Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Week 1 in the NHL
Some early early returns

We're just two or three games into an 82-game haul — with only Vancouver and Toronto skating in four so far — but already it's easy to spot some early trends in the NHL this season.

Here's a few thoughts from the dozen or so games I've managed to see:

Best rookie: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
An easy choice. Despite the fact Kopitar wasn't really part of the Calder Trophy buzz heading into the season — he wasn't ranked among the top 30 Calder candidates in McKeen's Hockey's preview — the 19-year-old Slovene has really impressed after three games. His introduction to NHL fans began with a two-goal first game that included an eye-popping one-on-one deke out of Chris Pronger (video evidence). An early opinion? Kopitar’s draft position in 2005 — 11th — is going to really standout a few years from now. Honourable mentions: Matt Carle, San Jose; Travis Zajac, New Jersey

Best defence pairing: Andy Sutton and Nicklas Havelid, Atlanta
Granted, the guy behind them, sophomore netminder Kari Lehtonen, has been fantastic in his own right, but the one Thrashers’ weaknesses pundits have long pointed to has been their blueline. So far this year, with both Sutton and Havelid logging big minutes (about 23:00 apiece), Atlanta’s defence has been terrific and the team’s allowed just three goals in three games. Honourable mentions: Duncan Keith and Jim Vandermeer, Chicago; Marek Malik and Michal Roszival, New York

Best forward line: Milan Michalek, Patrick Marleau and Steve Bernier, San Jose
The Sharks are 3-0 and the team’s so-called second line is a big reason why. These are three big bodies, and with Michalek showing a touch around the net he didn’t always have last season (three goals after three games), that makes three guys who can be deadly with the puck. They’re a handful for opposition defenders, that’s for sure. Honourable mention: Martin Straka, Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr, New York

Best goaltender: Andrew Raycroft, Toronto
There have been a lot of good ones so far, but Raycroft has been solid in every outing — save for perhaps an opening night loss to Ottawa. He’s facing more than 30 shots a night, has a 1.45 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. There’s not much more you can ask for, really. Honourable mentions: Alex Auld, Florida; Roberto Luongo, Vancouver; Lehtonen, Atlanta

Surprise player: Keith, Chicago
No, he’s definitely not a household name, but Keith’s really looked terrific so far and is sitting in 7th in overall icetime. The 23-year-old, second-year NHLer may be a big part of what’s (inexplicably) happening in the Windy City this year (12 goals in two games so far). Honourable mentions: Kopitar, Los Angeles; Alex Semin, Washington; David Legwand, Nashville

Surprise team: Pittsburgh
The Penguins looked really good in waxing state-rival Philadelphia to open their season, then kept things awfully close against Detroit a few nights later. They’ve only played two games so far, but colour me impressed. Ryan Whitney and Marc-Andre Fleury, in particular, have played lights out. Honourable mention: Columbus

Most disappointing player: Jeff Carter
Where o’ where are you, Mr. Carter? Zero points in the Flyers first three games, and his icetime is on the downslide already. So much for a breakout season. Honourable mention: Peter Schaefer, Ottawa; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit



At 10:00 AM, October 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carter played on the wing the first two games, not his position of the last few years. He was moved back to centering a line with Dimitrakos and Umberger last night and he looked much better.

At 12:01 PM, October 11, 2006, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

Schaefer has been an enigma his whole career. He goes in waves -- some nights he is terrific, some nights he is invisible. Some nights he really competes, some nights he doesn't. So much talent and potential, but it looks like it will never really be fulfilled. He's like a smaller, lighter Todd Bertuzzi.

At 6:04 PM, October 11, 2006, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

I hope your week two recap is a lot more mournful when you suffer a crushing fantasy defeat (thanks to the mediocrity of a Swedish pair of twins).


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