The lead-up to the 2010 NHL Draft was dominated by a simple question: Taylor or Tyler?
Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were the top two picks in that draft, and each has had a strong start to his NHL career. Each has been a high-profile player from day one, and Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner was also great as an 18-year-old, collecting the 2011 Calder Trophy.
Ryan Johansen has been in the NHL for as long as those three players, but his development curve was different. He put up modest numbers in his first two seasons, showing flashes of the potential that made him the fourth pick in the draft but lots of inconsistency as well.
Johansen might be the most improved player in the League in 2013-14. He's become a monster in the middle, the prototype franchise center the Blue Jackets hoped for on draft day.
Nathan Horton's debut after shoulder surgery and Sergei Bobrovsky's play in net are two big reasons the Blue Jackets are surging in the Metropolitan Division, but Johansen is having an incredible season as well.
|Top forwards, 2010 NHL Draft|
|PLAYER, DRAFT POS.||GP||GOALS||POINTS||CF% CLOSE||ZONE STARTS||QoC||PDO|
|T. Hall, 1st||51||19||54||43.2||56.3||29.8||1008|
|T. Seguin, 2nd||55||24||56||54.5||55.9||30.0||1025|
|R. Johansen, 4th||56||23||43||55.8||46.4||29.4||1000|
|J. Skinner, 7th||44||23||38||50.6||69.2||29.0||995|
|J. Schwartz, 14th||53||17||39||53.6||51.9||29.0||1047|
|V. Tarasenko, 16th||53||18||33||58.8||58.9||28.8||1015|
|Key: GP = games playes; CF% close = Corsi for percentage when the score is close; Zone starts = percentage of offensive zone starts; QoC = quality of competition; PDO = team shooting percentage plus save percentage when a player is on the ice|
That table has the top six forwards from the 2010 draft in the NHL this season (a draft that also included young stars on defense in Cam Fowler and Justin Faulk). There's an argument to be made that Johansen is having the best season of any of those players.
Johansen's dominance goes beyond the 23 goals and 43 points. He's among the team leaders in the possession stats, but it goes beyond that as well.
He's not getting favorable zone starts (the opposite, in fact). Johansen is also facing the toughest competition on the team (not counting the injured Marian Gaborik). Lastly, his PDO (team shooting percentage plus save percentage when he's on the ice) at even strength is 1000, which is the median and means he's likely not being buoyed by any luck one way or the other.
Despite all of those things, Johansen is still one of the team's strongest players when it comes to puck possession. That makes him an incredibly valuable player.
Hall has a lot of points, but is actually having his worst season as a professional. Seguin is having a great season, but is getting a lot of offensive zone starts (and plays with Jamie Benn). Jeff Skinner is scoring like crazy when healthy, but gets the offensive zone start boost in a big way. Jaden Schwartz has one of the highest PDOs on the League, while Vladimir Tarasenko has favorable zone starts and matchups compared to the other guys on that table.
In Johansen, young defenseman Ryan Murray, Bobrovsky, and the veterans filling roles around them, the Blue Jackets might finally be in position to consistently contend for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and more after years of frustration and patience in central Ohio.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings, and will likely take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close, the tiebreaker is almost always this: If the two teams started a seven-game series tonight, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, the statistics and team records are through the games on Wednesday night.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (35-10-14) LW: 2
The Blackhawks have lost a bunch of games, particularly after playing 60 minutes without determining a winner. There have been a lot of non-regulation losses of late, but is it really worth fretting about for Blackhawks fans?
Here's the group of teams that have reached the Stanley Cup Final in full seasons since the shootout era began:
Nine of the 14 teams that have reached the Cup Final in a full season in the shootout era have lost at least 34 games (and those teams are 4-5 in the Final). The Blackhawks might not even lose 10 of their final 23 games to be part of that group. They also have a chance to challenge the mark for fewest regulation losses (15, by the 2010 Washington Capitals) since 2005-06.
MUST READ: Jennifer Lute Costella of Second City Hockey compares this edition of the Blackhawks to recent models.
2. St. Louis Blues (37-12-6) LW: 1
The Blues do not often get lumped in with teams considered "lucky" because of a high PDO (teams like the Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs). That's because of their strong possession numbers, but the Blues have dipped slightly in that area of late. They've been below 50 percent in Corsi for percentage when the score is close in five of the past seven games, though St. Louis is 4-2-1 in that stretch. It is something worth monitoring.
MUST READ: Louie Korac writes about the winding and successful career of coach Ken Hitchcock.
