Three Stars of the Midweek

NHL

Auston Matthews, Toronto: Do we really need to explain this? At one point it was looking like he was going to bury eight. The savior has arrived in Toronto.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton: The first overall pick in 2015 prior to Matthews being selected first in June logged defenseman-like 23:27 in the Oilers 7-4 win over Calgary. Oh, and he had two goals and an assist to boot.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis: His second goal was an empty-netter, but his goal with 32 seconds left in the second period set the tone for the Blues three-goal third period in their 5-2 win over Chicago.

CHL

Nicolas Hague, Mississauga: The Steelheads poured it on Guelph with an 11-3 win on Wednesday. Hague, a defenseman, accounted for three of the goals, finishing with four points while finishing with a plus-four. A projected first round pick in 2017 with dimensions of 6-foot-5/216 pounds, the 17-year-old has five goals and eight points in seven games.

Jeremy Bracco, Kitchener: More good news for Leafs fans. Bracco, a second-round pick by Toronto in 2015, had three goals and five points in the Rangers 8-4 win over Guelph on Monday. He factored in four of the five powerplay goals for Kitchener, including two of his three goals. The Long Island native has five goals and nine points in three games, following up a strong first OHL campaign in which he put up 64 points in 49 games after leaving Boston College to join Kitchener. He had 14 points in nine games in the 2016 OHL playoffs.

Michael Bullion, Portland: Coming off a rough outing in which he allowed seven goals on 28 shots in a 7-3 loss to Swift Current, he stopped 48 of the 52 shots he faced in the Winterhawks 5-4 win over Regina on Wednesday night.

 

 

 

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Preseason Power Rankings: Lightning the Class of the NHL

Here’s how the last two seasons have ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2014-15, two wins shy of winning its first Stanley Cup since 2004; 2015-16, one win shy of becoming the first team in seven years to win back-to-back Prince of Wale Trophies.

And here’s the thing – the Bolts are only getting better.

The talk in the East has been about Washington, whether or not its the year the Capitals finally break through and put Alex Ovechkin’s name on the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s been the dialogue for quite some time now. Then there’s also those who bring up the yearly ‘is this the year a Stanley Cup winner defends its title?’ That’s the conversation around Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, down in the central Florida resides the best team the NHL has to offer.

The Lightning are a team built for the modern NHL. A team the plays at a pace that emulates its name, Tampa goes four lines deep of skill players who use their legs as their greatest weapons in creating pressure and forcing teams to make mistakes. The defense corps is among the elite fluent-skating blue lines, led by behemoth Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos leads the charge as he kicks off an eight-year pact to remain in Tampa Bay. He’s complimented by rising superstar Nikita Kucherov up front, along with Tyler Johnson, who comes in poised for a breakout campaign.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the world’s premier puck stoppers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good a second option you’ll find.

Health is the big x-factor going into the season, which kind of goes without saying. But when you consider injuries that have befallen key players on the club over the past couple seasons, including Stamkos, Johnson, Bishop, and Anton Stralman, it becomes a little more magnified.

Regardless, this looks like the team to beat at the early goings.

2- Washington: Some might say 1-A. The Capitals have never been built so well for the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.

3- Anaheim: The window is closing. Expect Bob Murray to deal Cam Fowler or one of his blue-chip defensive prospects to provide help up front.

4- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Reports out of Pittsburgh is that the Penguins really want to be that team to do it.

5- Chicago: 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie, yet Artemi Panarin remains grossly underrated.

6- Montreal: Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw add a lot of what was missing in the Canadiens room last season.

7- Dallas: Jim Nill needs to find a goaltender. But you knew that.

8- San Jose: The young guys on the Sharks were flying under the radar this time last year.

9- Nashville: The most exciting team in the NHL. Mike Fisher caps first year as captain by posing for a picture alongside Gary Bettman.

10- St. Louis: If Jake Allen performs to expectations, this team won’t miss a beat.

11- Florida: The Cats have a rebuilt blue line that emulates its in-state rival.

12- Calgary: The Flames won’t finish 30th in defense this season.

13- N.Y. Rangers: Sleeper Stanley Cup pick.

14- Detroit: A defensively suspect team, but the Red Wings should score at a pretty reasonable clip.

15- Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau wins. I could make a cheesy Donald Trump pun, but I’m not going to.

16- N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy.

17- Philadelphia: Steve Mason is solid, but the goaltending is still feast-or-famine. Everybody is falling in the Michael Leighton trap with Michal Neuvirth.

18- Boston: They’ll be in the thick of the wildcard race again, but the Bruins remain a good year or two away.

19- Los Angeles: The Kings are an Anze Kopitar away from being Team USA-bad.

20- Winnipeg: Newly-christened as the Jets captain, Blake Wheeler finally gets his due among the NHL’s best.

21- Buffalo: Don’t be surprised if this team makes the playoffs.

22- Edmonton: Connor McDavid leads the league in points.

23- Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes a push for the Norris.

24- Carolina: Justin Faulk is a finalist for the Norris.

25- Ottawa: Erik Karlsson wins the Norris (again).

26- New Jersey: Cory Schneider can only do so much.

27- Toronto: Still 2-3 years away.

28- Columbus: Potential surprise team. Blue Jackets dispel the ‘John Tortorella only plays guys who trap and block shots’ theory. Zach Werenski wins Calder Trophy.

29- Colorado: MacKinnon and Duchene the bright spots in Denver.

