The 5 Biggest Early Surprises of the 2014-15 NHL Season

The focus of subjectivity is a distorting mirror — Hans Georg Gadamer

Most people seem to enjoy opinion-based lists, whether they be found here at The Hockey Writers or elsewhere on the web. They prompt interesting discussion as well as an array of opinions, both pro and con. The authors tend to work hard to support their selections and defend their opinions, which adds further fuel to the fire when the readers throw their two cents in.

Get your pennies ready. After perusing the early results of the 2014-15 season, I’ve come up with what I believe to be the five most interesting early surprises. Sure, on-ice events could change things quickly, but for now, the following represents the biggest early surprises of the new season.

#5: Frederik Andersen

Fredrick Andersen has been one of the league's biggest surprises so far this year. (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
Fredrick Andersen has been one of the league’s biggest surprises so far this year. (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
The former third-round pick (#87 overall) of the Anaheim Ducks was the eleventh goaltender chosen in the 2012 entry draft. None of the previous ten have seen a minute of regular-season action at the NHL level as of this writing, including two first-round picks (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Malcolm Subban). Meanwhile, the Western Conference’s top regular-season team last year is not only throwing the rookie netminder out there, but shockingly, he’s been a man amongst boys. As of today, he has posted a 6-1-0 record, 1.69 G.A.A. and .940 save percentage.

Andersen displayed great promise overseas and in the minors, but if his terrific start to the young season isn’t one of the league’s bigger surprises, I’ll eat my hat. Or as Cal Worthington used to vow — a bug.

#4: The Colorado Avalanche

There are those who predicted the Avs would take a step back this year, while still others suggested they could be Cup-bound. The truth, as it usually goes, will probably be somewhere in the middle.

That being said, the Avs would love to be somewhere closer to the middle than their current #15 spot in the Western Conference standings. Check it out: Colorado is 26th overall in goals scored, 22nd in goals against, 22nd on the power play and worst in the West in goal differential (-9). They also don’t win many draws (25th). All in all, the poor slottings won’t add up to many wins, which explains their grand total of two.

Right now, the Avalanche richly deserve their inclusion on this list of early surprises.

#3: Tanner Pearson

(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
Pearson is one-third of the Los Angeles Kings’ celebrated ‘That 70s Line’ which includes linemates Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. Selected #30 overall in the 2012 draft, the left winger led the Barrie Colts in goals (37) and total points (91) during the prior campaign, but wasn’t much of a goal scorer in the AHL, notching 19 and 17 goals in two seasons with the Manchester Monarchs. He appeared to have a bright future, but not only was it probably years away, but it projected out as a versatile playmaker.

Not hardly. So far, Pearson is third in the NHL in goals scored, registering nine in eight games. Tyler Toffoli’s development (12 points) has been one of the Kings’ more pleasant surprises, but at least he had virtually all of last year to get his feet wet. Pearson scored just seven points during the 2013-14 season, then went mini-nuts in the playoffs with twelve points in 24 games. Pearson has taken about three quantum steps forward so far this season, landing himself squarely on this list of early season surprises.

#2: The Minnesota Wild’s 0% power play

Ah, the Wild: A riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. They’ve started out of the blocks a middling 4-3-0, and yet are not only fourth in the league in goals scored (3.29 per game) but second in goals allowed (1.57). As a result, they actually lead the league in goal differential (+12). Shouldn’t they be 7-0?

Well, the fact that they don’t win many draws (46.1%, 28th overall) is bad enough, but they literally can not score on the power play. As of this writing, they have no goals while on the man advantage. Zero. Zilch. Zippo. Here’s a team that scores more than almost every other club in the NHL and in their first seven games, they haven’t tallied one while on the power play. Maybe they just haven’t had many chances, you ask? The Wild are sixth overall in power play time and are tied for sixth in shots while with the man advantage. They have thrown everything but the kitchen sink on net while on the power play, to no avail.

The Wild’s 0% power play has to qualify as one of the bigger early season surprises so far this year..

#1: The New York Islanders

Kyle Okposo (BridgetDS/Flickr)
Kyle Okposo (BridgetDS/Flickr)
Although the Islanders have only made the playoffs once in the past seven seasons, there are pundits who believed their upside might be as a fringe playoff team. However, most felt they wouldn’t end up quite that high, perhaps landing in the 10-12 range. John Tavares is one of the best in the game, and Kyle Okposo finally had the type of breakout campaign in 2013-14 (27 goals, 69 points) we’ve all been waiting for. The Isles appeared poised to make things a little interesting, at best.

How interesting is the second-best record in the Eastern Conference to this point of the season? Pretty damned interesting, I’d say. The Islanders have the third-best goal differential (+5) in the East, the league’s number one offense (3.88), the fourth-highest number of hits (238) and the ninth-most number of blocked shots (127). They don’t do everything well (read: goals allowed, penalty kill), but the Islanders are making noise in the East.

Granted, they have regression to the mean written all over them, but for now, the New York Islanders qualify as the biggest surprise of the 2014-15 season.

Other surprises

What do you think? Are there surprises you feel should be included that weren’t, or others that don’t belong at all? Post your comments below or send to @McLaughlinWalt.

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