’s financial pressure isn’t solely about getting under the cap to start the year, either. The ‘Hawks are built to contend, which means there should be some room for potential acquisitions during the season, most notably at the deadline.

Then, there’s the biggest wildcard of all — the Patrick Kane situation.

Unlike the other dilemmas he’s faced, Bowman has virtually zero control over how this one plays out; there’s no timeline for the ongoing police investigation and no clear picture on what would happen should Kane be charged.

All of which makes for a stressful lead-up to the season. Bowman’s got his hands full.

Agent: Kruger ‘will be patient’ with Chicago’s cap situation

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One of the Blackhawks’ top defensive specialists will continue to twist in the wind.

On Monday, Marcus Kruger’s agent, J.P. Barry, told the Chicago Tribune his client is prepared to remain unsigned until GM Stan Bowman figures out the team’s cap situation.

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In an email to the Tribune on Monday, Barry wrote that “we will be patient” while Bowman looks for ways to make room.

As a restricted free agent who did not receive an offer sheet from another team, Kruger does not have many options. Barry said if the cap space does not become available in the next month or so, Kruger “will have no choice later in August but to do a shorter deal.”

Kruger, 25, didn’t file for arbitration in the hope of trying to secure a long-term deal in Chicago.

Though hardly an offensive dynamo — he scored seven goals and 17 points in 81 games last season, then four more in 23 playoff games — Kruger is a key contributor both defensively and on the penalty kill; no Blackhawks forward had more shorthanded ice time during the postseason, and no forward blocked more shots (20).

Per war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks are roughly $400,000 over the $71.4 million salary cap, and are able to remain a maximum of 10 percent over during the offseason.

It’s been rumored the club is trying to jettison Bryan Bickell and his $4 million cap hit, but has yet to find any takers.

Dental issue likely cause of Bickell’s Cup Final vertigo

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Bryan Bickell knew it wasn’t a concussion, but he didn’t know what was keeping him out of the lineup at the most important time of the year.

It was eventually revealed that the Chicago Blackhawks forward was dealing with vertigo. He missed the opening two games of the Stanley Cup Final, returned for Game 3, and then wasn’t used for the remainder of the series.

Over the summer he discovered the likely explanation for why he was having so much trouble: He had an infection from a tooth that needed to be pulled, per NHL.com’s Brian Hedger.

So that’s one mystery we can likely close to books on, but a very different question is lingering for Bickell. Will he be traded this summer? Given his $4 million annual cap hit and Chicago’s cap problems, he’s been a popular name in the rumor mill and it seems like he’s acutely aware of that.

Oduya won’t be back with Blackhawks: agent

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He wanted to stay, and they wanted to keep him.

Reality got in the way.

Per CSN Chicago, unrestricted free agent Johnny Oduya will not be back with the Chicago Blackhawks. The agent for the 33-year-old defenseman confirmed it Tuesday.

Oduya’s time in Chicago was all but officially ended when the ‘Hawks acquired veteran defender Trevor Daley from the Dallas Stars in the Patrick Sharp trade. With GM Stan Bowman unable to shed Bryan Bickell’s cap hit, and with RFA forward Marcus Kruger in need of a new deal, well, at least Oduya went out on a high note.

“We know the reality. This is what it is,” he said prior to the Stanley Cup Final. “You’ve got to take care of the time you have in front of you.”

Buffalo and Dallas are considered among the favorites to sign Oduya. His decision is expected to be made today.