Hello, this is the first of what I hope will be many segments in a recurring theme where I provide news, insight and analysis regarding various events and trends going on throughout the NHL.
The NHL is back, and it’s alive and well.
Despite months of uncertainty, anger and, ultimately the most worrisome, apathy, the NHL has returned, and with it have the fans, who still love the game far too much to leave it regardless of all the drama.
Luckily for them the ups, downs and turnarounds of the league, the endless storylines that make the NHL so compelling, have come back in full swing, even just two weeks into the 2013 season.
Here now is a quick rundown of some of the early season’s noteworthy stories:
-After years of falling below expectations under tough pressure, very few hockey experts considered the aging 2013 version of the San Jose Sharks to still be considered among the league’s most dangerous teams. Perhaps that easing of pressure is just what the Sharks needed as evidence by their dominant 6-0 start, outscoring their opponents 26-10 in those games. Post 30 year-olds Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau look more dangerous than ever so far, if that’s even possible. The Sharks have dominated in the regular season but faltered in the playoffs almost every year since the last lockout, but with less expectations placed upon the team now 2013 might be the time where the Sharks, in a weird twist on being an underdog, really break through.
-On the topic of hype and pressure, both seem to be no deterrent to Edmonton’s increasingly-impressive armory of young guns. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and Nail Yakupov are all delivering exactly as advertised, scoring goals in bunches, including on a lethal powerplay that’s currently clicking at 34%. The experience of terrifying opposing defenses that these young stars gained playing in the AHL and overseas during the lockout has clearly carried over to the NHL, but the real question is just how quickly they can grow together.
-Speaking of the Oilers, now-de facto number one goaltender Devan Dubnyk deserves plenty of praise. Now 4-2 with a .916 save percentage, the 26 year-old Dubnyk has been Edmonton’s best player in more than one game so far, which is extra impressive considering all the aforementioned talent. Another former 1st round pick by the team, Dubnyk struggled early in his professional career but has become much stronger mentality after battling through the organization’s darkest years. The Oilers’ long-term future is undoubtedly set offensively, but if Dubnyk can continue to steal games when his team needs him to Edmonton could have another enviable core piece with which to build around.
-The ongoing Evander Kane circus in Winnipeg gets more and more interesting as time goes on. Through all the social media shenanigans, the fan criticisms and the media lambasting, Kane is letting his on-ice play have the loudest voice, scoring seven points in six games, putting him in a tie for the team’s lead. There’s no doubt that many Jets fans and media are not the biggest supporters of Kane’s personality, so it will be interesting to watch how his time in Winnipeg unfolds if he keeps up the pace as a solid scoring threat.
-Already a leading contender for the feel-good story of the season, how great must it feel right now to be Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning? An undrafted, diminutive forward that debuted with a bang in the AHL, winning the Les Cunningham Award as AHL MVP and helping the Norfolk Admirals win the Calder Cup in only his rookie season, Conacher is now overcoming odds at the NHL level, with nine points in six games. The comparisons to Martin St. Louis, another small, undrafted college forward that tore up the AHL before dominating in the NHL, are uncanny, so it’s only fitting that the two are playing together now for the Lightning.