One thing we’ve learned about every NHL team early in the 2023-24 season – The Athletic

It’s early. Very early.

NHL teams have only played between three and five games in the 2023-24 season to this point.

Still, that’s enough to make an early impression of how this season and standings could shape up. Whether it’s a star player’s resurgence or the solution to a hole in the lineup, there is plenty to be learned from a team’s first handful of games.

This week, The Athletic asked its NHL staff for one thing they’ve learned about each team so far. Here’s what they said.


Laine at center, Lafrenière’s top-six chance: NHL’s top 7 player experiments

The rookies don’t play like rookies: Never mind that No. 2 pick Leo Carlsson made a lot of noise in his NHL debut. The Ducks’ impressive prospect pool is already paying dividends. The makings of a potentially standout defense corps are in place. Pavel Mintyukov, 19, has been outstanding in his early looks. Jackson LaCombe, 22, is already eating 20 minutes a night and looking like a composed veteran. Tristan Luneau, 19, stepped in for an injured Jamie Drysdale and could eventually be a keeper after largely holding his own in also playing his first game Thursday. Also, did we say Carlsson made a bunch of noise in his first game? Only three games in, yes, but the future appears bright in Anaheim. — Eric Stephens


What we learned from Leo Carlsson’s first NHL game

Logan Cooley looks like the real deal: Connor Bedard gets all the Calder Trophy chatter, and that’s only fair. But Cooley, Arizona’s first-rounder in 2022, has been everything the Coyotes hoped for in the early going after they convinced him to leave school early this summer. He has four points in his first four games, tied with Clayton Keller for the team lead, all of them on the power play. He can find seams in the defensive zone with his playmaking. He’s playing with a poise and presence that belies his age. He’s earned more than 18 minutes of ice time per night from coach Andre Tourigny and is averaging better than 50 percent in the face-off circle. In short, he looks like a top-six forward already, with a good chance to evolve into a top-three — or top-two or even top-one — organizational lynchpin. — Eric Duhatschek

Rookie Matt Poitras is going to get offensive opportunities: First, the 19-year-old unexpectedly made the team out of camp. Then after only two games, Poitras was promoted to No. 2 center with Brad Marchand and Morgan Geekie. This came after a summer in which Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle were expected to be the top two centers in place of now-retired Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Poitras can appear in nine games without burning the first year of his entry-level contract. — Fluto Shinzawa


Why the Bruins are already moving Matt Poitras to No. 2 center — and what it means for the other lines

Devon Levi is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. (Timothy T. Ludwig / USA Today)

The goalie situation is still unsettled: Devon Levi started the first four games of the season for the Sabres, and coach Don Granato said he wanted the rookie to get into a rhythm. But he wasn’t sharp in game four and missed practice with a minor lower-body injury on Friday. The Sabres are going to lean on him if healthy, though. Even though the Sabres are carrying three goalies, backups Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen are also unproven with just 98 NHL starts between them. This is setting up to be a situation where Levi gets a lot of action in a season in which he’s making an unprecedented jump from college hockey straight to the NHL. — Matthew Fairburn

They still need a goal scorer: It was a question mark to start the season, but I’ve seen enough through four games to reiterate this: The Flames need a goal scorer. Tyler Toffoli’s 34 goals haven’t been sufficiently replaced yet. The Flames have had no problems getting chances on goal, but they need to convert more of those chances. Matthew Coronato has the shot, but he needs more time before he can be the guy. And the movement on the power play is getting better. In the meantime, the Flames will have to score by committee. — Julian McKenzie


Inside the mind of Marc Savard, who brings his coaching creativity to Calgary

Good defense is not a given: The Hurricanes came into this season loaded on the blue line with the additions of Dmitry Orlov and Tony DeAngelo joining a top four that is the envy of the league. But the first four games of the season have shown that familiarity and talent don’t guarantee success. Orlov has had difficulty adjusting to Carolina’s system in the first handful of games, and the Hurricanes’ usually rock-solid group of Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce hasn’t yet found its footing. — Cory Lavalette


