Four scorers who have started the NHL season hot and what it means for the league’s early landscape.
The new NHL season is about two weeks in. Things are progressing normally; the Toronto Maple Leafs are piling goals and winning games (6-3-0), the Detroit Red Wings are historically catastrophic on defense, and the Coyotes are winning underlying stats (good!) but losing games (bad!).
A look at some players who have impressed so far:
Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes)
The Canes are hoping this is the season Aho develops into a true first-line center. He took logical steps forward in his first two years in the league — he nearly reached 30 goals in 2017-18 in his age-20 campaign, inflating his point total by 16. A full season alongside Michael Ferland and Teuvo Teravainen could push him further toward the NHL’s elite tier of centers.
He’s not quite there yet, but his start to this season provides hope. His 1.63 points per game rank eighth with the Hurricanes having played six games, and his first line has a Corsi For % of 56%, one of the best early marks in the league.
Carolina are dominating shot statistics, to the point that they’d be a considered a classic early season outlier. Their first two lines have been piping hot — the Justin Williams-Jordan Staal-Warren Foegele line is sitting at an insane 68.75 Corsi For %. There’s reason to think the Canes can stick around offensively, particularly with their power play slumping early.
Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks)
The sensational Canucks rookie is the early favorite for the Calder Trophy. Pettersson has three goals and eight assists in five games, playing electric hockey for a mostly bad Vancouver team and helping the young Canucks to a couple of nice wins.
Pettersson has received star treatment in a way only the NHL can provide — Florida tough guy Mike Matheson head-hunted Pettersson and gave him a concussion that knocked him out for 7-10 days. Matheson received a two-game suspension for the choke-slam and introduced Pettersson to the NHL’s reluctance to protect fun players. Sidney Crosby, the king of being targeted for talent, extended his sympathies.
Nevertheless, Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are nice building blocks for the Canucks. Pettersson could be a real star sooner rather than later.
Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Everyone knows about Matthews, who has been at the forefront of Toronto’s scalding start. The Leafs have scored 34 goals in nine games, winning six, though they’ve tailed off slightly in the last week. The NHL world revolves around Toronto when the Leafs are good, and that is very much the case in the early days of John Tavares.
Growing pains are likely on the way. Matthews will at some regress to the mean from his 1980s-style 1.83 points-per-game, which puts him nearly on a Gretzky pace. With wingers Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman and Patrick Marleau firing on all cylinders, Matthews is pouring goals into the net at an unsustainable rate. But the on-paper strengths of a Tavares Leafs team are coming to fruition — the power-play is great and the top two centers are facing less pressure to constantly drive play. Aside from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, rarely has an NHL team seen the benefits of two superstar centers.
The arguments that Matthews is at the level of Connor McDavid remain futile. The Leafs, though, haven’t shown many weaknesses, and until they come back to earth, they are legitimate Atlantic Division contenders.
Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
As ever, Bergeron and the Bruins are solid. They’ve started 4-2-2, and their first line of Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand has an argument for being the best line in hockey.
(Statistically, the Canes second line is currently hockey’s best threesome, which is an indictment of both sample size and Corsi.)
Bergeron has 13 points — at one point the second-best per-game pace behind Matthews — in eight games, complementing Marchand’s 12 points and Pastrnak’s eight goals. Bergeron has shown little age decline at 33, and could even win his fifth Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, if only because no one seemed to know who else to give it to for years.
Boston look like Boston so far. The race between the Bruins, Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning at the top of the Atlantic Division looks like a barnburner.