There are few greater joys for hockey fans than the elation that comes from a blockbuster swap.
The 2017 off-season featured its fair share of these big-ticket deals, with already-competitive clubs like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens wading into the fray to beef up their offensive corps.
As marquee acquisitions like Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Drouin prepare to take the ice with their new teammates for the first time, let’s take a look at some of the new and potentially dominant scoring duos we could see in 2017-18.
1. Artemi Panarin and Alexander Wennberg, Columbus Blue Jackets
Through his first two seasons in the big leagues, Artemi Panarin established himself as one of the game’s premier offensive dynamos, amassing 61 goals and 151 points through 162 tilts. He did that almost exclusively alongside all-star winger Patrick Kane, who factored in on 68 per cent of Panarin’s points in Chicago.
Traded to Columbus in June, Panarin won’t have the option of suiting up beside someone with that type of elite, all-time skill. But he won’t be expected to drive the offensive bus alone either, as the Jackets house one of the best young, up-and-coming pivots in the game in Alexander Wennberg.
Wennberg’s offensive skill set isn’t anywhere near Kane’s, but there is some overlap in the way the two forwards approach the game. The Blue Jackets centre’s version is a bit rougher around the edges, but he’s no stranger to the type of feathery dishes and silky-smooth skating that Panarin fed on in Chicago.
Seemingly limitless offensive creativity has been the foundation for Panarin’s success thus far, and Wennberg should give him plenty to work with in that regard. So prepare yourself for another campaign of game-breaking one timers from the skillful Russian.
2. Jonathan Drouin and Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has made his name as one of the most consistent goal scorers in the league, sitting at or above a 30-goal pace for much of the past decade. But something changed last season. The American winger repeatedly spoke of the impact temporary teammate Alexander Radulov had on his game, particularly in terms of adapting a more dynamic, reactionary style.
Well, Radulov may have moved on, but it’s fair to say the Canadiens are getting a pretty capable replacement in Jonathan Drouin, the former Bolt set to take over top-line duties.
Drouin has everything a trigger man like Pacioretty needs: elite speed, quick hands, and enough playmaking vision to find unconventional ways of getting the Canadiens captain the puck. If Drouin and Pacioretty can find as much success together as the former did with Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Nikita Kucherov, then Pacioretty should have no difficulty moving past the 35 goals he posted in 2016-17.
3. Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin/Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Speaking of Radulov, the veteran playmaker didn’t fare too badly himself this summer, netting a gig with the Dallas Stars’ high-flying forward corps. Dallas already boasts one of the game’s top scoring duos in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and potentially adding Radulov to the mix could be a game-changer for a team looking for a significant rebound in 2017-18.
New (old) head coach Ken Hitchcock has already discussed the possibility of putting Radulov with the top-line pair.
“(Radulov) brings an intensity to the game,” Hitchcock told SportsDay in July. “You notice him and you have to account for him. Now, put Jamie Benn on the other wing, and you have the same thing. You know he’s there, and you know you have to account for him. Same with Seguin. I just think they will all feed off of each other if that’s the line we come up with.”
There’s no mystery regarding the mastery of Benn and Seguin. Now, with both healthy and looking for redemption, let’s see how the pair performs with this on their right side:
4. Jordan Eberle and John Tavares, New York Islanders
For nearly a decade, John Tavares and former wingman Kyle Okposo carried the New York Islanders offence. But with Okposo moving to the Buffalo Sabres last summer, Tavares was left to fend for himself. The result: a step back in 2016-17 for the Islanders captain, who posted his lowest points-per-game and goals-per-game rates in six years.
Enter Jordan Eberle.
Though he downplayed the notion that they have any well-established chemistry, the former Edmonton Oilers standout does have some experience suiting up alongside Tavares, having done so numerous times for Team Canada.
Eberle may well be the most dynamic linemate Tavares has ever had in an Islanders uniform, and both have a clear path to potential gains given their reunion. For Eberle, getting a fresh start and an all-world pivot like Tavares, with whom he can get consistent ice time this season, should give him all he needs to look more like the 70-point player he was early in his career. As should the move to the high-octane Eastern Conference, away from the rough-and-tumble style in the West.
For Tavares, the benefit is clear. He gets a shot at establishing long-lasting chemistry with someone who can think the game at a level just a bit closer to his. If they can sync up their creativity, the Islanders’ highlight reel should be enough to get fans to forget their ongoing arena issues.
5. Travis Hamonic and T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames
This may not be a scoring duo in the traditional sense, but there’s a fair chance the addition of Travis Hamonic on Calgary’s blue line will lead to more points on the board for the Flames. Not because Hamonic is bringing a Dougie Hamilton-esque skill set to Alberta, but because the former Islander should allow partner T.J. Brodie to once again roam free.
For a minute there, Brodie seemed to be one of the most promising offensive defenders in the game, posting a breakout 41-point season in 2014-15 and a strong follow-up effort in 2015-16, wherein he put up 45 points in just 70 games.
That progress was halted in 2016-17, however, as Brodie saw his regular role on the top pairing alongside Mark Giordano snagged by Hamilton. With no clear No. 4 option on the back end, Brodie saw his ice time split between a number of different partners over the course of the year, mostly alongside Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, and Michael Stone.
None brought the same balance of defensive prowess and offensive timing as Giordano, and Brodie’s production took a hit as a result, his points-per-game pace dropping from a promising, career-high 0.64 in 2015-16 to 0.44 last season.
Hamonic seems a step above last year’s cast of characters, however. If nothing else, he’s a defence-first presence, likely looking to shut down the opposition rather than rack up points of his own, which should give Brodie more room to step up and resume his former role as one of the club’s key offensive contributors.
If he can, then Calgary’s chances at contending in the increasingly competitive Western Conference get even better. The Nashville Predators are fresh off of showing just how far a stable of slick-handed, quick-footed defenders can get you. The Flames have already seen Giordano and Hamilton rise to the occasion – now it’s Brodie’s turn to show his full potential.