The first month of the NHL season is nearly in the books, which means we’re just far enough into this thing for people to start wondering if what they’re seeing — good or bad — is real.
And when it comes to observation, few players are watched closer than those who switched teams over the summer. Inevitably, a fresh set of eyeballs peer in to see what the new guy is all about.
A number of players have ingratiated themselves to new fans, teammates and managers with strong play. But, of course, not everyone has hit their stride just yet.
With that in mind, we’ve identified a slew of players who are loving their new surroundings and a handful more who are still sorting a few things out:
Max Domi, C, Montreal Canadiens
When the Canadiens indicated they were going to start Domi at centre after acquiring him for Alex Galchenyuk — a natural pivot whom Montreal constantly wedged onto the wing — it almost seemed like something from theatre of the absurd. But after missing most of the pre-season due to a sucker-punch-related suspension, Domi — who played mostly wing with Arizona — has looked fantastic for Montreal. His 11 points in 10 contests pace the team and his five goals are more than half the total of nine he posted in 82 games last season.
John Tavares, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
He’s the Leafs’ No. 1 man now, at least for the foreseeable future while Auston Matthews recovers from a shoulder injury sustained Saturday night versus the Winnipeg Jets. You watch the goal Tavares scored on Wednesday versus the Jets — where linemate Mitch Marner did all the heavy lifting and J.T. just had to tap home a loose puck — and you wonder if it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll set new personal highs for goals and points this season, thanks to the best supporting cast he’s ever seen.
Dylan DeMelo, D, and Chris Tierney, C, Ottawa Senators
The fact the Ottawa Senators have been, not just competitive, but very entertaining this season may stand as the single biggest early surprise. DeMelo and Tierney — both acquired from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson trade — have surely made fast friends in Ottawa with their strong play. Tierney recorded at least a point in the Sens’ first seven outings playing alongside Mark Stone, and DeMelo is logging 18 minutes a night while registering five points in nine games.
Micheal Ferland, LW, Carolina Hurricanes, and Elias Lindholm, C, Calgary Flames
These two are lumped together because they went opposite ways in one of the biggest trades of the off-season, namely the one that sent Dougie Hamilton (who scored his first goal Saturday night and has ridiculously good possession numbers for the Canes) east with Ferland, and Lindholm to Alberta alongside Noah Hanifin (more on him later). Ferland has transitioned beautifully from Calgary’s top line to Carolina’s premier unit, netting six goals in 10 games. Lindholm, meanwhile, has seven through 11 contests as a Flame.
Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues
Scratch O’Rielly’s name from the list of people to blame for St. Louis’s rough start. The new Blue has 14 points in 10 games for St. Louis, as his 11 helpers are tied for third-most in the league. O’Rielly’s three points on Saturday night helped the Blues trash the Chicago Blackhawks, so maybe the Missouri boys are starting to find their way.
Jaroslav Halak, G, Boston Bruins
Brought in to back up Tuukka Rask, Halak has been Boston’s best goalie by some distance. His .948 even-strength save percentage in six games is the fourth-best mark in the league and the Bruins have yet to lose a regulation-time game in which Halak has started.
Robin Lehner, G, New York Islanders
Lehner got another fresh start after signing with the Islanders in the off-season and, right now, the match is benefiting both parties. Only three teams had a worse save percentage than the Isles last year, but Lehner’s .929 mark has helped New York post a plus-four goal differential this season. Losing a certain superstar who also appears on this list is going to hurt way less should Lehner fully realize his potential on Long Island.
Not there just yet
Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks
There’s a completely reasonable take that would lobby to say Karlsson is actually doing just fine — perhaps even more than fine — in San Jose, where he’s on pace for 50 assists and his Corsi percentage is 58.2. That said, a wizard like Karlsson is held to the highest possible standard and he’s yet to find the net as a Shark.
Carter Hutton, G, Buffalo Sabres
A lot of curiosity surrounded Hutton as last season’s save percentage leader (.931) attempted the transition from part-timer to starter status. Hutton was solid through his first three games as a Sabre, but has posted an .877 save percentage in his past five outings.
Max Pacioretty, LW, Vegas Golden Knights
Should we really lean into freaking out here, just to make Pacioretty feel like he’s back in neurotic Montreal? The former Habs captain — who left Vegas’s game Friday night versus Tampa with an upper-body injury that has him listed as day-to-day — figures to be a wonderful fit long-term in the desert. Right now, though, he has just two points (both goals) and is averaging 2.60 shots per game, the lowest mark he’s posted since 2010-11.
Noah Hanifin, D, Calgary Flames
T.J. Brodie’s struggles are getting the headlines, but Hanifin has had his hiccups, too. His 49.5 Corsi percentage is second-worst among Calgary’s most-used defencemen and represents the worst mark of his short career. Thus far, Hanifin’s offensive contributions are limited to a pair of assists.