Three players that have surprised the NHL so far

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Three players that have surprised the NHL so far

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Three players that have surprised the NHL so far

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The NHL Season has given us a ton of great hockey so far. Scoring has been up league-wide, and the offense continues to dominate the league. With that in mind, we see many players blossoming this year. Plenty of players have impressed their respective teams, but I gathered a list of three players that have impressed many this season. We have one forward, one defenseman, and one goaltender to make things fair and exciting. Each of these guys has been playing some outstanding hockey. All three are exceptional talents and have been starting off red hot. 

Forward: Nico Hischier – New Jersey Devils 

The captain of the New Jersey Devils has always been considered a highly touted player. The former 1st overall draft pick in 2017 built himself a great two-way forward with the offensive skillset to back up his defensive upside. Now six seasons into his career at the age of 23, Hischier has started to hit his potential. Many analysts and fans years after the 2017 draft looked back and questioned whether the Devils were right in selecting him. With players like Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson breaking out early, it was easy to see why Hischier became overshadowed. But this season, Hischier has asserted himself as an elite player in the NHL.

So far on the season, Hischier has 22 points in 18 games (Nine goals and 13 assists) which currently has him on pace to score 100 points this year. The Devils this season when Hischier scores a point are 14-0. And that’s not the only reason the Devils are winning with him. Analytically, he’s checking all the boxes for what a complete hockey player looks like. Shown above is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) chart with percentile rankings, with all that blue in all those categories he’s showing how impactful he is everywhere on the ice. Since the 19-20 season Nico has been trending upward offensively and defensively. The most important aspect is that his defensive impact went from the 69th percentile to the 84th percentile. That’s a 15% increase. What he brings to the Devils is nothing short of excellence. His pedigree has the potential to be unmatched as someone who can become a prime candidate for the Selk one day. His underrating skating ability matched with his excellent hockey IQ and puck possession make him special. That’s clear in his five-on-five play, as the Devils control play with him on the ice and are generating about 66 percent of the expected goals share with even better results to match.

But it’s the difference-making play New Jersey needs from their captain, who remains a cornerstone who is helping this team become a more competitive squad.

Via JFresh Hockey

 

Defenseman: Erik Karlsson – San Jose Sharks

The former Norris trophy winner has done it again. At age 32, Erik Karlsson is putting on a show for the ages. He has been red-hot coming out of the gate, leading all defensemen in scoring and leading his team in scoring with 29 points in 21 games played. The next best player on the Sharks behind him is Timo Meier with 18 points and 11 points behind EK65. The next best defenseman to him is Adam Fox who has 21 points and remains 8 points behind him. His offensive effectiveness has been carrying the Sharks. One of the most dynamic defensemen in the NHL, Karlsson has always been known for his amazing skating and his prowess with the puck. But this year so far, he has been on another planet.

His production and shot generation separates him from the pack. As shown above, from Evolving-Hockey, his GF/60 (Goals For per 60 minutes) is through the roof. Karlsson has been scoring and shooting the puck higher than ever in his career. Since the departure of Brent Burns, his role has been much more elevated and has taken on a lot of the pressure for the Sharks. The Sharks are just a far more dangerous offensive team when he’s on the ice. San Jose has been outscored 44-33 at five-on-five this season, but it is 22-16 in favor of the guys in teal when Karlsson is on the ice. Karlsson has played 40.7 percent of San Jose’s five-on-five ice time, but the Sharks have scored 66.7 percent of their goals in that game state when he’s out there. No other player in the NHL has been on the ice for more than 19 of his team’s five-on-five goals. Even at his age, he has a ton of responsibility to be carrying such a load for a team that is struggling to even sniff the playoffs. It remains to be seen what the Sharks will do with Karlsson, as they are in no position to be competing. If he continues to play at this pace, the Sharks could get a nice ransom for him.

Via evoling-hockey.com

 

Goaltender: Logan Thompson – Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights have never started a season this well. The Golden Knights weren’t supposed to start the season this well. When news broke out that Robin Lehner would miss the entirety of the 2022-23 season due to hip surgery, many doubted Vegas’ odds at being a playoff team this year. With a record of 15-4-1 that places them third in the NHL, the Golden Knights sieging every team’s arena they play in. All of this is because of the amazing play of rookie Logan Thompson. The 25-year-old netminder had spent most of his time being the starter for the Henderson Silver Knights the past two years before making the jump to the NHL. The stability he has brought in between the posts has been a lifesaver for the Knights. 

Although their offense has been powering them through games, Thompson’s calm nature and sound play have been crucial to their success. Shown above is a chart of the shot maps between Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins and Logan Thompson. The blue hexagons show areas that are less likely for each goalie to be scored on, and the red hexagons show where they are more likely to be scored on. Although there is a lot redder on his chart, Logan is pretty consistent with how hard he makes it to score from the slot and the front of the net. Thompson’s rebound control has been one of the most impressive aspects of his game. He has a calm and safe nature to his play while remaining poised. He is very fundamental with his positioning and reaction time, while also being super smart about how pucks rebound off of him. He has allowed only 0.046 rebounds per save this year, which ranks sixth in the NHL among goalies with at least 10 games.

He leads in puck freezes above expected at 20.5. According to MoneyPuck, Thompson should have frozen the puck 71.5 times based on the shots he’s faced this season, but he’s already racked up 92. As of now, he holds the starter’s spot for the Knights as they continue to roll on with their success. Thompson has shown out to start this year, and depending on Lehner’s recovery and play post-injury, it remains to be seen who will hold the crease for Vegas in the future.

Via hockeyviz.com

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