What’s going right, and what needs fixing, with the Hurricanes thus far

Alex Vlasic has taken a significant development step: Vlasic has arguably been the Blackhawks’ best defenseman so far. He’s certainly shown more than he has in the past at the NHL level. He’s especially been effective at killing plays in the defensive zone due to the combination of his size, length and skating. He’s been a wall for opponents. Offensively, he’s more confident with the puck, too. The last season in the AHL seems to have really paid off for Vlasic. — Scott Powers


Alex Vlasic is developing into the defenseman the Blackhawks hoped he’d be

The penalty kill is improved: Colorado’s penalty kill got off to an atrocious start to the 2022-23 season and ended up with a middle-of-the-pack success rate (79 percent, 17th in the NHL). This season, the unit has yet to allow a power-play goal in 17 kill attempts. Some of that is due to Alexandar Georgiev playing excellent hockey, but newcomers like Ross Colton and Fredrik Olofsson also look at home playing short-handed. That’s an encouraging sign. Plus the team’s returners, including Logan O’Connor and Andrew Cogliano, are creating trouble for opponents. O’Connor has short-handed goals in consecutive games. The unit won’t stay perfect forever, but its improvements appear legitimate. — Peter Baugh

Coach Pascal Vincent isn’t messing around: If Blue Jackets players thought they were in for an easier ride when Vincent took over following Mike Babcock’s resignation four days before training camp, they were sorely mistaken. Vincent has made “accountability” his No. 1 priority, and that’s reared its head in several surprising ways already. On opening night, Kent Johnson — one of the Blue Jackets’ top young players — was made a healthy scratch. Fourth-line winger Eric Robinson, who has played 259 games in Columbus over the last four seasons, was placed on waivers last weekend and sent to AHL Cleveland when he cleared. Then, in just the third game of the season, Damon Severson, who signed an eight-year, $50 million contract with the Jackets over the summer, was benched for the entire third period of a 4-0 loss to Detroit. Vincent has run several grueling practices and plans to keep his foot on the pedal. “I’ve said we’re going to be a hardworking team, and we will be at some point,” Vincent said. “We will be that kind of team that’s really hard to play against because we just outwork the opponents.” — Aaron Portzline


‘It’s not tough at all’: Blue Jackets’ Pascal Vincent makes bold moves to build accountability

Miro Heiskanen is on a mission: With how good Miro Heiskanen was last season with his complete game, it felt like he just needed to maintain that level of excellence. Instead, Heiskanen has gotten even better. He has a shot that he’s further developed, his physicality stands out and his defense is as sound as ever. He said in the offseason he wants to be the best defenseman in the world, and he’s showing that with his play. — Saad Yousuf


Stargazing: Shootouts are back, Miro Heiskanen lowers the boom and Jake Oettinger shines

Detroit Red Wings

The “scoring by committee” approach is working: Through four games, the Red Wings have scored 19 goals, tied for most in the league. And while Alex DeBrincat’s five goals certainly stand out, what’s even more notable is that Detroit has already had 12 different goal scorers. That’s exactly the vision the Red Wings had in assembling this lineup, with scoring throughout the lineup at forward and on defense. Andrew Copp has rebounded nicely from a quieter 2022-23 season, as well. Detroit’s power play won’t be this efficient all year, and their team shooting percentage is due to dip some, but the depth the Red Wings were counting on this season looks legit. — Max Bultman


Offense carrying Red Wings in young season, including win against Penguins

Cup contention is far off right now: The Oilers entered the season as a Stanley Cup favorite. They’ve looked anything but. They’re 1-3 and have been demolished in two of those defeats. Limited five-on-five production. Poor penalty killing. Inconsistent goaltending. Shoddy defensive work. You name it; the Oilers haven’t been good enough in almost every way to start the campaign. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman


‘It’s just unacceptable’: Oilers, in early-season disarray, left searching for answers

