We are just four days into the NHL season, but already we are seeing some strong performers emerge across the league. We are also seeing others fall flat on their face. In other words, some players are hot and others are not.
Teasing out which of these situations are for real is important to season-long success but as a general rule you cannot afford to wait very long on early producers. If you don’t pick up the hot commodity someone else will.
While you don’t want to dump a proven stud who is starting slowly (think Anze Kopitar or Claude Giroux last season), you can afford to jettison any late-round picks who aren’t producing to the same level as these hot starters. The point of those late-round picks was to get a great producer on the cheap. There’s nothing cheaper than free!
So, who’s hot and who’s not?
Paul Stastny – C – Blues – 3 Goals, 6 points, 3 games
Stastny has taken over for David Backes as the Blues’ top centreman, lining up with Alex Steen and Robby Fabbri at even strength, while acting as the net-front presence on the top power play unit. The results have been great as Stastny is currently tied for the league lead in scoring.
Stastny has pedigree with three 70-point seasons under his belt. Those season’s appeared to be in his rear-view mirror but perhaps he can stay healthy enough for one more run of elite play. His situation could not be better.
Chris Kreider – LW – Rangers – 2 goals, 4 points, 14 SOG, 2 games
Kreider’s shooting is the most exciting part. With seven shots in each of his first two games, Kreider appears set to finally start putting up the shot volume that will enable him to enter the next stage of his career.
Kreider has yet to even break the 200-SOG plateau but should eclipse that mark this season. He is a threat for 30 goals, 60 points and 250 SOG, which only eight players accomplished last season. That’s rarified air.
David Pastrnak – RW – Bruins – 3 goals, 2 assists, 14 SOG, 2 games
Like Kreider, Pastrnak is also shooting the crap out of the puck, something he has done in spurts throughout his career but has never received enough usage to consistently produce.
Minutes are again a question for Pastrnak as he is seeing 14:45 per game. That would be his highest mark yet but is still below the type of ice time top scorers typically see. Pastrnak is notably lacking in power-play time, as he is skating on Boston’s second unit. It doesn’t appear that he’ll crack the top unit either so continued production will be more difficult.
That said, current linemate Brad Marchand achieved a 37-goal/61-point season for the Bruins seeing just second-unit power-play usage, so great things can be accomplished. That Pastrnak is skating with an elite performer like Marchand is good news and Patrice Bergeron should join them whenever he gets healthy.
Jonathan Marchessault – C – Panthers – 2 goals, 2 assists, 2 games
Someone had to fill in for Jonathan Huberdeau, who suffered a nasty cut on his leg and will miss months as a result.
Marchessault is off to a hot start beside popular breakout candidate Aleksander Barkov. Marchessault showed flashes of brilliance while filling in for the banged up Lightning last season so we know this isn’t some random occurrence.
Zach Werenski – D – Blue Jackets – 1 goal, 1 assist, 9 SOG, 2 games
Werenski has a point in each of his first two career NHL games and is already seeing usage like a star defenceman.
He has skated over 20 minutes in each of his first games and is being used as the lone defenceman on the Blue Jackets’ power play. He doesn’t have the hardest shot but his ability to get it through traffic and on net is a clear asset that we’ve seen on display.
If he can continue to produce at least three shots per game, he will more than warrant a roster spot at a defence position where every fantasy team can use more help.
Roberto Luongo – G – Panthers – 2 Wins, 0.98 GAA, 0.957 save percentage, 2 games
Luongo wasn’t even supposed to be able to start the season following off-season hip surgery. He has not only returned early but has been stellar.
The Panthers have done excellent work suppressing shots in front of Luongo but he has been up to the task with what he has faced. James Reimer looms as an option to keep Luongo fresh and that may limit the number of starts he ultimately receives but any concerns about lingering effects from that surgery have effectively been squashed.
Luongo is back to being elite.
Jason Spezza – C – Stars – 0 points, Minus-4, 3 SOG, 2 games
The high-powered Stars have scored nine goals in two games but Spezza hasn’t gotten in on any of them. The addition of Jiri Hudler was supposed to help make the second line with Spezza and Patrick Sharp unstoppable but so far they haven’t made a dent.
Don’t expect that to last. Spezza sees time on the Stars’ lethal top power-play unit and is skating with the aforementioned studs at even strength. He is a proven veteran who will get his in time.
Taylor Hall – LW – Devils – 0 points, Minus-2, 6 SOG, 2 games
Hall was expected to add some offensive credibility to a Devils team that has struggled to score goals. So far the Devils have just three goals in two games, none of which have come from Hall or his linemates Adam Henrique and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Hall will get it going eventually. He is third in the NHL in per-60 scoring over the past four seasons, all while skating on some embarrassing Oilers teams. He’ll get it going soon enough.
Justin Williams – RW – Capitals – 0 points, 1 SOG, 2 games
Thus far, Williams’ only accomplishment is pulling a pro wrestling move on an unsuspecting Evgeni Malkin.
Williams will have some runs of hot production but he overachieved in scoring 54 points last season. Now that Williams has been relegated to the third line, you can safely bet he won’t match that total.
Williams is exactly the sort of late-round option you could safely drop for one of the hot options above and have little remorse about it later.
Torey Krug – D – Bruins – 0 Points, Minus-1, 2 games
On a team scoring as much as the Bruins you would hope that their top defenceman would be putting up some points. It’s been a goose-egg thus far but the good news is that his usage is in line with last season, when he scored a career high 44 points.
Brian Elliott – G – Flames – 0 Wins, 5.07 GAA, 0.818 save percentage, 2 games
Elliott was brought in to help fix the Flames’ leaky goaltending, which many believe was the reason the fell out of the playoff picture last season.
So far, the results have not been promising as Elliott was terrorized by Connor McDavid and the Oilers across a home-and-home series.
Elliott should improve but you are forgiven if you are already having buyers remorse while envisioning the potential for a disastrous season similar to the runs Elliott had for the Senators once upon a time.