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Dropping The Puck On The 2022-23 Season: NHL October Takeaways

Hey guys! Hockey is (finally) back and here are some of my takeaways through the first couple weeks of the NHL...


The New Jersey Devils Are A Playoff-Calibre Hockey Team

Since dropping their first two games of the season and facing some criticism to start the year, Lindy Ruff's New Jersey Devils have quietly been one of the NHL's top teams. The Devils currently lead the league in Expected Goals For % and are ranked as the top team in both xGF/60 and xGA/60 to end the month of October.

Led by transition machine Jack Hughes and uber-dynamic winger Jesper Bratt, New Jersey is often able to control pace of play through the neutral zone and generate quality scoring chances in the OZ as a result. The Devils also boast a very underrated D-Core. Jonas Siegenthaler, Damon Severson, Ryan Graves and John Marino have each proven themselves as strong defenders in the past and are able to help Jersey regain puck possession relatively quickly when they lose it.


Dougie Hamilton, who was among the NHL's best defencemen for the Canes in 2020-21, also appears to be having a resurgence after an underwhelming first year as a Devil, starting the season with 7 points in 8 games.


The one glaring weakness I see with this New Jersey Devils team that could deter them from making the playoffs is goaltending. Vitek Vanecek is an okay 1B or backup goalie, but he is not a starter or 1A guy in my opinion.


Coaching Changes Paying Dividends For Golden Knights, Bruins

Both the Golden Knights and Bruins have been proving the doubters wrong in a big way to start this season.

After missing the playoffs and firing head coach Pete DeBoer last season, the Golden Knights have won 8 of their first 10 games under Bruce Cassidy's new regime to begin

2022-23. Ten games into the season with Cassidy at the helm, Vegas owns the 4th-best expected goals against rate in the NHL and have already been significantly better defensively than they were last year under DeBoer. The Golden Knights have also generated a lot more quality scoring chances under Cassidy, jumping from a 2.82 xGF/60 last season to a 3.42 xGF/60 to start this season. Jack Eichel has 10 points in 10 games, the goaltending has been better than expected and the Knights have gotten production all the way through their lineup.

The Boston Bruins are also tearing it up under their new head coach Jim Montgomery. In 9 games to start the year, Boston is 8-1 and have been scoring goals at a ridiculous clip. The days of doubting the Bruins because of injuries to Marchand and McAvoy should be long gone with Marchand already back in the lineup and McAvoy nearing his return. David Pastrnak really stepped up in Marchand's absence and should be a "way-too-early" frontrunner for the Hart trophy with 17 points in 10 games.


The New York Rangers Are Actually Generating At Even Strength

Remember last season when the New York Rangers were practically nonexistent at even strength and let Igor Shesterkin bail them out all the time? Well, it has been a different story starting this season.

After enjoying one of the best goaltending seasons in recent memory, Shesty has cooled down ever so slightly to begin 2022-23 (he has still been solid but not insane like he was last year). As a result, the Rangers needed to step up and carry a lot more of the even strength pace of play, which they have. Compared to last season where they were 27th league-wide in even strength GF/60, tied for 26th in xGF/60 and 22nd in xGA/60, the 22-23 Rangers are much improved sitting 21st, 8th and tied for 7th in those areas. While New York has been super unlucky around the net this October (karma for their year of good fortune last season), they are a much stronger finishing team than what the numbers say right now and I expect them to right the ship. If they can get hot at the right time, I believe these New York Rangers could be a real dangerous team come playoff time.


The Florida Panthers Play Defence

When Aaron Ekblad went down with his groin injury and I first saw the atrocity which is the 2022-23 Florida Panthers' defensive depth chart, I remember thinking Florida was going to get lit up every game. After all, these guys are running a blueline of Staal, Forsling, Mahura, Gudas, Carlsson and Kiersted...


But according to Evolving Hockey's expected goal model, the Panthers do in fact play defence and apparently are quite good at it, ranking 4th league-wide in xGA/60 through the month of October.

Dahlin, Vilardi and Necas Among Early 2022-23 Breakout Players

Every NHL season brings about a few breakout players who significantly exceed past results and expectations. One month into the 2022-23 season, Rasmus Dahlin, Gabriel Vilardi and Martin Necas are three that really stand out to me.

After four underwhelming years with mediocre production, 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin has started to show his dynamic skillset more consistently on Buffalo's blueline and has 7 goals and 8 assists for 15 points in 11 games to start this season. Martin Necas, who showed flashes of brilliance with the Canes in the past has 17 points in 11 games with beautiful underlying numbers to back up that point production.


Most impressive of all though, in my opinion, is the breakout of Kings' former 11th overall pick, Gabriel Vilardi. Despite never previously eclipsing 25 points or completing a full NHL season, Vilardi has 13 points in 13 games to start the season for Los Angeles.


Erik Karlsson Is Looking Like His Old Self In San Jose

18 points in 13 games as a defenceman on a terrible San Jose Sharks team... 10 goals on 1.98 individual expected goals...

I don't know what else to say aside from "ERIK KARLSSON IS BACK!!!!!" :)

 

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