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.