In the National Hockey League, nothing is guaranteed. Teams and players can make a big jump in development while others can fall off drastically. In today’s rendition, we’ll break down five of the biggest surprises in the NHL through the first three months of the 2022-23 NHL season.
Linus Ullmark‘s Spectacular Start
So much for a 1A and 1B tandem in net. Throughout the season, Ullmark, a free-agent goaltender signed by the Boston Bruins, has made a name for himself. In 23 games where he’s started, the Swedish netminder has a sensational record of 20-1-1, posting a save percentage of .938 along with a goals-against average of 1.90. With the way the Boston Bruins have been playing, expect many more hugs between Ullmark and backup Jeremy Swayman. Don’t rule him out as the favorite for the Vezina trophy at the end of the season.
Consider the Kraken Released
Just one year after finishing last in their division and 30th in the entire league, the Seattle Kraken seem to have things figured out. While their goaltending continues to be inconsistent, their offense has taken a much-needed leap to keep them in games, and this is prevalent in their power play percentage. Last season, the Kraken had a 14.55 percent power play success rate, which ranked worst in the NHL. In 33 games played this season, the Kraken now have a 21 percent success rate, putting them 20th in the league.
One of the major pieces to the Kraken’s success is former No. 2 pick Matthew Beniers, who has been dominant on both ends of the ice this season. In 33 games played with the Kraken, Beniers has scored 25 points and has a plus-minus rating of plus-six. With the dynamic form and structure that the Kraken have constructed, don’t count them out to make noise come April.
Big Move, Even Bigger Disaster
When two teams make a big trade, fans tend to appoint a winner before players step on the ice. Whether it be short-term or long-term, someone has to win, right? The same was said when Matthew Tkachuk was traded from the Flames to the Panthers this offseason. Someone had to win that trade, right? Well, unfortunately, both Calgary and Florida might be regretting that deal.
For the Flames, they traded the unicorn of hockey in Tkachuk but saw superstars Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar land in Alberta. This was supposed to be a transitional moment for the franchise, and in a way, it was. Just not in the way the organization was hoping. Huberdeau currently has 25 points in 34 games with the club but was recently demoted to third-line action. Weegar, however, has struggled immensely, plotting 7 points in 36 games. The Flames currently sit third in the lackluster Pacific Division with 41 points.
But it must’ve fared better for the Panthers, right? Well, the good news is that Tkachuk looks as good as advertised, scoring 43 points along with being a plus-seven for the club in 33 games played. The bad news? The Panthers currently rank 23rd in the league for power play success at 20 percent, and their penalty kill has them sitting 19th with a 76.8 percent success rate. The Panthers currently sit sixth in the Atlantic division and eight points out of a wildcard.
A Colorado Hangover
Remember when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in June? It seems pretty distant now as Colorado looks like a shell of itself. Of course, this is with some key injuries to players, such as the highest-paid player in the league, Nathan MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog, and Valeri Nichushkin all being ruled out. While their offense has been strong, their defense has taken a massive hit. The unit is currently tied for 20th in the league with penalty kill success of 75.5 percent. Along with that, their transitional game has gone off the deep end. They currently sit 27th in the league for faceoff win percentage at 46.4 percent. The loss of talent in free agency seems to be taking a hit on the team, losing key pieces like Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Darcy Kuemper.
The Tage and Jason Train
As dim as the Buffalo Sabres’ ongoing rebuild has been, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The player who represents this statement is Tage Thompson. In 33 games played this season, Thompson has scored 50 points and is a plus-12, with a shooting percentage of 17.6 percent. This is good for fifth in the league for points, and he continues to shine each and every night, giving Sabres fans a sense of hope for the future.
And, speaking of shining every night, talk about the young star in Jason Robertson. He has been able to transform his game over the past two seasons, proving last year was no fluke. In 37 games, Robertson has scored 52 points and is a plus-19. He currently sits third in the league for points and fourth in terms of plus-minus. The chemistry between Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski has led the Dallas Stars to first place in the Central Division.
With the season not even halfway over yet, there are many more surprises left in store, and every night is a new beginning for each team.
Follow Tom Dunford on Twitter @TomDunford19
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