By: Matt Weller
The first month of the NHL season has offered quite a few surprises, including a few resurgent teams leading their divisions for the first time in a while. Let’s break down the biggest surprises of the season thus far:
Rangers Pacing the NHL
Coming off a dismantling in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the eventual champion Penguins, Rangers President Glen Sather and GM Jeff Gorton went to work on rebuilding their forward group. First, the group shipped veteran center Derick Brassard to Ottawa in exchange for former first-round pick Mika Zibanejad. Then, the team landed prized college free agent Jimmy Vesey. Both acquisitions were made to bring more speed to the lineup, as Gorton recognized the Rangers inability to keep up with Pittsburgh last May. Needless to say, the moves have paid off so far. Through 17 games, the Rangers are second in the NHL with 26 points, and their 72 goals easily rank first in the league. Their possession numbers rank middle of the pack, but when a team is shooting 14% and has one of the best goaltenders of all-time, that doesn’t matter much.
Have the Oilers arrived?
Everyone knew Connor McDavid was going to be good, but not many expected him to be this good, this soon. McDavid’s 19 points leads the Oilers and is good for fifth in the NHL. Did I mention he’s still a teenager? McDavid’s continued development has propelled the Oilers toward a playoff spot, as Edmonton has kept pace with Anaheim and San Jose atop the Pacific Division. The defense and goaltending are still a concern, the Oilers still rank in the bottom 10 in shots and goals against, but the team has generated offense as well as any team in the league. With the giants of the Pacific Division all off to a slow start, 2016 may be the year the Oilers finally return to the playoffs.
Laine vs. Matthews
While Connor McDavid has had a wonderful start to the season, he’s not the only teenager impressing right now. First overall pick Auston Matthews announced his arrival in grand fashion with four goals in his NHL debut and his presence, along with the emergence of former top pick Mitchell Marner, has pulled the Leafs out of the NHL’s cellar. There will be growing pains with Matthews, the rookie has just 2 points in his last 11 games, but its quite clear the Maple Leafs have found their franchise cornerstone. Meanwhile in Winnipeg, second overall pick Patrik Laine is trying to become the first rookie to ever win the Rocket Richard Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goal scorer. Laine has found interesting chemistry with NHL points leader Mark Scheifele, as the two have combined to be the NHL’s most dynamic duo thus far. Laine possesses an incredible shot, one that prompted comparisons to Alex Ovechkin. Not bad at all for an 18-year-old.
Shea Weber a Perfect Fit in Montreal
One of the biggest stories of the off-season was the shocking trade that sent Shea Weber from Nashville to Montreal in exchange for P.K. Subban. Montreal drew a ton of criticism for the trade, as Subban is younger and without a contract that carries into his age-40 season. Weber has made all that criticism look plain foolish thus far, however, as the veteran rearguard is tied for the NHL lead at +16, and is tied for fourth among defensemen with 13 points. His strong play, along with the dominant goaltending of Carey Price, has led the Canadians to a league-high 28 points and the league’s second-best goal differential.