With a little less than a week left in the NHL preseason, everyone in and around the game has learned a few specific things heading into the 2017-18 campaign.
The preseason is generally a time for getting a feel for the new season, getting accustomed to altered rules, and getting a glimpse into how far along some of the league’s top prospects truly are. This year has been no different, perhaps even more informative than usual.
The main topic of concern among fans and players alike has been the implementation of stricter officiating in a couple of departments. Over the first few days of action, a ridiculous amount of faceoff violation and slashing penalties were called, ultimately slowing down the game and eliminating any even-strength play. It was met with harsh criticism from both sides and has since been drawn back.
Another notable area has been the success of rookies playing amongst partial NHL lineups. It’s one thing to jump in and not be out of place in the game. It’s quite another to have the ability to take over the game and dominate right out of the gate. If the preseason has been any sort of preview, we could be in for another massive year for rookies and a tight Calder Trophy race.
Of course, the most noticeable difference in the NHL has been the addition of an expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. The team made its long-awaited NHL debut, jumping out to a 9-4 victory in its first taste of action. Overall, it’s been a grand success to date. After a four-game road trip, the Golden Knights are set to play in their first-ever home game on Sept. 26.
1) Leave the Rules Alone
The NHL implemented a stricter policy for both legal faceoffs and slashing this preseason. To say it didn’t go over well would be a massive understatement.
On the faceoff side, no one was quite certain what the league was trying to accomplish. Players were immediately tossed out of the draw if their skates crossed the faceoff line, or if they pivoted to gain body position. Ultimately, they were being forced to take the draw while remaining still as a statue. And, of course, once back-to-back violations were called, the team would receive a minor penalty.
This completely slowed down the game and frustrated both players and fans alike, the majority of whom didn’t understand what the centermen were expected to do. Some stars took to the media to express their disdain for the new faceoff crackdown, namely Brad Marchand, who called it “an absolute joke”. TSN’s Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole featured a fantastic bit that actually summed up the new faceoff policy perfectly, along with the help of a good friend, Steven Stick.
On the slashing side of things, the innovated rule was much more understandable. After a number of serious injuries resulted from unpenalized slashes in the 2016-17 season, most notably Johnny Gaudreau’s fractured finger, the NHL was looking to eliminate stick contact from the game. However, the implementation of the rule was far too strict.
Despite players getting called for the lightest of contact between stick and body, a significant portion of the league has actually been in favour of the rule. With an eye towards limiting injuries as a result of irresponsible stick control, much of the preseason games have been played on special teams, to a point where it gets a bit ridiculous. A lot of players have voiced their opinions on these changes, but the understanding is that once the regular season gets underway, the officials will give the players more leeway.
2) The Rookies Are Alright
A number of rookies competing for a spot on an NHL team have been tremendous. While they aren’t up against true competition yet, there’s no denying that their performances have been uber impressive.
Starting from the top, Brock Boeser currently shares a lead of the league scoring, with four goals and six points in three games. He’s shown off strong skating and an elite release to beat goaltenders straight up. The 20-year-old is a former University of North Dakota superstar and made quite the impression with four goals in a nine-game stint with the Canucks last spring. Boeser is expected to be a top contender for the Calder Trophy in 2017-18 and is doing well to prove his ability to potentially dominate in this league.
Another favourite for the Rookie of the Year this season is Clayton Keller. The Boston University alum has quickly risen up the prospect rankings with his freshman performance in 2016-17. In two games this preseason, Keller has tallied two goals and five points while being the Coyotes’ best player on the ice. An elite skater, Keller reads the ice as well as anyone and could be a dynamic playmaker. In a three-game stint with Arizona last year, Keller added two assists and didn’t look out of place at any time.
The 22nd overall pick in 2017, Kailer Yamamoto is making it difficult for Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers to send him back to junior. A 5-foot-8 winger with speed, Yamamoto has added four goals and five points in just three games, showcasing an ability to drive to the net and find open space on the ice. While it remains unlikely that he will crack the opening-night lineup as an 18-year-old, Yamamoto should be a top candidate for the MVP of the WHL, where he represents the Spokane Chiefs.
Out in Ottawa, it’s been Logan Brown stealing the spotlight. Through two games, Brown has potted three goals and four points. With Colin White going down with an injury, Brown has filled in admirably in the prospect department. A 6-foot-6, 220-pound center, Brown may be playing his way into the opening night lineup with a responsible two-way game, but most notably, a strong stride and electric shot. The former 11th overall pick in 2016 is giving hope to Senators fans for the future, alongside stalwart Thomas Chabot.
3) Look Out for the Vegas Golden Knights
Much has come about trying to decipher what kind of season the expansion Golden Knights will experience. Will they be the laughingstock of the league in their inaugural campaign? Or will their goaltending and defensive depth carry them towards a fight for a playoff spot?
Well, if the preseason is any indication of regular season success, Vegas may be alright. The squad of misfits has jumped out to a 3-1-0 record thus far, led by the likes of Brad Hunt, Tomas Hyka, and Tyler Wong. Things got off to a booming start with a 9-4 trumping of the Vancouver Canucks in their first-ever taste of NHL hockey. Unfortunately, the preseason is indeed a terrible indicator of regular-season success, with little to no correlation between the two.
In any case, Vegas has been one of the more entertaining teams to keep track of so far. With blistering offence, great player personalities, and undoubtedly the NHL’s best Twitter account, the Golden Knights represent everything a fan dreams of in their favourite team. In what has been the most excruciatingly reported expansion process in NHL history, everything seems to be going perfectly so far.
The Golden Knights are set to make their first-ever appearance at home in the T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 26 against the Los Angeles Kings. You can bet this will mark yet another occasion that everyone’s eyes are glued to.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at email@example.com or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.