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Weekes on the Web

Friday Four: Rookie class continues to impress

NHL Network's Kevin Weekes also discusses Dubnyk, Lightning, Blues

by Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.

 

Impressive rookie class

Forward Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes, one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy, leads rookies with 18 points and 11 goals. He had an assist Thursday for his first point in five games, but he's been the best player for the Coyotes this season.

Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy scored his second goal of the season in a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He's played big minutes, has nice skill, has been physical and has blossomed under the leadership of veteran Zdeno Chara.

Center Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders had a goal and two assists in a 6-4 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. He's second among rookies with 17 points, and his 13 assists are tied for first. He's been really good for them, has great speed and has been electric on the ice. Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks has 16 points in 16 games, including seven on the power play, and has to be at the top of the Calder voting.

Center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (New Jersey Devils), defenseman Will Butcher (Devils) and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (Tampa Bay Lightning) also are worth mentioning as impressive rookies thus far.

Video: Brian Lawton on the top rookie scorers in the league

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are the best team in the League so far this season. They have been dominant and have no holes. Obviously, no one has an answer for their top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov. Stamkos had four points (two goals, two assists) and Kucherov had a goal and two assists in a 6-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Someone in the organization told me that Stamkos changed the curve of his stick to match that of Kucherov (Stamkos is a righty; Kucherov is a lefty), and clearly it has been paying off. Stamkos already is a great player and the League leader in points (35), and he is still trying to make an adjustment.

The Lightning are defending well, allowing the second-fewest goals against per game (2.42) in the NHL, and are scoring 4.0 goals per game, tops in the League. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been great and is in the Vezina Trophy conversation. Tampa Bay is 15-2-2, has the best record and most points in the League, and has won five straight.

Video: The guys discuss the Lightning after another win

 

St. Louis Blues

The Blues have been excellent despite injuries to key players (including forwards Robby Fabbri, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund, as well as and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester). Alex Pietrangelo is in my Norris Trophy conversation; he's the co-leader in points by a defenseman (18) and No. 1 with seven goals. Center Brayden Schenn has been a nice piece for them; he has 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 20 games. The Flyers traded Schenn and could use him right now.

St. Louis can defend. Led by Pietrangelo, their defensive group is one of the best in the League. Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarsson have been good. We know Jake Allen is the No. 1 goaltender, but backup Carter Hutton is 4-0-0 and is leading the League in save percentage (.943) among goalies who've played five or more games. The Blues are 14-5-1 and have the best record in the Western Conference, something that many people outside of their locker room probably didn't think was possible before the season.

 

Devan Dubnyk

Dubnyk had three straight shutouts for the Minnesota Wild heading into Thursday before allowing a goal to Ryan Johansen of the Nashville Predators 49 seconds into the game. His shutout streak ended at 195:54, which is a Wild record, and he's looked great.

I talked to Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, who said the key for Dubnyk was getting into position early and having his feet set before he makes the saves, allowing him the opportunity to go to the save selection that he wants but also to be balanced in order to make the first save and have a better chance at the second and third saves. I think that's really critical for any goaltender, but especially so when you are a tall goalie (he's 6-foot-6); if you are off-balance, it's a different game out there. I feel like his height and size are more of an advantage to his game when his positioning is razor sharp and when his feet are set underneath him.

One of Dubnyk's teammates told me that when he's on, they feel he is a top-five goalie in the League.

Video: NSH@MIN: Dubnyk flashes the glove on Ekholm

 

Honorable mention

Goaltender Frederik Andersen is hitting his groove for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had a 42-save shutout against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, the first shutout of 42 or more saves by a Maple Leafs goalie in Toronto since Mike Palmateer in 1977.

The Maple Leafs have won five straight, including the past four without Auston Matthews, who's out with an upper-body injury. They have a lot of good players; William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner, to name a few. Matthews is a franchise player, but if Toronto can win without a great player like him, that can only be a good thing.

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