Early NHL Trends

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The season is young, but even in the several games teams have played, some intriguing trends have emerged. IH examines developments that may have an impact this year.

Jonathan Drouin:
Despite finishing with an elite assists per 60 minutes at even strength in his rookie season, the young Bolts winger failed to meet the lofty expectations of a third overall pick (in 2013). He wasn’t a goal-scoring threat, and he wasn’t as strong on the puck when he had possession or when he was in defensive coverage.

Well, those grievances appear to have vanished. Drouin has been more economical in his movements with and without the puck. His balance when facing heavy pressure has improved. And although the numbers don’t necessarily bear this out, he seems to be looking for his shot more.

Paired with Steven Stamkos, Drouin is the primary puck-handler on their line, and he happily distributes to the captain, who has exceptional finishing skills. Drouin’s accentuated role on entries, along with encouragement by the coaching staff to use his creativity, suggest that a big sophomore season is surfacing for him.

Additionally, Drouin’s sleek stop-and-go finesse and ability to identify aspirin-sized passing lanes make him look like a miniature Valtteri Filppula. However, if he can harness his scoring ability, which allowed him to shred opponents when in juniors, the ceiling for Drouin rises even higher. Through five games, the Lightning must be thrilled with his progression.

Vladimir Tarasenko:
For people who predicted that Tarasenko would usurp Alexander Ovechkin and win the “Rocket” Richard Trophy, his start has been encouraging. The dynamic winger has three goals on 17 shots through four games, and on a micro level the metrics are promising.

It starts with his terrific shot-generating ability at 5v5, per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com. Tarasenko has 15 shots at even strength, second best in the league, and he currently leads the NHL in shot attempts at 5v5 by a margin of six! Even though Tarasenko’s power-play goals were paltry last season relative to many of the other NHL top snipers, he is still a key component of the Blues’ man advantage. A closer look at the numbers shows that he recorded a healthy amount of shot attempts on the power play in 2014-15, but a small percentage went on goal. Tarasenko has one of the best releases in the game and his shot is piercing, attributes that presage more power-play goals.

St. Louis will feed Tarasenko along the top of the circle and around the off-slot any chance they get on the power play. They give him freedom to move around. He is a very good bet to reach double digits in power-play goals. For Tarasenko to be accruing a robust amount of shot attempts at even strength bodes well for his chances at winning the goal-scoring title. To wrestle the crown from Ovechkin – who is king of the power play — Tarasenko will need to continue his dominance at even strength.

Should I be worried? LA Kings edition:
The Kings are 0-3 and their goal differential is -10. On the surface that looks terrible, like an aging Cup team that is crumbling due to off-ice issues and the loss of some key personnel. But over the next 79 games, Los Angeles will right the ship. The Kings are once again the toast of possession statistics, leading the league in Corsi for percentage. And their 29th ranking in shooting percentage and 28th in save percentage will surely go up. After all, the Kings still have Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty, and Jake Muzzin. Their size and superiority in one-on-one battles make them a serious threat in the West.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick needs to play much better. He has been horrendous so far. But the Kings’ puck luck will improve. This is a very good team that can still influence the game with their skill on the rush or by force on the forecheck. While the depth has taken a hit, the same can be said for many of their contending peers in the Western Conference. The Kings’ knack for controlling shot attempts persists.

Jason Pominville-Mikael Granlund-Zach Parise:
The foremost concern for the Wild heading into this season was that their top skaters (namely, forwards) were not good enough to compete with the cream of the crop in their conference. The lack of a supreme No. 1 center was noteworthy. Minnesota had hoped/prayed that would be Mikael Granlund when they drafted him No. 9 overall in 2010, but through three seasons the returns were decent but not overwhelming. The Wild underscored this assessment when they gave him a two-year “prove-it deal” for $3 million AAV this summer.

Fortunately, so far this season, Granlund has been the hub of arguably the most electric line in hockey. Looking at his WOWY splits with Pominville and Parise, per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Granlund and his wings control approximately 60 percent of shot attempts when they are on the ice together. The skating, puck support, and relentless work ethic have been conspicuous. And Granlund has been pivotal with his passing off the rush and below the circles. If this line continues to skate around and past their opponents, Minnesota might have the sizzle to make its first Cup appearance.

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