When every NHL season begins, some guys always come out hotter than others and give themselves a great chance at having a successful season. Whether its young talent showing potential for a breakout season, or the unlikely grinder scoring at unusual pace, there are always some surprises when you take a look at the league leaders for points at the beginning of an NHL season.
As we enter the new year, games get suddenly more crucial for teams in the playoff hunt or for teams trying to solidify their playoff position. This is when the season reaches its toughest and most competitive point, and this is when players begin to show their true colors. Many of the players on this list are guys you might not expect to see producing as much as they have been since the start of the season.
This list features players whose pace is too good to be true; from veterans like Hossa to young snipers in the making like Pastrnak, and rookies like Werenski, these are just a small sample of the amount of players exceeding expectations this season. Here are 15 players who will see their early season production drop in 2017.
15. Cam Atkinson
After posting a career high 53 points in 81 games last season, Cam Atkinson has come out with fire to start the 2016-17 campaign. The 27 year old has already posted 33 points in his first 30 games this season, which is an impressive average of 1.1 points per game. His 15 power play points already surpasses his total of 10 in 2015-16, a career high for the Blue Jackets right winger. Atkinson’s shooting percentage is also nearly 4% higher than last season’s 11.9%, currently at 15.7%.
Atkinson’s current pace would put him at 90 points in an 82 game season, something that has become quite rare for NHL forwards these days. This would shatter his previous career high set last season, and his impressive 14 goals in 30 games puts him on pace for a career high of 38 in 82 games. It’s highly unlikely that Atkinson will be able to maintain this incredible pace for the rest of the season, but that shouldn’t give anyone a reason to overlook the highly skilled right winger.
Look for Atkinson to continue being one of the most underrated forwards this season and probably finishing in the 60-70 point range. It’s safe to say that the former 6th round pick has proven to be an absolute steal for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
14. Marcus Johansson
Not many people would think that Marcus Johansson would be one of the top scorers on the Washington Capitals heading into the new year, but he is. Johansson is third on the team with 24 points in 33 games, and is second in goals with 13. The Swedish winger is currently on pace for 60 points, which would be a career high.
Johansson has never seemed to solidify his spot as a Capitals top six forward, which is why he’s never hit the 50 point mark in his career yet. His great play this season has earned him second line minutes and he is making the most of it. However, the Capitals often change their line combinations so there is no guarantee Johansson can keep his spot for the rest of the season.
After scoring nine points in eight games in October, then only six in 13 games in November, Johansson has had a better month in December with nine points in 12 games so far. His production hasn’t been all that consistent, so you shouldn’t bet your money that he’ll maintain his 60 point pace. He should finish at his normal pace, between 45 and 50 points by season’s end.
13. Marian Hossa
At 37 years old, you wouldn’t expect Marian Hossa to be scoring at the same rate as he was during his prime. Well, with 16 goals in 34 games this season, Hossa has been doing just that. He has already surpassed his 13 goals scored in 64 games last season and he is on pace to score just under 40 goals, which he hasn’t done since 2008-09.
While he leads the Blackhawks in goals, it is unlikely that Hossa could keep this up for the rest of the season. Injuries are more probable for a player of his age and can definitely be a factor in keeping him out of the lineup and slowing him down further into the season. He is also on pace to finish with 55 points in 82 games. If he can stay healthy then that would increase his chances of reaching that mark. However, it will be tough for Hossa to keep up his great scoring for a full season at 37 years old. It is most probable that he will fall short of the 30 goal plateau and finish up with about 40 points overall.
12. Justin Schultz
After being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins last season because of his poor play in Edmonton, Justin Schultz has looked like the defense-man the Oilers were expecting him to be. He’s put up some pretty astonishing numbers this season with 22 points in 36 games and is a +22 which is almost a league best. Schultz is on pace for 50 points which would be 17 more than his career high which came when playing with the Oilers.
There’s no doubt that playing for a much better team like the Pittsburgh Penguins has helped Schultz’s game. However, the B.C native had a huge spike in points during the month of December which has led me to believe that he won’t maintain this current pace for the rest of the season. He had just 6 points before collecting 16 points in 13 games in the month of December.
With injuries to key defenders such as Kris Letang, Schultz has been rewarded with top minutes on a high scoring Penguins team which has helped inflate his stats. It is likely that he will move down in the lineup and his numbers will go back to his early season pace once Letang and others return, so don’t count on him having an exceptional season just yet.