Evan Rodrigues signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Panthers in the offseason. (Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

Evan Rodrigues is a worthy addition: We knew Rodrigues was an effective player; he’s shown it consistently over the past few seasons. Florida didn’t have tons of cap space to improve on last season’s roster and devoted a solid chunk of it to the versatile forward, and he has rewarded them by leading the team with five points in four games. That kind of production doesn’t need to continue for him to be a big help, either. — Sean Gentille

Cam Talbot is the Kings’ No. 1 goalie: The scoring depth is already materializing — eight of their 19 goals over four games have come from Trevor Moore, Carl Grundstrom and Vladislav Gavrikov. Goaltending, however, was the big question mark going into the season. It still is but the 36-year-old Talbot is grabbing the lead role in the tandem with Pheonix Copley. Talbot signed with L.A. to reunite with coach Todd McLellan and have a chance to claim the No. 1 job. It’s only been three starts, but he’s got a .916 save percentage and stopped 55 of 59 shots in an impressive two-game sweep of Winnipeg and Minnesota on the road. — Eric Stephens


Will Cam Talbot, with ‘a lot left in the tank,’ be what the Kings need in goal?

Minnesota Wild

The back end is thin: Not many teams can survive the loss of a top-pair defenseman, but Jared Spurgeon’s training camp injury reminded just how little depth the Wild have. They’ve had to go with Alex Goligoski, Jon Merrill and Calen Addison, three players who were consistent scratches down the stretch last season, and now have lost Goligoski for up to two months. That left only minor-leaguer Dakota Mermis to insert, with no more veteran depth defensemen in the minors to call up. That means one more injury and they’ll be rushing a young defenseman into their lineup. It’s peculiar that the Wild didn’t sign any other veteran defensemen for Iowa this season. Jonas Brodin and Brock Faber have performed well, but one big concern has been the play of Jake Middleton without his defense partner, Spurgeon. He has been on the ice for nine goals against this season, tied for third-most in the NHL. His eight goals against at five-on-five is tied for the worst. — Michael Russo

Mike Matheson is for real: It’s been such a scattered start to the season for the Canadiens, with a ridiculous number of penalties taken, that it’s been difficult to say much with great certainty through three games. But one thing seems clear, and that’s the play of Matheson has not dipped one bit from the way he finished last season. He is playing massive minutes in all situations against tough opposition and though the production hasn’t been there, he is a difference-maker on the ice. — Arpon Basu

Andrew Brunette can coach some offense: That was the word from general manager Barry Trotz when he hired Brunette. A limited sample size of head coaching backed it up, and so do the early returns on this season. Through five games, the Preds lead the NHL in expected goals for in five-on-five (11.68). The power play still hasn’t hit stride, though it took a step in a road win over the Rangers. But this team is aggressively manufacturing five-on-five opportunities despite clear roster limitations. — Joe Rexrode

The Devils are balancing their power play usage: There’s still a distinction between units — PP1 is skating about 60 percent of the available minutes, but it’s a more balanced approach in the early going compared to last year. The Devils have more talent to split between units and are scoring at a strong rate in their first three games. But it’ll be interesting to see if the disparity between minutes grows, since a more dominant top unit tends to be a stronger approach in today’s game. — Shayna Goldman

The status quo is just fine: Mock the Isles if you must for not changing much of anything the last few years, but their style keeps working for them. It’s only been a couple of games but the Isles are still suppressing their opponents and getting what they need from Ilya Sorokin. That might be enough for a successful season given all the change around them in the East. — Arthur Staple

New York Rangers

New coach, same issues: General manager Chris Drury moved on from Gerard Gallant in the offseason because the Rangers simply didn’t have enough structure to make a deep playoff run. Peter Laviolette has preached structure since he arrived, but through four games it hasn’t quite taken — the Rangers were in the bottom half of the league in allowing chances off the rush last season and they’re back there again early this year. — Arthur Staple

