As the NHL has officially passed the quarter-season mark, there have been more than a few pleasant surprises, and a few letdowns as well. Stats geeks often use this mark in the season to try and pre-determine postseason playoff possibilities, and fantasy player projections for the rest of the year.
Stat-wise, there have been a few players who have really caught my eye with their current play (and no, Connor McDavid is not one of them, though man he is so fast it just blows my mind). Comparing my pre-season top-25 rankings against today’s, some players do jump off the page, and not all in a good way.
Wayne Simmonds, always a physical player who could get the hard goal in traffic, has taken off this year and is on pace for over 40 markers. Wayne has an 18.1% shooting percentage, with five power play goals and one shorty, and is the main reason the Flyers are hovering around the .500 mark. Complete stat filler with PIM’s, blocks, and hits, 10 power play points out of his 22 total points. Also, Simmonds never leaves a goose egg in your DFS lineups.
Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg each have 20 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and are one of the more exciting tandems--and teams-- to watch lately. The Jackets are coming of age, and I give a lot of credit to top Defensemen Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and especially rookie Zach Werenski.
Owners who feel comfortable with the defensive players behind them are more apt to push the play and take a few more risks offensively knowing they’re covered. Atkinson and Wennberg along with former 30-goal scorer Nick Foligno (19 points) have been humming along, and have been absolute beasts at home. The Jackets have the league-best power play unit with a 27.78% success rate, rank 8th in Goals and 2nd in Goals Against, and the return of a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky has been key. I personally hope this continues. The Jackets fans have suffered too long and deserve some playoff success for once.
The defending Western Conference Champion Dallas Stars need to right their ship before it joins the Titanic, and not with an awful chick flick made about them. Their 61 goals is middle of the road thus far, but their 79 Goals Against is the glaring hole in the resume and is being exposed often. Dallas needs to find a legit netminder and a top four defenseman (who doesn’t?), and as awful as Colorado has played, Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov could be obtainable. Another possibility would be for GM Jim Nill to contact GM friend and cohort Steve Yzerman and see if Ben Bishop is available. The entire hockey world is waiting for this to happen anyway, so let's just get the suspense over with already. Otherwise, golf starts early in Dallas this spring.
The list of players that have been letdowns the first quarter is longer than my leg, but for the sake of being thorough, I’m going to name drop as many of these guys as possible. First of all, Joe Thornton isn’t playing badly for the San Jose Sharks, but his two goals are bad: both empty netters, so shoot already man! You are now the biggest UFA available on the upcoming market since teammate Brent Burns just became set for life, along with the next six generations of Burns’. Generous Joe, I know you love the pass, but be selfish, and just shoot the puck more than once every three games.
Boone Jenner: You are missing out on all the fun. Please find that 30-goal rhythm you had stroking last season. The Jackets, as mentioned, are lighting Columbus up right now better than three million solar panels, and seeing you join in the mayhem would be as fun as eating an entire key lime pie right now. With just two goals and four assists with a plus/minus -6 so far, you are one of the few headed in the wrong direction on an extraordinarily fun team to watch.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: You have better get it clicking too, sweet comrade. You’ve already lost your center spot gained from last season on the top line with cannon Ovechkin, and you do not want to lose that top power play time next, do you? Three goals and six assists might work in the KHL, but not here in the best league in the world, kiddo!
Jason Spezza: What happened man? Last season was so beautiful, and now it’s worse than bleached corals in Australia, with just four goals and five helpers and a whopping -12. Everyone but Tyler Seguin needs to step it up on the offensive side, and the entire team needs to tighten the reins on that train wreck team defense play. When 6’7” defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is making SportsCenter (which rarely covers hockey anymore) for using two toe drags and schooling the St. Louis Blues, things need to change.
A few more bums so far have been Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Drouin, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, David Backes and teammate Patrice Bergeron.
You can follow me @PolkaPat.