Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are on twin tears to start the season. In fact, before Saturday’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks, there hadn’t been a game yet in which the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top-scoring duo was held off the scoresheet in the same game. And thanks to the lengthy scoring streaks, Stamkos and Kucherov find themselves one-two on the NHL’s scoring register with 21 points and 19 points, respectively.
That said, the expectation is one or both will slow down at some point in the campaign. It’s not that either Stamkos or Kucherov is playing too far over their heads or their quick starts aren’t a show of true talent, but rather that no player across an entire season has sustained this kind of scoring pace over an entire campaign. In the post-lockout NHL, the greatest single scoring pace maintained across one season is Joe Thornton 1.54 rate in 2005-06, which left him with 29 goals and 125 points when the campaign came to a close. At present, Stamkos is blazing along at 1.75 points per game and Kucherov’s 1.58 mark is slightly above Thornton’s pace.
Even when Stamkos and Kucherov slow, though, it’d be realistic to assume neither hits a slump bad enough to take them out of the conversation for the league’s scoring lead. They’re still two of the most offensively gifted players in the league and even if they’re not setting record post-lockout point paces, it seems a near given that both maintain pretty impressive clips. Reason being is both have a history of producing like top scorers.
Unfortunately, not every player off to a hot start is exactly like Stamkos and Kucherov, and there are several whose early season heroics appear to be more of a mirage. Here are five players producing brilliantly thus far whose scoring will fall off in due time:
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings
The Kings, trying to play a more up-tempo style and bring in some fresh faces, are giving the 21-year-old rookie his chance to skate as a full-time member of the big club, and he’s done nothing but prove his worth early on. Through 11 games, Kempe has six goals and nine points, with two of his tallies coming as the game-winning goals.
The issue, however, is that Kempe isn’t exactly getting the greatest opportunity under coach John Stevens. Despite his obvious flare for offense, Kempe is averaging 11:14 per game — he has skated less than 10 minutes on four occasions — and, while he’s scoring, he’s not exactly generating a whole lot on a nightly basis. He has 17 shots, five of which came in one outing, and Kempe is shooting 35.3 percent. Given his shooting percentage was 6.3 in 25 games last season, chances are his success rate is cut in half or more by year’s end.
Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils
Jesper Bratt is arguably the most surprising rookie scorer of the early campaign. A sixth-round pick in 2016, 162nd overall, most would have thought the best-case scenario for Bratt was a shot at the NHL in a few years’ time. Instead, he’s tied for third in rookie scoring with 10 points and he’s one of the driving forces behind New Jersey’s run to the top of the Metropolitan.
And while it’s more fun to sit back and enjoy Bratt’s breakout, the reality is he’s scored half of his points on the power play and managed to pick up two points shorthanded. That leaves him with three even strength points in 10 games. Beyond that, Bratt boasts one of the league’s most inflated shooting percentages. His four goals have come on 10 shots, and the only players to have better luck firing the puck are Dmitry Kulikov and Matt Nieto. So, unless Bratt can manage the greatest rookie shooting percentage of all time, his scoring is bound to slow.
Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
Bailey is one season removed from setting his career-best mark of 56 points, so that he’s burst out of the gates this season isn’t altogether surprising. Through 11 outings, he’s a point per game player with three goals and eight helpers. He’s also getting the opportunity to play right in the middle of the top six and skating regular power play minutes, which is a recipe for production.
There are a few reasons not to believe Bailey is going to continue this pace, though. Despite coming off of a career year, Bailey isn’t a noted sniper. He has maxed out at 16 goals, which came all the way back in his sophomore campaign in 2009-10, and he’s shooting at nearly twice the rate he has throughout his time in the NHL — 20 percent this season compared to 10.8 percent across the first 639 games of his career. Additionally, Bailey’s point total has been inflated by secondary assists. There isn’t a single one of his eight assists that have been the primary helper.
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Despite back-to-back 96-point campaigns before entering the NHL, Couturier has proven throughout his big-league career that he’s got more of a knack for the defensive, shutdown side of the game than he does the attack. As a rookie, he garnered some Selke Trophy attention and he has earned votes in each of the past four campaigns, including two top-10 finishes. This season, though, he seems to be playing the part of all-star scorer. In 11 games, he has seven goals and 13 points.
Now, there’s really no reason to believe Couturier isn’t on his way to career-best totals, and playing alongside Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux will certainly help the 24-year-old get there, but Couturier’s previous career high is 39 points. He’s already one-third of the way there and is riding a nearly 22 percent shooting percentage after averaging 9.4 percent throughout the first six seasons of his career. Couturier won’t slow down to the point he’s stuck as a 30-point guy, but he’s not the 100-point player his early season pace suggests.
Derek Dorsett, Vancouver Canucks
Say what you will about Bratt surprising, Stamkos and Kucherov picking opponents apart or even Alex Ovechkin’s wicked goal-scoring pace in the early games, there’s no player scoring early on that’s as fun — or as unexpected — as Dorsett. Last season, Dorsett was limited to 14 games and scored one goal and four points, which was about on pace with his career averages of .10 goals and .25 points per game. Has he ever blown those out of the water through the Canucks’ first 10 games, though.
After nearly one month, Dorsett has six goals and eight points, which is double last season’s output and has him on pace to set career marks in both goals and points sometime around the end of the calendar year. To break it down a bit further, Dorsett’s goal output this season accounts for 12 percent of his career total. He had 44 in 495 games when this season began.
Sadly, there’s next to no chance this continues for Dorsett. Not that we don’t want it to, but he’s shooting 37.5 percent and is getting some bounces. Literally. His first goal came when he bounced the puck off a defender’s face. Not only that, he had another tally find twine after it was tipped by a defender, managed one goal by way of backspin on a shot that was stopped, squeaked in a wraparound and buried an empty-netter.
For now, though, long-live Derek “The Rocket” Dorsett.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.