3. Anaheim Ducks (40-14-5) LW: 3
Last season the Ducks got off to a brilliant start before sputtering a bit at the end of a short regular season. Anaheim is sputtering now after shooting, literally and figuratively, to the top of the NHL standings. The Ducks shot 11.9 percent while amassing a 22-3-4 record in 2012-13, but only 7.2 percent while finishing the campaign 8-9-2. After turning the Vancouver Canucks into Alderaan on Jan. 15, the Ducks were 36-8-5 with a League-leading 77 points. They were also well ahead in shooting percentage, though not quite as high as the season before at 10.6 percent. After a sixth loss in 10 games Wednesday night, the Ducks have just 21 goals in 10 games and are shooting 7.6 percent.
The Ducks are a better team than last season, but the stats don't often lie and the right ones can be a better predictor than wins and goals scored. Anaheim can still win the Presidents' Trophy, but the gap between the Ducks and a few other teams is basically gone. They need to regroup, and the Olympic break might be just the right tonic for this mini-funk.
MUST READ: Jeff Pearlman of SBNation writes about the forgotten 1984 United States Olympic team.
4. San Jose Sharks (36-16-6) LW: 4
While the Los Angeles Kings are getting all the attention for a Sahara-sized scoring drought, the Sharks have scored 10 goals in the past eight games. The puck possession hasn't really been an issue, and they had enough chances to score eight goals against the Edmonton Oilers if it weren't for the best game of Ben Scrivens' life. San Jose seems locked into the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division, unless the Ducks' slump becomes a prolonged one.
MUST READ: The Sharks need the big guns to shoot them out of this slump, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area writes.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-15-2) LW: 5
The Penguins continue to roll toward a division title and have played their way back into the Presidents’ Trophy mix. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has had some great regular seasons (and some famous flops in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) but this might be his best campaign yet. His .918 save percentage is tied for his best since 2007-08 (when Michel Therrien was the coach and the Penguins' defensive system was ... a little different), and he’s got a great chance to pass his career high of 42 wins. Factor in the number of injuries this season on the blue line and Fleury is having an outstanding season. Which everyone will forget after one bad game in the playoffs, of course.
MUST READ: The Penguins are trying to adjust how they deal with teams playing "clutch and grab" hockey, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.
6. Boston Bruins (36-16-3) LW: 6
The Bruins struggled in the aftermath of Dennis Seidenberg's season-ending injury. They've found a solution: score lots of goals. While the Ducks have lost six of 10 starting with a trip to United Center, the Bruins have won six of seven since being there that same weekend. They've poured in 29 goals during this stretch to find some breathing room in the Atlantic Division.
MUST READ: Joe Haggerty of CSN New England writes about the young defensemen who will see more responsibility with Zdeno Chara missing two games to carry the Slovakian flag at the opening ceremony in Sochi.
7. Colorado Avalanche (36-15-5) LW: 9
The Avalanche have had a fair amount of success of late with a simple "give up four goals or less" strategy. Colorado has won nine of 12, and yielded five goals in each of the three defeats. The goaltending, those three games notwithstanding, has remained a pillar of strength. Colorado is tied with Boston for the best team save percentage (94.1 percent) at even strength when the score is close.
8. Los Angeles Kings (30-22-6) LW: 7
The Kings were until a few days ago last in the League in shooting percentage at even strength (they have recently moved ahead of the Buffalo Sabres and are 29th at 6.2 percent, but there were no parades planned for the achievement). The Ducks, until recently, were leading the League in this category, but a recent slump has dropped them to second behind the Blues at 9.4 percent.
So where are the differences in these two teams? They are pretty similar, talent-wise, with the Ducks having probably a slight edge in forward depth but the Kings a similar small advantage in skill on the blue line. Stats community folks would point to luck and regression to the mean. Anti-stats people will say Anaheim is getting better shots, or guys are "bearing down" on their chances more.
None of these answers are really satisfactory. How do the Ducks have 52 more even-strength goals despite a relatively similar number of shots? Thanks to the fine work being done at Sporting Charts we can try to dissect where the goals are coming from.
There's an area of the ice that forms a triangle from the high slot to the blue line, and that's where the Kings' bad luck is pretty evident. Patrick Odell (@ducksallday) added said triangles to help visualize this.
The Ducks have a significant advantage in goals scored in this area, particularly in the high slot above the hash marks.
Now look at the shots in the same area. Without counting, it clearly looks like the Kings are getting as many or more shots from the different hot spots in this triangle.
The Ducks have produced more shots in and around the net, and that's a good base for why they have more goals, but the Kings' are definitely dealing with some bad luck, especially in the high slot and from the top of the offensive zone between where the two defensemen would typically set up.
MUST READ: Do the Kings really lose more games when dominating? Jewels From The Crown has the answer.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (32-19-5) LW: 8
|Player||Calder Cup||Calder Trophy|
|1960-62 (Springfield)||1963 (Toronto)|
|Ed Litzenberger||1965-66 (Rochester)||1955 (Chicago)|
|Camille Henry||1956 (Providence)||1954 (N.Y. Rangers)|
|Terry Sawchuk||1950 (Indianapolis)||1951
|Frank Brimsek||1938 (Providence)||1939
|1940 (Providence)||1936 (Chicago)|
Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat have been two of the biggest reasons why the Lightning are deeper than they've been in recent seasons and one of the NHL's most surprising clubs. Palat was named NHL Rookie of the Month for January after leading all rookies with 16 points.
