While you were away: three early season breakout players
Welcome to the latest installment of While You Were Away. We’ll be tracking players stories you may have missed and players who are trending up or down. We’ll fill you in on roster transactions, a few predictions and generally keep you updated on all things NHL beyond your favorite team.
We’re a month into the season and have gotten a good look at the entire league. Before opening night, one of the most intriguing questions was: Who could have a breakout season? We’re talking about players who’ve flirted with elite-level play. Many pundits had their picks and now we’re looking at some of the players who’re making good on their potential.
• Evgeny Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov was all over the ice in the Capitals dramatic 3–2 win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. His power play assist on Alex Ovechkin’s goal in the second period was his 15th point of the season through 13 games, good enough for a spot among the league’s Top 10 scorers.
He still has a lot of maturing to do in his only his second full season in the NHL but Kuznetsov has thrived in big-minute situations with Ovechkin as his linemate. His 20.8 shooting percentage is likely to regress but coach Barry Trotz has said he thinks the 23-year-old is on his way to becoming one of the NHL’s best players.
• Morgan Rielly
The Maple Leafs have struggled to generate offense but Rielly has been a rare exception. He logged an impressive 22:45 of average ice time after the All-Star break last season, a sign that the 21-year old was due for more responsibility in his third full NHL campaign. And he’s responded, excelling on the defensive side but more notably, he now leads the Leafs with 10 points through 14 games. He assisted on both goals against Washington on Saturday night.
Young defensemaen often take longer to learn the intricacies of the NHL game but Rielly’s progression has been a steady one. He’s generating a ton of chances, as according to Hockey Analysis his iCorsi/60 sits at 15.16, good for third on the team and first among Toronto’s D-men. Rielly has been described as the future of the Leafs’ blueline but it appears that the future is now.
• Alex Galchenyuk
What a fun player to watch. Galchenyuk also had two assists in Montreal’s 4–2 win over Boston on Saturday night. On a team that was supposed to have trouble scoring, Galchenyuk has shown himself to be a capable provider of offense with 11 points through 16 games. The move to center, his natural position, has allowed him to unleash his creative side.
There were questions about his consistency before this season, his fourth in the NHL, but Galchenyuk has proved to be a capable two-way player and looks like the Habs’ likely first line center of the future.
• Jakob Silfverberg ... well, not so much.
After taking a vicious shot to the head from Sharks winger Raffi Torres (who was handed a 41-game suspension) in the Ducks’ final preseason game, Silfverberg was shaken up and admittedly scared. He’s been trying to find his game ever since and has only two points (and no goals) and a –5 through 14 games. The 25-year-old wing looked poised to do big things but he’s suffered an inability to find the back of the net, a problem that has befallen many of his teammates. (The Ducks rank last in the league in goals scored with only 22.) As a result, his ice time has decreased significantly through his last three games, including one of his lowest totals of the season (16:51) in Saturday’s 1–0 win over the Sharks, although he did lead the team with three shots.