Welcome to the latest installment of While You Were Away. We’ll be tracking stories you may have missed and players who are trending up and down, as well as offering a few predictions and generally keeping you updated on all things hockey beyond your favorite team.
• While all the buzz preseason was about future stars named McDavid and Eichel, a few other young studs have come flying out of the gate in the desert. The Arizona Coyotes are 3-1 after their first loss of the season on Thursday but Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are providing lots of reason for optimism in Glendale.
Domi has put up a goal and an assist in three of four games while Duclair has at least a point in every game, including a goal vs. Minnesota on Thursday and a hat trick against the Ducks the night before. The 'Yotes were expected to be little more than a lottery team this season but these two are providing some much needed offense and excitement.
With highlight-reel backhanders, the 20-year old rookie Domi is garnering praise across the board, including from former NHL great Teemu Selanne, who tweeted his support of Domi for the Calder Trophy.
But it’s Duclair, a 20-year-old winger who came over from the Rangers in the Keith Yandle trade that should be deserving of more praise. He’s driving possession for the team, leading Arizona in both SAT Rel % and SAT Rel 60 so far. Sure, his astronomical 50% shooting percentage will drop back to earth in a hard way but he’s proven to be an effective tool for what has long been a defense-first approach in Arizona.
Not even close. Daniel Sprong, taken in the second round of the 2015 draft, and with a goal and four shots, took first star honours.
Sprong was the first ever player from the Netherlands taken in an NHL draft and according to Quant Hockey, just the fourth to ever play in the NHL. It was Sprong’s first NHL goal and remarkably, he is just one of five players from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to be playing in the NHL right now.
The knock on Sprong at the draft was his lack of a team-first mentality but frankly, something had to give on a Pittsburgh team largely starved for offense, given their available firepower.
Whether Sprong stays with the Penguins or is sent back to junior before his entry level deal kicks in remains to be seen, but he has become yet another Penguin who’s had to shoulder the load in light of Crosby’s point-less start to the season.
• We’re over a week into the NHL season and there are still two teams without a point:
Edmonton and Columbus. Carolina, New Jersey and Los Angeles all gained their first points Friday evening. It took some time, but those three teams get a pass as their poor performance isn’t shocking given preseason expectations. Los Angeles too can be expected to take some time to find the next gear, given that they usually start the season slow and there were a myriad of distractions for the team over the offseason.
The Oilers and Blue Jackets, however, are the most notable head-scratchers. Both own two of the worst goal differentials in the league so far. Columbus is firing a ton of shots on net, averaging 32.8 per game. But both teams are faltering in SAT % Close and find themselves in the bottom third of the league in that regard. The teams appear to be unable to keep games within reach, which could very well be attributed to the overhaul each had to their lineup this off-season.
Early in the season Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said his team’s game was “off the rails” and they’ve done little to inspire any confidence since. You would’ve thought Kekalainen would get some relief as the his team faced the Toronto Maple Leafs at home Friday, a team also without a win. If there were ever a chance to get that first 'W,' the NHL scheduling Gods served the Jackets a softball.
It wasn’t meant to be as the Leafs got Mike Babcock his first win in blue and white. In a 6-3 result, the Leafs got an inspired performance from journeyman Daniel Winnik. The forward returned to Toronto after being dealt at the deadline last season and the 30-year-old looked as if he was born to play for Babcock. He was on loose pucks all night and added three assists, the fourth time in his career he’s done so.
Obviously patience is needed, yet again, with Edmonton’s young core but Thursday's night’s 4-2 loss to St. Louis showcased its woes: The Oilers spent most of the game scrambling and chasing the puck, showing little-to-no control in both zones. Again, their struggles could be symptomatic of a lack of maturity or experience.
Or, the team may be best served to look hard at their young set of talent and cut bait on some of troublesome players before another disappointing season.