Four things we learned in the NHL: The Bread Man is rising in Columbus

Columbus Blue Jackets' Alexander Wennberg connects with Artemi Panarin on the power play as he drops to one knee to beat Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.

On a night that pitted Subban against Subban, Metro rival against Metro rival, and Artemi Panarin against the world, NHL fans were gifted plenty to get them out of their seats.

With five games on the schedule, here are four things we learned in the NHL on Friday.

1. The Bread Man is rising in Columbus

Despite potting the sixth-most goals of any NHL club last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets sought out some superstar talent up front in the off-season, eventually acquiring Russian phenom Artemi Panarin in an effort to make their offence more dynamic.

Well, if it wasn’t already clear, the 26-year-old’s Friday night performance showed the Blue Jackets brass exactly what that looks like.

Panarin dominated his club’s tilt against the New Jersey Devils, posting five assists — all primary helpers — to guide Columbus to a 5-3 victory. The sterling effort ranked as the finest single-game performance of Panarin’s career, as the winger hit the five-point mark for the first time since coming into the league in 2015.

While Panarin’s dish-heavy evening was the finest of his own NHL tenure, it also sits among the best put forth by anyone in a Blue Jackets sweater.

2. The Subban brothers are in rare company

P.K. and Malcolm Subban were vying for ‘story of the night’ honours before any pucks even dropped on Friday, as the siblings faced off against each other in the NHL for the first time in their careers.

Papa Subban joined his sons for a pre-game photo to capture the moment, donning Golden Knights threads to support Vegas’ breakout goaltender:

The NHL has seen its fair share of elite brothers compete against each other over the years, but skater-goalie sibling matchups have come far less often, it seems. Malcolm and his brother added their names to that rare list on Friday, becoming just the 10th skater-goalie sibling pair in history to play against each other.

While P.K. has more hardware on his shelf, it was Malcolm who emerged victorious on Friday, stopping a career-high 41 shots and turning aside six more in the shootout to snag the victory.

3. Michael Grabner is quietly scoring at will

It’s hard to pick out which is more difficult to fathom — that three different clubs let veteran forward Michael Grabner go (two via trade, one via free agency), or that the 30-year-old has remade himself into an elite goal scorer.

And make no mistake, the Grabner of 2017 is indeed an elite goal scorer.

The former Vancouver Canuck, New York Islander and Toronto Maple Leaf proved as much on Friday, sniping his 14th goal of the season to quietly move into the top-10 goal scorers in the league. To be fair, he’s tied with a whole glut of players for that top-10 spot, with nearly a dozen scorers sitting with 14 goals beside their names.

But there’s more to Grabner’s ascension than his current stat line. Stretching back to his return to the Tri-State Area last season, he’s in fact been one of the most dominant 5-on-5 snipers in the game.

Since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, only two players have scored more even-strength tallies than Grabner’s 40: Auston Matthews (43) and Vladimir Tarasenko (41).

Not too shabby for a player thrice cast away in the big leagues.

4. Alex DeBrincat may be Chicago’s cap squeeze antidote

Watching his former running mate light it up in Blue Jackets colours on Friday might have stung, but Patrick Kane and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks have reason to keep their heads up.

Tops among them? Rookie sensation Alex DeBrincat, who’s lifted himself from a fringe NHLer to a bona fide Calder Trophy candidate.

DeBrincat potted his 12th goal of 2017-18 on Friday, tying Artem Anisimov for the team lead in that regard. The 19-year-old’s 21 points rank second-most among all Blackhawks skaters as well, bested only by Kane.

With those 21 points in the bag, DeBrincat now ranks fourth among all rookie scorers, and second in the goal-scoring department. As his role and his ice-time continue to increase, the former OHL phenom has as good a chance as any to keep climbing up that list.

There’s no doubt the Blackhawks need everything they can get from him. Handcuffed by the combined $21 million owed to Kane and Jonathan Toews this season alone, Chicago isn’t in any position to spend on supplementary star power up front. That’s undoubtedly hurt them thus far, evidenced by the fact that they currently rank as the fourth-worst team in the Western Conference—a lowly position they’ve rarely been seen in over the past decade.

Pittsburgh outlined the blueprint for creating a deep, talented roster while paying plenty of marquee stars, thriving off of breakout performances from young (read: cheap) secondary scorers like Jake Guentzel. Chicago has had a tougher go managing that balancing act, but it appears DeBrincat just might be the first step towards turning things around.


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