11. Jonathan Marchessault
Arguably one of the top signings from last summer’s Free Agency, Jonathan Marchessault started off this season on a tear for the Florida Panthers. He was at the top of the league in scoring during the beginning of the season, and right now sits with 20 points in 28 games – already surpassing last year’s 18 in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the injury to Jonathan Huberdeau before the beginning of the season, Marchessault got to play on Florida’s top line which has led to his great production so far this season.
Although he has recently been in and out of the lineup due to some minor injuries, Marchessault’s current pace would have him finishing with almost 60 points in 82 games. From a guy who was barely able to get into a team’s lineup last season, to a potential 60 point guy the next is an unlikely occurrence in the NHL. Marchessault’s injuries, however, are starting to catch up to him as he has only played 5 games so far in December, and that could factor into his production decreasing in the new year. The Quebecer’s lack of experience has also not convinced me that he can keep up this pace for a full season as he is yet to play in one. With Huberdeau expecting a return sometime in February, Marchessault will likely see less ice-time and probably finish with a points total around 45.
10. Eric Staal
Just when it looked like his career might be hitting the gutter, Eric Staal seems to have found new life with the Minnesota Wild so far this season. After having one of his worst seasons in 2015-16, Staal has been looking like his old self lately with 29 points in 34 games for the Wild. The big center has proven to be another great bargain signing from this past off-season, as he’s taken over as the Wild’s current number one center thanks to his great play.
Staal is on pace for 70 points this season, and that would be his highest total since the 2011-12 season where he registered the same amount. He’s done it multiple times before, so what’s the issue? Well, the Ontario native hasn’t been getting any younger, and was expected to have a reduced role when signing with the Wild. The question will simply be if Staal can keep up his scoring with top minutes at 32 years old in a difficult Western Conference. The Wild are playing some great hockey as of late and if they were to get in a rut, so would Staal’s scoring. It will be interesting to see where Staal ends up by the end of the season, but right now it would be realistic to see him finishing with around 20-25 goals and 50 points.
9. Alexander Wennberg
Since taking over as top center for the Blue Jackets, Alex Wennberg has looked like an all star play maker this season. With 6 goals and 24 assists for 30 points in 33 games this season, Wennberg is on pace for a career high 75 points. He’s had a total of 60 points combined in his first two seasons in the NHL so this would put him in unusual territory.
Playing a more important role this season on a red hot Blue Jackets team has helped increase Wennberg’s scoring. His ice time has increased by over two minutes since last season and his shooting percentage has nearly doubled. It is likely that the Swedish forward will surpass his career high of 40 points if he remains healthy, but expect the Blue Jackets to start losing some games and facing some struggles as games become more crucial. This should lead to a dip in Wennberg’s scoring, and it would be more reasonable to see him finishing around the 55 point mark.
8. Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner has been off to a terrific start to his season with 27 points in 32 games for the Blue Jackets. He had only 16 points in 58 games last season with the Flyers. Despite finding himself on the fourth line this season, he has been placed on the top power play unit and has developed great chemistry which explains his 12 power play points.
Gagner is also second on the team in goals with 14. His current pace would get him 70 points in 82 games, including 36 goals. This, however, would be an achievement far too difficult for a fourth line player and therefore you should expect Gagner’s production to decrease quickly, come 2017.
Averaging only 13 minutes and 27 seconds of ice time, Gagner has produced far more than anyone else averaging a similar amount of ice time this season. If the Blue Jackets power play were to struggle, he would likely be moved off it and that would decrease his production drastically. He also won’t be able to hit the 30 goal mark playing on the fourth line. Expect him to finish with no more than 25 goals and roughly 40 points if he can stay healthy.
7. Rickard Rakell
After a strong finish to the 2015-16 season, Rickard Rakell proved himself to be a legitimate top 6 forward on the Anaheim Ducks. His great potential earned him a six-year deal at $3.8 million per season and so far the 23 year old is making that contract look like a steal with 21 points in 23 games this season. This would put Rakell on pace for a personal best 74 points in an 82 game season, which is a large improvement on his 43 points in 72 games last season.
Despite missing some time this season due to the lengthy contract negotiations prior to the season’s debut and some minor injuries, when Rakell has played he has shown great things for the Ducks to look forward to in the future. His shooting percentage has almost doubled since last season, with a current 21.5% compared to last year’s 11.8%. His 14 goals in 23 appearances has him on pace for just about 50 goals in a full season.
Rakell is a great young player, but it is unlikely that he scores anywhere close to 50 goals this season. He is currently seeing top minutes on the Ducks, and he will set new career highs this season regardless. Expect the Swedish forward to slow down and finish around the 30 goal and 60 point mark by the season’s end.
