I was having a difficult time deciding what to write about this week, but then Wednesday night happened, and three performances struck me like a lightning bolt. Those three players are the future of the NHL, and the NHL front offices likely couldn’t have been happier. But, just in case you are wondering, I'm going to talk about those three rising stars.
First and foremost, let's talk about Auston Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs first-round draft pick from the 2016 Entry Draft. Yes, the Leafs lost games in overtime, but that’s not what the western hemisphere was talking about. It was the four-goal performance in his first game in the NHL, and the way Matthews scored those goals is what was impressive. Granted Ottawa was one of the worst puck possession teams in the league last year, and look like they plan on repeating this year. But, no player in the Modern Era has scored four goals in his first NHL game. Four players since 1943-44 have scored three goals in their first game: Alex Smart (Montreal Canadians, 1943), Real Cloutier (Quebec Nordiques, 1979), Fabian Brunnstrom (Dallas Stars, 2008) and Derek Stepan (New York Rangers, 2010), while Joe Malone and Harry Hyland scored five each 99 years ago in 1917. I know every game will not be this easy for Matthews. Or will it?
Connor McDavid gave us a taste in his rookie season last year with 48 points over 45 games during an injury-shortened year. Connor took off right where he left us last year with a two-goal and one-assist dismantling of the Calgary Flames and their new goaltender Brian Elliott. I had to secretly purchase the NHL package so my wife wouldn’t behead me to watch this game, and I was loving it (In general, I’m a huge fan of the Canadian teams, except Vancouver, so the Battle of Alberta was tops on my viewing list for Opening Night). McDavid scored twice over 2:20 minutes in the second period to seal the deal on the Flames. This included a rebound off the end boards from an Andrej Sekera shot that lifted over sprawling goaltender Brian Elliott and a penalty shot with which McDavid absolutely undressed Elliott. Such moves make goalies wake up with cold sweats in the middle of the night, and I’m expecting McDavid to continue his scoring and growing this season.
Vladimir Tarasenko was the third star of the night as the Blues opened the season beating the Chicago Blackhawks on the road. The game was much closer than the 5-2 score indicates, with the Blues scoring two empty netters in the closing minutes. Tarasenko got the first, but it was the Blues power play that was clicking last night with Vlad leading the charge. Two penalties in 37 seconds by Artem Anisimov and Jonathan Toews gave the Blues two 5-on-3 advantages, and that’s when Tarasenko buried a blistering snapshot from the right face-off circle. The way he set the whole play up and finished it showed a leader in the making. Vlad is starting his fourth full season in the NHL, and he's one of the future stars. Well, he is already a star, but he will get better.
So, what should we watch on Friday night and Saturday?
On Friday night, the Battle of Alberta switches venues as the teams head south to Calgary to continue this awesome rivalry. Expect more of the same, with goals, goals, and more goals since both teams are defensively inept. Chicago heads to Nashville for their first game of the season and the long awaited P.K. Subban debut, and the Philadelphia Flyers head cross country to play the now weak in goal L.A. Kings, with Jonathan Quick hurt in their opening game. Fantasy owners should grab Jeff Zatkoff until things clear up, and pray for a Quick recovery.
My DFS picks will be up this weekend, and I feel good that I knocked a few outta the park Wednesday with Martin Jones, Connor McDavid and Erik Karlsson.