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 the Rangers — 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.

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

NHL All-Star Game
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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.”

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.

The Buzzer: Nylander keeps Maple Leafs rolling; Canucks make it 6 in a row

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. Following a restricted free agent contract dispute and a down 2018-19 performance, Nylander became a popular target for criticism in Toronto. Not anymore. He continued what is turning out to be a massive breakout season on Thursday night by scoring two more goals and adding an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 6-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Maple Leafs are now 14-4-1 under new coach Sheldon Keefe and 8-0-1 in their past nine games. Nylander has 19 goals and 38 total points in 41 games this season. That puts him on a pace for 38 goals and 76 points over 82 games. That level of production makes his $6 million cap hit a bargain.

2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon got the Avalanche rolling with a late first period goal and never slowed down as the cruised to a huge 7-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. He recorded his fourth four-point game of the season, most in the NHL. It is his ninth since the start of the 2017-18 season, tied for second-most in the league (behind only Nikita Kucherov) during that stretch. Read more about the Avalanche’s big win here.

3. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Miller continues to be a massive addition to the Canucks’ lineup and helped them win their sixth game in a row with his second four-point game of the season. He opened the scoring with an early first period goal, then added three assists, including the lone assist on Adam Gaudette‘s game winning goal in a wild 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He has at least one point in five of the Canucks’ six games during this streak and continues to help push them toward a playoff spot. They paid a steep price to get him, but he has been worth it so far.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ overtime goal against the Boston Bruins helped the Columbus Blue Jackets improved to 8-0-4 in their past 12 games.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 shots to help the Tampa Bay Lightning pick up a huge 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau remained hot and Evgeni Dadonov had three points as the Florida Panthers used a four-goal second period to storm by the Ottawa Senators.
  • Brent Burns scored an overtime goal and Aaron Dell made 36 saves to help the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • All 12 Arizona Coyotes forwards recorded a point in their 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Max Pacioretty continued to be a dominant force for the Vegas Golden Knights as he scored two more goals in their 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Johnny Gadreau had a goal and an assist for the Calgary Flames as they beat the New York Rangers.

Highlights of the Night

It did not result in a win, but Patrik Laine finished with 13 shots on goal for the Winnipeg Jets and scored this beauty of a goal after turning Morgan Rielly inside out.

Thanks to this beauty of a Nico Hischier goal the New Jersey Devils were able to win their third game in a row. It is their first three-game winning streak of the season. Read all about it here.

Jack Eichel helps the Buffalo Sabres get a huge win by scoring the game-winning goal on a penalty shot in overtime.

Blooper of the Night

This is only a blooper in the sense that it should NEVER HAPPEN if you are the New York Rangers. They allowed Calgary’s Mikael Backlund to score a shorthanded goal in a 3-on-5 situation. That was the difference in a 4-3 Flames win.

Factoids

  • Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau became 12th, 13th, and 14th players in NHL history to play in four different decades in their NHL careers. [NHL PR]
  • David Pastrnak is the first Bruins player since Cam Neely during the 1993-94 season to score his 30th goal in 42 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • With his assist on Brent Burns’ overtime goal, Joe Thornton collected the 1,080th assist of his career to move him into sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Boston Bruins 1 (OT)
Buffalo Sabres 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
New Jersey Devils 2, New York Islanders 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 6, Ottawa Senators 3
Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Winnipeg Jets 3
Calgary Flames 4, New York Rangers 3
Arizona Coyotes 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
Colorado Avalanche 7, St. Louis Blues 3
Vancouver Canucks 7, Chicago Blackhawks 5
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4

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.