Johnson is second among the League's freshmen with 17 goals and 35 points, while Palat is now fourth in points with 31. They have a chance to do something that hasn't been done in 30 years and has only happened once since the NHL expanded.
Palat and Johnson were part of the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup-winning side in 2012. Were one of them to win the Calder Trophy this season, he would be the first to claim both famous prizes bearing the name of Frank Calder since Steve Larmer won an AHL title in 1982 and the NHL rookie of the year award in 1983.
The table at the right shows the complete list of players who have pulled off a unique feat. Of the seven players who have done it, three won the Calder Trophy first and later found themselves back in the AHL competing for and winning the Calder Cup.
Nathan MacKinnon should be the clear frontrunner at this point for the Calder Trophy, but Tomas Hertl held that distinction at one point this season as well. Should MacKinnon falter or get injured, Johnson and Palat could be in the mix for a rare double.
MUST READ: Pierre Lebrun of ESPN.com writes about the undrafted Johnson.
10. New York Rangers (31-23-3) LW: 12
If Kings fans would like to envision what a 180-degree turn looks like, the Rangers' performance charts at ExtraSkater.com might bring some comfort. After weeks of strong possession stats but low shooting and save percentages, a return to form for Henrik Lundqvist and more pucks ending up behind the opposing goaltender has allowed the Rangers to take hold of second place in the Metropolitan Division. Finishing the regular season as the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, about where many pundits predicted they would in the preseason, is not out of the question.
11. Minnesota Wild (30-21-7) LW: 11
The Wild went 9-4-1 in January after six straight losses to finish 2013. Darcy Kuemper is the latest goaltending surprise in the Twin Cities, though Minnesota will probably be a rumored destination for Ryan Miller until he is no longer wearing a Buffalo Sabres uniform. Mikko Koivu may miss the Olympics, but that could mean two extra weeks of recovery time for the stretch run.
MUST READ: Ger Devine of Hockey Wilderness writes about Minnesota's best scorers at even strength this season.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (29-23-4) LW: 14
The Blue Jackets lost three straight after the big winning streak but were still playing well, and the process was rewarded with three more victories. The schedule softens after the Olympic break and the team has a little more breathing room after a mad dash fell just short last season. Should be a fun finish to the season at Nationwide Arena, and Urban Meyer's spring two-deep might not get all of the attention in April.
MUST READ: That Johansen guy is really good, writes Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.
13. Dallas Stars (26-21-10) LW: 15
The Stars might owe a bit of gratitude to their friends in the Eastern Conference. Losing nine of 10 earlier in the season when the Western Conference was clearly the varsity would have sent a team tumbling in the standings. The East has been much more competitive in 2014, and it afforded Dallas a terrible couple of weeks. The Stars have regrouped, are 5-1-2 since Jan. 20 and the team has pitched three shutouts in that span.
14. Detroit Red Wings (25-19-12) LW: 13
Despite all of the injuries and inconsistent play (especially in goal), the Red Wings are four points out of third place in the Atlantic Division and among the top eight in the conference because of games in hand. Now Pavel Datsyuk can be a big boost, with Johan Franzen possibly joining him sometime after the Olympic break. If Detroit can make it through the Olympic tournament without any more injuries, hope is still flickering in the Motor City.
MUST READ: Sam Hitchcock of Intelligent Hockey thinks the Red Wings can still be a dark horse.
15. Winnipeg Jets (28-25-5) LW: 16
Paul Maurice has won nine of 11 games since arriving for the Jets. Their ability to possess the puck has been uneven in the small sample size, but goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has played some of his best hockey. Sustaining this form long enough to make the playoffs is Maurice's next challenge, but a lot of could be on Pavelec. The Jets are currently 22nd in the NHL in points percentage, and 20 of the their final 24 games are against teams ahead of them.
MUST READ: Would or should the Jets consider a buyout for Pavelec? Timothy Bonnar of Arctic Ice Hockey investigates.
16. Vancouver Canucks (27-22-9) LW: 11
The Canucks were already short on depth at forward before Mike Santorelli, who was exceeding expectations, was lost to injury. Alexandre Burrows has struggled to stay healthy. Henrik Sedin is playing through an injury, but isn't likely to get much rest during the Olympic break. The losses are mounting, as are the charges by Dallas, Winnipeg and the Phoenix Coyotes. A popular opinion is the Canucks could give the Ducks a stern test in a first-round matchup, but Vancouver has to make the playoffs first.