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Around The NHL: Veteran Star And Youngsters Producing At High Levels
We’re already halfway through November, and we’ve seen a new face or two come out of nowhere to play prominent roles for their teams, some young stars produce at the level we’ve expected out of them, and a veteran star player that’s been around for a while put up points and goals like he’s done so often in the past. In addition, a certain member of the goaltending fraternity that doesn’t get as much love as others in that group has been on a serious hot streak over the last 10 days. Here’s what’s been happening around the NHL:
STAMKOS LOOKS LIKE HIS OLD SELF AGAIN
One year ago, Stammergeddon was upon us, as the hockey world waited with anticipation for months wondering what decision Tampa Bay Lightning center and captain Steven Stamkos was going to make. Set to become an unrestricted free agent last summer, there was a lot of speculation that the veteran captain was going to leave the Lightning and head to Toronto to play for the hometown Maple Leafs. While he still scored 36 goals and had 64 points, there were stretches where Stamkos didn’t score, and one can’t help but think that the impending contract situation was weighing on his mind. Having to sit out the majority of the playoffs due to a blood clot in his shoulder also didn’t help his cause. Fast forward to the second month of the season, and it’s amazing what can happen when all a player has to worry about is playing hockey. Since re-signing with the Bolts in the offseason, Stamkos has been a force once again for Tampa Bay, currently sitting in a tie for second in the league with 17 points, while also residing in a tie for third place in goals (8). Whether he’s played on a line with Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov, or skated alongside Jonathan Drouin and Ondrej Palat, Stamkos is finally getting back to the elite level that fans in Tampa Bay have come to expect from him. He may not win the Rocket Richard or Art Ross Trophies, but he’s definitely in the running for both of them so far this season.
CRAWFORD HOLDING THE FORT FOR CHICAGO DURING WINNING STREAK
Corey Crawford is the owner of a pair of Stanley Cup rings as the starting goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks. However, there was a time when his name wasn’t always mentioned among the elite goaltenders in the NHL. Last season, the veteran goalie had a season worthy of a nomination for the Vezina Trophy, but was not named a finalist. This year, he’s been nothing short of stellar, as the Blackhawks have won seven in a row heading into Friday night’s game against Washington at the United Center. Crawford has started six of those games and has allowed only six goals so far while picking up two shutouts. On the season, his goals-against average is a microscopic 1.91 and his save percentage is an incredible .939. His numbers are certainly Vezina caliber up to this point. Some might point out that Chicago has scored 24 goals during that streak, but the Hawks have also allowed plenty of rubber to fly Crawford’s way, as they’ve given up at least 30 shots on goal in five of the six games he’s played in during that streak. Crawford also boasts the best save percentage in the league at 5-on-5 this season at a mind-boggling .973. While the Blackhawks’ offense might be firing on all cylinders, Crawford is providing some excellent goaltending at this point.
LAINE, SCHEIFELE LEADING THE WAY FOR WINNIPEG
When the Winnipeg Jets made center Mark Scheifele their first draft pick after relocating from Atlanta in 2011, they felt like they were getting a guy that could eventually blossom into a number one-caliber center. Five years later, that has come to fruition, as the young veteran Scheifele parlayed an excellent run of play down the stretch last season into a lucrative eight-year deal worth a reported $6.125 million a year. So far, he’s been worth every penny of that contract, as he sits atop the league with 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) through 15 games. This past summer, the Jets took Finnish sensation Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in the draft, expecting him to be a guy that could favorably compare to Alex Ovechkin in terms of goal-scoring. Through 15 games, I’d say Laine has met, and even exceeded those expectations, as he is currently the league’s leading goal scorer with 11. Included in his early run of success are a pair of hat tricks, one of which came in an 8-2 drubbing of the Dallas Stars earlier this week. While Winnipeg is currently 7-7-1, they’re still a young team loaded with talent that is still trying to find their way. But with guys like Scheifele not even quite at his prime at the age of 23, and Laine doing his Ovechkin impersonation on a regular basis, the Jets are a team that appears to have a pretty bright future ahead of them.
WERENSKI PUSHING HIS WAY INTO THE EARLY CALDER DISCUSSION
Before the season started, there were several rookies expected to be in the discussion for the Calder Trophy, including Laine in Winnipeg, the Maple Leafs’ trio of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner. The New York Rangers’ duo of Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich have also exceeded expectations, but there’s another guy who patrols the blue line for the Columbus Blue Jackets who’s not getting as much publicity as the other rookies on this list, yet is still having himself a tremendous opening month as well. Through 12 games, Werenski has 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists). At his current pace, he would break the Blue Jackets’ rookie point record of 39, set by Rick Nash way back in the 2002-03 season. Werenski is also third in the NHL among rookies in terms of ice time, averaging 21:42 per game. He’s also seen plenty of time on both the power play and penalty killing units, and with Seth Jones out for a few weeks due to injury, Werenski becomes an even more important part of the Columbus blue line. The Jackets have gotten off to a respectable start this season, most recently highlighted by their shocking 10-0 win over Montreal at home a week ago, and Werenski’s quality of play will have to continue to be high in order for them to build off their hot start. Werenski isn’t the favorite to win the Calder, but he certainly has to be viewed as a dark horse candidate at this point of the season, although a lot can change over the course of the next few months.