6. Viktor Arvidsson
One of the biggest surprises this season has been Viktor Arvidsson’s 23 points in 34 games so far for the Nashville Predators. He only had 16 in the 58 games he appeared in for the Preds last season. For the first time in his career, it looks like Arvidsson will be spending the full season in the NHL because of his great play.
Arvidsson is just one point behind Ryan Johansen for the team lead in points and is also tied for second in goals. He is on pace to finish with 55 points, which would be a huge breakout season for the former fourth round pick. Arvidsson has moved up from the third line to the first line at times this season, but has only averaged about 16 minutes of ice time.
While he is already having a breakout season, expect the Swede to slow down a little as he is unlikely to maintain his pace only averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game. He might hit 20 goals, and should finish between 40 and 45 points by the end of the season if he can stay healthy.
5. David Pastrnak
A 25th overall pick back in 2014, David Pastrnak is also on his way to a breakout season for the Boston Bruins. He already has 19 goals in 29 games and 26 points, which equals his total from last season in 51 games. The young forward has seen his ice time increase substantially this season and as a result, he is producing top numbers so far. Although he has missed a few games this season with minor injuries and a suspension, Pastrnak is on pace for an incredible 54 goals in 82 games, and 74 points.
Pastrnak’s play has no doubt been incredible, and is arguably the best player on the Bruins this season. However, we’d be getting a little ahead of ourselves to think that he can maintain his incredible start throughout the rest of the season. Injuries might be a factor that could slow down Pastrnak’s production as the Czech forward has suffered minor injuries from time to time since last season. He has just one goal in his last six appearances for the Bruins which has been unusual for the 20 year old this season, so maybe this is a sign that his scoring is starting to decline. Regardless, expect Pastrnak to finish with some nice numbers as he seems to be a legitimate 30 goal scorer for Boston and should find himself finishing between 50 and 60 points come season’s end.
4. Michael Grabner
Michael Grabner has been a great off-season pickup for the New York Rangers so far. He already has 14 goals and 19 points in 36 games this season which is one point more than he had all of last season. Grabner is on pace for 32 goals and 43 points.
After scoring a career high 34 goals back in 2010-11, Grabner has never been able to find the back of the net as frequently as he did that season with the Islanders. His best since has been 20, but he should be able to surpass that this season. He may have found his old scoring touch but he has just 2 goals in the month of December and could be on a decline.
Grabner has never been able to get back to the 30 goal scorer he once was, and even though it looks like he might get there this season, it is unlikely that he will. He should finish with about 25 goals though, and no more than 40 points.
3. Paul Byron
Former 6th round draft pick Paul Byron has found his spot in the NHL on the Montreal Canadiens. He’s shown how lethal he can be with his speed on the penalty kill, and this season he’s also shown that he can put up points. He currently sits with 19 points in 34 games, which is only two less than his career best 21.
Byron is on pace for a 46 point campaign which would be far more than expected from the 27 year old. He has already equaled his career high of 11 goals, and is no doubt going to finish with a career season. However, it is unlikely that Byron can finish the season nearing 50 points when averaging less than 15 minutes of ice-time. The Habs left winger will probably end up with a career-high of no more than 35 points at the end of the season.
2. Zach Werenski
Another member of the soaring Blue Jackets is rookie defense-man Zach Werenski. The former 8th overall pick got off to a terrific start to his NHL career this season as he was producing at nearly a point per game pace and was named the NHL’s rookie of the month in November. He has also been averaging about 21 minutes per game, which is quite a workload for a rookie defender.
Werenski’s production is already slowly declining in December but he still sits with 22 points in 33 games, including 12 power play points. If he maintained his current pace, he’d finish with 55 points in 82 games and would probably be a legitimate candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. It won’t be easy for Werenski to keep up his scoring with the heavy minutes he’s playing in his rookie season. He should finish around the 40 to 45 point mark which is still a very good result for a rookie defenseman.
1. Patrick Eaves
Dallas Stars forward Patrick Eaves has never been known for his offensive output. His career best in points is 32 which came all the way back in 2006-07 during his time with the Ottawa Senators. Eaves currently sits with 12 goals and 20 points in 35 games, putting him on pace for 28 goals and 47 points.
Yes, Eaves does have more goals than Jamie Benn right now but the Stars’ checking forward is unlikely to even finish with 20 goals this season, which he has done just once in his career. After all, 12 out of Eaves’ 20 points came in the month of November, including 8 goals. Since then, he’s only put up 4 points in December.
It’s evident that the Alberta native is not going to approach the 30 goal mark, given his role on the team. He might hit 20 goals, but shouldn’t see past 35 points this season.