Jake Sanderson signed an eight-year, $64.4 million contract extension on Sept. 6. (Chris Tanouye / Freestyle Photography / Getty Images)

Jake Sanderson is worth every penny of his new contract: There were a lot of raised eyebrows when the Senators signed Sanderson to an eight-year contract that came with a $8.05 million average annual value. After all, Sanderson only had four goals and 77 career games under his belt when he signed the contract last month. But in the first two weeks of the season, Sanderson has silenced the doubters. He’s starting to pop offensively, with a pair of goals and five points over the first four games. And Sanderson has already taken over the quarterbacking role on the Senators’ top power play unit — a spot he doesn’t look like he’ll be relinquishing any time soon. Sanderson is doing this while still maintaining the same calm presence that led to him being Ottawa’s most reliable defender in their own zone last season. After Wednesday’s game, he was leading all NHL defensemen in total short-handed time on ice this season (18:03). At 21 years old, Sanderson has become Ottawa’s top option on both special teams units, while regularly facing opponents’ top forwards at even strength. If he keeps up this level of play, that $8.05 million cap hit is going to look like a bargain. — Ian Mendes


Jake Sanderson is ready to unlock his offensive potential this season

The kids are going to play: It was mildly surprising when the Flyers waived Wade Allison in order to keep Bobby Brink, Tyson Foerster and Emil Andrae all on the opening night roster. And while the team is still icing a gritty fourth line and veterans like Marc Staal and Sean Walker on defense, the young players are all getting a chance to impress. Brink, in particular, has been among the Flyers’ best players through four games. — Kevin Kurz

The third-line has improved: Jansen Harkins, a waiver claim in training camp, was placed on waivers by the Penguins on Thursday. He had been a winger on the third line that also consisted of Drew O’Connor and Lars Eller. Only Eller hadn’t been awful. This line hasn’t scored a goal (neither has the fourth). Great as the Penguins’ top six at forwards is — and it’s great — it’s also looking a bit like last season. Then, the top six did everything. That can’t happen. — Rob Rossi

The shot disparity is at an obscene level: There isn’t any illusion with the Sharks — this is going to be a hard year. And their goalies, Mackenzie Blackwood and Kaapo Kahkonen, will be taking the brunt of it. Mind you, San Jose has had a brutal schedule to start with season-opening games against Vegas, Colorado, Carolina and Boston. But the Sharks have been outshot by nearly double in total after the four contests (162-87). Blackwood, who has been an early bright spot, got them their point with a brilliant 51-save effort in his San Jose debut, a shootout loss to the Avalanche. Thursday’s loss to Boston was more balanced. The schedule won’t all be division winners and Stanley Cup contenders, but the disparity is in the negative by an 18.7 average and they’ll need to narrow that going forward to give their netminders a chance. — Eric Stephens


Ten big questions for the Sharks to answer after their season opener

Counting on finishing efficiency is tough: The Kraken were one of the most opportunistic finishing teams in hockey last season, but that has sort of abandoned them in the early going this season (or, it had anyway until their offensive explosion against the Hurricanes on Thursday). After leading the NHL in even-strength shooting percentage as a team last season, the Kraken have been ice-cold to open the year. Even factoring in their seven-goal outing Thursday, the Kraken have converted only 4.03 percent of their shots at five-on-five in the first 10 days of the season. That’s the lowest mark in the league. Given the finishing talent the Kraken boast up front, they should still be an average or better finishing team as the sample expands. Still, the first 10 days of the season have served as a reminder that relying on finishing efficiency over an 82-game season means living on a knife’s edge. — Thomas Drance

Learning a new defensive system may take time: The Blues have installed a new defensive zone system, and in their first two games, the results were remarkable. They were protecting the slot, creating a net-front presence, blocking shots and killing plays. But just when it looked like they might be putting last season’s poor defensive performance in the past, it unraveled in a 6-2 loss to Arizona. The system calls for being disciplined, but the Blues will have to be more aggressive or they’ll be watching opponents occupy the zone a lot this season. — Jeremy Rutherford


Blues video room: What’s key to success on defense? What remains a concern?