30- Vancouver: It was clear Alain Vigneault was the problem.

Pacific Division: Facts, Figures, Predictions

*Doug Weight is the only Oiler to post 82 points in a season since 1992. He did it three times; 104 in 1995-96, 82 in 1996-97, and 90 in 2000-01.

*A fifth consecutive playoff appearance for the Anaheim Ducks next spring would set a new franchise record.

*The Ducks were the class of the league last season on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Five-on-five wasn’t Anaheim’s strong suit, however, as its 127 even strength goals ranked 26th in the NHL.

*Among 34 goalies who have appeared in 100 games over the last four seasons, Mike Smith is tied for 27th in save percentage (.911) and 32nd in GAA (2.80).

*Drew Doughty is just the second player to average 28 minutes per game in back-to-back seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. He joins Rob Blake, who did so in 1999-00 and ’00-01.

*Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin are second and third, respectively, behind Jaromir Jagr on the assists leaderboard among active players; Thornton with 948 and Sedin with 748. Fourth place? Jarome Iginla, at 662.

Predictions

1- Anaheim: The Ducks aren’t deep up front, but loaded on the back end. John Gibson shines in first full season.

2- Calgary: On paper, the Flames had no business being the worst defensive team in the league last year. Expect much better results with bounceback year on blue line plus addition of Brian Elliot.

3- San Jose: It’s time we begin acknowledging Joe Pavelski as one of the 10 best players in the league.

4- Edmonton: McDavid is the main attraction, but Peter Chiarelli is building something special. The Oilers will win a Stanley Cup within five years.

5- Arizona: Don’t count out the Coyotes as a surprise playoff team.

6- Los Angeles: After Team USA debacle, things don’t get better for Dean Lombardi as slow decline in LA continues.

7- Vancouver: The Canucks showed up at the Hashtag-*INSERT QUIRKY SYNONYM FOR BEING BAD*-For-*INSERT NAME OF PRESUMPTIVE FIRST OVERALL PICK* party two years too late.

What Should We Expect From Connor McDavid in Year 2?

Expect Connor McDavid to push toward 105-110 points in 2015-16, his second season in the NHL.

That, of course, been the million dollar question of the offseason. What to expect of McDavid, who was officially coronated as the first overall draft pick in the 2015 draft when the Edmonton Oilers selected him with the first pick, the pick that followed years of hype and lead-up.

McDavid had a very good rookie season, one that was derailed by a broken collarbone that sidelined him for three months. Limited to 45 games, McDavid finished with 16 goals and 48 points. While the performance wasn’t enough to take the Calder Trophy out of the hands of Chicago forward Artemi Panarin, McDavid was the only rookie to average more than a point per game, with 1.07, which equates to 88 points over an 82-game portfolio. Only Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn met that standard last season. Only five players have reached 88 points in their freshman season, ever.

It’s what puts McDavid right in the thick of the Art Ross Trophy conversation. A full blue-and-orange offseason while now having a taste of life inside NHL glass sets the standard even higher than the rookie output the teenager.

As not only conventional wisdom, but also history, suggests, a significant jump in production is expected from the 19-year-old who already has it all.

Eleven players in NHL history have career averaged of 1.2 points per game, which approximates to roughly 100 over the course of 82. McDavid is expected to be the 12th.

The 11 had average rookie outputs of 1.1, just a notch above McDavid’s 1.07. The number ranks seventh on that list of greats, behind Peter Stastny (1.415), Mario Lemieux (1.369), Wayne Gretzky (1.325), Sidney Crosby (1.259), Mike Bossy (1.246), and Kent Nilsson (1.162). It’s worth noting, of course, that all six played at least 73 games. So a sample of 25 games greater than McDavid, in the worst case.

But what happens when they get into the second season?

It varies. The average jump was somewhere from a 20-30 percent increase in production. Gretzky jumped 25.8 percent when he went from his rookie mark of 1.325 to 1.73, 110 to 123. Lemieux, who went from 112 points to 146 from his freshman to sophomore season, saw a 29.9 percent jump in point-per-game production (1.369 to 1.78). Crosby jumped 20.5 percent from 1.259 to 1.518.

There are outliers. Bobby Orr didn’t experience any jump despite winning the Norris Trophy in his second season. Limited to 46 games by an offseason knee injury, Orr had similar production to his rookie year. That said, he had a 41.9 percent increase from his second to third. Guy Lafleur actually saw his production dip nine percent, though he did that playing for a Stanley Cup-winning Montreal squad in which the likes of Jacques Lemaire, brothers Pete and Frank Mahovlich, and Yvan Cournoyer were in the prime of their careers. Phil Esposito saw his production dip, though he didn’t truly blossom until after he was traded from Chicago to Boston in 1967.

Pegging the production jump for McDavid at around 20-25 percent would put him at 105-110 points. It would be fairly uncharted waters for both the NHL, as just two players have surpassed the 105-point over the last six seasons, Evgeni Malkin (109, 2011-12), and Patrick Kane (106, 2015-16).

The Oilers haven’t had 100-point scorer since Doug Weight, in 1995-96. Nobody has broken 105 points since Mark Messier posted 129 in 1989-90.

But McDavid is a different case. A player who has a skill-set unlike any other in the NHL currently (except maybe Crosby), a player whose numbers back up the hysteria over his potential, the teen – who turns 20 in January – looks poised to put up numbers not seen in quite some time in not just Edmonton, but the NHL.