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Behind The Numbers

Nathan Beaulieu among preseason stars

NHL-high eight points for Canadiens defenseman among surprising results

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

Preseason hockey provides the first look at how new teammates will play together, at the strategies new coaches may pursue, and at hundreds of new players.

Although it's best not to read too much into preseason data, a look at the underlying numbers can provide an interesting perspective on all of this new information. Here are five interesting statistics at the team and individual player level.


Filling the void

The unexpected preseason scoring leader was Nathan Beaulieu of the Montreal Canadiens, who had eight points in five games. That's one fewer than he scored in 64 games in 2014-15, his rookie NHL season.

When the Canadiens traded defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber on June 29, it created an opportunity for another Canadiens defenseman to fill the scoring void left by Subban's departure. Almost no one expected it to be Beaulieu.

With three goals and 32 points in 151 career NHL games, and 16 goals and 62 points in 132 American Hockey League games, Beaulieu has been more of a tough, defensive presence than someone whose jersey number scorekeepers will need to keep at the ready. Is that about to change?


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Unbeaten Avalanche

At the team level, the biggest surprise was the Colorado Avalanche, who won all six of their preseason games in regulation time.

The Avalanche allowed five goals in six games, a total that was less than half than the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers, who tied for second place with 11.

Statistically, the most impressive achievement is how the Avalanche outscored their opponents 16-5 despite being badly outshot. According to the data compiled at Natural Stat Trick (for games played in NHL arenas only), the Avalanche were responsible for 40.6 percent of on-ice shot attempts at even-strength, which was the lowest in the NHL. On average, they faced more than 20 more shot attempts per game than their opponents.

Whether or not that success can continue, it's encouraging for new coach Jared Bednar, who was hired Aug. 25, two weeks after Patrick Roy resigned, and a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of the previous six seasons.


New arrival

One of the thrills of the preseason is getting a first look at players who haven't previously competed in North America. A good example was defenseman Yohann Auvitu of the New Jersey Devils, who spent the past six seasons playing in Liiga, Finland's top league, and won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy as the league's top defenseman in 2015-16.

Auvitu was used in all zones and manpower situations, and was second on the Devils to defenseman Ben Lovejoy in even-strength ice time per game. He had six assists in five games, tied for third in the League with David Backes of the Boston Bruins, behind Beaulieu and Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks, who each had seven.


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Varone's the one

New Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher has had success with Phil Varone on the top line with Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman.

In 43 career NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres and the Senators, Varone, 25, has five goals and 10 points. But in five preseason games he had two goals and five assists. His seven points tied for second in preseason scoring, one point behind Beaulieu.

With 74 goals and 247 points in 327 American Hockey League games with Rochester and Binghamton, Varone's AHL output serves as an indication of his scoring potential in the NHL. Even if he is moved down the depth chart to a secondary line, Varone could score 30 points this season.


Meet the new boss

Preseason games also are an opportunity to see the strategies that new coaches plan to employ.

The most intriguing example is the Minnesota Wild, who hired Bruce Boudreau on May 7 and assistant coach John Anderson on June 8. The Wild went 3-3-0 during the preseason but ranked third with a shot-attempt percentage of 57.2, which is in stark contrast to last season, when they ranked No. 23 with 47.8 percent.

The shot-based data also shows the change in the team Boudreau coached last season, the Anaheim Ducks. Last season, the Ducks were fifth with a shot-attempt percentage of 52.4, but in the preseason they were 27th at 44.6 percent. That's why coaching changes sometimes can be the most significant summer moves of all.

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