By: Brennen Krikorian
It has been an incredible start to the NHL season, as the first month of regular season hockey ends. We have already seen multiple Goal of the Year candidates, spectacular saves, and numerous surprises.
While it is hard to look at the first month of the season and believe that it has any indication of how the season will end, it is still intriguing to see how players and teams started their 2019-2020 campaigns.
With that, let’s take a look at some interesting stories and takeaways from the first month in the NHL.
Top Picks Off to Slow Starts
Many thought this past NHL draft was full of star-studded kids that will make an immediate impact in today’s game and will be superstars for the years to come.
Of course, at the top of that draft class is Jack Hughes, the first overall pick. Hughes was often compared to Patrick Kane, and Kaapo Kakko, the Finnish sensation who lit up the World Junior Championship, and was the preseason favorite to win the Calder Trophy.
However, after one month of being in the NHL, these two prized possessions seem non-existent on the ice.
Hughes began his first six games in the NHL by failing to show up on the score sheet and registered a -4. Although he has been able to put up seven points in last seven games, he has yet to score an even strength goal and has been on the receiving end of multiple heavy hits. Hughes doesn’t have the size or strength to endure a multitude of these hits, so if they continue, it could be of concern to his health.
As for Kakko, he will be the first one to tell you this was not the start he was hoping for in his debut season.
The 18-year-old has just five points and a -11 in 13 games and failed to get a single shot on goal in four of those games. Following a loss to Buffalo earlier this season, Kakko stated that he was not playing bad hockey and not having fun.
While it is still early in his career, those words are not what fans wanted to hear from the star rookie.
Thankfully, it’s not the end of the world for Hughes and Kakko, as these two aren’t the first top picks to begin their careers poorly.
Steven Stamkos, one of the most gifted goal scores in the game, comes to mind initially. Stamkos was the first overall selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, but did not start his career on a high note, posting just 46 points in 79 games.
Intern head coach Rick Tocchet decided to scratch Stamkos every couple of games that year and made him work out in the weight room instead. It was a surprising move at the time, but ended up being extremely beneficial as Stamkos scored 51 goals and had 44 assists the following season.
It’s only been one month and both players have more than enough skill to turn their seasons around, but both organizations should think to take a page out of Rick Tocchet’s notebook and build their franchise guys for the future.
Bruins & Oilers Overdependent on Their Stars
Both the Boston Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers have began their seasons red hot.
Boston sits at first in the Atlantic Division with 24 points and just two points behind Washington, who has played an extra game, for the best record in the league.
Meanwhile, Edmonton is also at first in the Pacific Division with 22 points and is tied for fourth for the best record in the league.
With the way both of these teams have started out, what can possibly be said about them that isn’t overly positive? Well, if you take a closer look, both of these teams have become reliant on their top line to produce.
Let’s start with Edmonton, led by arguably the greatest hockey player in the world today, Connor McDavid. Alongside McDavid are his gifted goal scoring teammates, Leon Draisaitl and James Neal. The trio has combined for 32 goals and 68 points this season, while all other players combined have a total of 15 goals and 60 points.
If all the scoring is coming from just one line, opposing teams are going to begin to plan their strategy against that top line and eventually shut them down.
Even worse, if the stars continue to get the amount of ice-time and long shifts that they are currently receiving, both Boston and Edmonton are risking losing one of their top guys to injury. Therefore, teams are not able to rely on their depth guys for secondary scoring.
In this next month, it is crucial that both Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and Oilers head coach Dave Tippett prioritize their second and third line scoring, which will hopefully take a little bit of pressure off of their stars.
John Carlson Running Away with the Norris Early
Heading into the season, it was clear to hockey fans how dangerous the Washington Capitals would be.
With a powerful offense driven by experienced scorers such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, it was no secret that this team was going to consistently put the puck in the net all season.
However, nobody expected that the team’s leading scorer through one month would be defenseman John Carlson.
Through 16 games, Carlson has registered 7 goals and 16 assists to go along with an incredible +11, while averaging more than 25 minutes a night on the ice. His 23 points are seven more than the next defensemen and it doesn’t seem like those numbers are going to slow down any time soon. With a power-play as lethal as Washington’s (25.9%), and Carlson playing quarterback on that special teams unit, it seems pretty safe to say that the Natick, MA native is going to get a hefty amount of opportunities to show up on the score sheet throughout the season.
There are certainly other guys who are making a case to win the Norris, such as last year’s winner Mark Giordano, and Nashville’s Roman Josi. With that being said, through the first month of this season, the award for league’s best defenseman is Carlson’s to lose.
Cover Photo via: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
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