8 Biggest Surprises From the Central Division

The 2022-23 NHL season has been filled with surprises. From player performances to teams’ winning and losing streaks, it has become nearly impossible to determine what will happen next. Here are some of the biggest surprises from the Central Division as we near the quarter mark of the season.

Gostisbehere Continues to Excel in Arizona

The 29-year-old defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is proving that last season was not a fluke and that he can still surpass at least 45 points in a single season. After scoring 65 points in the 2017-18 season, he failed to register above a half-point per game pace in two of his remaining three seasons in Philadelphia. Once he was traded to Arizona, he became one of the club’s top two defensemen. There were doubts that he could repeat his performance in 2022-23, but so far, he has proven the critics wrong. With fellow defenceman Jakub Chychrun returning from injury, time will tell if he will keep his production above a half-point per game throughout the rest of the season.

Toews and Kane Returning to Form for Blackhawks

Oct. 20, 2022, marked the official rebuild of the Chicago Blackhawks when a letter from the franchise was penned and released to the fans. Two years later, two of the team’s core pieces of their Stanley Cup dynasty, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, are not only ranked in the top three in team scoring but continue to assert their dominance for their club. While their scoring pace each hovers under 60 points and is a step back from their point-per-game pace earlier in their careers, the two continue to exemplify excellence on the ice at 34 years old.

Chicago Blackhawks Celebrate
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates a goal with teammates Patrick Kane, Taylor Raddysh, Philipp Kurashev and Max Domi (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Toews and Kane will be two of the marquee options at the trade deadline as both players are in the final year of their eight-year contracts worth $10.5 million per season. Their high level of play on a depleted Blackhawks roster should only reinforce their trade value when the trade deadline comes around.

Georgiev on a Roll in Colorado

It is not often that you find a Stanley Cup-winning team move on from their goaltender before the start of the following season. On July 7, 2022, the Avalanche acquired New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev in exchange for their third-round and fifth-round selections in the 2022 NHL Draft and a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. The 26-year-old spent five seasons with the Rangers and posted a 15-10-2 record last season and a 58-48-11 with a 2.94 goals-against average (GAA), a .908 save percentage (SV%), and eight shutouts in 129 career games. The Bulgarian has proven his worth this season solidifying the Avalanche’s goaltending with a 9-2-1 record along with a 2.40 GAA, a .929 SV%, and one shutout.

Jason Robertson is a Superstar

The NHL has found itself another superstar, this time from Texas. Drafted 39th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Robertson is one of the top players in the NHL in both goals and total points. The Stars are going through a turnover in leadership with veteran players Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin finding themselves among the “old guard” and helping lead and shape the next wave of players in Dallas. The team is finding great success this season with Robertson leading the charge offensively with support from players like Benn and Seguin.

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Robertson was a late addition to the Stars lineup this season after a contract holdout and officially re-signing with the franchise on Oct. 5, 2022. With little time to prepare before the start of the regular season, the 23-year-old has shown zero signs of slowing down and is pushing to be the best in the league when it comes to goalscoring and generating points.

Wild Are Average After All

It can be difficult to accept that a fan’s favorite franchise is average. After finishing the 2021-22 season with a 53-22-7 record, expectations were high for the Minnesota Wild heading into 2022-23. As the club closes out the first quarter of its season, the term “average” appears to be a perfect fit. They returned this season with a bulk of their roster the same, despite the loss of forward Kevin Fiala and goaltender Cam Talbot.

Cam Talbot Minnesota Wild
Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This season has proven that teams can go on long stretches of winning or losing streaks and change their fate in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, as the season progresses, it will become increasingly difficult for the Wild to change their ranking and push for a playoff spot.

Saros Struggling to Hold a Tune

After finishing the 2021-22 season as a Vezina finalist, Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros has struggled mightily to hold his position as the team’s starting goaltender. Despite a 5-2-1 record, he owns a .902 SV% that ranks outside the top-10 goaltenders. This season, he has allowed three goals or less only five times. Time will tell if he and the Predators have what it takes to keep their foot on the petal all season long. Closing out Nov. 2021 he posted a 10-7-0 record with a .920 SV% and will need to find his game once more and prove his Vezina-caliber season was not a one-time affair.

O’Reilly’s Offensive Concerns in Contract Year

The Stanley Cup-winning captain of the St. Louis Blues is currently experiencing one of the worst offensive campaigns of his career. To make matters more complicated, he is in the final year of his contract and showing management that he may not age as well offensively as once hoped. The 31-year-old Canadian began to see a dip in his offensive production during the 2021-22 season trending from 0.96 points per game to a 0.74 points per game pace. While many expected a strong rebound season from O’Reilly, his 0.40 point per game pace this season suggests his regression may have not been a fluke after all.

Related: Blues Should Extend Ryan O’Reilly Soon

The Blues currently hold approximately $12.7 million in cap space next season with only 14 players currently under contract. The ability for them to re-sign not only O’Reilly but also players like Ivan Barbashev and Vladimir Tarasenko will be all but impossible, resulting in difficult decisions ahead.

Jets High Flying Sustainability

The Winnipeg Jets returned to the 2022-23 season with very few changes to their roster, most notably a new head coach in Rick Bowness. After a disappointing 2021-22 campaign left them out of the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 seasons since the franchise relocated from Atlanta, many expected more changes. However, the decision to stand pat has proven fruitful as the team is ranked in the top 10 in the NHL. They may have a difficult time sustaining this record with their scoring and power play listed in the bottom third of the league, but they are one of the better teams defensively, ranking in the top 10 in penalty killing and goals allowed per game.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness, Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

With most teams having over 60 games still left to play, there are a wide array of scenarios and topics to look forward to as the season progresses. The Central Division, in particular, holds several storylines that should be paid close attention to as the teams continue to fight off one another for a playoff spot.

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