They are struggling at five-on-five: Through five games, Tampa Bay’s only earned 40.7 percent of the expected goals share at five-on-five. It stems from weaknesses on both ends of the ice — this team is struggling to generate offense from the slot and net-front area, especially when their high-end forwards aren’t on the ice. And the Lightning are allowing a lot back from the circles. Right now, it seems like cap-based subtractions over the years are catching up with them. — Shayna Goldman

Auston Matthews is poised to have a huge bounce-back season: It’s weird to call it a “bounce-back season” when Matthews put up 40 goals and 85 points last season. Matthews’ standards are just that high, though. His performance early this season — six goals in the first four games, including back-to-back hat tricks to kick things off — looks a lot more reminiscent of his play two seasons ago, when he scored 60 and won the Rocket and Hart Trophies. Matthews has been a force at both ends, the most consistent element for the Leafs so far this fall. Crucially for the Leafs, he looks healthy after playing hurt most of last year. So, what have we learned? Matthews is back. — Jonas Siegel


Auston Matthews was driving toward his resurgence all summer

Quinn Hughes has been an engine throughout the start of the regular season. (Bob Frid / USA Today)

You all need to stop underrating Quinn Hughes: The Canucks have been typically inconsistent through the first week and change of the regular season, but Hughes has been an engine. The Canucks’ top defender has yet to be on the ice for a goal against in nearly 100 minutes of work in all situations (Vancouver has scored 10 goals in those minutes — five on the power play, five at even strength). He’s also the only member of Vancouver’s blue line who is currently in the black by scoring chance differential. And he’s playing at a point-per-game pace and has added an aggressive shooting element to his tool kit — averaging three shots per game so far, which is an extra shot per game over his career average. The goals haven’t come yet, but based on the shot rate and the high-velocity rush wrister he uncorked (which hit the crossbar) on Thursday night in Tampa, it’s only a matter of time before they do. Hughes isn’t just at the top of his game to open this season; he’s gone up a level. — Thomas Drance

Vegas Golden Knights

There’s no Stanley Cup hangover in Las Vegas: The abbreviated offseason filled with partying that follows a championship usually leads to a slow start the next October, but that hasn’t been the case for the Golden Knights. They’ve already tied Wayne Gretzky’s 1985-86 Oilers for the best start by a defending champ in NHL history with five straight wins and can break the all-time record Saturday in Chicago. Vegas brought back nearly the entire roster from last season, and the star players such as Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson have all picked right up where they left off. — Jesse Granger


What Stanley Cup hangover? Vegas off to best start for a defending champ in 25 years

A bounce-back season isn’t a guarantee: There were some reasons for optimism about the Caps heading into the season: the possibility of a return to form (in one way or another) for Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom and the ongoing greatness of Alex Ovechkin. The actual scenario, though, is far from the best-case one, and the Caps look punchless through three games, scoring just four goals. — Sean Gentille

Winnipeg Jets

Old habits die hard: Winnipeg has faced some early adversity, with a 1-3 record, an injury to Gabriel Vilardi, and an overall failure to turn quality scoring chances into real goals. Rick Bowness has responded by moving Mason Appleton onto his top line and stacking his checking line by giving Nino Niederreiter and Alex Iafallo to Adam Lowry. Lost in the shuffle? Nikolaj Ehlers and Cole Perfetti, whose line with Vladislav Namestnikov scored a goal despite third-line minutes and created plenty of chances on Thursday night. I see this as a dramatic over-correction for a team that has looked good and which, from a metrics perspective, doesn’t need to hide Ehlers and Perfetti nearly as much as it does. — Murat Ates


Jets’ Vilardi out 4-6 weeks with MCL injury

(Top photos of Auston Matthews and Cam Talbot: Kevin Sousa / NHLI via Getty Images and Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top